HomeOpinion & AnalysisExclusively inclusive or?

Exclusively inclusive or?

By Tim Middleton

The Open championship, one of golf’s four major tournaments, was first played in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland with eight men competing; in 2019 the 148th edition of the Open championship was played, this time at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, with 156 players contending for the famous coveted Claret Jug.

The term ‘Open’ would imply that it is open to anyone to enter (including any reader of this article) yet the reality is not that; 156 players competed in it though hundreds of others did actually enter and went through a series of local, regional and national qualifying tournaments. It was open to professionals and amateurs with a handicap of scratch or better (sorry, that rules out most of us now), to males and to players of any nationality. By qualifying, certain criteria were set that had to be met, so would we describe it as inclusive or exclusive? It was open to all (inclusive) but not all can compete in it (exclusive). Is that right?

An individual is free to marry whosoever he or she wishes (and will therefore be inclusive) but once married that relationship is exclusive; we do not say or indeed allow them to have inclusive relationships whereby they can have the same relationships with everyone that they have with their spouse. Seeking inclusivity does not mean everything must be inclusive.

Such scenarios may get us thinking about what we mean by organisations, including schools, being inclusive. Can we be inclusive while still being exclusive? And can we be exclusive yet also be inclusive? Should we be exclusively inclusive or inclusively exclusive? Is there any difference? Does being inclusive mean that we must include anyone and everyone? Does it mean we must allow anything and everything?

If the answer is “Yes”, should we eliminate all age-group sports and allow twenty year olds to play rugby with ten year olds? Should we stop teaching classes on the basis of age and have any person regardless of age sit in on whatever level of study they have reached? What then are the criteria that should be set?
Should single-sex schools be banned because they exclude all those of the opposite sex? Are single-sex schools exclusive and therefore not inclusive?

Does inclusivity in schools mean that every school must have children with all forms of physical difficulties as well as all forms of learning difficulties (and social difficulties)? Must all schools, to be truly inclusive, have children of all races? What happens if a school cannot find one such: is the school to be closed down for not being inclusive? Must a school offer all subjects to all pupils of all abilities? Must every school offer academic, commercial, technical and vocational subjects? Must all schools offer all sports, without specialising in any? Is there no room for specialisation? The answer to all these questions is obviously, surely, “No”, so what then does inclusivity mean?

The difference perhaps is in our terminology. It is not so much a matter that we MUST do or have certain things; rather that we are open to, and can have, all things but there will be good reasons why we do not have certain things or people. A school may not have children who are confined to wheelchairs but being inclusive would mean they have made appropriate arrangements to enable children who are in wheelchairs (and who meet the other necessary criteria) to come to the school, if so desired. A single-sex school can recognise, teach and promote the place, value and merits of the opposite sex and thus be inclusive; outwardly apparently exclusive, it is inwardly inclusive. An academic-focussed school can accept, respect and promote the place, significance and value of commercial and vocational courses without necessarily teaching those subjects themselves.

The Open golf championship helps put things in perspective; it is open to all but certain criteria can be set for anyone who wishes to participate in it. Being inclusive does not mean that we cannot have certain criteria for our organisation; it does not mean that we cannot set qualifying standards; it does not mean that we have to take everyone and anyone. After all, not everyone has to enter the tournament. The same applies to schools. An inclusive school will include all who have met the accepted criteria (be it intellectual, financial, physical), and will consider the needs, views and interests of all who do indeed have a place at the school. We shall thus be inclusively exclusive.

l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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