Unit 1: Introduction to Inclusive Education

This unit is an introductory concepts to the course; Educating Individuals with Diverse Learning Needs

Course Tutors:  Sandra Sikanku

                            : Larbi-Appiah Naa Korkor

Making Education for All inclusive: where next?


Mel Ainscow and Susie Miles, University of Manchester, UK

Paper prepared for Prospects, February 2008



The articles in this special edition of Prospects focus on what is, arguably, the biggest challenge facing school systems throughout the world, that of providing an effective education for all children and young people. In economically poorer countries this is mainly about the estimated 72 million children who are not in school (UNESCO, 2008). Ensuring that all children complete primary education is an essential step towards reducing poverty and human deprivation in what Hulme (2007) refers to as the world’s biggest promise in the form of the Millennium Development Goals.  Meanwhile, in wealthier countries – despite the resources that are available – many young people leave school with no worthwhile qualifications, others are placed in various forms of special provision away from mainstream educational experiences, and some simply choose to drop out since the lessons seem irrelevant to their lives.


Faced with these challenges, there is evidence of an increased interest in the idea of inclusive education.  However, the field remains confused as to what actions need to be taken in order to move policy and practice forward. In some countries, inclusive education is still thought of as an approach to serving children with disabilities within general education settings. Internationally, however, it is increasingly seen more broadly as a reform that supports and welcomes diversity amongst all learners (UNESCO, 2001). It presumes that the aim of inclusive education is to eliminate social exclusion that is a consequence of attitudes and responses to diversity in race, social class, ethnicity, religion, gender and ability (Vitello & Mithaug, 1998).  As such, it starts from the belief that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just society.


Fourteen years ago the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education endorsed the idea of inclusive education (UNESCO, 1994). Arguably the most significant international document that has ever appeared in the field of special education, the Salamanca Statement argued that regular schools with an inclusive orientation are ‘the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all’.  Furthermore, it suggested that such schools can ‘provide an effective education for the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system’ (UNESCO, 1994, para 3).


It is worth noting that the Salamanca event followed on soon after the ground-breaking Jomtien Conference of 1990, which committed almost all the countries in the world to achieve the goal of Education for All (EFA).  This was particularly significant because it acknowledged that large numbers of vulnerable and marginalized groups of learners were excluded from education systems world wide.  However, despite the apparent unequivocal nature of the Jomtien declaration, the decision to hold the Salamanca conference would seem to imply that the phrase ‘education for all’ really meant ‘almost all’, accepting the historical assumption that a small percentage of children have to be seen as ‘outsiders’, whose education must be catered for by a separate, parallel system, usually known as special education.


Given that the implication of the Salamanca Statement, as we read it, is the bringing together of the two separate systems in order to ensure that education for all really does mean all, in this paper we consider why progress towards a unified strategy for educational improvement has been so disappointing in many countries. This leads us to recommend a way forward, one that sets out to ensure that EFA is genuinely inclusive.  We go on to draw on research evidence to consider the practical implications of such a formulation, focusing on the implications for teaching and learning, school development, leadership and the development of education systems.  Whilst much of this research is from economically developed contexts, we also draw on the experience of a UNESCO teacher education project that involving developments an over 80 countries (Ainscow, 1999) and the work of the Enabling Education Network (EENET) in supporting practitioners in Southern countries to document their experience of working towards more inclusive forms of education in the context of limited material resources.


Defining inclusion

The confusion that exists within the field internationally arises, in part at least, from the fact that the idea of inclusive education can be defined in a variety of ways (Ainscow, Farrell & Tweddle, 2000). It is also important to remember that there is no one perspective on inclusion within a single country, or even within a school (Booth, 1996; Booth & Ainscow 1998; Dyson & Millward, 2000).


A recent analysis of international research (Ainscow et al, 2006) suggests a typology of five ways of ways of thinking about inclusion. These are: inclusion as concerned with disability and ‘special educational needs’; as a response to disciplinary exclusions; as about all groups vulnerable to exclusion; as the promotion of a school for all; and as Education for All.  Before we explain that formulation that we recommend in this paper, we summarise what is implied by each of the five perspectives.


Perspective 1: Inclusion as concerned with disability and ‘special educational needs’. There is a common assumption that inclusion is primarily about educating disabled students, and others categorised as ‘having special educational needs’, in mainstream schools. The usefulness of such an approach has been questioned, since it focuses on a ‘disabled’ or ‘special needs’ part of the students, ignoring other ways in which participation may be impeded or enhanced. The Index for Inclusion, a self-review instrument for schools that has been used in many countries in recent years (Booth & Ainscow, 2002), dispensed with the notion of ‘special educational needs’ to account for educational difficulties and replaced it with notions of ‘barriers to learning and participation’ and ‘resources to support learning and participation’. In this context, support was seen as all activities which increase the capacity of schools to respond to diversity.

There is a danger, however, that, in rejecting a view of inclusion tied to special educational needs and disability, attention is deflected from the continued segregation of students categorised in this way. Inclusion can involve the assertion of the rights of disabled young people to a local mainstream education, a view vociferously propounded by some disabled people. A rights perspective invalidates such arguments. Thus, compulsory segregation is seen to contribute to the oppression of disabled people, just as other practices marginalise groups on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation (Corbett, 2001).


At the same time, there is concern about the significant effect of categorising students within education systems. The practice of segregation within special schools, involves a relatively small number of students (for example, approximately 1.3% in England), yet it exerts a disproportionate influence within the education system. It seems to perpetuate a view that some students ‘need’ to be segregated because of their deficiency or defect. Yet those who argue that placement in special schools is a neutral response to ‘need’, consider that some children are best served in such settings.  Indeed, nowadays the term ‘inclusive education’ is sometimes used in England to describe practices within special schools (Spurgeon, 2007). The special educational needs view of educational difficulty, undoubtedly, remains the dominant perspective in most countries (Mittler, 2000).  Special education absorbs difficulties that arise in education for a wide variety of reasons within the frame of individual defect.


