Disability, Education, and Inclusion: Cross-Cultural Issues and Dilemmas

Len Barton & Felicity Armstrong. Handbook of Disability Studies. Editor: Gary L Albrecht, Katherine Seelman, Michael Bury. Sage Publications. 2001.

The increasing struggle on the part of many disabled people and their organizations for participation, equity, and social justice in their lives is motivated by an informed recognition of the degree and stubbornness of disabling barriers within society. This chapter will examine the extent to which formal education contributes to or is critical of the disabling barriers within society. The issues involved are complex and contentious, and these become particularly acute when cross-cultural factors are introduced. Drawing on a range of insights from comparative research and analyses, the chapter examines the possibilities and limitations of cross-cultural work; the issue of globalization and points of commonality and difference in educational policy and practice; the question of democracy, disability, and the struggle for inclusive education; and the identification, challenge, and removal of disabling barriers.

We have attempted to highlight some of our values, priorities, and concerns, but it is crucial that this chapter is not viewed as the definitive statement on any of the topics considered. By critically engaging with our ideas, we hope that we can contribute to an increasingly informed cross-cultural dialogue. Complacency, arrogance, and dogmatism have no place in the struggle for an inclusive society.

In proposing the significance of inclusivity in relation to education, it is essential that the values, priorities, and desired outcomes informing existing policy and practice are carefully identified and critically examined. This examination will also provide us with some insights into the nature of exclusion within educational systems. The assumptions influencing our perspective in relation to this task include, first, that education must not be viewed in a vacuum. Educational institutions play a major role in social and cultural reproduction. This dynamic relationship between education and society is both complex and contradictory, providing spaces for alternative ideas and practices. Second, educational issues are contentious and thus involve struggles between different interest groups over purposes, meanings, and functions in relation to education. Thus, the degree to which schools should be run as a formal business and parents and pupils viewed as customers, what form of management structure schools require, and what degree governments should intervene in schools represent points of conflict within and between different interested parties. The use of the term inclusion, therefore, can represent a range of meanings, and this is a particular issue that arises in relation to cross-cultural analysis. Finally, educational decision making is fundamentally political in that, for example, it involves governments making choices about resource allocation supported by a vision of desirable outcomes and of wider concerns such as the relationship between the individual and society. The extent to which such decisions reinforce or seek to redress existing inequalities, in terms of access and the quality of educational experience, is a perennial concern to those who are committed to the struggle for education for all. Thus, in an analysis of schooling in what they call “developing countries,” Harber and Davies (1997) indicate the need for a political analysis of the function of mass schooling and contend that

in most countries, formal schooling acts as a gate-keeping mechanism, controlling access to the elite, to higher education or to prestigious jobs. It leg it imises the inevitable inequalities in a society by attributing a person’s occupational low-status to failure in previous educational performance. (P. 32)

Thus, educational policy and practice are not a neutral, autonomous activity but are linked to wider socioeconomic and political forces and relations.

The notion of social exclusion is complex and contestable. In this chapter, we support the perspective articulated by Walker (1997), who maintains that it

refers to the dynamic process of being shut out, fully or partially, from any of the social, economic, political and cultural systems which determine the social integration of a person in society. Social exclusion may, therefore be seen as the denial (or non-realisation) of the civil, political and social rights of citizenship. (P. 8)

The demands of inclusion raise questions concerning who is included and on what terms and, crucially, what are they included in (Levitas 1998). This chapter briefly explores the latter question and demonstrates the radical nature of the changes required.

Cross-Cultural Concerns and Dilemmas

In attempting to address an international audience, it is extremely important that we outline some of our concerns in relation to the difficulties and challenges facing cross-cultural analysis generally and education particularly.

The world appears to have become both smaller, in that we think we “know” more about it (the coziness of the “global village”), and “larger” and more confusing in the sense that its diversity of cultures and practices places hitherto dominant Western “knowledge,” values, and interests in a wider, more critical, and relative perspective. Knowledge and certainty are undermined, being relative, contingent, more complex, and less penetrable than researchers, advisers, and policymakers ever imagined. The implications of cross-cultural approaches for research in all areas of social science are exciting and frightening—exciting because they release us from old straitjackets that have controlled and limited the imagination and frightening because they challenge what we thought we knew and throw into turmoil research agendas and processes, as well as the underlying assumptions and power relations to which Western research communities have all contributed. It is disturbing, too, to realize that concepts such as human rights, equality, and justice, previously regarded as universal (and hence, in some sense, “safe”), are relative in that they are not conceptualized, interpreted in the same way, or commonly shared across cultures (Miles and Hossain 1999).

