Strategies for Developing Inclusion in Education

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The question of ‘inclusive education’ whereby mainstreaming, is both complex and contentious. There are many informed opinions and solutions from researchers, politicians and teachers surrounding debates on inclusion. What is apparent is that there is no overarching strategy that will provide all the answers; inclusion is individual, multifarious and wide ranging. It is shaped by social, political, legislative and contextual factors. This paper will first reflect on the concept of inclusion in education and then discuss the implications for teachers and schools. The following issues will be considered; legislation, rights, ethos, behaviour management and resources.

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Inclusion in education is recognised as one of the five National Priorities for Education in Scotland by the Standards in Scotland’s Schools ect. Act 2000. It was this legislative framework, which set the legal context for inclusion, at least in principle, to what is referred to as the ‘presumption of mainstreaming’ (Scottish Government, 2003, p.2). The framework focuses predominately on pupils with disabilities and special educational needs; however, inclusion in education takes a much wider context. By definition, inclusion does not primarily focus upon a group of individuals with additional support needs (ASN), but extends beyond this to include all pupils regardless of gender, race, religion, mental and physical ability and social class (Booth and Ainscow, 1998). Similarly, Wilson (2000, p.229) states that in the absence of any rhetoric or ideology, limiting the definition of an ‘inclusive school’ to “one that rejects or excludes no pupils in a particular catchment area on grounds of ability or disablement or colour or religion or anything else” would be restrictive and naive. On both accounts, the concept of inclusion is not constrained to a group of young people with ASN but affects all pupils.

It is therefore apparent that inclusion is not about the integration or accommodation of pupils into mainstream education. Nor is it centrally concerned with the inclusion of pupils with ASN. Inclusion is more than this; inclusion seeks to address the individual needs of each pupil to enable all learners to achieve their fullest potential and experience a positive education (HMIE, 2008; Slee, 2001, p.116).


Arguably, inclusionists state that “the ‘inclusive school’ must have a certain ethos and a certain set of ideals, from which certain practices naturally follow” (Wilson, 2000, p.229). This broader philosophy of education is addressed by schools, within statements of vision to promote schools as ‘inclusive institutions’ (HMIE, 2002, p.3). In this statement, an ‘inclusive school’ is about the strategic action of creating an ethos and set of values based on equity, entitlement, school community, participation, integration and respect for diversity. Table 1 outlines this inclusive approach to education (HMIE, 2002, p.4).

Table 1. An inclusive approach to education involves:

  • Creating an ethos of achievement for all pupils within a climate of high expectation;
  • Valuing a broad range of talents, abilities and achievements;
  • Promoting success and self-esteem by taking action to remove barriers to learning;
  • Countering conscious and unconscious discrimination that may prevent individuals, or pupils from any particular groups, from thriving in the school; and
  • Actively promoting understanding and a positive appreciation of the diversity of individuals and groups within society.

Although the ‘statements of vision’ are a credible approach to inclusive education, it is notably palpable statements of aspiration. It is a cultural ethos rather than a strategic approach to inclusion and does not tangibly seek to address how this is achieved in schools. The statements express elements that are mistaken and limited. Such as: (1) There is no mention of teaching practice or teaching strategies. Without doubt, this is a fundamental part of an ‘inclusive school’. (2) Barriers to learning are inevitable; parts of the curriculum are not accessible to those without the ability or skill set to access them (being part of the school orchestra requires musical ability). (3) Promoting an ethos of educational success and high expectations may enable some lower achieving pupils to feel excluded and worthless from the education system (Barber, 1996; Hamill 2008; Mackenzie 2008 and Wilson, 2000). With the presence of a summative examination system, how can lower ability pupils feel successful and credible? Is this approach to education encouraging some pupils to feel excluded from school and the education system?

To value our self-worth and success based on a criterion of academic achievement does not support an ‘inclusive school’. Most pupils will not achieve top grades and will never score very highly on any scale. Barber (1996) suggests that underachievement is routed as a cause of disaffection and exclusion from school, which has been heightened by a climate of high expectations in schools, fuelled by league tables and social pressure. Barber (1996) proposes that underachievement leads to a vicious circle of disaffection and exclusion, which enables pupils to feel marginalised and detached from the education system. In a climate of high expectations and educational success how can lower ability pupils feel included?

