Why do we deal with social inclusion?


It is difficult to overestimate the importance of creating an inclusive society, starting with the creation of the inclusive school for all children and young people throughout all their school years. Thus, many of the problems that we are facing in Europe, including e.g. integration of migrants, different forms of inequality, young people not obtaining a qualifying youth education, and therefore being excluded from the labour market – and perhaps even dropping out of society altogether – have their origin in social exclusion from schooling and learning. The consequences are perhaps seen most clearly in the transitional process from lower secondary to upper secondary school, with the exclusion of young people in vulnerable situations and widespread drop outs resulting in many young people not finishing a qualifying youth education.

When speaking of the inclusive school, what is meant is often that all children have the right to participate in the general community of the school even if that might be in special classes or groups or in special institutions for that matter. For several years inclusion has primarily been understood as a concept of comprehensiveness, emphasizing the beliefs that schools and education are for everyone. However, little attention has been paid to the needs of the individual children in the ordinary classes.

Both UNESCO and the SPISEY partnership stress the need for a fundamental paradigm shift in the approach to inclusion. A shift from viewing inclusion simply as a question of integrating children from special classes into the existing common classes, towards a perception of inclusion as something that requires that schools are designed or redesigned to cater for all children which will give everyone the opportunity to learn, understand and acknowledge diversities as an asset, as well as to participate in meaningful fellowships, and thereby develop social, personal and cognitive competences – including the competence to interact with children that are different from themselves.

Efforts should therefore be made to develop many different forms of communities in schools where learning takes place and the diversity of the children is acknowledged and catered for.

This coupling of inclusion and participation means that inclusion becomes a key pedagogical concept with crucial significance for all school activities – a mindset for thinking about and handling the relationship between the child / youngster and its social sphere(s). Participation becomes the process where inclusion is practiced by developing expedient and meaningful narratives for each child / youngster in the fellowship.

Basically, this represents a shift away from fault-finding in the individual, resulting in exclusion into special classes, etc., towards a more social-oriented approach that focuses on the resources in the child’s environment and on the meaningful participation of the child / youngster.

Further, inclusion is increasingly looked upon as not being an isolated matter for schools to handle alone, but rather as something that should be seen in an open and community-oriented perspective. Even though the school might be the focal point for inclusion, the school as well as the children are embedded in a social context, including a range of important stakeholders. This includes stakeholders that represent resources and interests crucial for the implementation of the inclusive school on a structural level as well as stakeholders that constitute the social sphere as key actors around the specific inclusion process of the children. Based on research and practice, six stakeholders are considered to be the major participants,

• Politicians and the local administration of education
• The local community
• Parents
• Children (pupils / students)
• Colleagues (teachers and other staff)
• Other professionals

The Salamanca Statement

With the Salamanca Statement (1994) and The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007), inclusion has become a central concept in the approach to children and young people by national and local authorities all over Europe. The concept is constantly evolving and appears in different ways – dependent on whether focus is on inclusion at a societal level or at a school level. 

Before Salamanca the educational communities in Europe used the concept of integration when focus was on how mainstream school should adapt to students with special needs related to learning disabilities or social emotional issues. The idea was that students with these kinds of challenges should learn to attend school in segregated schools or classes before they were ‘allowed’ to participate in a mainstream class. The idea with integration was somewhat that these students had to earn the right to participate, and once ‘allowed’ to attend mainstream class was subjected to various compensating pedagogies, in order to contain these students. 

After the Salamanca Statement was endorsed by several European countries in 1994 the perspective slowly started shifting from using the concept of integration to inclusion. The concept of inclusion, as stated in the Statement endorsed in Salamanca, defines:

1) that every child has the right to attend the local district school and should be included here
2) that it is the school that must adopt to the child and not the child who has to adopt to the school

With these two basic statements the concept of integration is left behind and seen as a process based on inequity and injustice, and since then the concept of inclusion and social inclusion has been the dominating discourse when it comes to securing participation for all children despite any kind of diversity.

When mention is made of the inclusive society, it usually means that everyone has a right to participate in society as fellow citizens; when we talk about the inclusive school, it most often refers to the right of all children to participate in the general fellowship of the school – even if their schooling takes place in special groups, in special classes or at special institutions. For many years the concept was identical with spaciousness, emphasizing a school for everyone, whilst there was less focus on whether the presence of children in ordinary classes also gave them better opportunities for participation and learning.

Inclusion and the European Inclusion Compass ​

In the European Inclusion Compass, inclusion should be understood as the opportunity for everyone to participate in the school community. To be a participant in the school community has a direct influence on human learning in all areas: the better the opportunities to participate in different forms of school communities, the better the opportunities to learn and thereby to develop social, personal and cognitive competences. Efforts should therefore be made to develop many different forms of school communities in schools where learning takes place and the diversity of children is acknowledged, as a positive factor for learning. 

