Inclusion is more than a word

Stuart Whitfield, professional development lead at The International Leadership Academy, The British School in the Netherlands, discusses how we can move towards genuine inclusion

Inclusion, without definition consensus, is a difficult term to apply. Governments have signed up to treaties and pledged commitment to inclusive education leaving schools to interpret what it means in their settings and critically, what impact it has on young people and their learning journeys.

School leaders talk earnestly about placing the child at the centre of support plans, tailoring programmes and niche interventions but these efforts are in danger of marginalising individuals rather than strengthening access to the shared “goods of mainstream education” (Cigman, 2007).

In an increasingly competitive market, it is common for inclusion to appear throughout school literature and on school websites to assure the community that all students are included. However, far less evidenced is how embedded whole school inclusive ethos is.

Stuart Whitfield

Over 50% of independent international schools report they are non-selective and “94% admit students with disabilities or disorders in reading, writing or maths” (ISC Research, 2017). But does the mere fact of non-selection guarantee inclusive practice? Or do short-term interventions, in the name of “student integration” (UN, 2016), masquerade as inclusion; where the student adjusts to the “standardized requirements of such institutions” (de Bruin, K, 2019)?

In order to move towards genuine inclusion, as opposed to integration, clear understanding of what this looks like for students and a determined, sustained, in-practice drive to get there, is crucial. We need practitioners to feel equipped and empowered to support the needs of all their students because ”teachers prepared to work effectively with a diverse range of learners’ needs can act as multipliers for inclusive education” (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2012).

As school leaders, we can ensure that practitioners have supportive networks, access to effective CPD and solid leadership. We need schools to be truly inclusive in every sense of the word. Let’s start with the end in mind; universal design, celebration of individual success and robust systems to ensure barriers to learning are removed for a truly “inclusive and equitable quality education” (UN, 2019).


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