This Inclusion Toolkit for Parents has been written with leading inclusive education experts to guide parents in supporting their child’s inclusive education journey.
- What is inclusion in education?
- Why include?
- Inclusion and the law
- Developing an inclusive vision and setting goals
- Collaborating with your school to support your child
- Asking the right questions
- The role of families in building an inclusive school
Let’s start with what we all know – ALL children are learners and ALL children are unique.
Inclusive education is not a passing “fad” or the latest educational philosophy. It is a legally-supported, evidence-based way of delivering education that recognises the individual characteristics of all students, offers pedagogic alternatives that cater for the diverse educational needs of each child and respects the right of every child to be a part of their communities. It is also a fundamental human right of the child recognised in a range of international human rights instruments and treaties.
To achieve success in your child’s inclusion at school, it is important to understand what it is and what it isn’t.
When it comes to the word “inclusion” – you may find the people you are talking to don’t have the same level of understanding about what this means. Put simply, inclusion is much more that just physically “being there” – it’s what happens when you make sure that someone isn’t left out – of the classroom, the learning and curriculum, the playing, the relationships and every other aspect of school life. Children with disability or diverse learning needs are at greater risk of being excluded – so inclusion is all about making sure this doesn’t happen.
- all students included in the general education classroom all day, every day;
- all students working in naturally supportive, flexible structures and groupings with other students regardless of individual ability;
- all students presumed competent;
- students are supported (where needed, such as through curriculum adaptations and differentiated teaching) to access the core curriculum; and
- all students known and valued as full members of the school community, developing meaningful social relationships with peers and able to participate in all aspects of the life of the school.
Inclusion IS NOT:
- segregation of students with disability in "special" schools, units or classrooms;
- students only being allowed to participate in the class if they are “keeping up”academically – this includes:
- frequent “pull-outs”;
- working separately in a corner of the classroom with the education assistant while the teacher instructs the rest of the class; or
- students being given a separate “special curriculum” or “program” (as opposed to being supported where needed, including through curricular adjustments, to access the same core curriculum); or
- demonstrating independence or self-sufficiency as a condition of entry.
This handy checklist by The Inclusive Class can help you to identify whether certain common practices are inclusive or not!
Comprehensive definition of inclusive education
The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities has defined inclusive education to help governments make sure that they are complying with their obligations under Article 24 of the Convention, which has been ratified by 176 countries including Australia. After extensive consultation over 2 years, the Committee issued in August 2016 its guidance document on "The Right to Inclusive Education", General Comment No. 4. Article 24 and General Comment No. 4 together provide the most authoritative statement on of the human right of people with disability to an inclusive education and are important in advocating for access by Australian students with disability to an inclusive education.
For parents, teachers and school administrators, General Comment No. 4 provides a blue print for implementing inclusive education and for identifying whether a child is being excluded or segregated, offered merely “integration” in a mainstream school or being provided with an inclusive education. Too often, inferior delivery of education to students with disability is wrongly labelled “inclusion” and sold to them, their families and teachers. When this results in poor experiences and perceived “failures” in educating students with disability in regular schools and classrooms, inclusive education itself is blamed when, ironically, it is the very lack of inclusion that often results in such “failures”. In that sense, the General Comment No. 4 provides a guide for testing educational practices against the key principles and characteristics of an inclusive education and an inclusive education system. Every Australian parent, whether or not they have a child with disability, and every Australian educator should take the time to read General Comment No. 4. You can read our summary of General Comment N.4 here.
This video also illustrates different models and how inclusion in education is distinguished from exclusion, segregation and integration.
Myths about inclusive education?
- Myth #1: The general education classrooms won’t provide the support that students with disability need. REAL DEAL: Our laws provide for supports in regular schools and good inclusive practices happen in schools in Australia and elsewhere (eg Italy has been educating ALL students together since 1977!).
- Myth #2: Students with disability do better when they are educated in separate schools or classrooms. REAL DEAL: 40 years of research emphatically disproves this myth.
- Myth #3: Students with disability in the general classroom have a negative impact on the learning of other students. REAL DEAL: Research shows no academic detriments and some academic benefits plus socio-emotional gains for ALL students.
