Navigating Neurodiversity In The Classroom (With Frances Akinde)

Navigating Neurodiversity In The Classroom (With Frances Akinde)

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Are schools ready for neuro-inclusive learning environments? What practical strategies can you take to make your schools welcoming and successful for all of your students?

In this insightful episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we're joined by neurodiversity advocate and educator, Frances Akinde. Together, we explore the intricate world of neurodiversity in schools. What are the hidden challenges faced by neurodivergent students, and how do they affect their learning experiences? Frances sheds light on practical strategies for creating inclusive classrooms where every student can thrive.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

In this episode, you're gonna learn what we actually mean by the terms of neuro diverse students or neurodivergent students, and practical strategies for creating a neuro inclusive classroom that is welcoming and successful for all of your students. Keep listening. 

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs, whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi there. Welcome to today's episode, my name Simon Currigan. Robert Rodriguez once said wasted talent is a shame but wasted opportunity is an even greater tragedy. And this is the educational podcast that likes to think it ticks both of those boxes for you. And if that statement doesn't immediately make you pull out your phone and subscribe to this podcast. I don't know what we'll no seriously do it. Please subscribe. We need this. I'm joined here today as ever by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:28  

Hi, Simon. 

Simon Currigan  1:29  

Emma, before we get in today's podcast, I just wanted to ask you a quick question -

Emma Shackleton  1:34  

Go on 

Simon Currigan  1:35  

According to a 2023 study by the Mental Health Foundation in YouGov, what percentage of adults said that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress over the last year? 

Emma Shackleton  1:49  

Oh, okay, overeating due to stress. I think this is going to be quite high. I did wonder though, if the survey was anonymous, because I also think that there's quite a lot of shame attached to unhealthy eating for many people. But I'd say about 60% I reckon,

Simon Currigan  2:07  

Okay, not quite so high. The answer was actually 46% which when you think about it is still really shocking, because that's every other person that you meet 29% reported that they've started drinking or increased their drinking due to stress and 61% also reported feeling anxious.

Emma Shackleton  2:26  

Wow, scary numbers. But how is this topic related to this week's show? 

Simon Currigan  2:31  

Eating too much or eating unhealthily is a coping mechanism for dealing with stress and anxiety. If you're interested eating actually engages your rest and digest system which naturally down regulates your body into a more relaxed state. However, it is an unhealthy coping mechanism for managing a situation that you perceive is scary or threatening or hostile to your well being. And today, we've got Frances Akinde on the show, and she's going to talk about how classrooms can feel scary or anxiety provoking for neurodiverse students. And she's going to talk about creating neuro inclusive classrooms where everyone can succeed.

Emma Shackleton  3:15  

Perfect. I'm actually really excited for this week's show, because I was lucky enough to hear Frances speak at a conference last year. And she was so passionate and knowledgeable and engaging. So I'm really looking forward to hearing her views today. And of course, if you want a way of supporting your neurodiverse, or neurodivergent pupils, there's no better place to start than with our SEND behaviour handbook, which will help you to link the behaviours you see in class with underlying conditions, such as ADHD, trauma, and autism, so you can get the right professionals involved and get early intervention strategies in place. 

Simon Currigan  3:56  

Obviously, it's not there for educational professionals to try and diagnose students with a condition. That's not our role or our training. But it is there to help us join the dots and offer our students effective support quickly. So if you'd like a copy, I put a direct link in the episode description to the download page is completely free. Open up your podcast app, look at the episode text and you'll see a direct link. All you got to do is tap on it and you'll be able to get instant access.

Emma Shackleton  4:24  

And now here's Simon's interview with Frances Akinde.

