Teaching literacy in a truly inclusive school

Can you imagine teaching a group of as many as ten children, of which two are autistic, one has cerebral palsy, two have severe hearing difficulties, and one has ADHD, in one classroom all at the same time? That’s the kind of thing they do every day of the school week at Multikids Inclusive Academy in Accra.

Multikids is the only inclusive academy in Ghana. It was established in 2010 by Sigrid Kootstra and Mandy Budge, the head of school, and it is dedicated to ‘educating children in a co-existing learning environment’. What this phrase means in practice is one of the most amazing experiments I think I’ve ever seen in my long career as a teacher. To get a much fuller picture of what they do at Multikids, have a look at their video.

In each classroom ‘neuro-typical’ children and children with a very wide range of special needs are taught alongside one another. Of course, each class has as many as two or three trained teachers and teaching assistants, and any of a number of specialist staff, as needed. This might include a trained speech therapist, a signer to mediate in sign language everything that is going on, or, as I saw in one classroom, an individual carer for a child in a wheelchair.

The astonishing thing is, it seems to work. I know because, after running a Sounds-Write phonics training for the staff, I co-taught several classes and was amazed by the respect the children had for each other and the enthusiasm they had for learning and engaging in the interactive activities.

One of the most touching moments for me was when I was teaching a class of the youngest children and a little boy with Downs was struggling to write on his whiteboard the word we had built as a class. I leaned forward and took his hand and guided it to form the letters he wanted to write and, as I did so, I could feel the tension flood out of him and the smile on his face said it all.

Of course, putting together a school in which all of this can happen is a herculean task and one from which there is no respite. Mandy Budge is simply, to use a word favoured by Jan Hilary, one of those ‘angels’ who move might and main to do everything they can to improve the lives of children without regard to the difficulties some of them face.

To my mind, one of the great strengths of the school is the vision and ambition both Mandy and her staff have for every one of the children. They want all their children to be literate, as this is the firm foundation of being literate on which to build the whole of the rest of the school curriculum.

So, the school is both a haven and a source of hope for the future and one the children who attend wouldn’t have without the dedicated support of Mandy and her fabulous staff.

Many thanks, too, to Judy Lawson for the support she gave prior to, throughout, and after the training. Judy’s years of experience teaching Sounds-Write to special needs children in London has been absolutely invaluable.