- Myth #4: A student can’t be included unless they can keep up with the pace of the general education curriculum. REAL DEAL: Universal design for learning and adapted teaching are about making the general curriculum and learning in a regular classroom accessible to ALL learners!
- Myth #5: Schools include students with disability as a favour, to help them feel part of society. REAL DEAL: Inclusion is a fundamental right, enshrined in international, Commonwealth and State legislation and instruments.
Schools that have inclusive school cultures and adopt structures, systems and methodologies that are aimed at responding to the diverse needs of ALL its students – like “universal design for learning” and differentiated teaching – generally don’t need to make as many adjustments to accommodate students with disability or diverse learning needs because they have already done the work to establish a school climate, premises and processes that assume their participation.
Sometimes it is hard for parents, who probably did not grow up in inclusive learning environments themselves, to imagine how their child can be included in a regular school – this is where speaking to other families and finding out about how they are making it happen for their child is invaluable. Some real stories illustrating good inclusive practice can also be found in this document – “Exemplars of Practice” – released by the Australian Government.
School is the gateway to society and inclusive communities start with inclusive neighbourhood schools that value diversity and respect the right of ALL students to be welcomed and to belong – they benefit not only students with disabilities but ALL students.
An inclusive school …
- Welcomes ALL children, regardless of background ability or other “difference”
- Recognizes that ALL children are capable of learning
- Respects the diversity among children: age, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, social status, health
- Adopts structures, systems and methodologies for education that respond to the diverse needs of ALL children
- Embraces its role in promoting an inclusive society
- Understands that education is a dynamic process that continues to evolve to respond to the needs of today’s children – tomorrow’s citizens
Inclusion matters because …
- Inclusion is a right.
- Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the right to an inclusive education as a human right of people with disability. The General Comment No. 4 issued by the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities on 26 August 2016, gives guidance to governments, including the Australian government, about what is meant by “inclusive education” and what they need to do under Article 24. It is an important document that every parent, educator and school administrator should read.
- In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 ensures equal access by people with a disability to education by making it against the law for an educational authority to discriminate because of disability.
- State Equal Opportunity Laws also offer discrimination protections.
When children and young people have positive educational experiences, they are more likely to remain engaged in learning. Students with disability have a right to access and participate in education on the same basis as students without disability, in an environment free from bullying, harassment or exclusion.Education providers who embed inclusion foster a sense of community and belonging, and are integral to improving the educational experience of children and young people with disability. Strengthening system capability to support students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as students without disability is essential for improving all students’ educational outcomes.While accessibility and inclusion strategies have supported increased secondary school completion for some students with disability, there remains a significant gap in outcomes between students with disability and students without disability. Narrowing these gaps in educational attainment is essential to improve lifetime outcomes for people with disability.
- Inclusion is best evidence practice for students with disability.
- The case for inclusive education over “special education” models (“special schools” or “education support units”) is overwhelming. Over 40 years of research shows that when students with disability are included, all students learn and achieve more. A comprehensive review of all studies over a 40-year period that compared education outcomes for students with disability in segregated “special” versus regular education environments found that NO study supported better outcomes in “special” settings.
- Research also shows that when they are included, students with disability have:
- greater access to the general education curriculum
- more time “on task”
- more academic gains
- more progress on literacy skills
- increased communication skills
- improved social skills
- more friendships.
- Inclusion is better for ALL students.
- The research has also shown consistently that children who share inclusive schools with children with disabilities have more positive attitudes towards difference, better social skills and awareness, less disruptive behaviours and more developed personal values and ethics.
- Inclusive learning environments have also been shown to to have no detrimental impact, and some positive impact on the academic performance of non-disabled students, as confirmed by a 2017 meta-analysis covering a total sample of almost 4,800,000 students.
- A systematic review of 280 studies from 25 countries established clearly and consistently that inclusive educational settings can "confer substantial short- and long-term benefits for students with and without disabilities".
- This includes research that shows consistently that children who share inclusive schools with children with disabilities have more positive attitudes towards difference, better social skills and awareness, less disruptive behaviours and more developed personal values and ethics.
- The SWIFT Schools project in the United States, which is based at Kansas University and supports whole school transformation to deliver quality inclusive education to all students, outlines the research basis for its model here.
