Inclusion: what does research tell us?
Arguments for inclusion have been put forward both from the perspective of effectiveness and children’s rights. The evidence to date in terms of effectiveness is mixed and remains a focus of research. Lindsay (2007) summarises the effectiveness debate as showing “marginally” positive benefits for inclusion in terms of attainment. This built on previous research that highlighted that where differences between achievements in mainstream and free standing (specialist) placements are found, they tend to be in favour of the mainstream placement. Hawkins et al (2008) note that being inclusive can have wider benefits to a “wide range of students” whilst Dyson et al (2004) noted that schools can manage to be highly inclusive and high-performing and support wider achievement for pupils. Ofsted (2006) noted that the most important factor in determining outcomes was the quality of the school. This report also noted that children and young persons with “even the most severe and complex needs” were able to make progress in all types of settings, with the right support. Assumptions about inclusion With the growing emphasis on inclusion within the children’s rights agenda and a small growing body of research which supports inclusion in mainstream, the focus has been shifting towards what factors support inclusion when it does work, as well as looking at what common misconceptions we have that act as barriers to inclusion. One of the key assumptions that are commonly shared is the idea that including children or young people with additional support needs (or special needs as they are known in other parts of the UK) is detrimental to the learning and attainment of others. Dyson et al (2004) looked at whether there was a positive or negative on national test results dependent on the numbers of pupils with special needs in schools. They found there to be no link between levels of inclusion and attainment. Hawkins et al (op cit) found that schools committed to equity and social justice often developed policies and practices that were intended to raise the attainment of all students. Another common assumption is discussed above in terms of the idea that children in specialist provision tended to have better outcomes than those in mainstream. Ofsted (op cit) found that effective provision in terms of positive social and academic outcomes was distributed equally in mainstream and specialist provision. This report also found that support from teaching assistants did not ensure good quality interventions or adequate progress, another commonly held assumption. Smaller class sizes have long been cited as a key factor in supporting young people and facilitating inclusion. Over the years, there has been conflicting evidence on this including an early Ofsted report in 1995, argued that class sizes made little difference to outcomes for young people as did an Australian report by the Grattan Institute. Other research by Blatchford et al (2003) has indicated that class size does make a difference to pupil engagement which is particularly pertinent to low achieving pupils. Part of the argument around class sizes focuses on the cost of it and whether the high cost can be justified against other areas of investment such as further teacher training and development. One further key assumption is that the teacher’s personal views and confidence in dealing with inclusion into mainstream can play an important part in determining success. Gibb, Turnbridge, Chua and Frederickson (2007) found that where teacher’s were less in favour of inclusion into mainstream settings, this could affect success. (Forlin, Keen and Barrett, 2008) It is essential that we identify and share widely what good practice in inclusion looks like. Many researchers such as Florian and Rouse (2012) in their Inclusive Practice Project have begun to look at key elements of inclusive practice to include in future teacher training. A number of key factors in this area are outlined below.
What does International research suggest best supports inclusive practice?
- Continuing Professional Development Teacher attitudes change with experience of inclusion (De Boer, Pijl and Minnaert, 2011). Further, teacher attitudes change with increasing confidence (University of Wollongong, 2008). When staff receive training which impacts on their feelings of competence this also changes teacher attitudes towards including pupils with additional needs. Continuing CPD is important rather than one off training. Training courses that developed generic skills and included significant self reflection training are more successful than those that concentrated on short term responses to specific needs (Wollongong, 2008) further, access to practical support post training is beneficial. A needs analysis of what is required for staff training plays and important part. (Ofsted 2006).
- Peer Support: teachers The Wollongong study reported the importance of making time for teachers to come together, for example timetabling collaborative time and action by all staff to support a teacher with a difficult student. It also notes that teachers tend to seek advice from other teachers as opposed to outside agencies. Peer coaching is described as an effective tool to implement change in a school by allowing teachers to focus on the development of new skills or strategies. Showers and Joyce (1996) set up peer coaching teams where after some initial input, teachers worked together to try out then evaluate strategies to support pupils.
- Peer Support: pupils Promoting cooperative relationships between pupils with ASN and those without promotes positive attitudes amongst students. Salisbury et al (1995) found positive relationships formed through use of cooperative learning groups, collaborative problem solving groups, use of peer tutors and teacher modelling. HMIE, 2003, highlighted teaching pupils to relate to each other as an example of good practice in meeting the needs of pupils with ASN in mainstream schools. This was also noted in the Gateshead Study (2005)
- Analysis of Learning Environment/ increasing skill base Models of staff development have been devised that work across settings and stages. One successful model involved teaching teachers to use Functional Assessment. This approach was developed by Chandler for supporting teachers in modifying challenging behaviour. Research shows that challenging behaviour consistently emerges as the most difficult obstacle to inclusion (for example Hastings and Oakford 2003, Gateshead Study, 2005) so it was felt this would be a useful area to focus on. Chandler offered a 2 day workshop followed up with consultation meetings. The combination of workshop and follow up was more effective than just one or the other.
- High Expectations The Ofsted (2006) report indicates that the most inclusive schools were aware of their responsibility to ensure all pupils made good progress in all areas. Resourced mainstream schools were characterised by high expectations of pupil progress.
- Leadership in the school HMIE audit 2003 noted the most effective schools had strong leadership at all levels of the school and a core of staff who were both committed to inclusion and confident they could meet pupils’ needs. Praisner (2003) found that principals with positive attitudes were more likely than principals with negative attitudes to recommend inclusive educational placements for students with disabilities.