Perspective 2: Inclusion as a response to disciplinary exclusions.  Although inclusion is most commonly seen as being associated with children categorised as ‘having special educational needs’, in many countries it is also closely connected to ‘bad behaviour’. The mere mention of the word ‘inclusion’ in some schools can make teachers fearful of being asked to take on disproportionate numbers of students whose behaviour is considered to be ‘difficult’ and who may have been excluded (or expelled) from other schools.


It has been argued that disciplinary exclusion cannot be understood without being seen in the context of preceding events, the nature of relationships, and the approaches to teaching and learning in a school (Booth, 1996). Even at the level of simple measurement, the figures for formal disciplinary exclusion mean little when separated from numbers for informal disciplinary exclusion. For example, sending children home for an afternoon, truancy and the categorisation of students as having emotional and behavioural difficulties can all be seen as informal disciplinary exclusions.  The informal exclusion of school-age girls who become pregnant, and who may be discouraged from continuing at school, continues to distort the gender composition of the official exclusion figures in some countries.


Perspective 3: Inclusion as about all groups vulnerable to exclusion.  There is an increasing trend for inclusion in education to be viewed more broadly in terms of overcoming discrimination and disadvantage in relation to any groups of students who are vulnerable to exclusionary pressures (Mittler, 2000).  In some countries this broader perspective is associated with the terms ‘social inclusion’ and ‘social exclusion’.  When used in an educational context, social inclusion tends to refer to barriers faced by groups whose access to schools is under threat, for example, girls who become pregnant or have babies while at school, looked-after children (those in the care of public authorities), and gypsy/travellers. Yet commonly, the language of social inclusion and exclusion is often used more narrowly to refer to children who are (or are in danger of being) excluded from schools and classrooms because of their ‘behaviour’.


This broader use of the language of inclusion and exclusion is somewhat fluid. There may well be common processes which link the different forms of exclusion experienced by disabled children, children who are excluded from school for disciplinary reasons, and people living in economically poor communities. The nature of such exclusionary processes and their origins in social structures requires further research.


Perspective 4: Inclusion as the promotion of a school for all.  A different strand of thinking about inclusion is related to the development of the common school for all, or comprehensive school. In the United Kingdom, for example, the term ‘comprehensive school’ is used in the context of secondary education and was established as a reaction to a system which had previously allocated children to different types of school on the basis of their attainment at the age of 11, and which reinforced social class-based inequalities.


The comprehensive school movement in England is similar to the Folkeskole tradition in Denmark, the ‘common school’ tradition in the USA, and the unified compulsory education system in Portugal. It involves creating a single type of ‘school for all’ which serves a socially diverse community. In Norway, however, the idea of ‘the school for all’ was as much about creating an independent singular Norwegian identity as it was to do with the participation of people within diverse communities. Although this strong emphasis on education for local communities facilitated the disbanding of segregated special institutions, it was not followed by an equally strong movement to reform the common school to embrace and value difference. There was an emphasis on assimilating those perceived to be different into a homogeneous normality rather than transformation through diversity.


Perspective 5: Inclusion as Education for All.  This fifth way of thinking about inclusive education tends to be almost exclusively associated with Southern countries, especially those where education is neither free nor compulsory.   International efforts to promote EFA intensified following the first ‘World Conference on Education for All’ held in Jomtien, Thailand, with its slogan of ‘EFA by the year 2000’ (UNESCO, 1990). The significance of Jomtien was its acknowledgement of the exclusion of large numbers of vulnerable and marginalized groups of learners from education systems world wide. It also presented a vision of education as a much broader concept than schooling, beginning with early childhood, emphasising women’s literacy and recognising the importance of basic literacy skills as part of lifelong learning. This was a landmark conference in the development of thinking about inclusive education, even though this concept was not widely used at that time.


Although the initial vision of EFA was broad and ambitious, the rhetoric of ‘all’ has so far failed to reach the poorest and most disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities (Miles & Singal, in press). With international attention focused on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, EFA has become increasingly focused on ensuring access to, and completion of, five years of Universal Primary Education for all children by 2015.  Yet a broader notion of all and a greater appreciation of difference in the education system could hold the key to improving the quality of the education delivered in those five years (Ainscow, 1999).


Moving towards inclusion

Given these different, though potentially complementary, views of inclusive education, progress remains disappointing in many countries.  For example, in her analysis of seventeen EFA plans from the South and South-East Asia region, Ahuja (2005) notes that the idea of inclusive education was not even mentioned.  In fact, special schools and residential hostels were often put forward as a strategy for meeting the needs of a wide range of disadvantaged students, and non-formal education was seen as a solution to the educational needs of marginalised groups. This is a worrying trend, especially given the negative effects of institutionalisation on vulnerable groups of children (United Nations, 2005).  Similarly, in a study of countries engaged in the Fast Track Initiative of EFA, World Vision (2007:1) found that ‘a number of FTI-endorsed countries, particularly those which are approaching universal primary education do now have national education sector plans which address the inclusion of including disabled children … However in a number of countries , policies and provision for disabled children remain cursory or have not been implemented’.  The report notes that in five of the FTI-endorsed countries there was no mention at all of disabled children.