- Inclusion at school is the foundation of inclusive futures and welcoming communities. In inclusive schools, ALL students of ALL abilities, learn the skills they need to live full lives as part of their communities and to build the communities of the future.
- A 2018 comprehensive review by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education of over 200 papers from a range of countries (including the United Kingdom, USA, Australia and continental Europe) into the relationship between inclusive education and social inclusion, titled "Evidence of the Link Between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion" concluded that:
“The research evidence presented in this review suggests that attending segregated settings minimises the opportunities for social inclusion both in the short term (while children with disabilities are at school) and the long term (after graduation from secondary education). Attending a special setting is correlated with poor academic and vocational qualifications, employment in sheltered workshops, financial dependence, fewer opportunities to live independently, and poor social networks after graduation.” [p14]
Inclusion is happening EVERYWHERE! All over the world, there are schools practising excellence in inclusive education. Countries like Canada have been implementing inclusive education for several decades and in Italy 99% of students with disabilities have been educated in regular schools since the late 1970s. Most developing countries are also on the path to inclusive education.
Want to know more?
Research on social and academic outcomes:
Reviews and meta-analyses
"Towards inclusive education: A necessary process of transformation" Dr K. Cologon, (2019) for Children and Young People With Disability Australia
"Does Inclusion Work?", Dr K. de Bruin (2019), Chapter 3 in L.J. Graham (Ed). Inclusive Education in the 21st Century: Theory, Policy and Practice. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
"The Segregation of Students with Disabilities", National Council on Disability (USA, independent federal agency) (2018)
"Evidence of the Link Between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion", European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2018)
"A Summary of the Research Evidence on Inclusive Education’", Todd Grindal, Thomas Hehir, Brian Freeman, Renee Lamoreau, Yolanda Borquaye, Samantha Burke (2016)
"Inclusive Education of Students With General Learning Difficulties: A Meta-Analysis", Krämer S, Möller J, Zimmermann F. In Review of Educational Research. (2021) ;91(3):432-478. doi:10.3102/0034654321998072
"A meta-analysis of the effects of placement on academic and social skill outcome measures of students with disabilities" Oh-Young, Conrad & Filler, John. (2015) in Research in Developmental Disabilities. 47. 80-92. 10.1016/j.ridd.2015.08.014.
"Mainstreaming Programs: Design Features and Effects", Wang MC, Baker ET (1985) The Journal of Special Education. 1985;19(4):503-521. doi:10.1177/002246698501900412
"The Efficacy of Special Versus Regular Class Placement for Exceptional Children: a Meta-Analysis", Carlberg C, Kavale K. (1980) in The Journal of Special Education. 14(3):295-309
"Research Support for Inclusive Education and SWIFT", Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT Schools), (January 2017)
“Inclusion or Segregation for children with an Intellectual Impairment: What does the evidence say?” (2008)Dr Robert Jackson, Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University
"Outcomes of Inclusive Versus Separate Placements: A Matched Pairs Comparison Study" (2020), Kathlee Gee, Mara Gonzalez and Carrie Cooper, Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, August 2020
"The Relationship of Special Education Placement and Student Academic Outcomes" (2020), Sandi M. Cole, Hardy R. Murphy, Michael B. Frisby, Teresa A. Grossi and Hannah R. Bolte, The Journal of Special Education, June 2020
Research on segregation:
"The impact of inclusive education reforms on students with disability: an international comparison" (2019), Kate de Bruin, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23:7-8, 811-826.
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse "A brief guide to the Final Report: Disability" (2017)
"Disability and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse" (2016), Wayland, Sarah & Llewellyn, Gwynnyth & Hindmarsh, Gabrielle
Research on "gatekeeping":
"Gatekeeping and restrictive practices with students with disability: results of an Australian survey", delivered at the Inclusive Education Summit, Adelaide (2017), Shiralee Poed, Kathy Cologon and Robert Jackson
"Improving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria" (June 2018), Eleanor Jenkin, Claire Spivakovsky, Sarah Joseph and Marius Smith
“We didn’t know about our rights. The school told us that they didn’t think they could provide for our child’s educational needs and that she would be better off somewhere else. We started to feel that it was wrong of us to expect our child to attend our local neighbourhood school.”
