What is inclusive education?


Definition of inclusion

Inclusive education – also called inclusion – is education that includes everyone, with non-disabled and disabled people (including those with “special educational needs”) learning together in mainstream schools, colleges and universities.

This means the system has to adapt to disabled people – they should not have to adapt to the system (see models of disability). The education system needs to recognise that it creates barriers for Disabled learners, for instance if parts of the school are inaccessible. Disabled pupils and students may require adaptations and support to access the curriculum.

Here are some examples:

  • Jenny has dyslexia. So that she can study a book along with the class, the teacher asks her to listen to the audio book rather than having to read the text.
  • Faisal is a wheelchair user. So that he can go the debating society after school, the accessible minibus collects him at a later time.
  • James is Deaf and communicates using sign language. Instead of taking him out of his lessons to have a separate lesson with a sign language teacher, his teachers, teaching assistants and the pupils learn to sign too in order to communicate with him.

What inclusion is not

  • Special schools and colleges just for disabled children and students. This is called segregation.
  • Separate units in mainstream schools and colleges. This is segregation too.
  • Disabled children and students in mainstream education, but without enough support for them to be truly included. This is called integration. Disabled learners are in mainstream education, but their needs are not met.

What is inclusive practice?

Inclusive practice can be defined as attitudes and methods that ensure all learners can access mainstream education. Everyone works to make sure all learners feel welcome and valued, and that they get the right support to help them develop their talents and achieve their goals. When education is truly inclusive it can actually benefit all learners, not only Disabled learners.

More questions? Read our Inclusion FAQ and if the answer isn’t there, ask us!

You can read more about why we believe in inclusive education here.

Further reading:

Inclusive education reading list for students

Resources for education professionals

Resources for families

More definitions