It is also important to note that, even in the developed world, not all educationalists have embraced the inclusive philosophy and some are resistant to the idea (Brantlinger, 1997; Freire & César, 2002; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).  Indeed, some disability-focused organisations argue for separate, ‘specialist’ services.  Most notably, many organisations of deaf people argue that separate educational provision is the only way of guaranteeing their right to education in the medium of sign language and access to deaf culture (Freire & César, 2003). Yet in the Ugandan context, for example, Kristensen et al (2006) found special school contexts to be lacking in specialist knowledge and equipment.  Meanwhile, the development of small specialist units located within the standard school environment is seen by many as a way of providing specialist knowledge, equipment and support to particular groups of children whose needs are difficult to accommodate in mainstream classrooms.


Consequently, as we consider the way forward, it is important to recognise that the field of inclusive education is riddled with uncertainties, disputes and contradictions.  Yet throughout the world attempts are being made to provide more effective educational responses for all children, whatever their characteristics, and, encouraged by the Salamanca Statement, the overall trend is towards making these responses within the context of general educational provision (see the special edition of the European Journal of Psychology of Education, December 2006).  As a consequence, this is leading to a reconsideration of the future roles and purposes of practitioners throughout the education system, including those who work in special education.  And, of course, this has major implications for the direction on national policies and the development of practice in the field.


With this in mind, we want to argue that progress in relation to both the EFA agenda and inclusive education requires a greater clarity about what becoming more inclusive involves.  For us, it is a principled approach to education which involves:


  • The process of increasing the participation of students in, and reducing their exclusion from, the curricula, cultures and communities of local schools;


  • Restructuring the cultures, policies and practices in schools so that they respond to the diversity of students in their locality;


  • The presence, participation and achievement of all students vulnerable to exclusionary pressures, not only those with impairments or those who are categorised as ‘having special educational needs’.


Certain features of this way of conceptualising inclusive education are, in our view, of particular importance: inclusion is concerned with all children and young people in schools; it is focused on presence, participation and achievement; inclusion and exclusion are linked together, such that inclusion involves the active combating of exclusion; and inclusion is seen as a never-ending process. Thus an inclusive school is one that is on the move, rather than one that has reached a perfect state. Inclusion is, therefore, a process requiring ongoing vigilance.


We are conscious of some limitations of this way of thinking.  In particular, we are aware that it identifies education with schooling, whereas we view a school as only one of the sites of education within communities. In this sense, we see the role of schools as supporting the education of communities not to monopolise it.  We would also wish to emphasise the significance of the participation of staff, parents/carers and other community members. It seems to us that we will not get very far in supporting the participation and learning of all students if we reject their identities and family backgrounds, or if we choose not to encourage the participation of staff in schools in decisions about teaching and learning activities.  We also believe that it is essential to connect inclusion/exclusion in education, more broadly with inclusionary and exclusionary pressures within society.


Putting these ideas together leads us to broadly support national approaches to education based around comprehensive community pre-school, school, and post-school education, and to see educational entitlement as a world wide commitment. We are thus committed to the inclusive development of education for all.


Such a formulation is consistent with what some scholars have defined as the ‘organisational paradigm’ of inclusive education (Dyson and Millward, 2000).  This requires new thinking that challenges assumptions that are deeply established amongst many educators across the world. Specifically, it requires a move away from explanations of educational failure that concentrate on the characteristics of individual children and their families, towards an analysis of the barriers to participation and learning experienced by students within education systems (Booth and Ainscow, 2002).  Here, the notion of barriers draws our attention, for example, to ways in which lack of resources or expertise, inappropriate curricula or teaching methods, and attitudes can limit the presence, participation and achievement of some learners.  Indeed, it has been argued that those students who experience such barriers can be regarded as ‘hidden voices’ who, under certain conditions, can encourage the improvement of schools in ways that would be of benefit to all of their students (Ainscow, 1999)


This approach, which we see as a new direction of travel – an inclusive turn – is more likely to be successful in contexts where there is a culture of collaboration that encourages and supports problem-solving (Carrington, 1999; Kugelmass, 2001; Skrtic, 1991).  It involves those within a particular context in working together to address barriers to education experienced by some learners.


What, then, does taking an inclusive turn mean for moving policy and practice forward?  What needs to be done to develop schools that can ‘reach out’ effectively to all children and young people, whatever their circumstances and personal characteristics?  What does research suggest about how teachers and schools might develop more inclusive practices?


In addressing these issues, we focus specifically on the nature of inclusive practices.  In so doing, we examine the ways in which curricula are interpreted through the approaches to teaching used in particular contexts. We go on to examine the ways in which inclusive practices develop, and how factors at different levels of the system bear on such developments. This leads us to argue that teachers are the key to the development of more inclusive forms of education. Their beliefs, attitudes and actions are what create the contexts in which children and young people are required to learn. This being the case, the task must be to develop education systems within which teachers feel supported as well as challenged in relation to their responsibility to keep exploring more effective ways of facilitating the learning of all students.   All of this has major implications for school organization and leadership, and overall educational policy.


Inclusive teaching

It has been argued that the approaches developed as part of what is now often referred to as special needs education have, despite good intentions, continued to create barriers to progress as schools have been encouraged to adopt them (Ainscow, 1998; Slee, 1996).  Recently, researchers who have reviewed the empirical basis of specialised methods for particular categories of students conclude that there is little support for a separate special needs pedagogy (Davis & Florian, 2004; Lewis & Norwich, 2005).  Put simply, effective teaching is effective teaching for all students.