The right of children with disability to attend their local government schools is a right protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 established under it) which reflects Australia’s international law obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see Article 24) and the priorities of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 which states “The shared vision is for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens”.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 a school or other education authority is not permitted to discriminate on the grounds of disability:
- in deciding an application for admission;
- in the terms or conditions on which it is prepared to admit a student (e.g. by requiring higher fees or accepting payment of the cost of an education assistant or aide);
- by denying or limiting a student’s access to any benefit provided by the school (e.g. excursions, sports or extra curricular activities and areas of the school);
- by expelling a student;
- by developing curriculum content that will exclude a student from participation; or
- by subjecting a student to any other detriment.
Although the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes an exception where the adjustment will cause “unjustifiable hardship”, it is up to the school or other relevant educational authority to prove this. As a matter of law, it can be difficult for schools to prove “unjustifiable hardship” even where accommodating a student with disability involves substantial costs.
The Disability Standards for Education clarify the obligations of education and training providers, and the rights of people with disability, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. You can read more information and view Factsheets about the Standards, including about making complaints, here.
Where complaints of discrimination in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 are not able to be resolved at a more local level, the Australian Human Rights Commission is responsible for investigating and resolving them.
Equal opportunity/anti-discrimination legislation in each State also applies in the area of education and complains may be made to the relevant boards or commissions.
What schools can’t say
- … we are not prepared to receive a student with disability.
- … we can only accept your child if you help to pay for an education assistant.
- … your child will have a separate curriculum because they won’t keep up with their peers.
- … your child will sit at the back of the classroom, far away from everyone not to disrupt the other students.
- … our “quota” for students with disability has been met.
The Australian Center for Disability Law has also created a new resource “Learning Together – Tools to help you get the support you need at school” so that students and families can understand their rights, and advocate more effectively for reasonable adjustments. Download this resource here.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has also provided helpful information about your child’s rights to be included at their local school here.
One of the most important things you can do to steer the course for a successful inclusive school experience and ensure you stay on it, is to make sure you are very clear about what you want for your own child and articulate your vision in writing.
You can then share it with your child’s teachers, email it to relevant school staff at the start of each year and bring it along to every IEP meeting. This is a positive way to start important dialogue with your child’s school – on a note of hope and aspirations.
Your vision should set out your dreams for your child’s future beyond the school years, as well as your aspirations for their schooling experience.
Example: Our vision for our child as an adult is that they will live and work as a member of their community. They will live a life of their choosing and be as independent as possible. They will have developed skills to make and maintain lasting, successful friendships and relationships. They will have a sense of self-worth and value their contribution as a community member.
To support our vision for the future, we would like our child to be educated alongside their peers, to have authentic friendships and relationships and to be included in every aspect of schooling. This means they are with their peers for all classes and for lunch and recess, with the appropriate supports. We would like our child to be seen as a valued and important member of their school.
One of the best ways to imagine your child’s positive schooling experience is to talk to them (and their friends) about what they value about going to school. Asking yourself the following questions may also help you to develop a vision for your child.
- What is my child’s history?
- What are my dreams for my child?
- What are my nightmares about my child?
- Who is my child?
- What are my child’s strengths, gifts and abilities?
- What are my child’s individual needs?
- What would my child’s ideal day at school look like?
- What must we do to make that day a reality?
- What would I like my child to be able to do when they leave the school system?
Your vision for your child should guide the development of the goals agreed in your child’s IEP.
For more information on how to build a vision, you can use “The McGill Action Planning System (MAPS): A Strategy for Building the Vision“.
Teachers are the experts in the classroom but parents are the expert on their child – working together and regularly sharing information and feedback makes inclusion happen! Teachers and parents say that a collaborative relationship is the most important factor in successfully including a student with disability.
Unfortunately, too often policies, and constraints that schools face make the need for efficiency a priority over true collaboration.
