The Inclusion Agenda

GEMS Education’s Head of Inclusion, Emily Ellington shares her background and ambitions

Tell me a little about yourself and your career before GEMS?
GEMS Education is a company that is close to my heart because I am a proud alumni from Jumeirah College. Since leaving Dubai, I returned to the UK and graduated with an undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Kent. I continued my studies through completion of a postgraduate degree in Integrated Counselling and a Masters in special and additional learning needs. I also trained in a number of evidence-based interventions specific to supporting children with additional needs.

I think for me, an affinity to education was inevitable. Both my parents were teachers, school leaders, school inspectors and curriculum developers and so education is something I’ve been surrounded by my whole life. For me more specifically, my passion has always been around supporting people who find it more difficult to do things, in whatever way that might be. I firmly believe in advocating for those who may find it harder to advocate for themselves – so my career followed on a pathway of inclusion.

I worked in both primary and secondary schools directly supporting children with special needs for a number of years and then I moved into local authority education services. Here I worked directly with schools to improve their provision of support for children and young people with special education needs and disabilities. Before moving back to Dubai to take up this post with GEMS, I was leading SEND Services for a large London Local Authority.

What do you hope to bring to GEMS Education?
I hope to bring innovation and experience of best international practice in relation to special educational needs and disabilities. I want to bring energy around the inclusion agenda and to support GEMS to be the regional leaders around the inclusive practice.

What is one of the biggest challenges that GEMS face?
I think one of the biggest challenges we face is the fact that we are home to a transient community. We have children from different cultural backgrounds, school settings and curricula and this can mean that we are dealing with different benchmarks, languages and practices. In turn, this might make it harder to identify additional needs swiftly. Another challenge is that we are working in an environment and climate where practice maybe isn’t as well established as it is in other parts of the world. It’s great to see the UAE increasing the focus on inclusive education but the available expertise isn’t necessarily matched. Even within our own network, we have staff from different backgrounds, with varying degrees of experience and so upskilling and providing continuing professional development is really important.

What are your top three priorities?
As with any strategic agenda, there are a huge number of priorities! I think three of the main ones for Inclusion are effective identification of additional needs, parental engagement and staff training. Like I said before, we have children who have joined our schools from a range of different backgrounds so making sure we are competent at identifying additional needs at the earliest stages is really important. Accurate and timely identification lays the foundation for early intervention which is shown to be most effective for children with additional needs.

And then when it comes to planning and implementing support, parental engagement is a real priority. We can have all the degrees and training in the world, but the people who know these students the best are their parents. So making sure that our families are at the heart of every practice and process related to inclusion is so important. I think the third one is around staff training; making sure every staff member is aware of and feels competent to support children in their classrooms.

What are the positives when it comes to inclusion in schools?
I think for GEMS Education what’s fantastic is that a lot of the schools are proactive in reaching into the parent community, whether through coffee mornings or training and awareness sessions. That’s powerful, because our students are only in our schools for part of their day and so we need to make sure that our parents feel able to continue to support the strategies that we’re using in our classrooms at home.

Every child, whether they have additional needs or not, has a unique profile of strengths and areas that they’re not so great at, and I think one of the great things about GEMS is that we are a network of schools. Where one environment really can’t be adapted for a particular child in a certain way, we are going to have other schools that are able to do so. We need to have a strong understanding of our school’s landscape, status and environment so that we’re able to signpost and support parents into schools where their children’s needs can be met.

How do people contact you?
You can reach me on email at emily.ellington@gemseducation.com
I’ve also set up a Yammer page which will be focused on inclusion – it’s an open page where people can post suggestions, ideas or questions and I’ll be using that as a platform to keep everyone updated on the world of inclusion.