To overcome this challenge, it is important that institutions educate pupils to value themselves rather than their public merits (Wilson, 2000). Teachers and schools will be faced with the challenge of instilling an ethos of high self-esteem and self-confidence in pupils to discourage disaffection and exclusion. This will go beyond subject knowledge; it will develop personal skills and attributes which will provide young people with life-long skills. This philosophy has been embedded in the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ four capacities; to develop young people that are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (CfE) (LTS, n.d., and Scottish Government 2010a; 2010b). The Scottish Government proposes that educating young people based on these principles will develop a stronger society for all. This new development will affect the teaching profession as a whole; as teachers develop new skills and teaching strategies to enforce the CfE four capacities. The onset of the new CfE will exert another challenge for teachers.


Rustemier (2002) claims that although the term ‘inclusion’ is widely used and signifies a genuine desire to better the experience of all learners, the definition is still misinterpreted or misled, which has resulted in the existence of segregated schooling for some individuals. “Inclusion has come to mean almost everything but the elimination of exclusion” claims Rustemier (2002) (CSIE, n.d.). This argument is represented in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools ect. Act; set-up to support inclusion in education.

Even though inclusion in education has a legal standing in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools ect. Act; in exceptional circumstances the legal framework still enables the exclusion of certain individuals from mainstream schools, if the following criteria apply:

  • The mainstream school “would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child”;
  • Where there would be a negative effect on the child;
  • If the placement “would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred which would not ordinarily be incurred”

If it still possible by law to exclude certain individuals from mainstream schools, then the concept of inclusion in education is fallacious and therefore, does not support inclusion of all pupils. Based on this argument, Rustemier (2002) confirms that the underlying issue in the development of inclusive education is the continuing legislative support of segregated schooling. Accordingly, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools ect. Act, supports segregated schooling to prevail in Scotland.

The Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education (CSIE) condones all forms of exclusion; “maintaining barriers to some students’ participation in the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools is unacceptable…and a…violation of basic human rights to education without discrimination” (CSIE, n.d.). Similarly, Rustemier (2002) states that such action is internationally recognised as discriminatory and damaging to young people and society and breaches all four principles underpinning the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 (CSIE, n.d.).

To overcome the legal constraints surrounding the inclusion of all pupils in mainstreams schools, Wertheimer (1997, p. 4) promotes a UK legislative reform “to: i) end compulsory segregation and gradually restructure all mainstream schools so they are accessible in terms of premises, curriculum and facilities, and ii) to plan the phased closure of all special schools”. Based on this argument, would the closure of all special schools be serving the best interests of the child?

A study by Bunch and Valeo (2004) researched the attitudes of elementary and secondary students towards peers with disabilities attending an inclusive schooling system. The findings reported that students with disabilities were able to develop friendships, learn from their peers, that a small amount of abuse occurs, however it is comparatively minimal and that encouragement and support from their peers is common. The majority of responses from students were in favour of inclusion and rejected the idea that students should be segregated for any reason. The study, however small, provided evidence that an all inclusive education system had positive effects on social development, acceptance of difference, and social integration. The study by Bunch and Valeo (2004) supports the argument of the closure of all special schools. This philosophy of inclusive education was shared by Mittler (2000); the concept of inclusion in education has the potential to transform schools to enable them to become places which fully support social and educational opportunities for all pupils.

In contrast, Cigman (2007) supports the argument of segregated schooling, whereby, special schools promote the best interests of the child; they provide specialist education, which can deliver a more individualised education to better meet the needs of the child. Cigman (2007) proposes that mainstream schools can be a humiliating experience for young people with ASN “… mainstream schools do not provide a non-humiliating educational experience for some children” (Cigman, 2007, p.779). Segregation from mainstream classes and their peers through inclusive support strategies, such as special units can account for feelings of humiliation and alienation, which can be “fostered under the flag of inclusion” Bishop and Swain (2000, p.24). Contrary to this argument, Oliver (1995) suggests that support strategies, such as special units are an essential means of successfully implementing inclusion in mainstream schools.

