One of the largest reforms in the school systems of European countries is inclusive schooling. All over Europe enrollment of students with special educational needs (SEN) in regular classrooms is rising and at the same time the proportion of students with SEN in segregated school settings is declining (in most European countries). Despite a significant push to implement inclusive education across the countries of the European Union, its practical implementation is limited in most of the countries. There are huge variations across the countries in the way they are attempting to implement inclusion as well as unique challenges that each country faces. For example, the decision of whether a child with SEN will attend inclusive or special education is made by different stakeholders in different countries. While in some countries this choice is mainly made by parents, in other countries professionals decide which school is most appropriate for students with SEN. Moreover, the resources available to implement inclusive education differ widely across Europe.
Michael Shevlin, John Kubiak, Mary-Ann O'Donovan, Marie Devitt, Barbara Ringwood, Des Aston, and Conor McGuckin
People with disabilities have been among the most marginalized groups within society, with consequent limitations imposed on their access to many goods within society, including education, employment, and economic independence. Some progress is evident in the establishment of more inclusive learning environments, yet it is also clear that upon leaving compulsory education or further/higher education, young people with disabilities encounter significant barriers to accessing meaningful employment. Facilitating transitions to employment for people with disabilities should be informed by ambition and a belief in the capacity of these individuals to make a meaningful contribution to society and achieve a level of economic independence. The issues that are pertinent to young people who have a special educational need or a disability and an aspiration to transition to further/higher education require attention. Research and applied practice has demonstrated the utility of an innovative educational and work readiness program for people with an intellectual disability. Such work highlights the facilitating factors that may encourage a more ambitious reimagining of what may be possible for individuals who have been marginalized.
Christopher Boyle and Joanna Anderson
Since 1994 the Salamanca Statement has been pivotal in encouraging nations to move toward inclusive education. Much progress has been made, yet the question must be asked if inclusive education has now plateaued. Inclusive education can be compared to a bicycle, where momentum powers it forward and it must continually move in order to stay upright. Along with movement, there also needs to be a clear direction of travel. Movement for the sake of movement will not bode well. If full inclusion is to succeed as a universal reality, not just an admirable goal, then it must become clear how to push the majority of countries forward, thus achieving full inclusion for most rather than a few. In many countries the reality of the principles of inclusive education are not reflected in everyday schooling. There have been many successes in inclusive education over many years in many countries, and these should be celebrated. Many consider full inclusion to be an over-reach by inclusivists, with most countries not achieving full inclusion; however, others argue that it is still attainable. From this point, where can the inclusion movement go? Has it, in effect, reached the end of its journey—like a bicycle with no rider, which eventually will fall over?
Rob Webster, Paula Bosanquet, and Peter Blatchford
The early 21st century has seen a considerable increase in both the number and presence of teaching assistants (TAs) and learning support staff in classrooms. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, TAs have assumed responsibility for teaching lower-attaining pupils and especially those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). This drift has occurred in a largely uncritical way and has attracted little attention because of the attendant benefits additional adult support has for teachers. However, evidence from research in the United Kingdom and the United States have revealed troubling and unintended consequences of this arrangement in terms of impeding pupil progress and increasing the likelihood of pupils’ dependency on adult support. Of particular concern are research findings that show how a high amount of support from TAs for pupils with high-level SEND leads to a qualitatively different experience of schooling compared to pupils without SEND, particularly in terms of having fewer interactions with teachers and peers. Heavy reliance on the employment and deployment of TAs to facilitate the inclusion of pupils with often complex learning difficulties in mainstream settings can be seen as a proxy for long-standing and unresolved questions about how teachers are prepared and trained to meet the learning needs of those with SEND and the priority school leaders give to SEND. Future efforts to meaningfully educate pupils with SEND in mainstream schools must attend to teachers’ confidence and competence in respect of this aim. In addition, extensive and collaborative work with schools in the United Kingdom is offering a more hopeful model of how TAs can supplement this endeavor. Improving how teachers deploy TAs and how TAs interact with pupils, together with addressing persistent problems relating to the way TAs are trained and prepared for their roles in classrooms, schools can unlock the potential of the TA workforce as part of a wider, more inclusive approach for disadvantaged pupils.
Elias Avramidis and Anastasia Toulia
There has been a proliferation of studies examining attitudes toward the inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) in regular education settings. Most studies to date have focused on examining the attitudes regular teachers hold toward inclusion on the assumption that their acceptance of the policy of inclusion is likely to affect their commitment to implementing it. Other researchers have directed their attention to the attitudes held by typically developing children toward their peers with SEN and, to a lesser extent, to the attitudes of parents toward the inclusion of students with SEN in their children’s classroom. Teachers have been found to generally hold positive attitudes toward the notion of inclusion, which are largely affected by the severity of the child’s disability, the level of in-service training received, the degree of prior teaching experience with students with SEN, and other environment-related factors. Typically developing students have been found to hold neutral attitudes toward their peers with SEN. Age, prior experience of studying in inclusive settings, and parental influence seem to influence their attitudes. Studies on parents’ attitudes have revealed neutral-to-positive attitudes toward the general notion of inclusion. Several factors were found to influence parental attitudes, such as their socio-economic status and education level along with their child’s type of disability. Most attitudinal research to date has described static situations through the employment of single methodological research designs. Consequently, there is a need for mixed-method studies that employ coherent and, wherever possible, longitudinal research designs.
Increasingly, around the world, educators are being expected to draw upon research-based evidence in planning, implementing, and evaluating their activities. Evidence-based strategies comprise clearly specified teaching methods and school-level factors that have been shown in controlled research to be effective in bringing about desired outcomes in a specified population of learners and under what conditions, in this case those with special educational needs/disabilities taught in special schooling, whether it be in separate schools or classrooms or in inclusive classrooms. Educators could, and should, be drawing upon the best available evidence as they plan, implement, and evaluate their teaching of such learners. Since around 2010 there has been a growing commitment to evidence-based education. This has been reflected in: 1. legislation: for example, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act in the United States, which encourages the use of specific programs and practices that have been rigorously evaluated and defines strong, moderate, and promising levels of evidence for programs and practices; 2. the creation of centers specializing in gathering and disseminating evidence-based education policies and practices, brokering connections between policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers; and 3. a growing body of research into effective strategies, both in general and with respect to learners with special educational needs. Even so, in most countries there is a significant gap between what researchers have found and the educational policies and practices implemented by professionals. Moreover, some scholars criticize the emphasis on evidence-based education, particularly what they perceive to be the prominence given to quantitative or positivist research in general and to randomized controlled trials in particular. In putting evidence-based strategies into action, a five-step model could be employed. This involves identifying local needs, selecting relevant interventions, planning for implementation, implementing, and examining and reflecting on the interventions.