In this article
Inclusive practice aims to minimise or remove barriers to learning and support to facilitate the success of all learners, whilst ensuring that teaching standards are not compromised. The design and delivery of learning can unintentionally present a range of barriers to learning or assessment that affect some learners more than others, and this can result in learners being unfairly disadvantaged.
Through inclusive learning and assessment design and delivery, an inclusive environment for learning anticipates the varied needs of learners and aims to ensure that all learners have equal access to learning opportunities throughout their education.
Inclusive practice means:
- Being versatile and flexible.
- Ensuring consistency and accessibility for all.
- Working collaboratively.
- Encouraging personalisation.
- Varying learning opportunities.
- Embracing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
Inclusive practice involves an understanding of the following terms in order that practitioners are able to deliver inclusive teaching and learning:
- Inclusion – Essentially this means enabling all children with their diverse abilities, for example but not limited to:
– Those who are from different countries or ethnic backgrounds.
– Those with different religious beliefs or none.
– Those with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
– Those with disabilities.
– Those who are disadvantaged.
– Those with different learning styles.
– Those who have different abilities.
- Anti-discriminatory practice – Is an approach that seeks to reduce, undermine or eliminate discrimination and oppression and remove the barriers that prevent people from accessing learning. Discrimination can be overt (in the open) or covert (hidden).
- Multiculturalism – Is a term which is used to describe accepted diversity within society in terms of religion, ethnicity, language, class, gender and sexual orientation.
- Diversity – The term diversity literally means “difference”. The recognition of diversity is the belief that there should be an overt appreciation and respect for both individual and group differences which encourages not only respect for, but acceptance of, differences between individuals and peoples.
- Disability – The Equality Act (2010) refers to disability as impairments which can be either physical or mental that have a long-term impact upon an individual’s ability to function in day-to-day life.
- Disadvantaged – This generally refers to the learner’s family’s socio-economic status and background and may also include vulnerable learners.
It is essential to recognise that inclusion and inclusive practice is not purely about catering for the needs of learners who may be different or disadvantaged. The inclusive ethos is something that should include all learners, without exception, enabling each individual learner in a specific environment to reach their full potential through participation, in not only the curriculum but also in any extracurricular activities.
What is inclusive practice in early years?
Inclusion and inclusive practice in the early years is about practices which ensure that everyone “belongs”: the children and their parents and/or carers, staff and any other people connected with the early years setting in some way.
Every child is unique and will develop at their own pace, so it is not about treating all children in exactly the same way but treating each child fairly and paying attention to their individual backgrounds, interests and needs.
Inclusion is sometimes taken to apply specifically and only to those children identified as having special educational needs (SEN), learning in mainstream settings. However, it has a much broader meaning and applies to the practices, attitudes and, above all, values that create early childhood communities in which everyone feels comfortable, that they “belong” and can contribute.
Children in early years should be supported to:
- Feel safe and welcome at the setting.
- Develop a sense of belonging.
- Learn and develop at their own pace.
- Reach their full potential.
The EYFS People and Communities aims are particularly effective in promoting inclusive practice. Within these aims, children are encouraged to learn about lifestyles that are different to their own and gain an awareness that diversity should be celebrated and honoured.
Early years settings are well placed to provide a safe environment where parents, staff and children can learn about each other’s differences and similarities and learn to respect and value each other.
To be an inclusive provider, early years settings should be proactive at challenging and addressing any barriers to inclusion such as negativity, conscious and unconscious bias, and stereotyping. A fairer and more equal society benefits everyone and supports young children’s development, health, education and well-being.
By constantly reviewing policy and practice and by asking others “how are we doing?”, early years settings can develop and improve upon their inclusive practice to the benefit of all their learners, staff, parents and society.
What is inclusive practice in childcare?
Inclusive childcare can be beneficial, both for the child who may be different and for the other children in the inclusive setting.
Some of the benefits of inclusive childcare include but are not limited to:
- The opportunity to learn by observing and interacting with other children of similar ages.
- Time and support to build relationships with other children.
- Chances to practise social skills in real-world situations.
- Exposure to a wider variety of challenging activities.
- Opportunities to learn at their own pace in a supportive environment.
- Chances to build relationships with caring adults other than parents.
- Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences.
- Increased empathy for others.
- Preparation for adult life in an inclusive society.
Childcare providers and staff make inclusion a positive experience for everyone by:
- Creating an environment, both physical and emotional, where everyone is invited to participate as much as they want to and everyone is treated with respect and kindness.
- Answering children’s questions with simple, straightforward honesty and encouraging open dialogue about disabilities and abilities among children and parents.
- Helping children feel comfortable with each other and be able to develop friendships based on their shared interests.
