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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Recalibrating the Machine: Admissions and Challenge of Inclusive Education

If we can talk about the admissions funnel, we can perhaps also talk about the admissions machine.

As parents and their children move through the decision-making process, there is a point at which they drop into these well-oiled enrolment machines, hoping to come out the other side with some form of educational placement.

A photograph of an old rusty machine
The Admissions Machine: Time to recalibrate?

The machine, you might argue, is the engine that drives everything we do. It is literally the life support of the organisation - a complex system of cogs and levers that, at the end of the day, work together to ensure a continuous, steady and appropriate flow of students into the school.

But I'm beginning to wonder whether the machine that we've all become accustomed to is coming to the end of its natural life. Or, at least, needs recalibrating.

Let me explain.

I am proud to say that I work in a school that is an inclusive learning community. And there is no doubt in my mind that inclusive schools - embracing a wide range of learners requiring different kinds of support - are often better schools. But, along the way, we perhaps forgot to adapt the admissions machine.

It's like one day waking up and deciding that we would put unleaded petrol into our diesel motorcars. It'll work for a while, but sooner or later things will begin to grind to a halt.

The first sign of the breakdown is when the quota light on our admissions dashboard starts flashing amber or red.

The admissions machine traditionally uses the idea of quotas to maintain a balanced mix of students entering the school. For many of us working in inclusive international schools, the designated quota for the number of students receiving learning support services was originally set at around 15%. Why fifteen? Because this reflected the normal distribution of learners requiring additional support.

But all the evidence suggests that over the past decade - arguably because we are getting better at recognising different learning profiles - more students than ever are benefitting from some kind of learning support. More inclusive schools. More available services. More students accessing these services. More students applying with this particular learning profile.

Coupled to this, because of the lack in available places in other schools, these same students are tending to stay longer and so the cog of student turnover is also slowing down.

So our quotas are going up, the alarm bells are ringing, and ironically we are finding ourselves having to turn students away that ten years ago were not being flagged by the machine.

It's complicated, I know. We have become used to trying to maintain a very delicate balance.

The point is this: the machine might still have some years left to run, but it might be worth considering whether inclusive education is calling us to recalibrate our machines, before they seize up entirely.


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