In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Inclusive Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Inclusive Education History
  • The Multiple Meanings of Inclusive Education
  • Constructions of Disability
  • Research in Inclusive Education
  • Outcomes of Inclusive Education
  • School-Level Implementation of Inclusive Education
  • Classroom-Level Implementation of Inclusive Education
  • Teacher Education for Inclusive Education

Education Inclusive Education
Elizabeth B. Kozleski, Iris Yu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0162


Inclusive education has become an international concept, implemented in various formal schooling systems in nations in the southern and northern hemispheres. As appropriations of inclusive education appear across the globe so do multiple meanings. In particular, cultural, historical constructions of disabilities guide context-specific implementation and policy formation of inclusive education in different countries. Disabilities seen solely as intra-individual traits lead to lowered expectations, thus constraining opportunities to learn. However when caregivers, educators, family members, and other providers understand dis/abilities as an intersection of social, cultural, historical, environmental, and intra-individual abilities, more equitable forms of education emerge for all students. Shifts in understanding the locus of disability guide the development of national policies and laws to support inclusive education implementation. Research has also surfaced the complexities, challenges, and innovative practices that must be considered in order to install inclusive education as a normative practice. To support inclusive education, educators need to have both the capacity to provide learning opportunities to all students in their classrooms as well as the vision that all students, regardless of race, language, religion, gender, and ability should be given the opportunity to receive an excellent education. Educators need institutional contexts that are designed to accommodate inclusive practices, and school leaders who understand the complexities of the work and can provide the feedback, support, and leadership necessary for sustaining inclusive practices across generations of students and their teachers. This article outlines the history of inclusive education and provides insight into its multiple meanings. In particular, citations are included that address the ways in which disability has been constructed. From there, entries examine research in inclusive education as well as the policies that support its implementation. We draw on articles that specifically review policy development in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and various countries in Asia. A separate section looks at the impact of new political economies on the design and spread of inclusive education. A final section examines inclusive education outcomes, including school and classroom-level implementation and implications for inclusive teacher education.

General Overviews

Inclusive education appeared initially in the research literature in the late 1980s. Framed as an alternative to special education, inclusive education expanded the responsibilities of schools and school systems to increase access, participation, and opportunities to learn for marginalized populations of students. Using a cultural lens to frame educational practice, inclusive education can be seen as a collaborative, mutually constitutive, responsive interaction between learners and teachers (Skrtic, et al. 1996). In a digital age, foregrounding the interactive, interpretive nature of teaching offers the potential for self-determined learning that is transparent and engages democratic community building. Fully realized, inclusive education operates on critically grounded assumptions about the construction of ability and disability (Peters 2004). Inclusive education offers the possibility of disrupting dominant notions of race, language, ability, gender, and religion (Slee 2001). However, as national education systems appropriate the terminology of inclusive education, it is becoming, in many contexts, suspiciously like special education, a way of sorting and separating students who are viewed as not fitting the model student profile (Slee 2001). Ainscow 2005 suggests that inclusive education requires organizing schools as communities of practice in which sets of tools structure participation and privilege particular kinds of practices. Rather, inclusive education comprises an agenda that transcends categorization of teachers and students (Ferguson 2008). It is an agenda designed to advance learning as a constant companion throughout individual and collective lives. Understanding how communities draw on history, current practice, and a shared language to negotiate experience can generate transformative methods. In a similar vein, when teachers are conscious of the impact of their daily practice (i.e., learning in practice), they will create new approaches that will help them transcend the structural boundaries that maintain current divisions between special and inclusive education (Florian 2008). Shogren and Wehmeyer 2014 notes that inclusive education is in its third generation. It has moved from a rights perspective to a person-centered perspective. Now, a third set of principles are necessary to ensure that it emerges as the common standard of practice for all students: (1) empowerment, (2) capacity building as well as prevention, and (3) notions of productivity and contribution.

  • Ainscow, Mel. 2005. Developing inclusive education systems: What are the levers for change? Journal of Educational Change 6.2: 109–124.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10833-005-1298-4

    Ainscow draws on work with the Inclusion Index to identify levers to transform local contexts through disrupting educators’ historical views of understanding difference. Through local inquiry and discourse, practitioners can reframe their systematic practices that serve to isolate and separate students with disabilities from other learners.

  • Ferguson, Dianne L. 2008. International trends in inclusive education: The continuing challenge to teach each one and everyone. European Journal of Special Needs Education 23.2: 109–120.

    DOI: 10.1080/08856250801946236

    Ferguson describes key shifts needed for inclusive education. She calls for moving the focus of teachers from how to teach to how to support and facilitate student learning, providing learner supports rather than creating a fixed menu of services, shifting professional practices from individual to collective acts, and creating networks with families to renew and improve outcomes.

  • Florian, Lani. 2008. Special or inclusive education: Future trends. British Journal of Special Education 35.4: 202–208.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8578.2008.00402.x

    Florian affirms that differences among learners are to be expected. Select pedagogies based on content demands and learner needs. Specialist support can make teachers’ practice more effective for diverse learners when teachers have the professional tools to frame the challenges that learners face and make use of specialist knowledge in designing powerful learning experiences.

  • Peters, Susan J. 2004. Inclusive education: An EFA strategy for all children. Washington, DC: World Bank, Human Development Network.

    Peters recommends a series of actions based on a policy analysis of agreements made by governments on behalf of children and individuals with disabilities. While much implementation continues to be uneven, the weight of policy documents pushes forward the inclusive education agenda. Key is the relationship between policy and activity at the national, state, and local education levels.

  • Shogren, Karrie A., and Michael L. Wehmeyer. 2014. Using the core concepts framework to understand three generations of inclusive practices. Inclusion 2.3: 237–247.

    DOI: 10.1352/2326-6988-2.3.237

    From a focus on where students with disabilities are educated to how they learn to what they should learn encapsulates the inclusive education movement. Further, reframing disability as an interaction between local contexts and individual constraints and affordances shifts the work of teachers and caregivers to environmental and learning designers.

  • Skrtic, Thomas M., Wayne Sailor, and Kathleen Gee. 1996. Voice, collaboration, and inclusion democratic themes in educational and social reform initiatives. Remedial and Special Education 17.3: 142–157.

    DOI: 10.1177/074193259601700304

    Inclusive education is a response to the need for interdisciplinary, locally negotiated policies and practices that acknowledge growing heterogeneity and differentiation in human needs. Excellence in education systems must be predicated on equity and counter-marginalization reforms.

  • Slee, Roger. 2001. Social justice and the changing directions in educational research: The case of inclusive education. International Journal of Inclusive Education 5.2–3: 167–177.

    DOI: 10.1080/13603110010035832

    Appropriation of inclusive education by special education means that a separate system is inevitable unless the inclusive education movement is decoupled from notions of categorization, remediation, and parallel educational systems, one for students identified as disabled and the other for all others.

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