Imagining inclusive teachers: contesting policy assumptions in relation to the development of inclusive practice in schools

Howes, Andrew J.; Grimes, Peter and Shohel, M. Mahruf C. (2011). Imagining inclusive teachers: contesting policy assumptions in relation to the development of inclusive practice in schools. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 41(5) pp. 615–628.



In this paper we reflect on data from two research projects in which inclusive practice in the educational system is at issue, in the light of wider field experience (our own and others’) of school and teacher development. We question what we understand to be relatively common, implicit policy assumptions about how teachers develop, by examining the way in which teachers are portrayed and located in these projects. The examples discussed in this paper draw on experience in Lao PDR and Bangladesh, critically exploring teachers’ roles, position and agency in practice. Similarities and differences rooted in cultural, political and institutional contexts highlight in a productive way the significance and potential dangers of policy assumptions about teachers within the process of development.

From Bangladesh, a success story is presented: the case of a group of primary and junior high schools with formal and nonformal characteristics facilitate the inclusion of young people who were previously outside the education system. In these schools, the institutional context for learning appears to sustain teachers’ commitment and motivation. These data suggest the importance of the institutional context to teachers’ practices, and raise questions about approaches to teacher development which omit consideration of that context by, for example, focusing inadvertently on features of individual teachers.

We then consider teachers’ responses to the movement for inclusive education in a primary school in the Lao PDR since 2004. Inclusion here was understood to require a significant shift in teacher identity and a movement away from authoritative pedagogy towards the facilitation of a pedagogy which aimed to encourage the active participation of all students. Through a longitudinal study of teachers in one school, the conditions for such change were identified and again cast doubt on some of the assumptions behind large-scale attempts at teacher development. Reflecting on these experiences and the evidence they provide, we suggest that teacher development programmes are more likely to be effective where teachers are considered not as individuals subject to training but as agents located in an influential institutional context.

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