You can help build positive relationships to foster collaboration with your child’s teacher and education assistants by:
- establishing and maintaining healthy and regular communication, both formal and informal;
- providing positive feedback in recognising all successes, and where challenges arise be constructive in your discussions;
- building trust and rapport with your child’s teachers, such as by showing interest in your teacher as a person and seeking out opportunities to help them in the classroom;
- recognising that teachers have your child’s best interests at heart even if you are concerned that they could be doing things differently for your child;
- let teachers know you appreciate their efforts, even if you didn’t get quite the result you hoped for; and
- avoid overloading teachers with reading or requests – highlight the important sections of anything you want them to read or notice.
For information about IEP or other meetings with your school, you can read “Your Child’s IEP” and the Australian government's resource, Planning for Personalised Learning and Support: A National Resource, to support personalised planning and learning for students with disability, based on the obligations that schools have under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005. You can also contact your State or Territory Education Department for relevant brochures or information on personalised learning plans and meetings (see for example WA’s brochure "Talking With My School").
You don’t need to know all the answers – but it’s important to know the right questions to ask.
How is my child being supported academically?
Teachers are the experts in the classroom. However, as a parent it is important to ensure, not only that schools are providing academic supports (universal design and differentiation such as through flexible pacing and grouping, reading and literacy accomodations and support, etc -see Inclusive Schooling‘s “Checklist of Sample Supplemental Supports, Aids and Services“) for your child to access the SAME curriculum within the framework of the general classroom but that those supports are based on “best evidence”.
The starting point of providing academic support is “presuming competence” and having “high expectations” of all students. This means approaching every child as as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute – these things are innate to every child but sometimes barriers, such as communication or learning delay, may make it harder for teachers to see this.
Teachers who presume competence place the burden on themselves to come up with more creative, innovative ways for students to learn. The question is no longer WHO can be included or who can learn, but HOW can we remove educational barriers to achieve inclusive education for every child.
If it is determined that a student needs additional academic support, then the nature of the support given should be the least intrusive and provided in the most natural context of the classroom.
If an approach that differs so substantially from what the rest of the classroom is doing is proposed for your child and they will in effect be disconnected from the class learning, you should raise the matter with the teacher. Disconnecting a student from the class learning has adverse consequences and should be avoided. Start by asking why this specific approach has been selected and make a request to “show me the evidence” (i.e. is the effectiveness of the approach supported by the research?).
It’s also important to ask your child’s teacher whether “pull-out” strategies are being adopted. This is not uncommon – sometimes teachers who are unsure of how to meet a student’s individual learning needs may resort to pulling students out of the classroom at various times of the day. However, research has shown that there are many problem with this approach. For example, it disconnects the student from their classroom and the content that is being delivered and sets them apart even more – in their mind and those of their peers. Another aspect of pull-outs is that it involves making students “transition” to a different setting and back again, which some students may find challenging.
“[Using a pull-out approach] creates a caste system – of students who are capable and students who are not capable”, Dr Julie Causton in “Inclusive schooling”.
It is important to find out whether “pull-outs” are happening and to discuss whether it is possible to give your child the individualised support in their regular classroom setting, including using other methods such as small group instruction and peer tutoring (i.e. class members teaching and working with your child).
Your can find out more in the following articles:
How is my child being supported to develop friendships and peer connections?
One of the main benefits of your child being educated in a general education setting is the capacity for your child to develop social skills and relationships within an environment representative of your local community – the same community within which you will envisage your child one day working, loving and living.
Some children need more help than others to develop and maintain meaningful connections with their peers – connections that are critical to their sense of belonging, enjoyment of school, their social development and ultimately their mental well-being.
Helping children develop meaningful and mutually satisfying relationships with their peers is increasingly being recognised as a key role of teachers and education assistants.
If you are concerned as to whether your child is independently forming and maintaining satisfying friendships with other students, regularly ask your teacher about their observations. Talking to other parents as to their observations in and around the classroom is also valuable information to supplement your own observations as your child may not give you a true impression when you are in or near the classroom, by focusing on your presence .
If your child needs assistance to build peer connections, discuss with your child’s teacher what deliberate strategies can be used (e.g. small group tasks or peer tutoring in the classroom and identifying common interests to engage in the playground with class members – because children who learn together play together). It is all about maximising the potential for peers to connect with your child at the level of the individual, for who they are. You can find out more in this article about “Supporting Peer Connection in the Inclusive Class – Practical Tips for Teachers“.
