Inclusion is often used as an umbrella term by many schools to describe programs for meeting the needs of students with disabilities. There are multiple definitions and interpretations of inclusion (see below), but at the heart of them all is the belief that every student with disabilities has the right to be educated in the general education classroom with his or her non-disabled peers. Students with disabilities who participate in inclusion programs may and often do, continue to receive special assistance or therapy outside of the general education classroom, but most of the instruction still occurs in the general education classroom (Ofsted 2004).

In the USA the federal ‘Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’, IDEA (1990) and its 1997 amendments make it clear that schools have a duty to educate children with disabilities in general education classrooms. While in the UK the revisions to the National Curriculum (DfEE & QCA, 1997, 1999a; 1999b) include the statutory entitlement to learning and education for all pupils. Additionally, the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (2001) provides a legislative framework for inclusion. It strengthens the right of pupils with Special Education Needs (SEN) to attend mainstream schools. Alongside this legislation the Disability Discrimination Act (2001) places new duties on schools not to treat disabled children less favourably than others and to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that they are not disadvantaged.

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Many definitions of inclusive education have evolved throughout the world. They range from ‘extending the scope of ordinary schools so that they can include a greater diversity of children’ (Clark, Dyson and Millward, 1995) to a ‘set of principles which ensures that the student with a disability is viewed as a valued and needed member of the community in every respect’ (Uditsky, 1993). Some definitions focus on human interaction, Forest and Pearpoint (1992) see inclusion as a way of dealing with difference, while Ballard, 1995; Clark et al., 1995; Rouse and Florian, 1996, adopt an institutional perspective and focus on organisational arrangements and school improvement.

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education’s (CSIE) 2004 definition of inclusive education is: ‘All children and young people – with and without disabilities or difficulties – learning together in ordinary pre-school provision, schools, colleges and universities with appropriate networks of support. Inclusion means enabling all students to participate fully in the life and work of mainstream settings, whatever their needs’.

The CSIE go on to state that there are many different ways of achieving this and an inclusive timetable might look different for each student. Additionally they assert that for inclusive education to be effective, Government, local education authorities (LEAs) and schools have to adapt their approach to curriculum, teaching support, funding mechanisms and the built environment. Inclusion, according to the CSIE, may also be seen as a continuing process of breaking down barriers to learning and participation for all children and young people. Segregation, on the other hand, is a recurring tendency to exclude difference. The CSIE ‘Index for Inclusion’ defines inclusion as:

‘the processes of increasing the participation of students in, and reducing their exclusion from, the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools’ (CSIE, 2000) Inclusion programs are most often associated with students who have severe learning difficulties (Carpenter ; Ashdown, 2001). These students may have significant cognitive impairments or communication skill deficits, and they may require extensive support such as on-to-one professional assistance (Clarke, Millward, Dyson ; Robson, 1999; Farrell, Balshaw ; Polat, 1999; Lacey ; Tilstone 2000). Generally though the educational goals for these students focus on developing communication, social, vocational, and related skills.

The implications associated with the inclusion of students with mild/moderate learning difficulties, the largest group of students with disabilities (Department of Health, 2004), differ significantly from those associated with students who have more severe difficulties. Mild/moderate learning difficulties include learning impairments, emotional disturbance, and cognitive impairment. Students with mild/moderate difficulties present unique curricular and instructional challenges because access to and achievement in the general education curriculum is the primary goal of their inclusion (QCA 2005).

Their goals focus on reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking skills and these goals match the goals set for their non-disabled peers. Although they are working toward common goals, these students frequently struggle in basic skills areas. Their reading and mathematics computation skills may be lower. Their writing skills may need improvement, and they may have behavioral and social problems (Dockrell ; McShane, 1993).

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