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Models of Inclusion in Education


This paper focuses upon inclusion as an international issue. It is structured in three basic topics. Firstly, there is a description of models of inclusion mainly implemented in the U.S.A. Then, there are presented the barriers for greater inclusiveness with some examples of schools from New Zealand, from the States and Northern Ireland. Finally, there are described some solutions, proposed by recent literature, aiming to overcome the barriers and achieve education for all.

Main Body

Defining Inclusion

Searching through the literature, numerous authors describe the term “inclusion” via different definitions. This explains the various ways “inclusion” can be seen. A large amount of information has been provided through definitions for its purpose, its philosophy, its emergence as a rights issue as well as a social one. In this paper, “inclusion” will be examined as an educational issue and the terms “inclusive school”, “inclusive system”, “inclusive education” are used alternatively.

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As such an issue, it could be claimed that “inclusion is about a philosophy of acceptance; it is about providing a framework within which all children- regardless of ability, gender, language, ethnic or cultural origin- can be valued equally, treated with respect and provided with equal opportunities at school” (Thomas, Walker and Webb, 1998 :15). “Inclusive education stands for an educational system that includes a large diversity of pupils and which differentiates education for this diversity” (Pijl, Meijer, Hegarty, 1997: 1). “Inclusive education is an unabashed announcement, a public and political declaration and celebration of difference…It requires continual proactive responsitiveness to foster an inclusive educational culture” (Corbett and Slee, 2000: 134). “Inclusive schools are defined as those that admit high proportions of pupils with SEN” (Dyson et al.2004: 10). The definitions above are just a small sample of the different approaches to “inclusion” estimated as an educational aspect.

Models of inclusion

Changing a school into a more inclusive one is not an easy case. It constitutes a whole reform in order to have a lasting meaning for everyone engaged. This reform has been presented through some models of inclusion, which do not appear as panacea. They do have both advantages and disadvantages but tend to lead to a more reconstructed education. We could categorize these models to the ones promoting part-inclusion and the ones promoting full-inclusion. I will describe below models from both categories, which have been implemented in schools in the U.S.A.

According to Zigmond and Baker (1997), self-contained classes and resource rooms in regular schools constitute models of part-inclusion. The first one depicts mainly a tendency for integration that has to do with the placement of children with SEN. The perception that they are in need of a different curriculum from their peers restricts their participation only to lesser activities. The teacher of the regular class needs a professional’s guidance but the model still seems to be ineffective due to the low expectations the teacher has from pupils with special educational needs. The second one detaches from the regular classroom the children who need support in order to receive it from a special education teacher, who will teach them on obtaining basic academic skills or also on acquiring learning strategies. The results are dual because on the one hand the student’s self-esteem tends to follow an upward trend but on the other hand (s)he not only misses the opportunity to attend what the rest of the class is being taught during his/her absence but also there is incompatibility between the methods followed in the two classrooms.

Having as a target to incorporate both special education and the pupils to whom it refers in the mainstream school, the two authors above suggest two full inclusive models: the Collaborative Teaching Model (CTM) and the MELD one (Zigmond and Baker 1997).

In the classroom where the CTM model takes place, there is collaborative spirit between the teacher of general and special education. Through their daily contact they decide who will teach what, they teach together and they both aid all the pupils. As a result, the teaching procedure becomes more productive due to the fact that each teacher is responsible for a smaller number of children. Apart from this, a classmate’s support is also available to the child with SEN through the “study- buddy” system.

As far as the MELD model is concerned, it is a broad reform as it engages the whole school in the inclusion effort. It encourages all children with learning difficulties to attend the general school no matter their performance. The special education teacher has a peripatetic role but the time he will spend in a class depends on the number of children with learning difficulties. There are weekly co-planning meetings but the disadvantage of the model is that the special education teacher has so many duties that (s)he has no much time left to pay the essential attention to pupils who really strive to attend the mainstream school. That is why their parents have to pay for extra tutorials or to choose another school environment for their child.

