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

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3.3 The Salamanca Statement

In 1994 over 300 participants – including 92 governments and 25 international organisations – met in Salamanca, Spain, with the purpose of furthering the objectives of inclusive education. The resulting Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) was framed by a rights-based perspective on education. Although the Statement focused on children described as having ‘special needs’, it asserted from the outset its commitment to:

Reaffirming the right to education of every individual, as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and renewing the pledge made by the world community at the 1990 World Conference on Education for All to ensure that right for all regardless of individual differences.

(UNESCO, 1994, p. vii)

Later, in the section ‘Guidelines for Action at the National Level’, the Statement acknowledged that ‘most of the required changes do not relate exclusively to children with special educational needs’ (p. 21); rather, they are part of a wider reform of education needed to improve its quality and relevance and promote higher levels of learning achievement by all learners.

The Statement placed educational reform firmly within a broader social agenda that included health, social welfare and vocational training and employment. It emphasised that mechanisms for planning, monitoring and evaluating provision for inclusive education should be ‘decentralised and participatory’ and should encourage the ‘participation of parents, communities and organisations of people with disabilities in the planning and decision making’ (UNESCO, 1994, p. ix).

The Statement acknowledged that in many countries there were ‘well established systems of special schools for those with specific impairments’: these schools, it asserted, could ‘represent a valuable resource for the development of inclusive schools’ (UNESCO, 1994, p. 12). However, it urged countries without such a system to ‘concentrate their efforts on the development of inclusive schools’ (UNESCO, 1994, p. 13) alongside specialist support services to enable them to reach the majority of children and young people. All policies, both local and national, should ensure that children with disabilities could attend their neighbourhood school.

Evans et al., (1999) noted that the Salamanca Statement and other United Nations proclamations have had a ‘powerful influence’ on international perspectives on inclusion. Twenty years later, a complete issue of the International Journal of Inclusive Education (2019, Issue 23, p. 7–8) was devoted to articles about the Salamanca Statement 25 years on, and a recent study by Hernández Torrano et al., (2020 p. 1) noted that research into inclusive education was ‘a global phenomenon’.