At the same time, it has been argued that the preoccupation with individualised responses that have been a feature of special education, continue to deflect attention away from the creation of forms of teaching that can reach out to all learners within a class and the establishment of school conditions that will encourage such developments (Ainscow, 1997).  This may help to explain why integration efforts that are dependent upon the importing of practices from special education tend to foster the development of yet new, more subtle forms of segregation, albeit within the mainstream settings.  So, for example, in some countries recent years have seen the introduction of teaching assistants who work alongside class teachers in order to facilitate the presence of those students categorised as having special needs.  It has been found that often when such support is withdrawn, teachers feel that they can no longer cope.  Meanwhile, the requirement for individualised education plans has encouraged some school leaders to feel that many more children will require such responses, thus creating budget problems within education systems (Ainscow, Farrell & Tweddle, 2000; Fulcher, 1989).  At the same time, in some countries the category ‘special educational needs’ has become a repository for various groups who suffer discrimination in society, such as those from minority backgrounds (Trent, Artiles & Englert, 1998).  In this way special education can be a way of hiding discrimination against some groups of students behind an apparently benign label, thus, justifying their low attainments and, therefore, their need for separate educational arrangements.


The recognition that inclusive schools will not be achieved by transplanting special education thinking and practice into mainstream contexts points to other possibilities.  Many of these relate to the need to move from the individualised planning frame, referred to above, to a perspective that seeks to personalise learning through an engagement with the whole class (Ainscow, 1999).  In this sense, many ideas about effective teaching are relevant.  However, what is particular to an inclusive pedagogy is the way in which teachers conceptualise notions of difference.


As Bartolome (1994) explains, teaching methods are neither devised nor implemented in a vacuum.  Design, selection and use of particular teaching approaches and strategies arise from perceptions about learning and learners.  In this respect, she argues, even the most pedagogically advanced methods are likely to be ineffective in the hands of those who implicitly or explicitly subscribe to a belief system that regards some students, at best, as disadvantaged and in need of fixing, or, worse, as deficient and, therefore, beyond fixing.


In thinking about what inclusive practice involves we also have to be sensitive to the complex nature of teaching.  Reflecting on their observations of classroom practices internationally, Stigler and Hiebert (1999) suggest that teaching should not be seen as a loose mixture of individual features, ‘thrown together’ by individual practitioners.  Rather, they suggest, the practice of a teacher ‘works like a machine’, with the different elements being interconnected.  This means that individual features of practice only make sense in relation to the whole.  Commenting on this formulation, Hargreaves (2003) suggests that teaching practices take the form of ‘scripts’ that are deeply embedded within teachers, reflecting their life experiences and taken-for-granted assumptions.  Consequently, changing one or two features of practice is unlikely to lead to significant improvements in teaching quality, since such superficial changes will leave most elements of the original script undisturbed.


Studying practice

In the United Kingdom two recent studies have looked closely at how practices that respond effectively to learner diversity develop.  Perhaps significantly, both projects involved researchers in working collaboratively with practitioners.


The first study, Learning without Limits, examined ways of teaching that are free from determinist beliefs about ability (Hart, 2003; Hart, Dixon, Drummond & McIntyre, 2004).  The researchers worked closely with a group of teachers who had rejected ideas of fixed ability, in order to study their practice.  They started from the belief that constraints are placed on children’s learning by ability-focused practices that lead young children to define themselves in comparison to their peers.


The researchers argue that the notion of ability as inborn intelligence has come to be seen as ‘a natural way of talking about children’ that summarises their perceived differences.  They go on to suggest that, in England, national policies reflect this assumption, making it essential for teachers to compare, categorise and group their pupils by ability in order to provide appropriate and challenging teaching for all.  So, for example, school inspectors are expected to check that teaching is differentiated for ‘more able’, ‘average’ and less able’ pupils.  In this context, what is meant by ability is not made explicit, leaving scope for teachers to interpret what is being recommended in ways that suit their own beliefs and views.  However, it is noted that that the policy emphasis on target setting and value added measures of progress leave little scope for teachers who reject the fixed view of measurable ability to hold on to their principles.


Through examining closely the practices and thinking of their teacher partners, the researchers set themselves the task of identifying ‘more just and empowering’ ways of making sense of learner diversity.  In summary, this would, they argue, involve teachers treating patterns of achievement and response in a ‘spirit of transformability’, seeking to discover what is possible to enhance the capacity of each child in their class to learn and to create the conditions in which their learning can more fully and effectively flourish.


The researchers explain that the teachers in their study based their practices on a strong conviction that things can change and be changed for the better, recognizing that whatever a child’s present attainments and characteristics, given the right conditions, everybody’s capacity for learning can be enhanced.  Approaching their work with this mind-set, the teachers involved in the study were seen to analyse gaps between their aspirations for children and what was actually happening.


The second study, Understanding and Developing Inclusive Practices in Schools, also pointed to the importance of inquiry as a stimulus for changing practices.  The study involved 25 schools in exploring ways of developing inclusion in their own contexts, in collaboration with university researchers (Ainscow, Booth and Dyson, 2004; Ainscow et al, 2003; Ainscow, Booth & Dyson, 2006).  Significantly, this process took place in the context of the Government’s extensive efforts to improve standards in public education, as measured by test and examination scores. This has involved the creation of an educational ‘market-place’, coupled with an emphasis on policies fostering greater diversity between types of school. The result is a quasi-selective system in which the poorest children, by and large, attend the lowest-performing schools – similar policy trends are evident in a number of other developed countries. However, despite this apparently unfavourable national policy context, what was noted in the schools that participated in the study was neither the crushing of inclusion by the so-called standards agenda, nor the rejection of the standards agenda in favour of a radical, inclusive alternative.  Certainly, many teachers were concerned about the impacts on their work of the standards agenda and some were committed to views of inclusion which they saw as standing in contradiction to it.  However, in most of the schools, the two agendas remained intertwined.  Indeed, the focus on attainment appeared to prompt some teachers to examine issues in relation to the achievements and participation of marginalised groups that they had previously overlooked.  Likewise, the concern with inclusion tended to shape the way the school responded to the imperative to raise standards.