Montgomery (1996) describes six of the several full inclusive models that can be implemented in a classroom framework.

The first one reconstructs the traditional tension according to which interdisciplinary support was given in a separate class. Now all this personnel is an integral part of the class but can still offer more individual assistance when needed.

The second one is a collaboration of coexistence of a general education class with a special education one of the same age. When that happens, two or more teachers share their experience and skills, one around curriculum and the other around support and vice versa so co-teaching becomes a fruitful process.

The third full inclusive model encourages liaison mainly among general education teachers. There can be in a class a variety of special education needs, so the teacher can receive help from the rest of the staff teaching the same grade. Moreover, there is a timetable designed by paraprofessionals, who itinerate is it mostly needed. So, the last ones do not need to be there in a continuous basis but instead cooperation among teachers and group teaching can be a really helpful combination. Consistency is the key in this group. That means that when children move to next grade, it is essential the same function to be adopted so as to assure that there will be an alignment in the teaching method.

The fourth model refers to older children especially ones of secondary education. Compared to the rest of the children, pupils with SEN have the opportunity of making three choices instead of two. So, apart from core and elective modules they can also attend support centre. The aim of this model is equal support to be offered both during core and elective modules and not let a child restricted in the resource room with just some “visits” to the regular one.

To continue with the fifth model, there is a student support centre in the school, the scientific team of which not only offers support on an individual basis but also collaborates with teachers of regular class. This model offers extended contact between special educators and children as support is not only provided in the centre but also in the class or on a group basis but the criteria for success for success is trust among personnel members as each child is not one professional’s duty but a whole team’s responsibility.

The last model according to Montgomery (1996) refers to adolescents with special educational needs who will attend for four years courses in a campus with students without special needs. There are meetings offering advice and guidance to general educators while the special ones remain close to the child by providing support for developing skills to achieve better contact with peers and participation to extracurricular activities. The key to success is the head’s assistance.

Barriers that prevent schools from promoting greater inclusiveness

By proclaiming that “every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs” and that “education systems should be designed and educational programs implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs” ( UNESCO,1994, p.p. viii) it is represented a tendency for promoting inclusion. Not only international declarations but also government documents and educational acts elucidate the multilevel importance of inclusive practices. To support this, emphasis is given on ‘h3 educational, social and moral grounds’ (Tilstone, Florian and Rose 1998, p.2) of inclusion through the issue of equal opportunities and human rights one. The values of acceptance and limitation of discrimination of disabled people have given rise to the debate around their belonging in ordinary environments, and more specifically, for the case examined here, in an ordinary school.

Despite the dialogue among governments, ministries of education, organizations, legislations, educators, (SENCOs), parents, specialists there still remains a significant gap between theory and practice. Prohibiting factors are social as well as practical aspects. When examining the barriers for promoting inclusion and more specifically within a social context, one should take into consideration the medical model and the individual’s perceptions, which come as its consequences.

In order to understand the impact of medical model on exclusionary discourses, it is of essential importance to think about the progress of medicine during the past century. The fact that a doctor has the ability and the privilege to diagnose, prescribe, cure and rehabilitate raises him in the sphere of authority. Vlachou (1997) states that the medical model is extremely dominant and it demonstrates its strength through labeling and its policy around disability. The medical ideology boosts its prestige through its success to penetrate in the social system and leaves people no opportunity for questions but instead it accepts the professional’s judgments as they are. Moreover, it uses the principle of normalization in an ambiguous way. On the one hand, the use of normalization is similar to “cure” but a disability cannot be treated. A child with Autistic Spectrum cannot overcome it and become some day an adolescent or an adult without Autism. On the other hand, medical model tries to use “normalization” alternatively to “equal treatment” forgetting that “equal: does not always mean “same”. (Vlachou 1997).