Simon Currigan  4:30  

It's my great pleasure to welcome Frances Akinde to the show today. Frances is a former head teacher of a secondary special school for learners with autism and associated difficulties and a qualified Senco. Over the last 20 years she has worked in various roles across primary secondary, special and alternative provision and within the local authority. Last year after discovering that she was neurodivergent and had a hearing impairment, Frances left headship and now uses her lived experiences to offer training and support to ensure that our schools and workplaces are genuinely inclusive. In January 2023, she co launched the BAME Ed SEND hub as part of the BAME Ed network, a diverse network for educators, which aims to ensure diversity and address a racial inequalities in education. And as a neurodivergent, educator, Frances uses her experiences to support and mentor people struggling in the workplace and education. Francis, welcome to the show.

Frances Akinde  5:28  

Thank you for having me, Simon, really nice to be here.

Simon Currigan  5:31  

It's an absolute pleasure. So we're going to talk about neuro divergence today. But I think we should start with your story. Please, can you tell us a little bit about your personal experience of neuro divergence and what it's meant for the way that you view how we teach and support kids in school?

Frances Akinde  5:47  

Oh, gosh, it's really interesting, because I started off in education as a mainstream teacher, as secondary school. So my subject specialist was Art. Ive always been really, really creative. But as I started in my career, I kind of started to work more and more with children with behaviour difficulties, and I just kind of was drawn to them not thinking, Well, you know, I had some underlying needs. That meant that, you know, I had like a connection with them. And that led me to work within behaviour. So I worked in a PRU as an assessment coordinator and Senco art teacher for seven years. Absolutely loved it.

Simon Currigan  6:28  

Can you just explain for listeners that might not know what a PRU is? 

Frances Akinde  6:31  

Yeah, so it's a pupil referral unit. And I worked in one in South London. And when I was asked to work there, I said, Oh, no, no way. Why don't you have a look at this, I'll say absolutely no way. And they said, Look, just give it a try. Just go in there and see, I went in there, and I absolutely loved it. So these are students that have been permanently excluded from school, who have had managed moves, and the assessment centre was kind of getting them ready to go back into another school, people that were new to the country, and they couldn't find a school place for children with anxiety, mental health difficulties, things like that. And the whole mix of pupils was just amazing. It was such an amazing experience. Obviously, you've got smaller classes, so the children get a lot more attention. And it was just so lovely to be able to, you know, think about the child first, you know, and think about what they needed from their education. So yeah, really good experience. So I think even then, I didn't really think about the fact that I was neuro divergent myself, I just thought, Oh, well, I get along with these kids with ADHD and dyslexia. And, you know, the way I understand the way their brain works, even to the point when, when I did my Master's in inclusive education, and I did my final thesis on working memory, and how to support children with working memory difficulties. And I researched and said, Oh, you know, ADHD, working memory is the biggest indicator of working over ADHD. I was looking at all my friends and family going, oh, gosh, I think they've got ADHD, I think Ive got ADHD, really not thinking about it, you know, but I think for a lot of women my age, I mean, I'm 45 now, and this has been going on for the last two years. 

I was diagnosed in June 22. And it started off with me having a hearing impairment. And I just started to get like really dizzy, I noticed that, you know, there was some difficulties with pitch and tone. When I was hearing things, I went to the doctors and they were like, Oh, you've got an ear infection, it will clear up, it just didn't clear up. So in the end, I went for a full hearing test. And I said I'd completely lost my hearing in my left ear. But then as I was going through that, they diagnosed me with a condition called menieres, which is a vestibular condition that affects your balance. Now what was interesting is they said, oh, there is a connection between menieres and meningitis, and I had meningitis when I was three, did not think about the connection whatsoever. I had no idea. Then, as I was looking to that they said there's connection between meningitis and ADHD. I went for my ADHD assessment got diagnosed with ADHD, and they said, Oh, you need to look at dyslexia. I was like, absolutely no way. I love reading. I'm a good reader. I don't have difficulties in that area. Lo and behold, I got diagnosed with dyslexia. So it was one of those things where every time I went for diagnosis, I got diagnosed with something else then the adults like forget, I know, I'm neurodivergent. Leave it at that.

So how interesting I've never heard of that route before going going through a hearing impairment. 

Yeah, yeah. 

