Teachers' Christian Fellowship of NSW

...Students with a disability...

Including students with a disability in regular classrooms

by Emeritus Professor Phil Foreman

(Edited version from TCF Dinner 15 September 2012)

An inclusive philosophy

Inclusion is based on the philosophy that schools should, provide for the needs of all the children in the community, whatever their background, their ability or their disability. Inclusive schools welcome and celebrate diversity in ability as well as in cultural, racial, ethnic and social background. With integration or main-streaming, the school asks 'Can we provide for the needs of this student?' With inclusion, the school asks 'How will we provide for the needs of this student?' This question is asked about students who are diverse socially, culturally, intellectually or behaviourally. In other words, issue is: How do we provide for the needs of every student in our school?

History of special education

Prior to about 1976 in NSW:

This was a grim situation for many families who had little option other than to institutionalize their child if he/she had a severe disability.

The sub-agenda was to provide a place to which the child could be removed, often with little further contact with their family. The outcome was the development of large institutions for students with an intellectual disability which followed a custodial or medical model, rather than an educational model (called hospitals; matrons; sisters; wards; supremo was the medical superintendent) and, as a result, many children suffered deprivation in these institutions and a significantly decreased quality of life.

20th century

By the latter part of the 20th century:
strong movement against residential institutions, particularly in the United States. Many larger institutions and some day-schools closed and many children who would previously have lived their lives in a large institution were now living at home and either attending a local school or a special school in the community.

Nowadays most school systems have an inclusive philosophy. So what is the basis for inclusive practice? There are three main drivers:

1. Social justice/human rights principles

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 26 (3):

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children

This declaration allowed parent groups and educators to argue for equal accessibility to schooling, and for parental choice but was still far from reality for many parents in less developed countries nearly 65 years later

Normalisation movement 1970s/80s:

All people are entitled to live as normal as possible a lifestyle. ‘Normal’ means what most other people in that culture do, or would prefer to do. The normal or most common educational thing to do is to attend a regular neighbourhood school or a private school of parental choice

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 provides unambiguous support for inclusive schooling:

Article 24 - Education:

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

  1. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;
  2. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;
  3. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.

2. Legal basis for inclusion

Australia has tended to make educational changes for students with a disability through state education policies rather than through legislation. By the late 1970s all States were providing educational programs for all children, regardless of their level of disability and the most typical placement was a day school, or a special unit or class within a regular school.

Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act and its associated Educational Standards has provided legislative backup for the policy changes leading to inclusion. Disability Discrimination Act (1992):

illegal to discriminate against a person in education on the basis of their disability.

Strengthened in 2005 by the enacting of Education Standards covering:

States also have anti-discrimination legislation, and policy supporting inclusion

3. Research/empirical basis for inclusion

Most of the impetus for movement towards inclusion has been on a social justice/human rights basis rather than an empirical basis. Research questions include:

It is hard to research the effects of inclusion on students with a disability because of:

  1. the problem of comparability of “included” and “segregated” samples.
  2. possibility that there will be systematic differences between the two groups, which have led to their placement in one or other of the settings, and are not, therefore, outcomes of the placement.

Social outcomes for students with a disability

Outcomes for skill acquisition for students with a disability

Impact on students without disabilities

Impact on parents

Impact on teachers

Role of teachers in successful inclusion

Role of principals

Other issues arising from the research:

Effect on enrolments in regular schools

Decades of “inclusive policy” have not greatly changed the number of students with significant disabilities in segregated classes or regular classes:

Inclusive policies have led to greater support for students with mild disabilities (who were always enrolled in regular classes).

Currently about 4.9% of school children identified with a disability (3.2% in 2000):

In NSW Department of Education and Communities schools:

2003 104 SSPs 16730 (2.27%) students in special schools & classes 49.6% of 33710 SWD
2011 113 SSPs 19437 (2.6%) students in special schools & classes 47% of 41300 SWD

Thus, if all special services closed, would contribute less than one child per regular class.

The future

Two main views will continue to impact on the education of students with a disability relating to where it takes place and how it takes place:

  1. the lives of people with a disability are immeasurably improved when they leave the restrictions of institutions and segregated settings and take their place in the community.
  2. removing students from the more sheltered environments of special schools and classes leaves them open to isolation, bullying and stigmatism without necessarily improving their learning.

Evidence can be found to support both arguments.

The conclusion:

The impact of different educational placements will vary from student to student. Some students will thrive in the challenge of an inclusive setting, while others will find such settings to be confronting and overwhelming.

The important aspect of current policy and law in most developed countries is that parents are now in a position to make a choice about what type of education they want for their child, based on their assessment of the effect of the placement on the child's current and future quality of life.

The question of how special education should occur is more easily resolved through empirical means. There is strong evidence that better outcomes for students with all types of learning difficulties result when there is:

Modern technological approaches using computer-assisted instruction provide opportunities to use the above techniques efficiently in regular classes - the future will see the further development of technology as an essential component of special education.

National Professional Standard for Teachers 4.1.2 states that Proficient Teachers: Establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all students in classroom activities. The expectation for all teachers is nothing less.

Emeritus Professor Phil Foreman