Direct effect of the model above is the creation of tensions of considering disabled people as heroes because they manage to live in such an inhospitable society despite their difficulties. This decreases their self-esteem and their self-image and may lead to internalized oppression.

Furthermore, another consequence related to this is the establishment of perceptions of each individual about what is “normal” or “abnormal”, “superior” or “inferior”. This has mainly been affected by socially constructed norms and values dealing with appearance but undoubtedly family plays a major role. Different ideologies, ways of upbringing and environments have a different impact on each person. Within a school environment, there is another significant challenge. Labeling is a situation that both disabled people and the advocators of human rights ask to be demolished. Even if a student is has a formal diagnosis or not, his observable behavior could ridicule him in his peers’ eyes. As far as teachers are concerned, their attitudes can also be a barrier for managing inclusion. They usually expect less from the pupil; they underestimate his abilities so he has a tendency for underachievement. (Vlachou, 1997). Teachers’ duty is not only to teach the curriculum. They represent one of the most substantial and crucial factors and have a key role in the school reform and its change into a democratic one.

What was described above is what literature characterizes as social barriers for achieving inclusion at schools. In other words, the medical model, its effects of heroic images and labeling, individual perceptions based on predominance of beauty and educators’ attitudes are the social struggles for inclusive education.

Apart from the social barriers there are also some practical aspects which arise in daily practice and obstruct inclusion.

Pauline Zelaieta (2004) conducted an investigation and found some difficulties faced by mainstream practitioners on the way to inclusion. Firstly, teachers of general education are afraid of lacking the expertise and confidence to work on issues relating to special educational needs. Secondly, teachers in general schools lack time. They have a strictly structured teaching in order to provide curriculum, so this pressure permits no flexibility of re-instructing the lecture in a more suitable and supporting way, which can appeal to every pupil’s differences and needs. Other inhibitive factors were found to be the “lack of leadership, organizational difficulties and financial constraints” (Zelaieta 2004: 43).

A review of the relevant literature has revealed that there are many commonalities among the schools regarding their unsuccessful efforts of promoting inclusive education to all their children.

Purdue, Ballard and MacArthur (2001) raise the issue of “warrior parents” through their research. As such, are defined those parents who make any endeavour to incorporate their children in a mainstream school but they run up against the exclusionary attitudes of the staff who see these children “as different and as belonging elsewhere” (Purdue, Ballard and MacArthur 2001: 40). Indicant of the excluding practices is the unwillingness of the school to accept a child with disability and other parents’ attitudes.

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The authors mention that the evidence they collected about what happens in New Zealand at both public and private pre-school level is disappointing especially for those parents whose only choice is a rural kindergarten. In some cases the heads of the centre claim that they are not obliged to take these children in the school. In some other cases children with special educational needs were accepted but under certain conditions or provided their parents’ presence. Furthermore, they describe how the centre can exert control over the child’s attendance of the school. The staff will not welcome any child with disability unless he has his personal assistant teacher. In case the teacher aide is unable to go to school, the child has to stay at home. It is also argued the need for resources such as materials, supportive staff and measures for accommodating physical access. That is why many children are excluded either directly (by telling the parents that they cannot accept him in the school environment) or indirectly from the school (by informing the parents that they are positive about him but there is lack of resources). The research criticized as additional exclusionary factors the teachers’ limited knowledge about disability and other parents’ not welcoming behavior. So, the importance of parents’ advocacy is very vividly highlighted in order to ensure that their child will receive the expected education like the rest of the same-aged ones. Very frequently parents need to advocate even for the most obvious services to be offered to their child. But on the other hand parents face the dilemma of how the teachers will treat their child if they will put a lot of pressure on them and be too strict with them. (Purdue, Ballard and MacArthur 2001).