Simon Currigan  9:44  

Through ADHD. I wasn't aware of that, 

Frances Akinde  9:46  

Yeah, yeah

Simon Currigan  9:47  

Through their meningitis.

Frances Akinde  9:48  

And you know, what's really interesting as well is that when I went for my dyslexia assessment, they said make sure that we won't do the assessment until you've done sight test. And I thought that's really interesting. I think there's a lot of children that do miss out on hearing assessments, you know, visual assessments to see if there's anything underlying. And then sometimes those things are missed, you know. So it was really interesting. And it's taught me so much, honestly. Now, I'm always saying to people lived experience is so important, because now I understand the process, and how things can be missed if you go down one route, and not explore other difficulties as well. So yeah, really interesting. 

Simon Currigan  10:28  

Yeah, so we started using the term. So before we go any further for people that are new to these terms, I think we should start defining them. What do we actually mean by terms like neurodivergent, neurodiverse, and neurotypical? What do those words actually mean?

Frances Akinde  10:46  

This is the great debate because when we say neurotypical, we mean that it's the norm. So the majority of the population have a brain that works in a certain way, people who are neurodivergent, the way that they think the way that their brains work, deviate away from the norm, which is why we say neurodivergent. But there's a massive debate in the world of neurodiversity, where people are saying that, if we're talking about people being neurotypical, and you're divergent, we're not being inclusive. So some people prefer to say, a neuro diverse instead of neuro divergent, because divergent is, you know, going away from the norm, and they don't like that. But then other people are saying that it's really important for them to be seen as neuro divergent, because they've been living in a world where, you know, people are seen as this is what we want as a normal, normal way of thinking. And they want to be known to have that distinctive brain, you know, even something yesterday at an organisation and put on social media around your diversity and how they're very new inclusive, somebody else if you're not new inclusive, because you're completely ignoring the phrase neurodivergent, which describes those people that aren't your typical. So it's a whole thing at the moment. But I think it's really difficult because we're given these labels, and we've given these phrases to use. But the person that looked at neurodiversity in the first place, Judy Singer, was, first of all talking about autism, and her experience of her daughter being diagnosed and her being diagnosed. But what people are saying in terms of neurodiversity is all encompassing, but she's made some comments lately about the trans community, which has made people say, Hold on a minute, what she was preaching about your diversity, her values aren't upholding, you know, so it's really difficult. So people are moving away from that slightly, I think there'll be a new term that comes out, I think, once people explore and more people are aware of it, then some of the things will come out. And I think for me, in particular, being black and neurodivergent, means that I've got some intersectionalities that don't that mean, I don't necessarily fit into the norm of what the typical view of neuro divergence is. And especially when you're thinking about ADHD, we used to think about it as like a naughty boy syndrome, you know, because all the criteria was based on males, you know, and that profile. Now, when we're exploring it, we're seeing that girls present in a different way. And we're thinking about that intersectionality, and our bias around those diagnosis as well. So it's a whole interesting field, which is why I'm glad I work within it, because it's really interesting just to discuss it, you know.

Simon Currigan  13:29  

How many people do we kind of believe, and this is always going to be sort of a finger in the air estimate? How many people do kind of believe are neurodiverse get some idea of the scale or the mix of the proportions? When we're thinking about average classrooms got 30 kids in it. I like to think right, how many kids are we kind of looking at in an inverted commas average classroom, or the school workforce? Because that's something else that you're passionate about? Isn't it supporting your inclusive teaching staff? 

Frances Akinde  13:54  

Yeah, you know, it's really interesting, because in terms of what we know about SEN, it's more around how many people actually get diagnosed. And we used to say that an average school would have between 10 and 14% of children that were on the SEND register. And the majority of those children it would be autism, you know, speech and language difficulties things so that the speech language is the biggest area of need. Now we know we're looking at more like 24 25% of a class is neurodivergent. And I think it's even more than that, to be honest, but you've got this whole thing and this is something else that I've been looking into is that role of the SenCo in the class teaching that communication around a child's needs. Why is it that one child would be labelled as you know, having difficulties and another child would be labelled as having behaviour needs, I always think of behaviour as a secondary need, and is thinking about what's going on underneath. So we know the highest area of need, as I said in primary speech and language when a child starts in primary, but by the time they leave that suddenly turns into an SEMH need. Now their primary need hasn't changed. It's just the way that they present as the gaps grow, between their vocabulary and their understanding of their peers, their social communication difficulties, those emerge, and they get labelled. 

