After inclusion – using language to maintain the drive for social justice in learning

Rix, Jonathan (2008). After inclusion – using language to maintain the drive for social justice in learning. In: European Conference of Educational Research (ECER), 9-12 Sep 2008, Gothenburg.



In 2003 the UK government announced, after six years of supporting the notion of educating all pupils in the mainstream, that it advocated a permanent and significant role for segregated Special Schools. Though the term ‘inclusion’ is still evident in legislation and guidance to Local Authorities and practitioners its meaning, through use across a widening range of circumstances, has become increasingly broad. It has moved from meaning specifically ‘access to the mainstream’ to the more generalised ‘access to a context’; so that now, a Special School can be praised for its inclusive practice. In addition, the failure of many authorities to initiate effective training, funding and support for practice that they label as ‘inclusive education’ has lead to a great deal of non-inclusive practice. This had created a belief among many teachers, parents, pupils and the wider public that ‘inclusive education’ is about ‘dumping’ hard to teach pupils, particularly those with Social and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties, into mainstream settings, to the detriment of those children and others around them. The notion that ‘inclusion’ in education has gone ‘too far’ has also become a regular view expressed by opposition politicians and figures such as Baroness Warnock, and in newspaper editorials such as the Times Educational Supplement. For many parents it has become equated with a loss of choice of schools, so that they are no longer able to send their child to the ‘special’ setting they require. For many others it has become the explanation for mainstream schools failing to respond to the personal learning needs of their children. In general, the idea of inclusion has become associated with children with special educational needs rather than the learning needs of all.

This paper considers how the original notions of inclusion have become dissipated and how they can be developed and reframed so as to encourage their progress. It analyses the discourse within a range of academic, legal and media texts, to explore how this dissipation has taken place within the UK. It contextualises this change in the use of the terms of inclusion with the rise of two other recent constructs, that of the ‘specialist school’ and the non-theorised practice of ‘personalisation’. It identifies the need to establish a clear cut, precisely defined term which can be used to theorise the type of school which inclusion aims to achieve, but a term which cannot be subsumed by those who provide segregated provision. It suggests that such a term needs to reflect a liberal/democratic view of social justice, reminding people that inclusion is about removing social barriers that prevent equity, access and participation for all and that it is not just about making changes for an individual.

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