Comparative research in education has a long history as a systematic field of study, dating back to the nineteenth century. An often-quoted statement made by Michael Sadler in 1902 serves as a useful introduction to some of the issues surrounding the nature (and dilemmas) of “comparative” research:

In studying foreign systems of education we should not forget that things outside the schools matter even more than the things inside the schools, and govern and interpret the things inside…. The practical values of studying in a right spirit and with scholarly accuracy the working of foreign systems of education [are] that it will result in our being better fitted to study and understand our own. (Sadler 1902:44)

Central to this view of comparative research are two main arguments. First, an understanding of the fundamental role of context is of the utmost importance in understanding differences and similarities between countries. Policies, practices, and values arise out of particular historical and social contexts and can only be explained in these terms. They cannot easily be exported and applied in other contexts, nor can generalizations made across countries on the basis that they appear to share some common characteristics or practices pass unquestioned.

Second, it is argued that a practical value of studying “foreign systems of education” is that it will help researchers understand their own systems, not that countries can borrow and apply policies from other countries uncritically in their own context. This view contrasts with “policy borrowing” of the kind that, argue Halpin and Troyna (1995), “rarely has much to do with the success, however defined, of the institutional realisation of particular policies in their countries of origin; rather, it has much more to do with legitimating other related policies” (p. 304).

The questions raised by comparative and cross-cultural research into education and disability illustrate clearly the difficulties associated with comparative research. These questions suggest that much can be learned from a cross-cultural approach that takes into account the cultural and political legacies of historical change and development, particularly cultural and national contexts, as well as the values and attitudes that underpin them.

The approaches adopted by research organizations and individuals to the study of education systems in different countries reflect fundamental differences in the way they understand the nature and purpose of research and the meanings they attach to the social relations and values that underpin the particular systems they are studying. Research is itself a social practice, embedded in complex social and cultural contexts within which certain assumptions and “ways of seeing” are important to determining research agendas, methodologies, and analytical frameworks. However, researchers are not conditioned in some deterministic way by the social worlds they inhabit, and research is itself an arena for struggle between values and ideologies that are fundamentally different.

Tony Booth and Mel Ainscow (1998) refer to two common features of comparative research in inclusion and exclusion in education. First, it is often assumed that there is “a single national perspective on inclusion or exclusion.” The second assumption is that “practice can be generalised across countries without attention to local contexts and meanings” (p. 4).

They argue that what is presented as a “national perspective” is frequently an official version of policy. They cite, for example, the United Kingdom, where there are different education systems and legislative arrangements in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales. It is also the case that in England, there are enormous differences in the way in which formal policies are interpreted in different local education authorities (LEAs) and that official “national” versions of policy in England do not usually acknowledge this.

The tendency to present single national perspectives is often matched by a failure to describe the way practice is to be understood in its local and national context…. This lack is part of a positivist view of social science in which research in one country can be amalgamated and summed with that of another…. The problem is compounded by differences of meaning of concepts, which is of particular significance in relation to categories of inability and disability. (Booth and Ainscow 1998:4-5)

This problem is illustrated by large-scale research projects that attempt to make cross-national comparisons, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD 1995) study, Integrating Students with Special Needs into Mainstream Schools. In this study, a number of features were compared, including categories of disability in individual countries, the numbers of the school population classified as disabled in different countries, and the percentage of school populations receiving some form of special education. This study raises some interesting questions and difficulties relating to large-scale comparative research. In a study of this size, it would perhaps be regarded as too cumbersome to provide rich contextualizing background material against which the adoption of particular policies, structures, and practices have been adopted. While there is a quantity of data provided relating to the surface structure of the different educational systems such as classification of disability, legislation, and formal policy statements, we learn little about the nature and complexity of the cultures and populations concerned. We also learn little about the ways in which policies are made at different levels.