- Facilitating interactions and play between children who may be different to each other, especially if a child has difficulty communicating in a way that another child can understand.
- Creating a sense of community, where every person is valued as a unique individual who has something to contribute and where everyone is responsible for caring for one another.
- Giving children the freedom to explore their ideas about difference through play and conversation, while guiding them to be aware and respectful of the feelings and perspective of others.
- Shaping children’s attitudes while they are young is a tremendous responsibility and privilege that can have long-lasting effects.
What is inclusive practice in education?
Inclusive education is when a school or college educates children of all abilities and backgrounds. It also means that children with additional learning needs and special educational requirements are educated within a “mainstream” learning environment, rather than a specialist school.
Inclusive practice in education can be defined as attitudes and methods that ensure all learners can access learning. Everyone works to make sure that all learners feel welcome and valued, and that they get the right support to help them develop their individual talents and achieve their goals. When education is truly inclusive it can not only benefit all learners but also the staff, the school or college and the wider community.
Inclusive school and college settings are characterised by:
- All learners belonging and being valued as equal members of the school or college community.
- Intentionally and meaningfully engaging learners with differences in a wide range of learning opportunities, activities and environments so that they are available to all children, including participation in the general education curriculum, non-academic and extracurricular activities.
- Implementing goals and objectives that are aligned with the curriculum standards, as well as implementing goals that are learner specific by providing the appropriate supplementary aids, support and services.
- Developing and implementing teaching and learning strategies and methods that increase the participation and progress in the education curriculum of learners with differing needs.
Schools that are rising to the challenge of developing an inclusive environment that benefits all children have found the following helpful:
- A “can do” attitude.
- A welcoming and supportive ethos.
- Forward planning.
- Strong leadership.
- Ongoing consultation with learners and parents.
- Effective staff training.
- Good working relationship with outside agencies.
- Regular review and evaluation of reasonable adjustments.
The UK GOV website states that “Inclusion is a basic right for all pupils. It ensures equality, equity and accessibility are championed across a curriculum. When inclusion is part of the makeup of a school, it means the institution is challenging the sources of inequality, especially for those in marginalised groups.”
Within the classroom setting, no matter what the age of the children, practitioners play a critical role in terms of encouraging the development of a life-long love of learning and promoting equality and diversity in the classroom. This should be done in a safe and welcoming environment where every individual is valued and difference is accepted, embraced and celebrated.
An inclusive teaching and learning environment will be characterised by all children having the opportunity to engage with the curriculum through active participation as equal members of the school or college community.
To reduce barriers in learning, it is important to provide appropriate support, making information equally accessible to all learners by presenting the same content in varying materials and media. Children learn in lots of different ways and, depending on the subject, they may want to choose different methods to learn; inclusive practice provides for this.
Children will form their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about individuals with differences based largely on the attitudes, words and actions that they see from the adults around them. When providers and teachers are purposeful about how they are modelling inclusion for children, they can be more confident that they are having a positive impact.
Teachers in an inclusive classroom have a wonderful opportunity to help shape children’s attitudes and behaviour towards the diversity of people they will encounter throughout life.
What is non-inclusive practice?
Approaches to teaching and learning that perpetuate the idea that “most” learners learn well and that “some” require “extra support”, encourage the view that some learners are less able, or are extra work for teachers. Treating differences between learners as problems creates barriers that can interfere with some learners’ participation and learning.
There are a number of different ways in which children might be affected by being in a setting that does not demonstrate inclusive practice.
For example but not limited to:
- Poor self-image –It is important for children to learn that they are liked and also that they can do things for themselves. Children can develop poor self-image if they are always reliant on adults to help them or if they see that other children are liked more. Poor self-image means that children start to think they are not as good as other children. Over time this leads to a lack of confidence.
- Lack of confidence in their own ability – Children need to think that they have the potential to be competent. If the environment or layout of a setting is not suitable for a child, they may often have to wait for help and may need to rely on others to do things for them. This means that children learn to be helpless and passive.
- Education that excludes and segregates learners perpetuates discrimination against traditionally marginalised groups. When education is more inclusive, so are concepts of civic participation, employment and community life.
Non-inclusive practice includes:
- Preserving school cultures, policies and practices that are non-responsive to the diversity of the learners and perpetuates inequalities.
- Segregated schooling for disabled learners.
- Valuing some learners more than others.
- Maintaining barriers to some learners’ participation to learning.
- Thinking that inclusion mostly concerns disabled learners.
- Viewing differences between learners as problems to be overcome.
- Identifying academic achievement as the main aim of schooling at the expense of personal and moral development.