Now, if you were a class teacher, and you said, I'm really concerned about this child, I think they might have some speech and language difficulties, then your first rule is to look for Speech and Language Therapists. If you see behaviour first, and you say, Oh, actually, I think this child's got ADHD, then you're overlooking the fact that they've got speech and language needs, or you know, they've got dyslexia and other things. So this is, in my own experience, where I've looked at one thing, having a hearing impairment revealed all these other things to me that I wasn't looking for, what would that have looked like in the classroom? Would a teacher automatically say, you know, they've got hearing difficulties or would down to standard, maybe it's an auditory processing difficulty. And where would that lead to, we only have one major centre for looking at auditory processing difficulties, which is Great Ormond Street. So if you're within a local authority, or local health authority, that doesn't really have that diagnosis or that mechanism to refer for auditory processing difficulties, then that child would be diagnosed with autism, you know, or something else. So it's really interesting, it just varies so much, depending. But I think for me, when I'm in a special school, I look around and think, you know, you can see so many adults, you know, support staff teaching staff with needs, because you cannot work in an environment like this, unless you understand the children, you know, you just can't. And when you have your own needs, whether it's dyslexia, ADHD, or whatever it is, you're more likely to understand what that child needs and how to adapt learning for them. So yeah, a lot higher than we think. Also, I know I'm going on about this, but it's my favourite topic. It depends on, it depends on access to diagnosis as well. So when I was diagnosed, I could not wait to go down the NHS pathway to get an ADHD diagnosis. At the time I was dealing with getting this, you know, condition, a diagnosis of this condition, I was dealing with all those things, and really trying to explore what was going on for myself, if I hadn't had the means to go for a private diagnosis, I would have been waiting one two years, and I would have been in absolute crisis, you know, but by getting a private diagnosis, I was able to get quicker understanding of what was going on. For me, I think the interesting thing about that was I paid for private diagnosis, that NHS didn't accept that diagnosis. So I had to go back to the NHS pathway. Luckily, I'm in an area where lucky, you're saying not so lucky, but who have fast tracked that referral process for ADHD they did at the time, they used a private provider to do the referrals for them. So I got Fast Track got diagnosed again, about seven months after my first diagnosis. So I got diagnosed twice in seven months. And that's madness. 

Simon Currigan  18:10  

Those waiting lists are shocking and a local authority where if you get if you refer a child in year three, they won't receive a diagnosis until they hit secondary, you raise an interesting point, just because those lead times are so large, it doesn't mean we can't be asking the question why, why why why? Why are we seeing behaviours in the classroom? Well, let's, let's actually dig deeper into that. Is there a working memory issue or speech and language issue? There are things we can be doing as educators, rather than just hanging around for two to three years for a clinical psychologist or a paediatrician or whomever to see the child?

