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. Read more information about "Inclusion and the Law" in the next Chapter of this Toolkit.
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 supported by research.
- 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 (see Grzegorz et al below).
- 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! All over the world, there are schools practising excellence in inclusive education. There are good examples of inclusive practices in countries like Portugal, Canada, Italy, the United States and even Australia. Many countries are looking at reforms to move to whole of system inclusive education and many developing countries are also on this path.
Want to know more?
Research on social and academic outcomes:
Reviews and meta-analyses
Krämer, S., Möller, J., & Zimmermann, F. (2021). Inclusive Education of Students With General Learning Difficulties: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 91(3), 432–478. DOI: 10.3102/0034654321998071 [Overview: This article presents a meta-analysis on cognitive (eg. academic performance) outcomes among students with learning difficulties and their peers without learning difficulties in inclusive versus segregated educational settings. The analysis found a significant positive effect for cognitive outcomes of students with general learning difficulties in inclusive versus segregated settings.]
De Bruin, K. (2020). Does inclusion work? In L. J. Graham (Ed.), Inclusive Education for the 21st Century: Theory, Policy and Practice (1st ed., pp. 55-76). Allen & Unwin.
Cologon, K. (2019). Towards inclusive education: A necessary process of transformation. Report written by Dr Kathy Cologon, Macquarie University for Children and Young People with Disability
Australia (CYDA) ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0-646-80949-6. Access here.
National Council on Disability (USA, independent federal agency). (2018). The Segregation of Students With Disability. IDEA Series. Access here.
European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. (2018). Evidence of the Link Between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion: A Review of the Literature. S. Symeonidou (Ed.). Odense, Denmark. Access here.
Grzegorz, Szumski & Smogorzewska, Joanna & Karwowski, Maciej. (2017). Academic achievement of students without special educational needs in inclusive classrooms: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review. DOI: 21. 10.1016/j.edurev.2017.02.004. [Overview: This article presents a meta-analysis to establish how the presence of students with special educational needs in the classroom impacts students without special educational needs. It covered 47 studies meeting the inclusion criteria, representing a total sample of almost 4,800,000 students. The overall effect was positive and statistically significant.]
Hehir, T., Grindal, T., Freeman, B., Lamoreau, R., Borquaye, Y., & Burke, S. (2016). A summary of the evidence on inclusive education. ABT Associates. ERIC. Access here. [Overview: This report reviewed over 280 international studies across 25 countries demonstrating the benefits of inclusive education for students with disabilities (most often children with intellectual disabilities), and particularly for students without disabilities. The authors state “There is clear and consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings can confer substantial short- and long-term benefits for students with and without disabilities” (p.2). Research indicates that included students develop stronger reading and math skills, have better school attendance, have better behavior, and are more likely to graduate than students who are not included. As adults, students with disabilities who have been included are more likely to be enrolled in postsecondary education, and to be employed or living independently. Evidence suggests that in most cases there are no adverse effects for typical students who are being educated in an inclusive classroom. Some research shows that these students are more accepting of differences and less prejudiced. Similarly, typical co-workers benefit from an inclusive workplace that creates a positive work culture and environment, fosters conflict resolution skills, and increases employee motivation.]
Oh-Young, Conrad & Filler, John. (2015). A meta-analysis of the effects of placement on academic and social skill outcome measures of students with disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 47. 80-92. DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2015.08.014 [Overview: An investigation of differences between outcome measures of students with disabilities placed in more integrated settings with those of students placed in less integrated settings. A meta-analysis was conducted using the findings from 24 studies published in peer-reviewed journals from 1980 through 2013. Results from the analyses suggest that there were significant differences (p<0.0001) between placement settings with the majority of students with disabilities in more integrated settings outperforming those in less integrated settings on both academic and social outcome measures. Overall these findings, combined with those from two prior meta-analytic studies, provide evidence spanning over 80 years suggesting separate settings are not as beneficial as are more integrated settings. Implications related to practice and policy, as well as avenues for future study, are discussed.]
Jackson, R. (2008). Inclusion or Segregation for children with an Intellectual Impairment: What does the evidence say? Queensland Parents for People with a Disability. Access here. [Overview: A review of literature on the research evidence on inclusion versus segregation concluded that "No review could be found comparing segregation and inclusion that came out in favour of segregation in over forty years of research. The The major finding of the superiority of inclusion over segregation was also tested by writing to the heads of education departments in Australian Universities (Jackson, Chalmers, &
Wills, 2004) as well as key international writers in the field. At the time of writing there had been no criticism of the finding and several confirmations of the accuracy of the conclusion.]
