Equitable education

Ensuring an inclusive culture in an international school.

Adam Boddison and Kamal Bodhanker look at how the UK’s National Association for Special Educational Needs (nasen) are now supporting international schools in partnership with COBIS.

Additional Educational Needs in international schools

An estimated 93 million children worldwide live with disabilities. nasen’s vision is for the educational experience of these learners to be consistently as good as it is for all learners. UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report argues that a key barrier to inclusion in education is the lack of belief that it is possible and desirable. One in three teachers reported that they did not adjust their teaching to students’ cultural diversity and one in four teachers report a high need for professional development related to additional educational needs (AEN) (Global Education Monitoring Report Team, 2020).

The ISC Research report Inclusion in International Schools (2020) suggests, however, that more international schools report themselves to be at the beginning of the journey towards inclusion. An increasing number of schools are serving students who require a learning specialist to support them in the mainstream classroom and more schools recognise the wider social, emotional and mental health conditions of their pupils. However, only 28% of international schools involved in the study reported that it is true that teachers in their school feel responsible for the education of children with special educational needs (ISC, 2020).

Strategic planning for Additional Educational Needs

It is important to ask what determines and illustrates your school culture, ethos and strategic priorities? Does your school’s vision recognise the value of inclusion and diversity? Is leadership of AEN considered at all levels, including governance and board? Reflecting upon and reviewing the position of inclusive policy and practice within your school’s culture is key to forming a meaningful approach to AEN.

Supporting your SENCO

The role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or inclusion lead is a strategic one. Alongside or within the senior leadership, the SENCO should have a key responsibility for setting the strategic direction for pupils with additional educational needs. A hugely important part of the role is supporting and advising staff; ideally SENCOs are not primarily teaching pupils as an intervention teacher; their role should be more advisory, as an enabler linking specialists with teachers to support their inclusive practice and leading on the development of an inclusive school workforce.

Working with families is a key responsibility of the teacher but co-ordinating and regularly reporting to and listening to families will be part of the SENCO’s role.  In the UK, access to occupational therapy and speech and language therapists and other such experts would ideally be facilitated by the SENCO; this liaison can be more complex in international settings where identification and diagnosis, culture, language, and access to resources can be barriers.

There is not a single best approach to the leadership of SEND, and this is demonstrated by several COBIS schools that are beacons of best practice catering to multiple needs.

nasen International

nasen is the UK’s National Association for Special Educational Needs – a charitable membership organisation that exists to support and champion those working with, and for, children and young people with AEN and learning differences. We do this by providing free and paid-for resources and support for all members, leading targeted programmes and projects to deliver widespread improvements, offering a structured programme of professional development, accredited training and conferences as well as a package of SEND services throughout the UK and internationally.

Services for international schools

To support international schools as they deepen their provision for those with additional educational needs, nasen is now working in partnership with COBIS to highlight the place of inclusion at the heart of International School values, culture and practice. An important outcome of this partnership has been the development of inclusion standards for the COBIS accreditation process. Focusing on the principles of equality, neurodiversity and the social model of inclusion, the COBIS Accreditation team and nasen Education team have identified key areas for COBIS schools to illustrate their inclusive best practice throughout the COBIS Patron’s Accreditation and Compliance Standards. The expectation of holistic, appropriate and effective support for additional educational needs across standards for student welfare, facilities, ethos and values, boarding, learning and teaching seeks to drive high aspirations for all pupils.



Adam Boddison, is the CEO of nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs)






Kamal Bodhanker is the Head of International Development at nasen




FEATURE IMAGE: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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