Frances Akinde  18:43  

Absolutely. And I think it's a really important point because I work now as and when I left headship, I set up my own consultancy, and I also work part time for local authority as an inspector or advisor. So I'll go around to the special schools, alternative provisions and secure provisions, everything else like that. And it's really interesting to me when I see you know, different environments and how these children our children are nurtured, you know, and developed. And for me, when I struggle when I go to mainstream schools, and I say to them, right, if you're in a special school, if you're in an alternative provision, we automatically have to put certain things in place, you know that that child is not going to sit there for half an hour, 4045 minutes and just write, it's not going to happen. You have to have certain ways to start the lesson. You have to have key words, you have to have visuals, you have to have a mix of visual auditory, kinesthetic, we're not allowed to say that anymore. But we can say multi learning, you know, you have to have all of those things in place. But you know, it's very difficult. Sometimes when you're saying to people, you don't need a diagnosis. You don't have to wait for diagnosis for a child if you recognise that the child has difficulties in certain areas. There's lots of open assessments that a school should be doing. And I've had this argument with schools before when they're not doing baseline assessments, I think, How can you not do baseline assessments? You know, how can you just guess what's going on for a child? And just say to yourself, right, okay, I think it's this, I think that you need those baseline assessments. For me, every child at age five should be having a speech and language assessment. And if you can't have access to a speech and language therapist, then there's baseline assessments that you can do within schools that you can use. And then every child by the age of seven should be having a dyslexia screener, you know, and you can treat that child as if they have dyslexia, you don't have to go through the full assessment, because most schools don't pay for that assessment anyway, most parents are not going to pay 250 pounds upwards for a dyslexia assessment, you know, it's not that they don't want to is that we need to do better in schools around how we support children that don't have a diagnosis. So to me, it's looking at all those areas, looking at open assessments and thinking what can we do internally without saying that we have to have a diagnosis.

Simon Currigan  21:08  

So that brings us on to another term, neuro inclusivity, which is something that you care about a lot. And you've already started talking on this topic now. So what do we mean by schools? What do you mean by schools and classrooms that are neuro inclusive? What do they look like? What do they do differently? What's the experience like for the kids?

Frances Akinde  21:30  

Yeah, when you walk into a neuro inclusive classroom, you see everybody's needs being met, you don't see any complaints around differentiation, everybody should be able to learn in the same way, you see a child that isn't able to access work on paper, so is working on a laptop, you see another child that needs lots of keywords and lots of visuals, and there needs to be in accommodated, you see another child that does prefer just to write and then need to be accommodated, you're not looking at a one size fits all model for everybody, you know, when I'm working, I'm not going to be working in the same way, as someone else, I need rest breaks, I need to switch tasks constantly. Honestly, every time, if you look on my laptop, I've got about 10 tabs open at the same time, I do a bit of one thing. And then I switch to another thing I've managed this year to write a 45,000 word book, you know, what you won't see when you read that book is that I've had a development editor who's helped me through the process and writes comments for me to say, right, have a look at this, have a look at that, which has been amazing, you know, I have a template that I use to get that work done. I take lots of resk breaks, so do lots of different research models, it walk in and think oh, my gosh, what's going on, this is chaotic, and it's not, you know, I have ways and people that support me to make sure that I can reach my potential. And I do not understand when we walk into schools, we're not supporting every child to reach their potential because their brains do not fit the typical or the way that we expect them to work. And I think since the pandemic, we had a great model, you know, in special schools, we had to have children in. So we did a lot of hybrid learning, like with every school, but because our children had SEND needs, we understood that that learning might have to look a bit different. I don't know why when the pandemic stopped to me or every school was back, we didn't carry on with some of those things that we learned about hybrid learning. And but you know what, I think we're catching up, you know, the government has said they're investing a lot in looking at AI, and how that can support in the classroom. But also at the same time, they've opened their first online school, approved DFE school, in I think it's called the SOFIA school in London, this is a massive step forward for us in education to say that children do not have to be physically in the classroom to learn. So there was a school I went to last week that have a blended learning module in the same way that we do with hospitals, schools, you cannot say that child has to come into school, if they're in hospital, they've just had an operation or, you know, they've got a life limiting condition, we have to change the way we teach to accommodate them. Why aren't we doing this for every child, you know? So it's a really interesting debate. And I think as more adults who are neurodivergent talk about their needs, the more we have to accept that things have to change for our children.

Simon Currigan  24:28  

Do you think part of the problem here is when you're teaching at the front of the classroom, and you see a child experiencing a difficulty you often think, what would work for me in their situation, which is different from thinking, if I had their experiences and abilities and skills and limitations like we all have, what would work then it's not what would work for me. It's actually literally putting yourself in their shoes with their experiences, which is it's a harder kind of empathy. Harder. 