For example, in the figures given for the school-age population in special education in France, important differences such as cultural and economic background are hidden. The material presented in the study implies that the population is homogeneous. There is no possibility for exploring issues, such as the overrepresentation of young French North Africans in the special classes for students with learning difficulties in secondary education (Dumay 1994) or the effects of poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, the exclusion of many special institutions from the education system altogether is not discussed in any detail.

There are further problems associated with the collection of data provided by the individual countries concerned. It is not possible to ensure uniformity or rigor in the methods used to collect or analyze data or to verify that the data collected are of the same kind. Linked to this problem is the question of terminology. For example, different uses of terms such as integration or learning difficulties demonstrate that the data collected are not comparable. Meanings and values can be altered or become lost in the process of translation from one language to another.

Part of the data collected in the OECD (1995) study focused on the percentages of children in the school-age populations of different countries recorded as having a particular named disability. There are some very noticeable differences between countries in the categories adopted, the number of different categories, and the numbers of children and young people identified as belonging to particular categories.

Underlying the difficulties relating to categorization and terminology is an issue of far greater importance than the “technical” problem of making comparisons between countries; this concerns the confusion surrounding the meanings attached to the term disability and its frequent use to mean impairment. Thus, in the OECD (1995) study, a large variety of terms, derived from the material provided by different countries involved in the study, is used to describe “impairments” and “difficulties” of all sorts. These terms are usually based on the medical “within-child” model similar to that adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO). The authors of the report recognize this (OECD 1995) and point to what they perceive as a move away from the medical model in some countries in favor of the term special educational needs (SEN).

This analysis still includes an adherence to old assumptions that place difficulties “within the child” through a discourse of “having SEN” and fails to recognize that disability is not an “individual pathology” but a form of oppression and exclusion produced by and within particular social and political conditions and relationships.

Different societies construct disability in culturally specific ways, expressing their particular dominant social norms and practices. Far from being “scientific facts” based on objective, universally understood definitions of difference, the categories and labels assigned to different groups in different societies are contingent, temporary, and subjective. This analysis offers some insights into the reasons for the wide variations between countries in the ways they recognize and identify differences between people.

In the context of this debate, for a researcher to say he or she is adopting “a cross-cultural approach” could mean that the researcher positions himself or herself in ways that disrupt traditional models of research and assumptions about the world that underpin them. It does not follow that cross-cultural research recognizes and reflects on the possible (or inevitable?) ethnocentric assumptions that underpin the formulation of the research question or focus, the particular methodology, and the ways of seeing the social world implicit in the data analysis: “We do not invariably and unfailingly recognise and allow for any ethnocentric biases and assumptions in theoretical work” (Dale 1994:34).

Cross-cultural research can be helpful in understanding disability and difference in educational contexts in a number of ways.

  • It is powerful in revealing the specific, contingent, and culturally constructed nature of social phenomena, which are traditionally regarded as fixed or “natural.”
  • It can powerfully counter the view that dominant values and practices and taken-for-granted power relationships in particular societies are universal, natural, rational, or inevitable.
  • It invites the researcher to look at the society to which he or she belongs from different angles and with greater critical awareness and sensitivity to heighten understanding of the overt and covert processes and values relating to inclusion and exclusion.
  • It offers greater possibilities for critical examination of the structures and practices that hold together different societies but recognizes the subjectivity of the language used to describe and analyze them. It acknowledges that what is “seen” and analyzed is mediated by the researcher’s own values and assumptions.

These points raise particular issues in terms of the need for the researcher to acknowledge his or her responsibility in the research process in relation to language and representation.

In the context of these issues and debates surrounding cross-cultural research, the impact of colonialism and the domination of Western media and values must not be underestimated. As Miles and Hossain (1999) argue, for example,

[A] (graver) difficulty in providing Islamic inputs to international debate (on disability) lies in the western domination of language (i.e. English) and media (i.e. press, satellite TV, Internet and educational publishing) and the ideological imperialism that uses the media to obliterate or marginalise cultural and conceptual notions differing from the latest European-mezzo brow trends…. In the western world of disability, new terms are rapidly manufactured, consumed, discarded, and dumped in used condition on third world countries. Asian educational policy makers still trying to discover whether “normalisation” and “special needs” have any meaning for children in their cities and rural schools now meet western advisers nudging them onwards to “differentiation” and “inclusion.” (P. 73)

Comparative research, then, is a minefield in terms of the nature of the work and the responsibilities for the researcher. The relationships between values and ideology, research questions and processes, policymaking at all levels, and context and representation all need to be understood within particular temporal or spatial and cultural settings.