Wang MC, Baker ET. (1985). Mainstreaming Programs: Design Features and Effects. The Journal of Special Education. 1985;19(4):503-521. DOI: 10.1177/002246698501900412.
Carlberg C, Kavale K. (1980). The Efficacy of Special Versus Regular Class Placement for Exceptional Children: a Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Special Education. 14(3):295-309 . DOI: 10.1177/002246698001400304.[Note: A Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. A meta-analysis goes beyond critique and integration and conducts secondary statistical analysis on the outcomes of similar studies. It is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarize the results. An advantage of a meta-analysis is the ability to be completely objective in evaluating research findings.]
Jackson, L., Agran, M., Lansey, K., Baker, D., Matthews, S., Fitzpatrick, H., Jameson, M., Ryndak, D., Burnette, K., & Taub, D. (in press). Examination of setting ecologies within and across different types of Placement for elementary students with complex support needs. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. [Overview: IES national research project on services for students with severe disabilities. Research has begun to identify the breadth and complexity of contextual variables that impact the opportunities, services, and supports students with complex support needs receive across different classroom placements. Indeed, as Jackson et al. (2008-2009) suggested, placement in and of itself may determine the schooling experiences of these students in ways that either enhance or constrain the outcomes of the educational process. The present study examined an array of contextual, curricular, instructional, and student support variables in relation to four types of placement in which students with complex support needs might be placed for educational services by their Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams. Placements were defined in terms of percent of the school day a student had access to age-level general education classes, ranging between no access (separate school) to 80% or higher (“inclusive”). The investigation used ecological surveys completed, respectively, by a national sample of special and general educators and administrators. Completed surveys were obtained for 117 students with complex support needs across all four types of placement. The findings revealed potential relationships between a number of ecological variables and placement, suggesting that: (a) student opportunities and experiences may vary systematically in relation to the amount of access they have to general education classrooms; and (b) the application of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) process, with its tacit endorsement of segregated settings and specialized programs, may in fact negatively impact the education of many of these students.]
Cole, S. M., Murphy, H. R., Frisby, M. B., & Robinson, J. (2022). The Relationship Between Special Education Placement and High School Outcomes. The Journal of Special
Education, 00224669221097945. [Overview: Compared academic outcomes of students with disabilities in Indiana placed in more inclusive settings with those placed in less inclusive settings. Students with disabilities spending 80% more time in inclusive classrooms did better in reading and math than peers spending more time in segregated classrooms. The study shows differences in diploma types of students in more inclusive settings than those in less inclusive settings, indicating that students in inclusive settings engage in more rigorous course of study and are more prepared for successful post-secondary educational and employment opportunities.]
McConnell, A., Sanford, C., Martin, J., Cameto, R., & Hodge, L. (2021). Skills, Behaviors, Expectations, and Experiences Associated with Improved Postsecondary Outcomes for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 46(4), 240-258. [Overview: An in-depth literature review of 53 studies was conducted to identify the skills, behaviors, expectations, and experiences associated with employment, further education, and independent living for students with significant cognitive disabilities following high school. The section on
academics emphasizes this:
- “Students with significant cognitive disabilities who can read, are integrated with similarly aged typically developing peers, are included in general education, have higher functional academic skills, and are able to complete 3-step tasks are more likely to experience employment and education after high school (Baer et al., 2011; Foley et al., 2012; Heal & Rusch, 1995; Lemaire & Mallik, 2008; Papay & Bambara, 2014; White & Weiner, 2004).
- Reading (Lemaire & Malik, 2008), being included in school settings that provide high degrees of integration with similarly aged typical peers (White & Weiner, 2004), and ability to complete 3-step tasks (Foley et al., 2012) are associated with improved employment outcomes. Receiving instruction in the general education classroom more than 80% of the school day predicts further education for students with significant cognitive disabilities (Baer et al., 2011). Secondary analyses of NLTS and NLTS-2 data included telling time on a clock, reading and understanding common signs, counting change, and looking up telephone numbers in a phonebook as academic skills students with significant cognitive disabilities need for better post-school outcomes in both education and employment (Heal & Rusch, 1995; Papay & Bambara, 2014).”