- Perceiving inclusion in education as a separate issue from inclusion in society.
Educators in non-inclusive environments should be asking themselves “What might it be like if I were experiencing barriers to my learning or participation?”
The importance of inclusive practice
Inclusive practice provides a better-quality education for all children and is fundamental in changing discriminatory attitudes. Schools provide the context for a child’s first relationship with the world outside their families, enabling the development of social relationships and interactions.
Respect and understanding grow when learners of diverse abilities and backgrounds play, socialise and learn together.
Learners need to feel that they can bring their “whole selves” to the learning environment, and that their differences enrich the learning community. They should feel that they are valued, equal and able to participate and contribute fully to the social, cultural and academic life. These values, when fully embodied, bring out the best in everyone.
For those with a disability, there is greater access to the curriculum which allows them to increase their levels of achievement as a result of greater opportunities for skills and knowledge acquisition.
Through inclusive practice the needs of all learners are better met as a result of increased levels of communication between learners, staff, parents and family participation, all of which leads to higher expectations and better academic outcomes. There is also evidence to suggest that inclusive schools have fewer absences and referrals for disruptive behaviour.
Inclusive education and the law in the UK
Legislation in the UK prohibits discrimination in education and supports inclusive education. The UK also has obligations under international human rights law to provide inclusive education for all children The most recently adopted instrument is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which explicitly states that education for disabled children should be inclusive.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for any education provider, including a private or independent provider, to discriminate between pupils on grounds of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, and religion or belief in admissions, access to benefits or services, exclusions, and in the employment of staff.
There are some exceptions so as to allow for the maintenance of faith schools and single-sex schools; some disabled pupils and pupils with a statement of “special educational needs” may be segregated in special schools, and schools may temporarily or permanently exclude pupils for disciplinary reasons.
What are examples of inclusive practice?
Inclusive practice is about how education is structured, including:
- Policies and procedures.
So that all learners learn and participate together. For example, an inclusive classroom is one that creates a supportive environment for all learners, including those with learning differences, and can also challenge and engage gifted and talented learners by building a more responsive learning environment.
Building a good rapport with learners helps to treat learners as individuals who will be open to sharing their ideas, thoughts, lives and interests with both staff and other learners. All children are unique; the differences between children offer wonderful opportunities to learn about and celebrate these differences.
Research shows that learners respond better when they feel that their teacher has faith in their abilities and is not focusing on their inabilities, so having high expectations of all learners helps to promote inclusivity.
Below are two examples of schools who actively demonstrate inclusive practice.
St. Winifred’s Catholic School, Lewisham: Delivering Inclusion for Marginalised Pupils
St. Winifred’s is a great example of how the needs of learners from minority or foreign backgrounds can be provided for, ensuring they have the same potential for success as other learners.
St. Winifred’s Catholic School employ a particular focus on providing for marginalised learner groups. For example, their inclusion policy pays attention to the specific needs of less advantaged children. It specifically mentions minority ethnic and faith groups as well as refugees and asylum seekers, among others.
St. Winifred’s work towards providing for the diverse needs of different learner groups. They write, “We aim to make equality of opportunity a reality for our pupils.” They employ one of their staff as an ‘Inclusion Manager’ who works to champion their inclusion practices.
These practices include:
- Designing their curriculum to reflect the different cultures, races and religions in their school to provide both equality, cultural appreciation and educational enrichment.
- Specific, supported induction of pupils new to the UK.
- Properly addressing issues of racism, sexism and bullying.
- Targeted support for pupils, guided by teachers, teaching assistants and senior management.
The Brent Primary School, Dartford: A Focus on SEND
The Brent Primary has an “Inclusive Practice Policy” with a specific focus on providing for Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) learners.
The aims of The Brent Primary School include:
- To identify the children who need special consideration regarding supporting physical, sensory, social, emotion, communication or cognitive development.
- To ensure those children are given special support.
- To promote their inclusion within all activities in school.
- To create high levels of achievement.
- To maintain a supporting partnership with parents and caregivers.
The professionals at The Brent Primary School recognise not all needs are the same. The support for a pupil with a language or communication difficulty will be different from a learner with a learning difficulty, so the school tailor their support for these differing needs. Another way The Brent Primary School promote inclusivity is by stating they are in a position to learn, thereby enhancing their own abilities when providing special support for disadvantaged learners.
In the policy, they state: “There are other kinds of special educational need which do not occur as frequently and with which the school is less familiar, but we can access training and advice so that these kinds of needs can be met.”
Equity and inclusion require more than treating everyone the same. There is an important difference between equity and equality. Equality aims to provide fairness through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent on need. To achieve true inclusion the emphasis should be on achieving equity.