In the first of a series of articles Olivier Huyghe considers inclusive education and whether it works.
Olivier is an SEN Teacher developing Inclusive Education and a Family Research Ambassador Project Member from the Cerebra Family Research Group at the University of Warwick.
What is inclusive education and does it “work”?
As a teacher and as a father of a child with Downs Syndrome who has special educational needs, I have always been interested in inclusion and how to make sure all pupils have access to an education adapted to the way they learn best.
I have taught in mainstream secondary schools, in Secure Training Centres for teenagers, in the mental health unit of a hospital as well as in different special schools. This has given me a broad experience of different teaching environments, especially with a focus on teaching children with special educational needs (SEN).
In a series of short pieces, I would like to share with other parents my personal experience, and also my insight from research and professional practice. This first piece focuses on what is inclusion and whether it works, according to research evidence. I am sure this is a question that goes through the minds of many parents, especially those who have started thinking about schools. In the follow up article, the focus will be on what ‘good’ inclusion should look like.
For a long time, parents of children with disabilities or SEN were encouraged to send their children to “institutions” or special schools when they were of school age. More choices are now available such as those in the article Choosing a school for a child with SEN, and children can access their local schools through inclusive education.
The legal framework for inclusive education
In England, the discussion of integration and inclusion started around the time of the civil rights movements of the 1960s .
More recently, in 2001, the Department of Education (DfE) published a statutory guidance – “Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs” providing practical guidance on how to offer inclusive education for children with special needs in mainstream schools.
The guidance listed the principles of an inclusive education service as:
- Inclusion is a process by which schools, local education authorities and others develop their cultures, policies and practices to include pupils.
- With the right training, strategies and support nearly all children with special educational needs can be successfully included in mainstream education.
- An inclusive education service offers excellence and choice and incorporates the views of parents and children.
- The interests of all pupils must be safeguarded.
- Schools, local education authorities and others should actively seek to remove barriers to learning and participation.
- All children should have access to an appropriate education that affords them the opportunity to achieve their personal potential.
- Mainstream education will not always be right for every child all of the time.
- Equally, just because mainstream education may not be right at a particular stage it does not prevent the child from being included successfully at a later stage.
In 2014 (updated in 2015), a new Code of practice has been published: “Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years, Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities”. It sets a broader set of rules and guidance that parents can use to make sure their child can access the most appropriate educational provision.
The advantages of an inclusive education
Research has examined the effects of inclusion for children with SEN and those without. For children with disabilities and/or SEN:
- Academic achievements are higher and pupils make greater progress in inclusive settings.
- Inclusion provides a more stimulating environment with good role-models (academic, social and behavioural).
- It can develop assertiveness, confidence and self-esteem.
- Pupils feel part of the local community and valued as individuals in and out of school.
They are more likely to move to secondary education.
For other pupils in the school who do not have SEN:
- Inclusion changes children’s attitudes towards difference and disability.
- It develops acceptance and appreciation of others.
- Supporting peers’ with SEN in the context of peer support can increase non-SEN pupils’ academic achievements and self-esteem.
- Repeated studies have shown that there is either no effect or there is a positive effect on the academic achievements of pupils without SEN in inclusive classrooms.
For the school as a system:
- Inclusion supports school development: by understanding and responding to individual learner’s educational requirements and entitlements (for example some children need more time to learn than others). It leads to the restructuring of school cultures, policies and practices so that they respond to the diversity of all students. Inclusion gives opportunities for enriching learning and for education systems to embrace change and be more responsive to individual differences.
- Diversity in education should be a reflection of diversity in society. It promotes inclusion in society and therefore helps fight discrimination.
While research is of course important for measuring what the impact of inclusion as a practice is, inclusion as a policy rests on moral imperatives and the way we – society – views difference and disability. Thomas (1997) suggested that “arguments for inclusion should focus on philosophical and ethical principles of equality”. He states: “the true cost of segregation is the stigmatisation and alienation of those people who would otherwise have been able and willing to take a fuller part”.
Obviously developing access to inclusive mainstream education is a first step, but it is important to focus on the outcomes. Inclusive education is about creating more efficient, child-centred and flexible education systems, leading to better learning outcomes for all children. Achievements and acquiring skills for life should also be a focus of an inclusive mainstream education. Without positive outcomes and achievements, access has little value.
The existence of a legal framework and guidance is a good starting point of reference but does it guarantee an effective implementation of an inclusive education environment?
My informal discussions with parents who experienced inclusive education suggested that being included leads to many positive outcomes but it often requires close follow-up on what schools are doing and regular meetings to suggest improvements. On some occasions, parents have found it easier to opt for a placement in special schools because of “negativity” from their local mainstream school.
But this is an important discussion for another day! In my follow up article ‘From access to practice: what does good inclusion look like?’ I will share with you my reflections on the actual practice of inclusion in today’s schools.
Lyndsay, Geoff (2007) Educational psychology and the effectiveness of inclusive education/mainstreaming. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol.77 (No.1). pp. 1-24. ISSN 0007-0998
Sermier Dessemontet R., Bless G. & Morin D. Effects of inclusion on the academic achievement and adaptive behaviour of children with intellectual disabilities.
Thomas G, “Inclusive schools for an inclusive society”, British Journal of Special Education,Volume 24, No. 3 (September 1997)
Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs – www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283623/inclusive_schooling_children_with_special_educational_needs.pdf
Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf
Inclusive schools for an inclusive society – www.academia.edu/619098/Inclusive_schools_for_an_inclusive_society