Wehmeyer, M. L., Shogren, K. A., & Kurth, J. (2021). The state of inclusion with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 18(1), 36-43. [Overview: This overview article describes the state of inclusion and inclusive practices with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the United States. It contains a section on the benefits of inclusive education stating this:
• “A recent review of placement outcomes (Agran et al., 2019) identified a myriad of ways in which students with I/DD benefit from inclusive placements. These include improved academic achievement and academic skill acquisition (Kurth & Mastergeorge, 2010a, 2010b), improved communication skills and social interactions (Carter & Hughes, 2005; Fisher & Meyer, 2002), self-determination (Hughes, Agran, Cosgriff, & Washington, 2013), and positive perceptions of belonging and of high expectations for learning (Shogren et al., 2015). Hehir et al. (2016) conducted a review of evidence from almost 300 research studies and concluded inclusive practices “confer substantial short- and long-term benefits for children’s cognitive and social development” (p. 26).
Gee, K., Gonzalez, M., & Cooper, C. (2020). Outcomes of Inclusive Versus Separate Placements: A Matched Pairs Comparison Study. Research and Practice for Persons with
Severe Disabilities. DOI: 10.1177/1540796920943469. [Overview: Students (in K-12 grades) with significant cognitive disabilities included in general education 80% or more of the day made significant gains in literacy, numeracy, and communication compared with their matched pairs who were placed in segregated classrooms.
Cole, S. M., Murphy, H. R., Frisby, M. B., Grossi, T. A., & Bolte, H. R. (2021). The relationship of special education placement and student academic outcomes. The Journal
of Special Education, 54(4), 217-227. DOI: 10.1177/0022466920925033 [Overview: This study investigates the academic outcomes of a special education student cohort in the state of Indiana placed in high- and low-inclusion settings. Student scores in these two settings from the Indiana State Test of Educational Progress (ISTEP+ English/Language Arts and math) were compared from fourth grade in 2014 through the eighth grade in 2018. Results of this study show that students with disabilities who spent 80% or more of their time in a general education inclusive classroom did significantly better in both reading and math assessment than their peers who spent more time in separate special education classrooms.
Other research on outcomes:
Kleinert, H., Towles-Reeves, E., Quenemoen, R., Thurlow, M., Fluegge, L., Weseman, L., & Kerbel, A. (2015). Where students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are taught: Implications for general curriculum access. Exceptional Children, 81(3), 312-328. [Overview: Surveying 15 states and 39,837 students, this study examined the extent to which students who took an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards in the 2010–2011 school year had access to regular education settings. It also examined the extent to which that access correlated with expressive communication, use of an augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) system, and reading and math skill levels. The vast majority (93%) of students were served in segregate classrooms, separate schools, or home settings, whereas only 7% were served in regular education or resource room placements. There was a significant, positive correlation between expressive communication and reading and math skill levels with increasingly inclusive classroom settings and a significant, negative correlation between use of AAC and more inclusive settings.]
Kurth, J., & Mastergeorge, A. M. (2010). Individual education plan goals and services for adolescents with autism: Impact of age and educational setting. The Journal of Special Education, 44(3), 146-160. [Overview: The purpose of this study was to describe the educational programs for autistic adolescents (age 12–16 years) in inclusion and non-inclusion settings as reflected in their Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals, services, and curricular adaptations. Students who were included in general education math and language arts instruction had fewer overall IEP goals, but goals focused more on applied skill development, whereas students in non-inclusion had goals addressing primarily rote and procedural skills.]