Frances Akinde  24:58  

Yeah, I don't think it's started to teach us to be honest, it's down to senior leadership in in the school, what their pedagogical approach is, you know, what their understanding around teaching and learning is. And the problem that we have in schools is that, you know, in a large secondary school, you've got 1000 to 1500 children, you've got a small team of SLT who are dictating how that school should run, you know, so my teaching and learning lead, they have to teach, they have to be able to say, this is what we see in the classroom, and help adapt things and help teach you to adapt things, we're in a phase in education where people are being dictated to in terms of their teaching methods, you know, they're not necessarily allowed to be a bit more Maverick, you know, like we used to have in the old days, you know, they have to follow certain guidelines and certain ways. I mean, you've got some schools in large Academy trusts where the staff is spending their holidays, rebranding PowerPoint, you know, shifting information from one PowerPoint template to another was a complete waste of time, you know, I wish that we could just go back to teachers having the time to get to know their students what their needs are, and putting in the best resources and the best adaptive teaching, shall we say this, no one likes to say differentiation for their child's needs, you know, but we're not there yet. And I think at the moment, we're in a phase where we have been since about 2007, where schools are businesses, you know, they're run like businesses, we have KPIs, we have objectives, you know, if we don't get a good Ofsted with that, you know, ruins our pupil figures and our reputation and everything else. So people don't want to be Mavericks, people don't want to step outside the box and do something different, because they're worried about what that will mean, you know,

Simon Currigan  26:44  

it's really interesting. And it's a tangent, but PowerPoint is a thing of mine, I think it's one of the single worst things ever to happen to education. And watching lots and lots of teachers, when you think about what a good teacher would have done in the past is if the kids were interested, and you were having a conversation, say a whole class intro, and the conversation was going in a certain direction, then in like, 20 years ago, the teacher would have followed the interest of the children. And now if the questions and you know, the points that children want to make, don't follow the flow of the PowerPoint. Now, no one knows what to do. It's like, well, that's a really interesting question. But my next slide is about something else. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, PowerPoint doesn't set you up to respond reflexively to the conversations and the needs of the kids you have. But that's, that's my thing. I'm going to move on from that as an entirely different topic. 

Well, you know, what I was gonna say, it depends, because PowerPoint is really important to me, because it's that anchoring of key points. So whenever I'm doing a talk, I'll always have a PowerPoint that has some key points and key visuals, you know, it won't have lots and lots of information on this, I'm looking at some data. And to me, it's really important to have all that information on it. But I don't stop me with ADHD. If I'm, if I'm in a webinar, I have to have subtitles on, you know, because it anchors me back into the conversation. If I'm in a classroom, you know, in a learning environment, I have to have a PowerPoint with visuals with key words, not too much information, you know, so that I can keep up with what's happening in the classroom. I cannot just take auditory information, I cannot just have somebody talking to me. Or I'd say, well, obviously at me, I will not retain that information at all. So it's interesting what you say about PowerPoint, it's just getting the balance. I'm very much into accessibility, assistive technology and thinking how can we use things to make the learning experience better, but we're in the dark ages, really in education, we're not as forward thinking as you'd like to think we are. And, you know, I just saw an article over the weekend over Sen needs and how they're being supported in the Middle East. Now, this is an area that embraces technology, you know, and thinks about how can we use technology? And the technology that you see in areas like that is absolutely amazing, you know, but we're just way behind, you know, really we are.

In terms of school leaders, we're also likely to have staff members, as we've talked about already, who are neuro diverse or neurodivergent, whichever, whichever label you prefer themselves, if we as leaders don't consider those needs, what's the impact on the school and the teacher and the kids? And how can we provide kind of like reasonable adaptations that work well for supporting them?