In trying to make sense of the relationship between external imperatives and the processes of change in schools, the study drew on the ideas of Wenger (1998) to reveal how external agendas were mediated by the norms and values of the ‘communities of practice’ within schools and how they become part of a dialogue whose outcomes can be more rather than less inclusive. In this way, the role of national policy emerges from the study in something of a new light. This suggests that schools may be able to engage with what might appear to be unfavourable policy imperatives to produce outcomes that are by no means inevitably non-inclusive.


Moving practice forward

Together the findings of these two studies lead to reasons for optimism. They indicate that more inclusive approaches can emerge from a study of the existing practice of teachers, set within the internal social dynamics of schools.  They also suggest that it is possible to intervene in these dynamics in order to open up new possibilities for moving policy and practice forward.


Research suggests that developments of practice are unlikely to occur without some exposure to what teaching actually looks like when it is being done differently, and exposure to someone who can help teachers understand the difference between what they are doing and what they aspire to do (Elmore, Peterson & McCarthy, 1996).  It also suggests that this has to be addressed at the individual level before it can be solved at the organisational level.  Indeed, there is evidence that increasing collaboration without some more specific attention to change at the individual level can simply result in teachers coming together to reinforce existing practices rather than confronting the difficulties they face in different ways (Lipman, 1997).


At the heart of the processes in schools where changes in practice do occur is the development of a common language with which colleagues can talk to one another and, indeed, to themselves about detailed aspects of their practice (Huberman, 1993).  Without such a language teachers find it very difficult to experiment with new possibilities.  Much of what teachers do during the intensive encounters that occur is carried out at an automatic, intuitive level.  Furthermore there is little time to stop and think.  This is why having the opportunity to see colleagues at work is so crucial to the success of attempts to develop practice.  It is through shared experiences that colleagues can help one another to articulate what they currently do and define what they might like to do (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002).  It is also the means whereby space is created within which taken-for-granted assumptions about particular groups of learners can be subjected to mutual critique.


This raises questions about how best to introduce such ways of working.  Here a promising approach is that of ‘lesson study’, a systematic procedure for the development of teaching that is well established in Japan and some other Asian countries (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002; Lo, Yan & Pakey, 2005; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999).  The goal of lesson study is to improve the effectiveness of the experiences that the teachers provide for all of their students. The core activity is collaboration on a shared area of focus that is generated through discussion.  The content of this focus is the planned lesson, which is then used as the basis of gathering data on the quality of experience that students receive.  These lessons are called ‘study lessons’ and are used to examine the teachers’ practices and the responsiveness of the students to the planned activities.  Members of the group work together to design the lesson plan, which is then implemented by each teacher.  Observations and post-lesson conferences are arranged to facilitate the improvement of the research lesson between each trial.


Lesson study can be conducted in many ways.  It may, for example, involve a small sub-group of volunteer staff, or be carried out through departmental or special interest groupings. It can also happen ‘across schools’, and is then part of a wider, managed network of teachers working together.  The collection of evidence is a key factor in the lesson study approach.  This usually involves the use of video recording.  Emphasis is also placed on listening to the views of students in a way that tends to introduce a critical edge to the discussions that take place.


Our own research has also shown how the use of evidence to study teaching can help to foster the development of more inclusive teaching (Ainscow, Howes, Farrell & Frankham, 2003).  Specifically, it can help to create space for reappraisal and rethinking by interrupting existing discourses, and by focusing attention on overlooked possibilities for moving practice forward.  Particularly powerful techniques in this respect involve the use of mutual observation, sometimes through video recordings (Ainscow, 1999, 2003), and evidence collected from students about teaching and learning arrangements within a school (Ainscow & Kaplan, 2006; Messiou, 2006; Miles & Kaplan, 2005).  Under certain conditions such approaches provide interruptions that help to make the familiar unfamiliar in ways that stimulate self-questioning, creativity and action.  In so doing they can sometimes lead to a reframing of perceived problems that, in turn, draws the teacher’s attention to overlooked possibilities for addressing barriers to participation and learning.


Here our argument is informed by the work of Robinson (1998) who suggests that practices are activities that solve problems in particular situations.  This means that to explain a practice is to reveal the problem for which it serves as a solution.  So, in working closely with practitioners, we have found that we can make inferences about how school staff have formulated a problem and the assumptions that are involved in the decisions made.  We have also observed how initial formulations are sometimes rethought as a result of an engagement with various forms of evidence.


However, this is not in itself a straightforward mechanism for the development of more inclusive practices. A space that is created may be filled according to conflicting agendas. Studies have documented examples of how deeply held beliefs within schools may prevent the experimentation that is necessary in order to foster the development of more inclusive ways of working (Howes & Ainscow, 2006, Ainscow & Kaplan, 2006).  This reminds us that that it is easy for educational difficulties to be pathologised as difficulties inherent within students.  This is true not only of students with disabilities and those defined as ‘having special educational needs’, but also of those whose socioeconomic status, race, language and gender renders them problematic to particular teachers in particular schools. Consequently, it is necessary to explore ways of developing the capacity of those within schools to reveal and challenge deeply entrenched deficit views of ‘difference’, which define certain types of students as ‘lacking something’ (Trent et al, 1998).  This involves being vigilant in scrutinising how deficit assumptions may be influencing perceptions of certain students.


This, in turn, points to the importance of cultural factors.  Schein (1985) suggests that cultures are about the deeper levels of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, operating unconsciously to define how they view themselves and their working contexts.  The extent to which these values include the acceptance and celebration of difference, and a commitment to offering educational opportunities to all students, coupled with the extent to which they are shared across a school staff, relate to the extent to which students are enabled to participate (Kugelmass, 2001).