During my time at school, the use of some inclusive support strategies, such as the support for learning base and the use of classroom assistants, highlighted the issue of segregation and differentiation for some pupils with ASN. The removal of pupils from class and from their peers to attend sessions in the support for learning base and the use of classroom assistants in mainstream classes drew attention to the pupils with ASN. This highlighted the matter to the rest of the class. As a result, some pupils felt alienated and detached from their peers and found their ASN carried a stigma attached to the label. Subsequently, such means of inclusion ignited more serious issues, such as bullying and low-self esteem.

What is apparent from the opinions of researchers, politicians and teachers is that few would reject the concept of inclusion in education; however, translating this into practice will serve a greater challenge for teachers and schools. One such challenge schools and teachers is the requirement to “address better the needs of the pupils who are alienated or disaffected from school, or by the commitment to educating pupils with special needs in more inclusive ways” (HMIE, 2002, p.4).


In a study by Dyson, Farrell, Polat, Hutcheson and Gallannaugh (2004), teachers professed that the biggest challenge to inclusion was dealing with pupils who presented social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD). Some teachers reported a sense of frustration and isolation when dealing with SEBD (Hamill, 2008). Research surrounding this group of young people who present disruptive behaviour becomes far more contentious in the context of inclusion. In a report by HMIE (2002, p.34), it was apparent that the needs of those displaying SEBD and who often act in a disruptive manner (Hamill, 2008, p.68), present difficult challenges to schools and local authorities in promoting schools as inclusive institutions (Mackenzie, 2008, p.762). The problem is both severe and wide-spread.

During 2009/10 there were 30,211 exclusions from local authority schools in Scotland, a decrease of 11 per cent from 2008/09 (Scottish Government, 2010c). Conversely, measuring school exclusions is problematic; some schools or local authorities can influence parents’ to move their child to another school, which has led to an avoidance of registering the move as a ‘formal’ exclusion (Mackenzie (2008, p.762). The issue of exclusion, hence disruptive behaviour may be much greater than the figures reveal.

A study by Hayden (2000) suggests that children with ASN are six times more likely than other children to be excluded. Those excluded are likely to suffer from SEBD. The label attached to pupils with SEBD can influence the way they are perceived and treated by schools, teachers and peers (Hamill, 2008). For many schools, the most obvious solution is exclusion, which compounds feelings of alienation and marginalisation, thus worsening the situation (Mackenzie, 2008, p.762). It is apparent that the use of exclusion to resolve disruptive behaviour does not endorse an inclusive school ethos. Nor does it comply with the right of social inclusion. How does exclusion support the best interests or needs of the child when they feel alienated or marginalised already? Or does it serve the best interests of the other children in the classroom suffering the negative effects of disruptive behaviour?

As previously discussed, inclusion in education is regarded as a human rights issue, whereby to exclude a child from mainstream education would be an infringement of their right to social inclusion (Rustemier, 2002; CSIE, n.d.). This issue becomes convoluted when it is applied to the rights of those affected by social inclusion. Based on this argument there appears to be a conflict of human rights. On one-side, the excluded pupil has no right of social inclusion. Whereas, on the other side, pupils who experience constant disruption to their lessons and the teachers time is taken up to resolve such issues, are prevented from the right to receive an education that strives to develop their full potential. When behavioural difficulties disrupt the education of others, whose rights are protected or infringed?