Frances Akinde  29:25  

You know, is such an important question, and I feel like I struggled to show up as my whole self, you know, as a school leader, you expect it to be a certain way and behave a certain way and have certain mannerisms, and it's going off on a tangent. I remember when I started as a head teacher, I went to Marks and Spencers and I bought myself a really nice suit. I was like right in the head teacher. I've got to wear a suit. I wore this suit walked into school. I was so proud of myself. I thought I looked amazing and this child said to me, Miss, you look like a man, like that. You know, but to me, I was trying to be someone that I wasn't I was trying to give this impression of this is what a head teacher looks like. So this is how I should dress, this is how I should behave. And honestly, you cannot do that for long. We always talk about masking and what that looks like, because we're not able to be ourselves. And that masking always leads to burnout, whether you acknowledge it or not, whether it's the toll it has on your mental health, or your physical health is always something that happens in the end. How amazing is it to be in a school, where you're accepted for who you are? And how you are, you know, and accommodations are put in place for you. You know, I know so many people that I support that, you know, I said some of you heard of access to work, you know, you can get things put in place, you can get support, they're going to speak to their head teacher, and he says, oh, no, so we can't support that. But then in another school, the head teacher will say, and this is a real example. Yeah, I've got dyslexia, I know exactly how you feel. Whatever you need, we'll get the money back, get whatever you need, how amazing it for that person to be able to say, look, I've got dyslexia, I've got ADHD, I'm going to struggle to meet deadlines, I'm going to struggle to keep up with information, I'm going to struggle with report writing, I'm going to struggle with this, if you left that person alone, without all that written work, they would thrive. But then it's acknowledging that actually, they need support in other areas. And you really see that difference when you go to a school that's truly inclusive, and everybody's needs are being met. And it's amazing for the children to see that as well, where their teacher can openly say to them, Look, I've got ADHD, and the children are like, Oh, wow, and you're a teacher, you've done this, you've done that with your life, it completely changes their narrative, you know, and that's why it's so important. 

Simon Currigan  31:50  

To me, this isn't about lowering the bar for everyone, this is helping everyone raise to a high bar, isn't it?

Speaker 1  31:56  

Exactly, exactly. It's giving everybody the support, they need to succeed in their own ways from their own individual starting points. And to me, that's the most, I don't know, get passionate about this, the greatest thing I've learned about special schools is you cannot apply a one size fits all model to special education. You have to look at everybody's differences. And think what how can I support that child from that individual starting point to succeed? We don't do that in mainstream schools on the whole because we think there's too many children, we can't accommodate every single need, of course you can is thinking about how we use differentiation and our understanding of differentiation. It's about those, you know, people don't like saying non negotiables but how do you support speech and language in the classroom? How do you support dyslexia? How do you support ADHD? How do you support autism? If we've got those things in place in the classroom, then everybody can thrive, whether they're diagnosed or undiagnosed, you know.

Simon Currigan  32:55  

Can you give us a real world example of where you've seen your inclusivity done well? And the impact that it had.

Frances Akinde  33:02  

I'm so fortunate because I go to so many schools, and a lot of that is as an advisor, but also as an inspector, and oh, gosh, so there's a school in Hampshire, called Inclusion Hampshire, this school is absolutely amazing. So I went in and did an inspection I said, like, this school is outstanding in all areas, you know, luckily for me, I did do the inspection because two weeks later, Ofsted went in, and they got a good from their Ofsted report. But it's when they say inclusion, they mean it. These are children that did not thrive in mainstream schools. And were, you know, their attendance was really poor. In this school, they talk about their mental health, they talk about their anxiety, they talk about their needs as individuals, and think about what do we need to put in place? Whenever I do an inspection, I always talk to the pupils and ask them what is it that made this school work for you? And it was just emotional to me talking to those learners and them saying, if I didn't have the school, I might not even be here. You know, on the whole, the effect that school has on an individual child's mental health is massive, you know, and being in an environment where they're allowed to be themselves. They're allowed to, you know, dress the way they want their hair's like funky colour. And it's like, so what it's not stopping them from learning all these rules that you have to put in place that we think oh, my gosh, there's going to be a riot, you know, there's going to be a mutiny there's going to be an uprising. It doesn't happen in the schools. And to me, it's really important to think about restorative justice in those conversations that we can have with pupils. If something happens in the classroom, I'm going to speak to that pupil and say, look, what is it that's happened here? Let's have a conversation. And a lot of schools they say no, that's disrespectful. They should just listen to the teacher. It doesn't work for students that are neurodivergent they need to have that understanding of what's happened, you know. And that's where you have these meltdowns. And once a child has had formed an impression about the way that an adult is, it's very hard to change that impression. So when you go to new inclusive schools, they have those conversations all the time, feedback is happening constantly. In the school that I'm supporting. At the moment, we have a debrief every single day we go through what's happened, we talk to the children every day to fresh start, you know, we've SEMH you can't carry something on, this happened last week, week before, you need to have a fresh start every day, you know, and it's so important. You see that happening, and you see it working. But I think there's a fear element there. You know, when you're in a large environment with a lot of kids, there is a massive fear in him. 