A cross-cultural perspective attempts to take into account both the cultural and political legacies of historical change and the underlying processes and values within different contemporary national contexts. Such an approach is powerful in terms of the possibilities it opens—possibilities for trying to understand different societies, their complexities, and what we can learn from them.

Globalization and Commonality of Educational Policy and Practice

Within industrialized countries, the centrality of economic rationality, with regard to decision making in education at both a central and local level, has had an increasing influence on policy and practice. This has ushered in a series of significant changes in the values, priorities, purposes, outcomes, and governance of education. Part of this pressure for change is due to the influence of globalization and the interdependency of nations generating new economic conditions that challenge existing systems (Bauman 1998).

In a paper examining the changing nature of educational policy across some industrialized countries, Levin (1998) identifies emerging commonality of themes. These include the following:

  • The impact of economic rationality on change and competition in education nationally and internationally,
  • The demand for change is part of a wider set of criticisms of schools and teachers,
  • These changes are not supported by adequate financial support, and
  • Underpinning these developments is a strong emphasis on standards, accountability, and testing, which contributes to a view of schooling as a market commodity.

A far-reaching reconstruction of social policy and welfare took place during the period of four successive conservative governments. The key assumptions informing their political agenda included the belief that a socialist welfare state created dependency and was morally disabling; welfare provision provided by the market, family, and self-help was viewed as superior to that of the state; and the centrality of the enterprise culture and the role of financial incentives were important in creating benefits for all. Inequality from this perspective was viewed as the driving force of the enterprise culture.

This relentless pressure for particular kinds of changes in education has been driven by powerful directives, such as the necessity of demonstrating value for money with regard to educational practices and outcomes, the fundamental importance of providing dependable assessment information, the value of competition between individuals and institutions as a spur to improvement, and the required changes to how education is managed, supported by a discourse of enhancing excellence in standards, quality, and performance of individuals and institutions. This is why we must not underestimate the significance of market-driven systems of provision and practice on, for example, our notions of success and failure, the rhetoric of exclusion and inclusion, how pupils’ and teachers’ identities as learners and people are being constructed and challenged, how education should be managed and judged, and our vision of education.

The demand for efficiency, quality that can be clearly demonstrated, and performativity have been powerfully inspired and shaped by external forces and measures. These find expression in what constitutes appropriate forms of assessment and its functions. One influential analyst has argued that institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and schools are characterized by what he calls “disciplinary technologies” (Foucault 1977). These involve dividing practices through which individuals are spatially isolated through manipulative forms of social control. Distinguishing individuals from other groups involves the use of classification and categories, and these institutional forms of action develop social and personal identities. Foucault (1977) is interested in the normalizing tendencies of these disciplinary techniques and how they affect identities, thoughts, behaviors, and gestures.

Using this and other theoretical frameworks in her research in schools in Ireland, in which the perspectives of pupils were of particular concern, Devine (1999) is able to powerfully demonstrate from her findings several key influences at work in the lives of pupils and teachers in their daily interactions. These factors are mediated by class, age, and gender and include a sense on the part of pupils of being judged and experiencing surveillance in both formal and informal ways by teachers. The perception that children had of themselves in both academic and social terms was significantly shaped by experiencing education as something that is “done to them” and, importantly, their ability and performance being judged in highly specific ways. The children contributed to this process through the exercise of abuse or admiration of their peers within a highly competitive ethos in which they were jostling for status.

Within these schools, many children expressed a significant worry about their work—the fear of failure and the desire of not wanting to be shown up in front of their peers. They experienced the importance of answer-centered learning and thus felt happy when they got their work correct and received some form of praise. The centrality and function of failure have been highlighted by many research projects and are also linked to various forms of exclusionary practices within schools based on ability, behavior, and attitude. In the official thinking of government in England and Wales, this label is now being applied to schools and is supported by the influence of an inspection process and procedures carried out on behalf of government that encourage a “shame-and-blame” mentality of the institutions involved. The tabloid press is quick to seize on such cases, adding to the demoralization and disempowerment of the staff involved.