Moran and Abbott (2002) examined through their investigation how eleven schools develop inclusive practices in Northern Ireland. Their findings acknowledged the invaluable help of teacher assistants but a significant number of them had scrappy education and knowledge about how to work with children with special educational needs. Some other had no qualification. Instead, they had significant experience. As a result they needed to be retrained and this policy was followed by all the schools participated in the research. This happened either in the school context or with a distance learning program.

Moving on with the aspects stated as barriers for inclusion through their research, low degree of team work can be mentioned as one. Assistants’ role was defined mainly by the heads through the things they should not do, such as avoid being overprotective or playing a discreet role during the breaks.

The results of the investigation above are in accord with the findings of a research (Gibb et al. 2007) which showed that barrier factors in the inclusion practice seem to be among others the personnel’s lack of knowledge, child’s limited social participation and academic ability as well. Teachers interviewed admitted firstly the short of knowledge about what kind of teaching strategies to implement on children with special educational needs and secondly the fact that they were not skillful enough to exploit their potential. It is reported that it is of great importance their needs to be met. That is why the authors highlighted the essentiality of partnership between mainstream and special schools. Collective work and giving feedback for improvement can diminish the barriers.

The curriculum can also be an additional factor, which in practice resists inclusion. It would be a wrong judgment to assume that certain teaching methods are accessible only to children with specific abilities or needs. There are no strategies to use as panacea, but creativity is essentially useful to promote a curriculum that all students will benefit from it. It is crucial not to perceive curriculum as means of promoting knowledge but as a chance to interact with others (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998).

Armh3 (1999) indicates another dimension of curriculum. The one that it portrays what is accepted through social practices and through the philosophy of each module that is taught. The curriculum creates a cultural space which is obvious from the language used to teach a specific subject, from the books, from people’s appearance and this underestimates their identities. The development of creative pedagogies can control what is being taught and destroy the authority of norms and tensions, which some institutions and teachers impose.

Black- Hawkins, Florian and Rouse (2007: 15) define inclusion as “the process of increasing the numbers of students attending mainstream schools, who in the past would have been prevented from doing so because of their identified special educational needs”. Basic assumption to promote inclusion in regular schools is the buildings’ and facilities’ suitability for children with disabilities. Even though unobstructed access to school is a precondition for the child to attend it, it is very frequently too far from reality and this is another barrier for promoting inclusion. First and foremost, it is important the school to be adapted to pupil’s needs and accommodate its routine and not vice versa. So, a school needs to have an a priori inclusive policy- to put it differently, school has to provide for children with disabilities since its construction. The inclusive philosophy of a school is clearly important to be obvious and substantial not only in the classrooms but in every facility of the school environment (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998).

Black- Hawkins, Florian and Rouse (2007) describe some schools’ efforts while trying to change their image into an inclusive one. Kingsley Primary School was the first case study to be examined. This school had approximately 650 children when visited by the authors above, but provided no full access to the total building for children with motor difficulties as there was no elevator. As far as Amadeus Primary School is regarded it had by 2005 411 pupils. Although it is a really attractive school with light classes and colourful walls, it does not offer access to children with physical disabilities. The third school was a secondary one called “Harbour Community”. 1,200 children was the total number of pupils in 2004. This school, as happened with the other ones before, could also not assure the accommodation of children with physical or hearing difficulties as there was no provision for them. The small size of the classrooms was a prohibitive factor for wheelchair users and the acoustics of rooms did not help in order to attend a suitable teaching within a welcoming environment. Finally, the last case examined was the Chester Community School, a secondary school as well. It had a population of 1,300 adolescents, of whom 5% were diagnosed as having special educational needs. Comparatively to the rest of the schools inspected, this was the most inclusive one, but although there is a general tendency for promoting inclusion it has restrictions as far as accessibility is concerned. Some parts of the building are open to access but the unaffordable cost for the renovation of the school remains the main barrier.

Judging from the data collected from a small sample of buildings, we are able to conclude that four out of four schools are unable to implement inclusion (even up to a point) and this is a frustrating rate. It is easy to consider that no matter how inclusive services a school may offer, the first and foremost that has to provide is unimpeded access. (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998).

