3.2 A broad view of inclusion
Definitions of ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive education’, then, have moved away from a specific focus on disability towards a broader view that encompasses students from minority ethnic or linguistic groups, from economically disadvantaged homes, or who are frequently absent or at risk of exclusion. ‘Inclusive education’ has come to mean the provision of a framework within which all children – whatever their ability, gender, language, ethnic or cultural origin – can be valued equally, treated with respect and provided with real learning opportunities. Inclusive education is about participation and equal opportunity for all – in other words, ‘full membership’ of school and, later, society. Such a view of inclusion presents a challenge to existing structures and systems that have themselves contributed to the barriers that learners experience.
Inclusion requires the transformation of learning contexts:
In the field of education, inclusion involves a process of reform and restructuring of the school as a whole, with the aim of ensuring that all pupils can have access to the whole range of educational and social opportunities offered by the school. This includes the curriculum on offer, the assessment, recording and reporting of pupils’ achievements, the decisions that are taken on the grouping of pupils within schools or classrooms, pedagogy and classroom practice, sport and leisure and recreational opportunities.
(Mittler, 2000, p. 2)
This process of transformation not only has radical implications for the way we think about the origins of learning and behavioural difficulties, but also requires ‘systemic change and a national policy’ (Mittler, 2000, p. 5). The wider social context of inclusive education, at both national and international levels, is a crucial element in our understanding of inclusion in schools.