What behaviour strategies are being used to support my child?
Children whose behaviour is perceived by schools as “challenging” need appropriate support. Many teachers are finding that for all students regardless of ability, traditional strategies around punishment/exclusion and reward are not effective or have limited effect and there is also significant concern about the social and emotional consequences of adopting those sorts of approaches (e.g. they can be stigmatising in the eyes of peers, decrease a student’s motivation and connection to the classroom and their teachers and contribute to self-esteem issues and even trauma). Many traditional strategies used to respond to student behaviour are also being questioned from a human rights perspective. Increasingly, research is also finding that these approaches have limited value (see this research and this recent article).
Alternative strategies that seek to minimize the negative impacts of more traditional approaches while supporting individual students and the classroom community and fostering social and emotional learning are often called “positive behaviour supports“. They generally emphasize being empathetic, calming and respectful and recognising the additional barriers and challenges that some students face in school environments.
Positive behaviour supports also involve acknowledging that at a fundamental level behaviour is a form of communication and that the beginning of any support strategy should be trying to identify what may be causing or “triggering” a student’s “behavioural” response in the classroom or school context. In particular, it is important to identify what unmet needs or other factors may at the root of this – e.g. look to the functional needs of the student having regard to their environment, the curriculum, the nature of instruction, and the social landscape such as whether the student needs more support in expressing their needs and wants and may be feeling anxious or socially isolated – and adopting a “problem solving” approach.
For example, for a student who is receiving a lot of “prompting” from adults throughout the day, they may feel that they have no control and start to “push back” against this, so trying to build in greater “choice” in the classroom to alleviate that student’s need for more autonomy may assist. Some students may have a need to move a lot so trying to provide more opportunity to move within the class setting may be a helpful strategy. Other students may have sensory needs that can be met by having a break, using fidget toys, or changing to a different activity.
As for any type of individualised support that a student may need, it is important to try to provide that support in the least intrusive way and in the most natural context of the classroom.
If your child's behaviour at school is being perceived as challenging and you would like to speak to their teacher about positive behaviour supports, we recommend reading this short article “Calm in A Crisis” by Paula Kluth and “Beyond treats and timeouts: Humanistic behavior supports in inclusive classrooms” by Julie Causton, C.P. Tracy-Bronson and K. MacLeod. See also "The Boy on Red and the Problem with Public Behavior Charts".
How is the education assistant used to support my child in and out of the classroom?
Some children will need the additional support of an education or teaching assistant and an education assistant can be critical to an inclusive class. However, the research indicates that the manner in which that support is given is important – it can be beneficial or detrimental to the student they are supporting. Most parents naturally assume that dedicated “one-on-one” support from an education assistant for as much of the school day as possible is desirable and what they should be asking for – indeed many parents understand this to be their main role in advocating for their child at school. However, academic and social development support from an education assistant should be given:
- under the considered instruction of the teacher;
- without displacing the primary relationship between your child and their teacher and you and the teacher;
- with a view to nurturing rather than compromising the opportunities for your child to connect with their peers; and
- with the goal of building your child’s independence by reducing “one-on-one” support and maximising “adult space” around your child over time.
This does not mean not giving support or giving less support, but looking at how support can be given and “fading” support as may be appropriate.
Your can find out more in the following articles: “‘Less is More’: The Education Assistant – Practical Tips for Teachers” and also in “Be Careful What You Wish for …”: Five Reasons to Be Concerned About the Assignment of Individual Paraprofessionals“. There is also recent research from the UK about the use of education assistants.
We also recommend:
"Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants", Institute of Education, University College London (UK)
Where does my child sit?
If a child is frequently seated at the back or to the side of the classroom or in a side room or partitioned area, accompanied by the education assistant or for therapy services and in a different arrangement to the rest of the classroom, the message to that child and to their peers is unmistakable – it says “you don’t belong”. It is important to raise this issue with your child’s teacher as soon as possible and discuss inclusive seating arrangements.
Of course if a child is spending substantial amounts of time outside their classroom, for whatever reason, you should also raise the matter immediately.
What about participation in curricular and extra curricular activities?