In a study of quasi-markets in social policy, Le Grand and Bartlett (1993) contend that “cream-skimming” poses a major threat to the pursuit and realization of equity. Cream-skimming involves providers of services favoring those customers or clients who will provide the greatest return for the least investment. In this form of practice, providers will tend to discriminate against the more expensive users.

Within education, academically high-attaining pupils are the “cream” that increasing numbers of schools seek to attract. They stay in schools longer, perform well on tests and examinations, and enhance the attractiveness of the schools. In a study of such schools, Gerwitz, Ball, and Bowe (1995) found that “able,” “gifted,” “motivated,” and “committed” pupils were seen as most desirable by schools and the “less able” and those with emotional and behavioral difficulties the least attractive.

One of the fundamental reasons why this form of differentiation takes place has been identified by Whitty (1997) in a comprehensive and detailed cross-national study of recent research on parental choice and school autonomy. He argues that

as long as schools tend to be judged on a unidimensional scale of academic excellence, many commentators have predicted that, rather than choice leading to more diverse and responsive forms of provision as claimed by many of its advocates, it will reinforce the existing hierarchy of schools, based on academic test results and social class. (P. 12)

Schools are becoming more selective, and this is expressed internally through the establishment of greater streaming, setting, and tracking. Beane and Apple (1999) powerfully highlighted the challenge to the establishment of democracy within schools.

Social capital in the form of parental knowledge, material, and cultural resources is a powerful factor influencing children’s access to, experience within, and outcomes from particular schools. Within many societies, it is a major means by which existing inequalities within society are generally reinforced and extended. Selection of children for unequal provision has been a powerful organizing principle shaping educational systems. The greater the emphasis on schools competing with one another for particular pupils (based on behavior and academic abilities), the more likely will schools exclude those pupils who may hinder the enhancement of school performance. If we are to understand and challenge the damaging differentials in terms of access and duration of school experience, we need to engage in a critical examination of structural, political, and historical constraints. How schools are organized is not a matter of chance or a form of neutral decision making and thus can be a means of sustaining existing inequalities that often remain hidden behind a plethora of facilitative rhetoric.

Developing countries have not escaped these forms of pressure. The legacy of colonial experience and the dependency on donors, such as the World Bank, have led to meeting policy obligations as a condition of receiving financial support. This necessitates structural adjustments informed by external sources resulting in significant tensions and dilemmas between human and economic developments and their effective realization. An outcome of this dependency has been the thoughtless cross-national transfer and imposition by powerful Western societies of educational planning and practice.

Far from redressing the existing inequalities and providing a more just society, the market-led approach to policy and welfare has contributed to socially divisive outcomes. In a book concerned with the growth of exclusion in Britain during the period of conservative governments, Walker and Walker (1997) conclude that the market-led approach provides a “depressing catalogue of increasing poverty and social exclusion, growing social divisions, individual misery, premature deaths and the massive waste of human potential” (p. 287).

It is against the realities of this background that the position and function of schools in relation to the issue of inclusion need to be understood. While government investment in education is fundamentally important, the extent to which education can reduce inequalities in a direct way is open to serious doubt (Giddens 1998).

Democracy, Disability, and Education

Integral to questions relating to inclusive education and the diverse ways in which different societies construct and respond to disability and difference are the notions of democracy and governance. What is the relationship between the values, discourses, and practices that permeate society and their realization in terms of the experience and opportunities available to children and young people? Are any groups particularly privileged, marginalized, or excluded in terms of educational opportunity, and, if so, what questions does this raise about how the notion of democracy is understood? More particularly, how are disabled people positioned in relation to policies and practices that claim to be concerned with enhancing equality and participation? Does the notion of democracy provide a meaningful conceptual and ideological framework within which exclusions and inclusion in society may be understood?