Inclusion is discussed and suggested in an extended degree through national and international documents, for instance the Salamanca Statement, the Framework for Action on Special Educational Needs, the Index for Inclusion. The obstacles that prevent it from being established in school environments need to be removed. To sum up what was described above, we can categorize the barriers referred in literature into social and practical issues.

The medical model is mentioned as social because of its impacts on disabled people’s life. Not only this, but its consequences do also have a negative effect on them, owing to viewing them as heroes or as “deviant”. Finally, teachers’ opinion can also be an obstacle to promoting inclusive education.

On the other hand, as practical difficulties we can characterize these ones, which rise in the daily routine. More specifically, general teachers’ perception of lacking knowledge about special education, lack of time to deliver the curriculum as well as the curriculum itself, restricted access to school buildings, limited team work on the part of teachers and unwillingness of some schools to accept disabled children are the practical aspects, which promote exclusionary instead of inclusionary philosophy and practice.

Overcoming the barriers – Solutions

Moves towards inclusion involve abatement of the struggles for inclusion. Overcoming of the social barriers can be fulfilled if changing the society’s function by letting disabled people’s voices to be heard. Another direction that can be taken is the one of intervening to the social field of school. A radical change of the general attitude of the school is indispensable and needs to take place. The school is useful to act as a collaborative community, which sets no restrictions to its members to be part of it. (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998). Segregation based on the criterion of ability needs to be eliminated and this can happen through teachers’ and peers’ attitudinal change (Pijl, Meijer and Hegarty 1997). Inclusion can be developed within a framework of assistance and support on behalf of teachers. Students can deconstruct the philosophy of exclusion by working into small groups to do in-classroom activities or by peer- tutoring. Strategies like these ones or as “circles of friends” or “buddy-systems” (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998) promote an accepting philosophy in the classroom context and help collaborate under the partnership spirit.

These actions are not by themselves the direct solution to the problem of inclusion in school level. The dimension of cultural change is the basic one to be reformed. The Index for Inclusion, which is a material based on the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child and UNESCO’s 1994 Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action, specifies the dimension of creating inclusive cultures. “This dimension is about creating a secure, accepting, collaborating, stimulating community in which everyone is valued, as the foundation for the highest achievements of all students. It is concerned with developing inclusive values, shared between all staff, students, governors and parents/ carers that are conveyed to all new members of the school” (Booth et al. 2000: 45). As a result, new cultures affect society in general and school community in particular. In that way teachers are willing to design new teaching approaches so as to respect every pupil’s needs, differences and abilities and students are willing to respond to that pedagogy.

This is the first step to move on providing solutions for the practical barriers which were analyzed before. Taking the attitudinal and cultural change for granted, this can positively affect alternative ways for the curriculum delivery. For instance, students’ arrangement into groups, use of innovative materials, brand-new lesson format and interesting tasks differentiated by activities can create an active learning environment. The achievement of goals can happen through supportive relationships and mixed groups in which one’s abilities will accommodate other’s needs. Focus on the whole classroom instead of individuals separately can promote the delivery of an inclusive curriculum (Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998). If educators plan their teaching, if they offer group activities employing curricular differentiation and if there is mutual respect inclusion can undoubtedly be promoted. (Gibb et al.2007).

“Producing inclusive policies is a second dimension mentioned in the Index for Inclusion, which “is about securing inclusion at the heart of school development, permeating all policies, so that they increase the learning and participation of all students. All forms of support are brought together within a single framework and are viewed from the perspective of students and their development rather than school or local education authority administrative structures” (Booth et al. 2000: 45). A school for all is the one, which can firstly offer physical access to its pupils. Then, it supports them not only by making the use of buildings comfortable but also by offering psychological support. For instance, by aiding new students to adapt to the new environment or by representing their educational needs and create small peer-groups during teaching so that everyone can benefit from it. Inclusive policy supports diversity in multiple ways. That can happen by supporting activities for students with special needs or for those whose native language is not the same as the rest of the pupils. (Booth et al.2000).