Hargreaves (1995) argues that cultures can be seen as having a reality-defining function, enabling those within an institution to make sense of themselves, their actions and their environment.  A current reality-defining function of culture, he suggests, is often a problem-solving function inherited from the past.  In this way, today’s cultural form created to solve an emergent problem often becomes tomorrow’s taken-for-granted recipe for dealing with matters shorn of their novelty.


Changing the norms that exist within a school is difficult to achieve, particularly within a context that is faced with so many competing pressures and where practitioners tend to work alone in addressing the problems they face (Fullan, 1991).  On the other hand, the presence of children who are not suited to the existing ‘menu’ of the school can provide some encouragement to explore a more collaborative culture within which teachers support one another in experimenting with new teaching responses.  In this way, problem-solving activities gradually become the reality-defining, taken-for-granted functions that are the culture of a school that is more geared to fostering inclusive ways of working.  At the same time, this can make an important contribution to the development of schools that will be effective for all children (Ainscow, 1999)


The implication of all of this is that becoming more inclusive is a matter of thinking and talking, reviewing and refining practice, and making attempts to develop a more inclusive culture.  Such a conceptualisation means that we cannot divorce inclusion from the contexts within which it is developing, nor the social relations that might sustain or limit that development (Dyson, 2006).  It is in the complex interplay between individuals, and between groups and individuals, that shared beliefs and values exist, and change, and that it is impossible to separate those beliefs from the relationships in which they are embodied.


Inclusive cultures

There is a body of critical literature highlighting the problems and complexities which emerge when schools attempt to develop towards greater inclusion (Dyson & Millward, 2000).  These literatures point to the internal complexities of schools as organisations, and the constraints and contradictions that are generated by the policy environments in which they exist. As such, they usefully problematise the assumptions underlying the more mechanistic approaches to improvement, but stop short of saying how inclusion might actually be developed.


A more promising family of approaches to development start from the assumption that increasing inclusion is less a set of fixed practices or policies, than a continuous process of deconstructing and reconstructing (Skrtic, 1991; Thomas & Loxley, 2001); what Corbett and Slee (2000) have called the ‘cultural vigilantism’ of exposing exclusion in all its changing forms and seeking instead to ‘foster an inclusive educational culture’.


Where writers have addressed these matters, they tend to give particular emphasis to the characteristics of schools as organisations which stimulate and support processes of interrogation. The American scholar Tom Skrtic argues that schools with what he calls ‘adhocratic’ configurations are most likely to respond to student diversity in positive and creative ways (Skrtic, 1991).  Such schools emphasise the pooling of different professional expertise in collaborative processes.  Children who cannot easily be educated within the school’s established routines are not seen as ‘having’ problems, but as challenging teachers to re-examine their practices in order to make them more responsive and flexible.  Similarly, our own work has led us to outline ‘organisational conditions’  – distributed leadership, high levels of staff and student involvement, joint planning, a commitment to enquiry and so on – that promote collaboration and problem-solving amongst staff, and which, therefore, produce more inclusive responses to diversity (Ainscow, 1999)


These themes are further supported by a review of international literature that examines the effectiveness of school actions in promoting inclusion (Dyson, et al, 2002).  The review concludes that there is a limited, but by no means negligible, body of empirical evidence about the relationship between school action and the participation of all students in the cultures, curricula and communities of their schools.  In summary, it suggests that:


  • Some schools are characterised by an ‘inclusive culture’. Within such schools, there is some degree of consensus amongst adults around values of respect for difference and a commitment to offering all pupils access to learning opportunities. This consensus may not be total and may not necessarily remove all tensions or contradictions in practice. On the other hand, there is likely to be a high level of staff collaboration and joint problem-solving, and similar values and commitments may extend into the student body, and into parent and other community stakeholders in the school.


  • The extent to which such ‘inclusive cultures’ lead directly and unproblematically to enhanced student participation is not clear. Some aspects of these cultures, however, can be seen as participatory by definition. For instance, respect for diversity from teachers may itself be understood as a form of participation by children within a school community. Moreover, schools characterised by such cultures are also likely to be characterised by forms of organisation (such as specialist provision being made in the ordinary classroom, rather than by withdrawal) and practice (such as constructivist approaches to teaching and learning) which could be regarded as participatory by definition.


  • Schools with ‘inclusive cultures’ are also likely to be characterised by the presence of leaders who are committed to inclusive values and to a leadership style which encourages a range of individuals to participate in leadership functions. Such schools are also likely to have good links with parents and with their communities.


  • The local and national policy environment can act to support or to undermine the realisation of schools’ inclusive values.


On the basis of this evidence, the Dyson review team make a number of recommendations for policy and practice.  They suggest that attempts to develop inclusive schools should pay attention to the development of ‘inclusive cultures’ and, particularly, to the building of some degree of consensus around inclusive values within school communities.  This leads them to argue that principals and other school leaders should be selected and trained in the light of their commitment to inclusive values and their capacity to lead in a participatory manner.  Finally, they conclude that the external policy environment should be compatible with inclusive developments if it is to support rather than to undermine schools’ efforts.


According to the review, there are general principles of school organisation and classroom practice which should be followed: notably, the removal of structural barriers between different groups of students and staff, the dismantling of separate programmes, services and specialisms, and the development of pedagogical approaches (such as constructivist approaches and cooperative learning) which enable students to learn together rather than separately.  It is also argued that schools should build close relations with parents and communities based on developing a shared commitment to inclusive values.