Although the terms democracy and democratic are attached to many different kinds of societies, they need to be critically examined in terms of the social relations and levels of participation that operate at different levels of social life. In general, the notion of “democracy” is used to signal a fundamental distinction in terms of other systems regarded as un democratic, that is, “totalitarianism” or “religious” or “single-party” states. While “democracy” is a highly contested notion, it is generally used to refer to the principle of government by the majority and the projection of minority rights (Davies 1999). It also refers to principles of participation and equality of opportunity. Struggles over how these principles are articulated and interpreted in different contexts take place at all levels and in every society, and they often reveal broader struggles about social justice.

The disjuncture between principles of democracy and equality and the control exercised over people’s choices and opportunities by powerful groups in society opens up a vast space within which sections of communities are disadvantaged and marginalized. This is exemplified by the persistent exclusion of disabled children and young people from full participation in education in virtually all countries of the world, regardless of whether these countries are considered “democratic.” There has been a systematic failure to link the democratic project of full and equal participation in social life to the treatment of disabled people. Perhaps the emphasis placed by dominant Western discourses on “democracy” as the servant of the majority and as “protecting” the interests of “minorities” serves to underwrite structures, attitudes, and practices that disempower and discriminate against disabled people. This argument could be extended to explain in part the persistence of the attachment of medicalized labels (or of the mega-category of “special educational needs”) to some young people, which are then deployed as criteria for their exclusion from ordinary education.

At the same time, “democracy” is also closely associated with capitalism in which processes, referred to as economic “democratization,” imply the promotion of privatization and “free markets” in which, argues Lynn Davies (1999),

capitalism … tends to undermine democracy because it compels most people to transfer their natural powers of self-development to economic “overlords” who control capital and other resources. This “extractive” transfer to a minority results in social inequalities and political domination by the capitalist class (Macpherson, 1973). Democratic capitalism in the West has certainly not been “antithetical” to the acceptance of inequality. (P. 129)

Paradoxically, while “democracy” is traditionally conceived of as being concerned with majority rule, it is reinterpreted as a necessary component of capitalism in which the majority are denied full enjoyment—or a fair distribution—of the fruits of their labor and protection from want. This observation is borne out by the widespread policymaking in Western countries that any legislation favoring an increase of participation of disabled children in ordinary schools should be economically viable, not detrimental to the education of other children and, in some cases, judged to be “in the child’s best interest.” These restrictions on equal participation demonstrate that Western-style “democracy” is not about equality or about protecting the rights of minorities. Davies (1999) argues that in the United Kingdom, although an emphasis on the rights of the consumer and parental “choice” is part of the democratic society, “consumer power is not equally distributed across social and ethnic divisions.” Inequalities in education, in terms of “choice” and opportunity, are even more deeply entrenched for disabled children or “children with special needs.”

There has, however, been a recent movement at the level of international pronouncements and agreements in favor of increasing the participation of all children in ordinary education (i.e., United Nations 1992; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] 1994). The values and practices surrounding notions such as democracy, equality, and inclusion are highly complex and contradictory. Like the notion of “rights,” they are rooted in particular cultures. As Miles and Hossain (1999) argue, what constitutes “rights” in terms of children’s lives and opportunities in Western countries is very different from the ways children’s rights are understood in other cultures.

In Pakistan, all children have “the right” to full participation in the social life of their usually large extended families in which mutual rights and obligations are paramount, as opposed to individual rights and entitlements. The family is seen as the principle place where education and socialization take place. In theory, all children in Pakistan have the right to education, regardless of difference and difficulty, but only half the population of children actually begins primary school. Only half of those complete their primary education. Girls and disabled children are less likely to go to school than boys, but as Miles and Hossain (1999) explain,

Expectations, choices and opportunities vary greatly between all these children, sometimes as a result of disability or difference, sometimes through gender, social and economic class, urban or rural situation, regional location or other factors. Yet these wide variations are a traditional feature of life and not necessarily perceived as problematic or “unfair.” (P. 74)

Data collected from government sources suggest that there has been a steady growth in special schools in Pakistan over the past 50 years, reaching 210 in 1996 with 12,476 children enrolled. Miles and Hossain (1999) estimate that of the 20 million children enrolled in ordinary schools, 200,000 (or 1 percent) will have noticeable impairment. Of the estimated 40 million children in Pakistan, there will be an estimated 2.2 percent who have a serious or noticeable impairment, the majority of whom do not attend school at all.