After examining the theoretical part of what is inclusive policy, it is essential to discuss how a sample of schools implements those policies. Kingsley Primary School had a high level (60%) of children for whom English was an additional language and about 15% of pupils with special needs. The school had a clearly admission policy and tried to respond to pupils’ needs. For that reason, the school had some facilities corrected and removed some of the barriers regarding participation and access. Implementing inclusive policy according to the Index, urged Kingsley School to support all children needed aid in learning. To do it successfully, they arranged some teaching groups. Gifted children, pupils with discipline problems or with problems on using the local language attended some lessons in separate classrooms and finally they had the ability to attend the curriculum in their class with their peers. (Black-Hawkins, Florian and Rouse 2007).

Although the policy of Amadeus Primary School regarding accessibility is not that inclusive, the school provides “low dado rails to support children with visual impairments and a hearing induction loop system” (Black- Hawkins, Florian and Rouse 2007 :72). It embraces all new children and a peer mentor is responsible for each one of them especially for the first-day-difficulties. As far as children identified as having learning difficulties are concerned, their needs are met by planning their homework.

The last dimension of inclusion explored by the Index is about developing inclusive practices and is defined as reflecting “the inclusive cultures and policies of the school. It is concerned with ensuring that classroom and extra-curricular activities encourage the participation of all students and draw on their knowledge and experience outside school. Teaching and support are integrated together in the orchestration of learning and the overcoming of barriers to learning and participation. Staff mobilizes resources within the school and local communities to sustain active learning for all” (Booth et al.2000: 45). So, barriers discussed above such as lack of time or lack of leadership and tem work can be removed.

The Index for Inclusion suggests the creation of a coordinating group, the head of which will raise staff’s knowledge about its purposes. Acting not as an expert but as a consultant s/he can collect information about staff’s and parents’ opinion on what are the real priorities and aspects for change. After the collection of evidence, further discussion follows on arranging a development plan, which will be monitored via meetings, councils, debates. (Booth et al.2000). After that, everyone’s duties will be reassigned. The teacher will know what s/he has to do, the teacher assistant will have a clearer idea about his/ her role and his/her performance within the classroom, the SENCO, the planning team, the senior staff and the head teacher will be able to work in a new, much more organized and closely monitored context. In that way, lack of leadership and organization and lack of time stop acting restrictively against inclusion.

Collaborative work is highly promoted in the framework of inclusive culture. Moving towards inclusive practice, team work acts as a basic assumption, not only among staff members but also among them and the parents/ carers. Good interaction of those involving in inclusion and respect to each other’s knowledge and experiences are the keys for their efficient partnership (Armh3 and Moore 2004).

Lack of specialist knowledge was referred to a great extent as a prohibitive factor for inclusion. Liaison of special and general schools seems to be really effective. The first ones can train the general educators and provide them suitable material for using while teaching children with SEN. They can also equip them with strategies and ideas for adapting the curriculum to their diversities and the teaching time can be better administered (Cheminais 2003).

Collaborative engagement, value others’ opinions, active listening and working with a plan in a monitored context, as proposed by the Index, can be the right solutions to the barriers for inclusion.

In a school that finally decides to implement and promote inclusive practices there is an atmosphere of collaboration, students learn from each other, children support one another regardless of the group activities and they have attitudes of respect and acceptance. Children use their resources as well as staff’s expertise to reinforce inclusion. (Booth et al.2000; Black-Hawkins, Florian and Rouse 2007).

After having discussed the three dimensions for achieving inclusion (inclusive cultures, policies and practices), it is difficult to say which comes first. None of these separately can provide that high results as when co-existing and acting as one. To p

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