The implications for practice of such an orientation are illustrated in the Index for Inclusion (Booth and Ainscow 2002) – referred to earlier – that enable schools to draw on the knowledge and views of staff, students, parents/carers, and governors about barriers to learning and participation that exist within the existing ‘cultures, policies and practices’ of schools in order to identify priorities for change. In connecting inclusion with the detail of policy and practice, the Index encourages those who use it to build up their own view of inclusion, related to their experience and values, as they work out what policies and practices they wish to promote or discourage. The Index can support staff in schools in refining their planning processes, so that these involve wider collaboration and participation, and introduce coherence to development (see Rustemier & Booth, 2005).


Such approaches are congruent with the view that inclusion is essentially about attempts to embody particular values in particular contexts (Ainscow, Booth & Dyson, 2006).  Unlike mechanistic views of school improvement, they acknowledge that decisions about how to improve schools always involve moral and political reasoning as well as technical considerations.  Moreover, they offer specific processes through which inclusive developments might be promoted.  Discussions of inclusion and exclusion can help, therefore, to make explicit the values which underlie what, how and why changes should be made in schools. Inclusive cultures, underpinned by particular organisational conditions, may make those discussions more likely to occur and more productive when they do occur.


Leadership for inclusion

It seems, then, that inclusive practices are likely to require challenges to the thinking of those within a particular organization and, inevitably, this raises questions regarding leadership.   A recent literature review concludes that learner diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen as key challenges for educational leaders (West, Ainscow & Notman, 2003).  For example, Leithwood, Jantzi and Steinbach (1999) suggest that with continuing diversity, schools will need to thrive on uncertainty, have a greater capacity for collective problem-solving, and be able to respond to a wider range of learners.  Sergiovanni (1992) also points to the challenge of student diversity and argues that current approaches to school leadership may well be getting in the way of improvement efforts.


Lambert and her colleagues (1995) argue for what they see as a constructivist view of leadership.  This is defined as the reciprocal processes that enable participants in an educational community to construct common meanings that lead toward a common purpose about schooling.  They use this perspective to argue that leadership involves an interactive process entered into by both learners and teachers.  Consequently, there is a need for shared leadership, with the principal seen as a leader of leaders. Hierarchical structures have to be replaced by shared responsibility in a community that becomes characterised by agreed values and hopes, such that many of the control functions associated with school leadership become less important or even counter-productive.


The most helpful theoretical and empirical context, however, is provided by Riehl (2000), who, following an extensive review of literature, develops ‘a comprehensive approach to school administration and diversity’. She concludes that school leaders need to attend to three broad types of task: fostering new meanings about diversity; promoting inclusive practices within schools; and building connections between schools and communities.  She goes on to consider how these tasks can be accomplished, exploring how the concept of practice, especially discursive practice, can contribute to a fuller understanding of the work of school principals.  This analysis leads the author to offer a positive view of the potential for school principals to engage in inclusive, transformative developments.  She concludes: ‘When wedded to a relentless commitment to equity, voice, and social justice, administrators’ efforts in the tasks of sensemaking, promoting inclusive cultures and practices in schools, and building positive relationships outside of the school may indeed foster a new form of practice’ (p. 71).


The role of networking

What emerges from the evidence summarised so far is how social learning processes, stimulated by inquiry within particular contexts, can foster a greater capacity for responding to learner diversity.  Achieving a deeper and more sustainable impact on the culture of schools is, however, much more difficult.  This necessitates longer-term, persistent strategies for capacity building at the school level (Harris & Chrispeels, 2006). It also requires new thinking and, indeed, new relationships at the systems level.  In other words, efforts to foster inclusive school development are more likely to be effective when they are part of a wider strategy (Ainscow, 2005).


This has led to an increasing emphasis on the idea of sharing expertise and resources between schools, and linking educational development with wider community development.  Such an approach is consistent with what Stoker (2003) calls ‘public value management’, with its emphasis on network governance.  Stoker argues that the origins of this approach can be traced to criticisms of the current emphasis on strategies drawn from private sector experience.  He goes on to suggest that the formulation of what constitutes public value can only be achieved through deliberation involving the key stakeholders and actions that depend on mixing, in a reflexive manner, a range of intervention options.  Consequently, ‘networks of deliberation and delivery’ are seen as key strategies.  In the education service, this implies the negotiation of new, inter-dependent relationships between schools, administrations and communities (Hargreaves, 2003).


There is some evidence that school-to-school collaboration can strengthen the capacity of individual organisations to respond to learner diversity (Ainscow & Howes, 2007; Howes & Ainscow, 2006).  However, this does not represent an easy option for the schools themselves, particularly in policy contexts within which competition and choice continue to be the main policy drivers.  Recent studies, for the most part, have focused on situations where schools have been given short-term financial incentives linked to the demonstration of collaborative planning and activity (Ainscow, Muijs & West, 2006; Ainscow & West, 2006; Chapman and Allen, 2006; Chapman, 2005).  They suggest that collaboration between schools can help to reduce the polarization of schools, to the particular benefit of those students who are marginalised at the edges of the system and whose performance and attitudes cause concern.  There is evidence, too, that when schools seek to develop more collaborative ways of working, this can have an impact on how teachers perceive themselves and their work.  Specifically, comparisons of practices can lead teachers to view underachieving students in a new light. Rather than simply presenting problems that are assumed to be insurmountable, such students may be perceived as providing feedback on existing classroom arrangements. In this way they may be seen as sources of understanding as to how these arrangements might be developed in ways that could be of benefit to all members of the class.