In Bangladesh—one of the economically poorest countries of the world, with a population of 130 to 150 million—there is limited educational provision for disabled children. There are only 13 government institutions with a collective enrollment of 820 students and only 27 institutions run by NGOs for disabled children and adults (Miles and Hossain 1999) that, unfortunately, reflect “Western” concerns and values rather than responding to those of the population of Bangladesh. Thus, demands for the “empowerment” or the “inclusion” of disabled people are not easily understood or digested in cultures in which disabled people very often participate in the social life of communities as a matter of course. This raises issues about the usefulness of Western “democratic” models of education, which themselves have a long way to go in terms of providing equal access and opportunities for all. Indeed, in many “developing” countries, disabled children are included in their local rural school areas as a matter of course (Ainscow 1999; Miles 1992). The danger of measuring development in terms of social responses to disabled children, as exemplified by the level of specialist provision (i.e., special schools and units), is that it ignores the importance of existing social and cultural practices, which are inclusive but do not figure in Western life.

In Western societies, the structures and purposes of different kinds of services and institutions are very clearly—often rigidly—defined. Particular images of difference and models of provision are imposed through formal policymaking, processes of assessment and identification, and bureaucratic control. “Special education” and medically based categories of impairment, although highly contestable, are the bastions that exclude many disabled children from ordinary social and learning environments.

In all societies, perceptions of disability and education are mediated by cultural values and practices as well as by economic and environmental contexts, which are themselves challenged by events and processes taking place domestically and worldwide.

In China, official support is given for “inclusive education,” but this is interpreted both as improving the professional standards of special schools and as increasing participation of disabled children in ordinary schools.

In the context of the exclusion of numbers of children from any sort of educational provision until recently, it could be argued that both kinds of development represent greater inclusion however inconsistent building up the segregated sector seems to be. (Potts 1999:61)

Since the adoption of compulsory schooling in China (1986), disabled children have been included in the goal of universal education. As in many Western countries, the barriers to greater participation in ordinary education occur both at an attitudinal level and at the level of structures and the processes of selection according to attainment. However, there appears to be a real concern to explore ways of transforming curricula and teaching practices in favor of achieving greater participation.

The massive social and political upheavals that have recently taken place in many countries have destabilized all aspects of those societies, including attitudes toward minority groups and disabled people. Processes of democratization have had paradoxical effects in Eastern Europe, with rapid inflation and unemployment producing greater poverty and social exclusion. Yet there have been attempts at policymaking levels to enhance opportunities and participation of disabled people in social life (Garguilo et al. 1997; Ursic˘1996). In the case of the Czech republic, this has involved introducing change after 40 years of a highly selective system of education in which disabled children and young people attended segregated schools removed from the community.

The basic change from a communist/socialist state to a democratic/capitalist structure, and from a bureaucratic hierarchical system to a collaborative one, necessitates a reversal ˘ of beliefs about personal empowerment and attitudes about life in general (Cerná, 1994b). There is a renaissance of the human spirit under way, a rebirth of human rights and a renewed concern for the individual rights of all citizens. (Gargiulo, Cerná, and Hilton 1997:22-23)

The introduction of the National Plan of Measures to Reduce the Negative Impact of Disability (1993) by the government of the Czech republic recognized the need for a change in attitudes, as well as the need to make schools physically accessible, and introduced changes in teacher education. Importantly, the plan addresses issues relating to disabled people in all areas of their lives and across life spans, including independent living, vocational training, the elimination of barriers, and so on. Thus, reforms favoring greater participation in the ordinary education of disabled people are seen as part of a wider democratic project concerned with human rights (Gargiulo et al. 1997). Figures provided by the Czech republic government show a massive increase in special schools during the period of communist control. In 1960 and 1961, there were 42,247 students enrolled in 728 special schools. By 1990 to 1991, these figures had increased to 102,295 students placed in 1,355 special schools. However, by 1994 to 1995, reforms had gradually begun to have an effect, and these figures dropped to 73,243 students attending 1,049 special schools. Government policies link greater participation with the transformation of ordinary schools and in wider society (Gargiulo et al. 1997).

