Framing Inclusive Education- what does Inclusion look like?

There is such a broad range of literature on the topic of inclusive education that it is almost impossible to narrow one definition down.  I have drawn on the work of Steve Rayner (2007) and his book Managing Special and Inclusive Education to begin exploring “Constructing Educational Inclusion”.  The first set of definitions seeks to synthesis research over the past decade to provide an outline of what is meant by inclusive education?  The second set of definitions attempt to do the same but also attempt to outline what inclusion looks like (Rayner, 2007, p.36).

What is inclusion?
Clarke et al (1995) …inclusion can be understood as a move towards extending the scope of ‘ordinary’ schools so they can include greater diversity of children.

Florian (1998): …within special education the arm of inclusive education has come to refer to a philosophy of education that promotes the education of pupils in mainstream schools (p.15).

Slee (2000): …Inclusive education refers to education for all comers.  It is a reaction to discourses that exclude on the basis of a range of student characteristics, including class, race, ethnicity, perceived level of ability or disability, or age (p.195).

Lorenz (2002)…the successful mainstreaming of pupils with special educations needs who would traditionally have been placed in special schools.

Rayer (2007) outlines the thread that ties all of these definitions together is an ideology of social justice.  The foundation of this model is the overriding principal of equity in education.  This paradigm has been further explored in research employing critical theory and post modern perspectives.

What does inclusion look like?
Ballard (1995): Inclusive schools deliver a curriculum to students through organisational arrangements that are different from those used in schools to exclude some students from regular classrooms.


Stainback and Stainback (1996): An inclusive school is a place where everyone belongs, is accepted, supports is supported by his or her peers and other members of the school community in the course of having his or her educational needs met.


Shaw (1999) Our school is well known as an inclusive school.  Our school reflects our community.  We have male and female students from all cultures, races and religions with all abilities and disabilities.  There are many languages spoken in our school.


Approaches to Inclusion have followed a number of models.  These have been influenced by beliefs attitudes and values.  If you work within the field of special education you will be able to relate to at least one of these.

1      The Categorisation, deficit or Medical model
The pervasive approach that is still in existence today is the categorisation or medical model.  This has been identified as a precursor by teachers to adopt inclusive approaches.  The term special was constructed by teachers through the formation of informal theory and practice.  For example students are still allocated funding and placed in schools based on medical diagnosis of need.  This model is also termed the deficit model in that it seeks to identify areas where students differ from their mainstream peers.  Diagnosis and intervention seek to cure the student of their ‘affliction’.  In recent years It has created a large body of students who have been labelled with a disorder for behaviour that fails to fit into the mainstream education model.  In other words it is used to justify placement and treatment of students with disability.

2      The Educational Needs Model
This model constructs disability based on the educational needs of the student in relation to that of perceived norms of a student.  Need is defined as an age related indicator or an underdevelopment.  The need is situated along a spectrum of severity.  This model places teachers at the forefront of delivering education to the entire spectrum of students.  However, at the same time the categories and identification of where the student sits along the spectrum is still influenced by the medical model of thinking.  Therefore students are still placed in settings that fit their position along the spectrum of need.  This is the model within which most educational authorities presently operate under.

3     The Social Disability Model
The social disability model posits that disability is a social construct and need is created through the systems and organisation of education in place.  Rayer (2007) refers to Tomlinson (1982) in outlining that ‘learning difficulties’ was socially constructed arising from the values, beliefs and interests of those in charge of providing provision.  Tomlinson states that “Professionals and practitiones have a vested interest in the expansion and development of special education” (p.39).  The emphasis on social justice and equality that has risen from this model is still an area of contention.  A belief held by many is that there will never be inclusion without the total ‘extinction of special education’ (p.40).  Slee (1998) argues that within this model inclusion implies rejecting theory that is based on models of disability that are not founded in constructionist perspectives of learning (p.40).  This has polarized the issue and attitudes and beliefs will indicate which camp an educationalists sits within. 



In Australia students with disability are segregated based on need.  As I have written in previous articles the practicality of placing a student with high needs within a mainstream setting presents with challenges for the school.  We still have some way to go in achieving true inclusion, with differing levels of inclusion being experienced by students across the State, catholic and independent sectors.  There is a constant challenge of balancing academic inclusion and pastoral inclusion.  The student might be included by his or her peers but is he/ she gaining a meaningful education. 

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