Networking can be extended much more widely to encourage the sharing of experiences and ideas regarding ways of developing inclusive practices across national borders (Miles & Ahuja, 2007).  It was with this possibility in mind that the Enabling Education Network (EENET) was established in 1997, with the technical and financial support of a group of concerned international organisations, including UNESCO. The purpose of EENET is to contribute to the development of effective, relevant, appropriate sustainable education policy and practice internationally, and to support and promote the inclusion of marginalized groups in education world wide (Miles, 2002). Inclusive initiatives are supported by sharing relevant information and experience internationally, but primarily between southern countries, since much educational practice in the North is not relevant to Southern contexts (Stubbs and Ainscow, 1996). One of the motivating factors behind the establishment of the Network was the firm conviction, based on the work of Save the Children (UK) and UNESCO, that lessons from experience of implementing inclusive education in Southern countries had a great deal to teach practitioners in Northern contexts.


EENET’s annual publication, ‘Enabling Education’, is disseminated to almost 2,000 individuals and organisations in over 150 countries, and its web site has been accessed by people in over 190 countries. Due to the inequities of access to digital technology, EENET prioritises the dissemination of materials in ‘hard copy’. Although many network users have access to computers and can send emails, few have affordable access to the Internet to search for information. Increasingly CD ROMs containing key documents are compiled for EENET readers, as this saves the relatively high cost involved in downloading big email attachments or documents from the Internet in countries where telephone charges and printing costs are unaffordable. The most well used documents are available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian, but EENET faces difficulties in accessing documents written in non-English speaking countries of the South. Experience in English-speaking countries tends to be disseminated more widely than experiences from other parts of the world.


EENET shares information about inclusive education written and generated by, and for, a wide range of stakeholders including children, parents and consumer groups, as well as teachers, policy makers, academics and teacher trainers. Some of these documents have been produced through processes of collaborative inquiry, similar to those described earlier in this article. Although the network is located at the University of Manchester, it has adopted a non-academic style to ensure wide accessiblity. Documents posted on the web site are not necessarily representative of inclusive education practice, nor are they peer-reviewed. Practitioners are simply encouraged to share their experience, their ideas and their training materials. Nevertheless, the EENET web site is regarded by many as an important emerging database and a unique international resource on inclusive, enabling education. Most of the evidence for this has so far been anecdotal. However a detailed analysis was recently carried out of all correspondence received and the final report contains many examples of the way EENET information is used, by whom, and in which countries (Lewis, 2003).


Concluding remarks

As we look to the future, it is important not to underestimate the challenges facing education systems as they try to make EFA inclusive. For example, Lewin (2007) explains that in sub-Saharan Africa more than 25 million children of primary age and 75 million of secondary age are excluded from education.  Within this overall agenda, ensuring that the most marginalised groups of children, in the poorest countries, gain access to and participate in an education of good quality remains a major challenge. It is currently estimated that one third of the world’s out of school population are disabled, and that only 2% of disabled children attend school (UNESCO, 2007).  Article 24 in the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires all signatories to ensure that all disabled children “can access an inclusive, quality, free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live” (United Nations, 2006, Art 24 2b). Although not a homogenous group, disabled children tend to be identified internationally as being excluded from education in countries of the South in disproportionately large numbers (Mittler, 2005). Yet definitions and perceptions of disability and special needs are culturally and contextually determined and statistics inevitably vary between contexts.  Stubbs (1995) argues that a focus on demographic data and statistics obscures contextual problems associated with negative attitudes, policies and institutions which exclude children.


This reminds us that education involves complex social processes.  Furthermore, the development of education systems does not take place in isolation.  Rather it has to be understood in relation to particular geographical, political and economic factors, as well as culturally and contextually specific values and beliefs.  This applies whether we are talking about the resource rich countries of the North, or economically disadvantaged countries of the South.


Whilst we do not wish to romanticise resource-poor environments, we believe that there are lessons to be learned from the experience of education practitioners in Southern countries who face seemingly insurmountable resource barriers in their day to day work.  These lessons are essentially about the sorts of social processes we have outlined in this paper.  Often they involve stakeholders in working together to address barriers to participation and learning, rather than the use of resource-intensive and specialised technological solutions.


With this in mind, in this paper we have argued that strategies for EFA must become more inclusive. We have also argued that it is essential to be clear as to what this involves in order to bring all stakeholders together around a common sense of purpose and use of language.  As we have explained, none of this requires the introduction of particular techniques; rather it involves processes of social learning within particular contexts.  Collaboration within and between schools, closer links between schools and communities, networking across contexts, and the use of evidence as a means of stimulating experimentation are all seen as key strategies for moving such processes in a more inclusive direction. As Copland (2003) suggests, inquiry can be the ‘engine’ to enable the distribution of leadership that is needed in order to foster participation, and the ‘glue’ that can bind people together around a common purpose.


We have also argued that all of this has major implications for leadership practice at different levels within schools and education systems.  In particular, it calls for coordinated and sustained efforts by teachers and educational administrators around the idea that improving outcomes for all students is unlikely to be achieved unless there are changes in the behaviours of adults.  Consequently, the starting point must be with teachers: in effect, enlarging their capacity to imagine what might be achieved, and increasing their sense of accountability for bringing this about.  This may also involve tackling taken for granted assumptions, most often relating to expectations about certain groups of students, their capabilities and behaviours.


Our argument is, then, based on the assumption that schools and their communities know more than they use and that the logical starting point for development is with a detailed analysis of existing arrangements.  This allows good practices to be identified and shared, whilst, at the same time, drawing attention to ways of working that may be creating barriers to the participation and learning of some children and young people.  However, as we have stressed, the focus must not only be on practice.  It must also address and sometimes challenge the thinking behind existing ways of working.



Note: We must acknowledge the contributions of many of our colleagues to the ideas presented in this paper, particularly Tony Booth, Alan Dyson, Andy Howes and Mel West.






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