Being part of extracurricular and non-academic activities with peers is a very important part of the school experience and it can provide excellent opportunities for the development of friendships. It is important for these opportunities to be available to all children and to talk to your teacher about making this happen. If necessary, ask for this to be part of your child’s IEP as a way of formalizing the provision of services or supports that may be necessary to support you child’s participation.
It is worth noting that under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 a school or other education authority is not permitted to discriminate on the grounds of disability by denying or limiting a student’s access to any benefit provided by the school (e.g. excursions, sports or extra curricular activities and areas of the school).
Helping to build the capacity of the education team
Sharing articles, websites, or videos on inclusion with relevant school staff can help build the capacity of the team to achieve best practice, as well as illustrating how goals can be achieved consistent with your vision for your child.
If your child's teacher is open to this, we recommending sharing with them All Means All's Inclusion Toolkit for Educators which has been written with leading experts to help educators to initiate, develop, and sustain inclusive schooling practices. In addition, All Means All's educators network School Inclusion Network for Educators (SINE) has a dedicated website School Inclusion - From Theory to Practice with excellent resources and practical tips. SINE also has a dedicated closed Facebook Group for educators to share information, resources, tips and ideas to support school inclusion.
The Australian Government has also released a document “Exemplars of Practice” that contains examples of good inclusive practice – each a real story – in developing reasonable adjustments for students with disability in line with the Disability Standards for Education 2005.
Want to know more?
Some good lists of articles have been compiled by The Inclusive Class and by Inclusive Schooling. We also recommend the parent advocacy web video course “Inspire Inclusion” by Dr Julie Causton (USA legal framework but still helpful in the Australian context).
Inclusion requires “… a focus on all policies and processes within an education system, and indeed, all pupils who may experience exclusionary pressures” (Ainscow, Farrell & Tweddle, 2000)
Schools for ALL!
Inclusion is a whole-of-school issue concerned with student diversity and equitable access to education. It is particularly important as a means of ensuring access and participation for students with disability and diverse learning needs given the history of their exclusion from education and society, but it is actually about how schools create or respond to students for whom participation in a school setting becomes an issue, whether arising from disability, gender, behaviour, poverty, culture, refugee status or any other reason.
Is my school inclusive?
School level inclusive practice should be reflected in the school’s leadership, culture, policies and practices, development of support structures, regimes of funding support and provision of and access to equitable learning opportunities.
While every inclusive school may have its own different “look and feel”, the following are common indicators of inclusive schools:
- All students belong as of right – inclusion is not something that needs to be “earned” or for which a student has to prove “readiness”. All students are readily seen learning the SAME curriculum (with differentiate instruction and appropriate support for those who need it), sharing the same classrooms and school spaces, having the same school day (length of day, time of arrival and departure) and having the same opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities.
- Positive attitude to difference – the school environment is friendly and human differences are accepted by staff and student as as natural and valuable and are not denied or stigmatised.
- A climate of student cooperation and effort, not competition and ranking – the school is committed to maximizing learning outcomes of ALL its students regardless of background or ability and students are encouraged to work together and support each other, individual progress is celebrated and students are not privileged or shamed depending on their grades or comparative skills.
- A moral commitment to being inclusive is reflected at every level – in the school’s vision, beliefs, policies, practices and culture, and in strong and engaged leadership.
- School openly embraces its role in promoting an inclusive society.
- School welcomes working collaboratively with families and community - to share “learnings” and support students.
Parents helping to improve their schools
While we, as parents acting in isolation, tend to focus on our child, as a collective group through one-on-one conversations, group dialogue, reflection and developing a strong sense of community around the most vulnerable students, we are more readily able to identify common problems and work together to improve our local schools.
The role of parents in raising and bringing attention to systemic issues is particularly important, given that the standard of accountability on inclusive practices and on outcomes for students with disability is often substantially less than for other students (for example, students with disability tend to be significantly under-represented in national and State testing and accountability measures and no formal inclusion index or other similar tool has been formally adopted to track how well individual schools are doing).
Want to know more?
See “Leading Inclusive Reform for Students With Disabilities: A School- and Systemwide Approach“, George Theoharis & Julie Causton