Simon Currigan  33:11  

And we've talked about some quite big things. If you're a teacher or a school leader, listening to this podcast, what's just the first doable step that you could take today to start making your own classroom or school more neuro inclusive? 

Oh, research, you know, go online research, speak to people that are neurodivergent and find out about their needs as well. Just having those conversations with people is so important, you know, and there's so many resources online. Now, there's so many people that are being open with their needs. If you look on twinkl. If you look on social media and things like that, there's so many resources there, there's no excuse.

And Francis, how can we find out more about your resources?

Frances Akinde  36:28  

If you just look my name up, and it will come up on social media, I also have a website called Inclusion H T, which stands for head teacher. So And I've got like a blog post on there, you can contact me and I'll send you whatever things you need. 

Simon Currigan  36:47  

And I'll put direct links to that in the show notes. So if you're listening, all you have to do is open up the episode description, and you can click directly through with your finger if you click with your finger anymore. Finally, Frances, we ask this of all our guests, who's the key figure that's influenced you? Or what's the key book that you've read? That's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with children?

Frances Akinde  37:06  

Oh gosh, there were so many I don't know, I think I'm really influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, you know, and people that have come before us who really said, we're not having this, literally, that's my phrase, no, I'm not having this. And, um, there was a senator in America called John Lewis. And his motto was just good trouble. And now that's just my motto now is that I've caused as much good trouble as I can to make sure that everybody has their equitable, right, you know, so yeah, that's been my biggest influence. So if you do get the chance to read these animation books called March, absolutely amazing books that really tell the story of his story, you know, in the civil rights movement, and what he did, and I think you can apply that to everything. So yeah, that's a really important book for me.

Simon Currigan  37:54  

So if you're listening to this today, I recommend that you go out and start causing good trouble, Frances, 

Frances Akinde  38:01  

Absolutely. But don't say I said it!

Simon Currigan  38:04  

It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing your time with us today.

Frances Akinde  38:08  

Thank you for having me. It's been really, really lovely. 

Emma Shackleton  38:12  

I loved that. It's really interesting to hear how our understanding of neurodiversity is evolving and improving, and how we're still settling on some common terminology here.

Simon Currigan  38:25  

Yeah. And I thought Frances had some super practical ideas, and I'll put direct links to her website and her materials in the episode description. 

Emma Shackleton  38:32  

Excellent. And while you've got your podcast app open, it would be amazing if you could leave us a rating and review. It's something that really makes a difference to the show because when you leave a review, it tells the algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other listeners, it will take you 30 seconds, and it really does help us to reach other teachers, school leaders, and parents who might also find this information useful. 

Leaving a review will make you feel more puffed up with pride and a pigeon who's just picked up some puff pastry. You'll be strutting around all day popping your head back and forth. queueing away feeling like King of the bird world the real question is Who wouldn't want that feeling to get reviewing? 

That's it for today's episode. Please don't feed any pastry to your pigeons. Thanks for listening. Have a great week, and we can't wait to see you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye 

Simon Currigan  39:28  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)