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Inclusive education: knowing what we mean (Wales)
Inclusive education: knowing what we mean (Wales)

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3.2 From integration to inclusion

‘Inclusive education’ then, goes beyond ‘integration’ – a term which until the 1990s, was generally used to describe the process of repositioning a child or groups of children in mainstream schools. ‘Integration’ was a term used from the 1970s for the placement of students with special educational needs in mainstream schools (as opposed to special schools). The student had to be able to adapt to, and fit in with, the school environment, rather than the school transforming its own practices to give access to a wide diversity of students. You might like to read what the Welsh Inspectorate (Estyn, 2014) has identified as effective practice for the achievement of all students. Amongst other features, the strategies are:

  • holistic for both students and adults working with them
  • multi-faceted and wide-ranging
  • involve systemic and institutional development and consistency
  • highlight the importance of partnership working.

This all suggests community engagement: inclusion cannot be effected by individuals in isolation.

‘Inclusive education’ implies a radical shift in attitudes and a willingness on the part of schools to transform practices in pupil grouping, assessment and curriculum to allow participation and community membership. The notion of inclusion does not set boundaries around particular kinds of disability, learning difficulty or disadvantage but instead focuses on the ability of the school itself to accommodate a diversity of needs.

The shift from ‘integration’ to ‘inclusion’ is not simply a shift in terminology but a fundamental change in perspective. It implies a shift away from a ‘deficit’ model, where the assumption is that difficulties have their source within the student, to a ‘social’ model, where barriers to learning exist in the structures of schools themselves and more broadly, in the attitudes and structures of society. Underlying the ‘inclusionary’ approach is the assumption that individual students have a right to participate in the experience offered in the mainstream classroom.

Much of the shift in approaches to inclusion started in the 1990s, when international agreement about the importance of the ‘rights’ approach was cemented in the Salamanca Statement, on which many national and organisational policy statements are based.