Part of being an inclusive college is looking at the whole student

Jo Sale, Vice Principal, Impington International College

Inclusion in education is an umbrella term; however, for us at Impington International College, a fundamental aspect of inclusion is making sure that we can admit as diverse a cohort as possible. To us, being an inclusive college means that we aren’t just looking at a student and their examination grades; we believe that grades do not always accurately paint the picture of the true potential of a student, particularly for those joining from countries where examinations are not sat. When welcoming students to study with us, we place a large emphasis on the students’ needs and expectations and how we can meet these. This is why we offer educational programmes of study that have a holistic focus, meaning that all features of an individual are paid attention to, rather than just academic achievements.

When students in Year 11 apply to study at our sixth form, we ask for an average Grade 5 across all GCSE subjects or equivalent. We try to keep these target grades as realistic as possible, but the most important thing is that students come to us with a passion for learning. It is not always about having achieved the top grade, something we highlight when Year 11 students look at what their next steps on their educational journey could be.

At Impington International College, we teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) and the IB Career-related Programme (CP). IB courses have inclusivity at their heart, through the student-centred approach to learning. This being said, we are always transparent with prospective students about the challenges of studying the DP, but we find that most students thrive through studying the different elements.

We also arrange guidance meetings with every student who meet the criteria to study with us. During these meetings, we reflect on the qualities of the whole student. We want to get an idea of what each student wants to achieve from their sixth form education and experience. As well as educational experience, we talk about the social and emotional needs of each individual and this is a key part of being an inclusive college; we want our students to be as open with us as we are with them. All of these different elements allow us to get a clear picture of the whole student, with the initial focus being on what the student wants and how we can help them get there.

These meetings also mean that we can guide students so that they are able to make the most out of their time with us and a key way of promoting this is by ensuring that our students choose the right subjects to study. By understanding what the IB can offer each individual, we’re able to mould the curriculum so that it suits our students’ strengths and most importantly, interests. This is particularly evident through students studying three subjects at higher level (equivalent to A Levels) and three at standard level (equivalent to AS Levels). We have a fantastic team here who are very good at understanding subject combinations, routes to university and the world of work; knowledge which we can use to guide our students throughout their two years spent with us. We also ensure that small class sizes are maintained so that our teachers know all of their students on a personal level and appreciate where each individual’s strengths lie.

An inclusive school environment is just as important as an inclusive school curriculum and you cannot divorce the two. We choose to offer the IB because it is a values driven curriculum. At the heart of all of the IB programmes is the teaching that other people, with differing opinions, can also be right, which is a powerful message and one that we promote whole heartedly at our sixth form. The IB learner profile is also a key focus of ours, and underpins everything that we do. Through the IB curriculum, we will teach our students to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. A huge part of Impington International College is about living these attributes and we operate this way every day. With such a diverse student community, in terms of how our students think, their physical abilities – let alone where they come from – we promote these teachings in order to help our students to go beyond what a more traditional sixth form programme can allow them to.

It is important for us that we protect this diversity in the classroom. One of the ways in which we do this is through high quality mixed ability teaching. Although it can be more challenging working with a range of learners, mixed ability lessons ensure that you facilitate true debate. By putting together a group of students who have different backgrounds, mind sets and ways of taking and sharing information it creates an amazing learning environment in which everyone’s skills are enhanced.

It is a common misconception that the DP is only for an academic elite of students – this couldn’t be further from the truth. The IBDP is about a passion and a drive for learning, about the interconnectivity of subjects and about fostering skills for university and for life. Of course, academic grades are important however, part of being an inclusive college is looking at the whole student and developing those that study with us to be so much more than just a grade. It’s about treating all students as human beings with extraordinary potential, first and foremost, so that they can make the very most out of their educational journey.