Mansouri, M. C., Kurth, J. A., Lockman Turner, E., Zimmerman, K. N., & Frick, T. A. (2022). Comparison of Academic and Social Outcomes of Students with Extensive Support Needs Across Placements. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 15407969221101792. [Overview: Extending Freeman and Alkin’s review of the literature, this systematic literature review examines the social and academic outcomes of students with extensive support needs (ESN) taught in general education settings compared with those taught in segregated settings. Six comparison design studies were analyzed for contextual factors of educational environments, participants’ characteristics, and outcomes related to social or academic attainment. Results indicate access to the general education classroom with same-age peers is associated with greater academic and social outcomes for students with ESN. Students with ESN taught in inclusive settings had greater academic and social outcomes compared with students with ESN taught in segregated settings in five out of six studies (83.3%). These are similar to findings from Kleinert et al. (2015) demonstrating a positive correlation between the outcomes of students with ESN (i.e., expressive communication, reading skills, and mathematic skills) and increasingly inclusive classroom settings. Both studies examining academic outcomes showed students with ESN served in inclusive settings had greater achievement in literacy and math. Out of the studies examining students’ social outcomes across settings (i.e., inclusive; segregated), the majority (80%) demonstrated that students with ESN served in the general education classroom alongside same-age peers had better outcomes than those served in segregated settings. While one study in this review did not find statistically significant differences in the social competence of those served in inclusive and segregated settings, it did establish that only students with ESN taught in inclusive settings demonstrated statistically significant gains in social outcomes (i.e., two out of 11 subscales of social competence; Fisher & Meyer, 2002). In summary, our findings demonstrate greater gains are made for students with ESN in inclusive settings.]
Research on segregation:
De Bruin, K. (2019). The impact of inclusive education reforms on students with disability: an international comparison. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23:7-8, 811-826,
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. (2017). A brief guide to the Final Report: Disability. Access here.
Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights . (2017). Fighting school segregation in Europe through inclusive education Fighting school segregation in Europe through inclusive education: a position paper. X. Bonal (Ed), Access here.
Llewellyn, G, Wayland, S, Hindmarsh, G. (2016). Disability and child sexual abuse in institutional contests. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual
Abuse, Sydney. Access here.
Research on "gatekeeping":
Poed, S., Cologon, K. & Jackson, R. (2022). Gatekeeping and restrictive practices by Australian mainstream schools: results of a national survey. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 26:8, 766-779,
Jenkin, E., Spivakovsky, C., Joseph, S. & Smith, M. (2018). Improving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria. Monash University, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. Access here.
Other relevant research for inclusive education:
Sailor, W., Skrtic, T. M., Cohn, M., Olmstead, C. (2020). Preparing Teacher Educators for Statewide Scale-Up of Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS). Teacher Education and Special Education, 1 –18 (Online Frst). DOI: 10.1177/0888406420938035.
McCart, A., Choi, J. & Sailor, W. (2020, Apr 17 - 21) Collaboration for Equity and Inclusion Through Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Implementation: Longitudinal Evaluation of Student Outcomes [Paper Session]. AERA Annual Meeting San Francisco, CA http://tinyurl.com/sdts33e (Conference Canceled).
Choi, J. H., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2020). Reshaping Educational Systems to Realize the Promise of Inclusive Education. In FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education, 6(1), 8-23.
Choi, J. H., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2020). Achievement of Students With IEPs and Associated Relationships With an Inclusive MTSS Framework. The Journal of Special Education, DOI: 10.1177/0022466919897408.
Choi, J. H., McCart, A. B., Hicks, T. A., & Sailor, W. (2019). An analysis of mediating effects of school leadership on MTSS implementation. The Journal of Special Education, 53(1), 15-27. DOI: 10.1177/0022466918804815.
Kurth, J. A. (2018). Introduction to the special topic issue on the impact of SWIFT technical assistance. Inclusion, 6, 1-2. DOI: 10.1352/2326-6988-6.1.1.
Sailor, W., McCart, A. B., & Choi, J. H. (2018). Reconceptualizing inclusive education through multi-tiered system of support. Inclusion, 6, 2-18. DOI: 10.1352/2326-6988-6.1.3.
Kurth, J. A., Morningstar, M. E., Hicks, T. A., & Templin, J. (2018). Exploring the relationship between school transformation and inclusion: A Bayesian multilevel longitudinal analysis. Inclusion, 6, 19-32. DOI: 10.1352/2326-6988-6.1.19.
Kozleski, E. B., & Choi, J. H. (2018). Leadership for equity and inclusivity in schools: The cultural work of inclusive schools. Inclusion, 6, 33-44. DOI: 10.1352/2326-69188.8.131.52.
Schuh, M. C., Knackstedt, K. M., Cornett, J., Choi, J. H., Pollitt, D. T., & Satter, A. L. (2018). All means all: Connecting federal education policy and local implementation practice through evidence and equity. Inclusion, 6, 45-59. DOI: 10.1352/2326-69184.108.40.206.
Gross, J. M. S., Choi, J. H., & Francis, G. L. (2018). Perceptions of family engagement and support in SWIFT schools. Inclusion, 6, 60-74. DOI: 10.1352/2326-6988-6.1.60.