Dyson et al. (2004, p.101) found that the impact of children with behavioural difficulties on the learning of others, disrupted lessons and increased the amount of time and effort taken up by teachers to manage pupils with SEBD. Consequently, this diverts teacher time and energy away from the majority of the class and those in most need. Studies by Hamill and Boyd (2000; 2003, as cited in Hamill, 2008, p. 67), found evidence that the group of learners most affected by behavioural difficulties were those who experienced learning difficulties and who found themselves in the bottom sets with the most disruptive pupils. This impacted negatively on the inclusion of other vulnerable learners. Class setting based on ability levels can intensify this issue. Pupils most affected are those with learning difficulties, who most often find themselves in the bottom sets with the most disruptive pupils (Hamill, 2008, p.67).The negative effects of class setting can intensify disaffection from school which often results in disruptive behaviour (Hamill, 2008; Barber, 1996). Mackenzie (2008, p.767) alludes that the practice of setting further excludes disadvantaged children by lowering attainment and motivation, especially in female children of low-waged and unemployed parents (Paterson, 1992).

With lessons disrupted by behaviour and teachers time being taken up to resolve such issues, it would seem likely, therefore, to have a negative impact on the attainment of others, however, Dyson et al. (2004, p.101) found no correlation between the inclusion of pupils with SEBD and the attainment and achievement of pupils without ASN. Inclusion was also found to have a “positive effect on the wider achievement of all pupils, such as social skills and understanding” (Dyson et al. 2004, p.101). In particular, pupils with ASN were found to improve academically, personally and socially.


There is no doubt that effective inclusion is dependent upon the adequate provision of resources (Hamill, 2008, p. 60). With the onset of educational funding cuts, the availability of resources will be a major obstacle to the successful implementation of inclusion in schools.

In a study by Dyson, at al. (2004, p.101), teachers professed that the challenges surrounding inclusion were intensified by a lack of support and resources from external sources. Similarly, in a study by Hamill and Boyd (2000; 2003) teachers held the opinion that inclusion lacked adequate funding and was a politically motivated initiative aimed at increasing financial efficiency rather than meeting the individual needs of the learner. Whether this opinion holds any value, resourcing is a complex issue which goes beyond the constraints of simply providing materials and equipment. Providing adequate resources helps to develop a teachers’ professional development. Funding can provide the financial support to develop systems both internally and externally, such as specialist teachers.

To manage the successful implementation of inclusion in schools, teachers have to be given the opportunity to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) to develop the right skills and knowledge to cater for the diverse range of ASN. There can be no doubt that the level of funding provided to support inclusion in mainstream schools reflects the quality of teaching and progress made by the individual (Hamill, 2008).

Those with least teaching experience or professional development, specifically beginning teachers will be most disadvantaged with the impending cuts and limited resources. New teachers with limited teaching experience will be most affected if reductions in teacher CPD progress. Essential skills needed to manage the challenges surrounding inclusion will be affected. Reports of increasing the class contact time of probationer teachers to 0.9FTE (from the current 0.7FTE) will exert extra pressure on beginning teachers (Buie, 2010), which is likely to impact the quality of teaching, as preparation time is restricted.

With educational funding cuts to be expected where will inclusion in education be left? Who will be disadvantaged or marginalised from the education system? How will teachers’ professionalism be affected? The outcome to these questions can only be speculated until the inevitable funding cuts occur.


In review of the wide-spread research in inclusive education, the concept of inclusion is not a marginal add-on to education; it is fundamental to the formation and success of our education system. Inclusion does not exclusively focus on pupils with ASN but affects all learners. An ‘inclusive school’ will promote an ethos and culture based on equity, entitlement, school community, participation, integration and respect for diversity. Inclusive teaching practice should aim to cater for the individual needs of all learners to enable them to reach their fullest potential.

One of the on-going challenges surrounding inclusion is meeting the needs of all learners. With teacher time constraints and resources pushed to a maximum and disruptive behaviour an ongoing issue; it raises the question; will teachers and schools be able to support the needs of all learners?

In times of austerity; inevitable budget cuts will put pressure on attaining inclusion in schools. Impending funding cuts to teachers CPD and an increase in probationary hours may risk the quality of teaching and most worryingly the health and safety of teachers?

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As a beginning teacher, the responsibilities of catering for the needs of all learners will be a challenge, especially when faced with other issues, such as disruptive behaviour, limited resources and an increase in probationary contact time. To manage the challenges surrounding inclusion, I will have to rely on guidance and support provided from colleagues, my professional development and limited school resources.



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