When inclusion is coupled with participation and learning, it becomes a key pedagogical concept with crucial significance for all school activities. It is important to bear in mind that inclusion should not be regarded as a method, but rather as a mindset which represents certain perspectives on the relationship between the child and its social sphere. Basically, what we are discussing here is a movement away from an individual-oriented approach focused on fault-finding and towards a more social-oriented approach focused on the resources in the child’s environment:

• Firstly, it is a dynamic perspective in the relationship between a child/adolescent and its social environment where different social situations lead to different opportunities to act.

• Secondly, this has to do with a position perspective, where the child/adolescent adopts differing social positions in certain social contexts. Rather than talking about vulnerable children we should talk about children in vulnerable positions, thereby allowing us to work with these positions in various contexts.

• Thirdly, it is important to clarify the understanding of social inclusion, when developing local definitions. It can be useful here to differentiate between four different discourses, each of which has its specific justification for inclusion at school.

In research literature about inclusion, a comprehensive study analyzing what kind of perspectives came to the fore when inclusion, as a notion, was talked and written about, (Dyson, 1999), showed that four discourses could be verified as dominating public discourse on inclusion related to education:

• The economic discourse – with focus on efficiency and resource utilization

• The pragmatic discourse – with focus on effective courses of action in relation to given premises

• The political discourse – with focus on efforts that engender security and provide a feeling of social cohesion

• The ethical discourse – with focus on the right of access to learning and having a say in one’s own life.

While the first two discourses have to do with the real world, the last two are associated with the ideal world. The first two discourses relate to the domain of management; the framework for a school’s operation manifests itself to a great extent on the basis of these discourses.

It is an important point to stress, that school management is not responsible for the broader economic and practical understanding of the efforts at inclusion as these are determined politically. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of school leadership to provide content for the overall framework which makes sense to school staff. This requires that staff efforts at increased inclusion must, to a greater extent, be guided in relation to the ethical discourse with special focus on the pedagogical and didactical perspective.

Inclusion and the whole school approach

The perspective within the Inclusion Compass is that the way to work with inclusion and create an inclusive school, in any kind of local school or educational institution, should be defined on a local level, together with all relevant stakeholders. It is seen as a strategic process, which should be led by the school manager. The process is presumably a holistic and never-ending process, as new challenges for developing sustainable human relations, and hence inclusion, will occur again and again over time. In order to ensure quality in this process, any school or educational institution continually must deal with developing inclusive strategies, creating inclusive school cultures in order to develop inclusive practices (Booth & Ainscow, 2012). The responsibility for taking leadership on this process is at the end of the day allocated to any school management or school leader.

In relation to the process of creating an inclusive school, it is very relevant to draw on the concept of the whole-school approach. This approach recognizes that all aspects of the school community can have an impact upon pupils and students learning opportunities, inclusion as well as their health and wellbeing, and that these factors are interlinked, hence it is important to take a global view on how the school functions, the internal and external stakeholders, relations and collaboration that can have an influence on the functioning. The School for Health in Europe Network works with 6 important components within the whole school approach, which are equally relevant for the inclusion compass [1]https://www.schoolsforhealth.org/concepts/whole-school-approach. In relation to the work with an inclusive school, these 6 components can be summarized to the following overall approach.

1) It is important with clearly defined policies and documents
2) The design of the physical environment has a role to play to promote inclusion
3) The social environment is determined by the quality of relationships between school community members
4) The understanding of inclusion can be promoted also through curriculum
5) Relations and links are created between the school and families and key stakeholders in the surrounding community, which is used for consultation and collaboration.
6) If relevant, social services or NGOs working in this field, can work together with teachers to ensure inclusion in specific cases.

Inclusion and The European Social Pillar

As the European Inclusion compass is developed within a European Erasmus + project, it is relevant to mention the European Social Pillar [2]https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights/european-pillar-social-rights-20-principles_en, which is an initiative launched by the European Commission in 2017. The Social Pillar delivers new and improves existing social rights for EU citizens, and serves as the EU’s strategic direction to achieve better working and living conditions in Europe. The Social Pillar includes 20 principles, which all give directions on how Europe wants to support the development of a fair and well-functioning society.  

Three of these principles include issues that are relevant for the European Inclusion Compass, and the development of inclusive schools and social inclusion in schools, namely

1) offering high quality and inclusive education for all from early age,
2) improve the transition process between lower and upper secondary / qualifying youth education, especially for those young students with learning difficulties and / or risk of social exclusion and
3) improve employment prospects for young citizens with learning difficulties.

© 2019 SPISEY



1 https://www.schoolsforhealth.org/concepts/whole-school-approach
2 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights/european-pillar-social-rights-20-principles_en