Sailor, W., Satter, A., Woods, K., McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. (2017). School improvement through inclusive education. Oxford Bibliographies in Education. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0191.
Sailor, W. (2017). Equity as a basis for inclusive educational systems change. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 41, 1-17. DOI: 10.1017/jse.2016.12.
Francis, G., Blue-Banning, M., Turnbull, A.P., Hill, C., Haines, S.J., and Gross, J.M.S. (2016). Culture in inclusive schools: Parental perspectives on trusting family-professional partnerships. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 51(6), 281-293.
Francis, G. L., Gross, J. M. S., Blue-Banning, M., Haines, S., & Turnbull, A. P. (2016). Principals and parents achieving optimal outcomes: Lessons learned from six American schools implementing inclusive practices. Revista Latinoamericana de Inclusión Educativa, 10(1), 61-77.
Choi, J. H., Meisenheimer, J. M., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2017). Improving learning for all students through equity-based inclusive reform practices: effectiveness of a fully integrated schoolwide model on student reading and math achievement. Remedial and Special Education, 38, 28-41. DOI: 10.1177/0741932516644054.
Artiles, A. J., & Kozleski, E. B. (2016). Inclusive education's promises and trajectories: Critical notes about future research on a venerable ideal. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(43). DOI: 10.14507/eppaa.24.1919.
Gross, J. M. S., Haines, S. J., Hill, C., Francis, G. L., Blue-Banning, M., & Turnbull, A. P. (2015). Strong school–community partnerships in inclusive schools are “part of the fabric of the school.…we count on them.” School Community Journal, 25(2), 9-34.
Algozzine, B., Morsbach Sweeney, H., Choi, J. H.,Horner, R., Sailor, W., McCart, A. B., Satter, A., & Lane, K. L. (2016). Development and preliminary technical adequacy of the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Fidelity of Implementation Tool. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 35(3), 302-322. DOI :10.1177/0734282915626303.
Shogren, K., McCart, A., Lyon, K., & Sailor, W. (2015). All means all: Building knowledge for inclusive schoolwide transformation. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 173-191. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915586191.
Haines, S., Gross, J., Blue-Banning, M., Francis, G., & Turnbull, A. (2015). Fostering family-school and community-school partnerships in inclusive schools: Using practice as a guide. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 227-239. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915594141.
Kozleski, E., Yu, I., Satter, A., Francis, G., & Haines, S. (2015). A never ending journey: Inclusive education is a principle of practice, not an end game. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 211-226. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915600717.
Kurth, J., Lyon, K., & Shogren, K. (2015). Supporting students with severe disabilities in inclusive schools: A descriptive account from schools implementing inclusive practices. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 261-274. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915594160.
Morningstar, M., Shogren, K., Lee, H., & Born, K. (2015). Preliminary lessons about supporting participation and learning in inclusive classrooms. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 192-210. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915594158.
Shogren, K., Gross, J., Forber-Pratt, A., Francis, G., Satter, A., Blue-Banning, M., & Hill, C. (2015). The perspectives of students with and without disabilities on inclusive schools. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 242-260. DOI: 10.1177/1540796915583493.
McCart, A., Sailor, W., Bezdek, J., & Satter, A. (2014). A framework for inclusive educational delivery systems. Inclusion, 2(4), 252-264.
Sailor, W. (2014). Advances in schoolwide inclusive school reform. Remedial and Special Education, Online First. DOI: 10.1177/0741932514555021.
Sailor, W., & McCart, A. (2014). Stars in alignment. Research & Practices for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 39(1), 55-64. DOI: 10.1177/1540796914534622.
SWIFT Center. (2014). All Means All: Ending segregation in schools and achieving education and excellence for all. Special issue of TASH Connections, 40(2), 1-18.
“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 government schools in particular to prove “unjustifiable hardship” 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 helpful Factsheets about the Standards, including about making complaints, here. The booklet "Explaining the Disability Standards for Education" provides some useful information, along with other information resources.
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 must 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 or "we do not have the resources to support your child so you should consider another school".
The Australian Centre 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 may seek to minimize the negative impacts of more traditional approaches while supporting individual students and the classroom community and fostering social and emotional learning. They may emphasize being empathetic, calming and respectful and recognising the additional barriers and challenges that some students face in school environments.
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 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