The situation in Romania is in sharp contrast to that of the Czech Republic, where all children are entitled to receive an education. The economic, social, and cultural histories of the two countries are profoundly different. Both emerged from communist governance at the end of the 1980s, but this is perhaps the only point that the two countries have in common. The situation of disabled Romanian children, which was revealed following the turbulent times of the late 1980s, caused shock and horror. Despite a commitment by professionals in Romania to reform (and some aid from outside), thousands of children still live in appalling conditions in vast segregated institutions that are—disturbingly—hidden from view (Moore and Dunn 1999).

It is too easy and far too crude to pin blame for such abuses of human rights on particular kinds of governance (e.g., “communism”). There is much to be learned from trying to understand the causes of oppression and exclusion of disabled people created by attitudes, practices, and conditions in so-called “advanced” capitalist democracies.

Disabling Barriers

Barriers to inclusion in ordinary schools arise through the ways policy is made and interpreted at the levels of discourse, attitudes, assessment, curriculum and pedagogy, and the distribution of resources. Disabled children and young people are also excluded from common educational settings because of the physical access arrangements to buildings and the spatial organization of schools. While being perhaps the most visible and literal barriers to exclusion, physical-spatial factors in the built environment are rarely the focus of debate among the education research community. As Imrie (1999) remarks, “Writings concerning disabled people are, by and large, aspatial.” Yet the literal, physical barriers to access to ordinary social settings are part of a whole set of disabling and excluding barriers in terms of educational structures, school cultures, discourses, curricula, and pedagogy reflecting and reproducing discrimination and exclusions in wider society.

The use of space, the designation of particular sites for particular purposes, the marking of boundaries, and the erection of frontiers are powerful processes in society and in education systems in defining social relations within and between different communities. In many societies, the spatial arrangements and distribution of children and young people among a highly differentiated set of educational structures curricula produce and reproduce values and meanings that he gemonically create and maintain differences and exclusions.

In some countries, the construction of these separations and exclusions are statutory (through legislation and ministerial directives), curricular (students are not “taught the same things”), cultural (the meanings associated with membership of particular institutions are different), and physical (separate buildings, different sites). These differences are seen as ordinary because of the familiarity of the practices and discourses that surround them.

In France, for example, some children and young people do not attend schools under the control of the Ministry of Education but are assigned to various medically oriented institutions, according to impairment, and they do not have access to a common curriculum. In England, despite statements by central and local government that purport to favor “inclusion,” segregated special schools and classes continue to exist in most areas of the country, and the numbers of children receiving their education “outside” ordinary settings have scarcely decreased. Medical diagnosis still plays an important role in assessing and labeling children. These labels serve to explain and justify the continued exclusion of many disabled children from their local schools (Armstrong and Barton 1999).

Terms that implicitly involve making judgments and demarcations, such as having special needs, excellence, raising standards, target setting, failing school, and school improvement, have become a fundamental part of educational discourse in the United Kingdom. The routine language, which is part of the procedures and practices of education, are powerful mediators in the interpretation of policy (Marks 1994) and the creation of stereotypes. Discourse as social practice expresses literal exclusions that operate at many different levels of society and are often made natural or invisible through the discourses and practices that surround them. Discourses such as those referring to “illegal immigrants,” “single-parent families,” and “emotional and behaviorally disturbed kids” mask the actual oppression and marginalization of some groups in society on the basis that they transgress socially constructed ideas of “the normal.” Paradoxically, while such discourses hide from view, they also mark out and make explicit exclusions in society. Discourses of exclusion are embedded in policymaking through formal and informal policies and practices (Armstrong 1999).

The social relationships created and fostered through the planning and division of physical and social space in the school through the organization of pupils for learning and the ways in which teaching and learning are conceptualized are important interlocking ways in which exclusions and inclusion are realized.

The Struggle for Inclusive Schools

Children, young people, and adults experience exclusion when they are debarred entry to ordinary educational settings on the grounds of disability, learning difficulty, or difference. Settings that are described as being “provided for” or “especially for” particular groups hide their role in segregating groups and individuals from ordinary social experience behind a discourse of solicitousness and accommodation. Schools, centers, and institutions that are described as for particular groups occupy multiple roles and identities in both “protecting” and “providing for” those identified and categorized as different, removing them from public gaze, preventing participation in ordinary social life, and denying the wider community the opportunity of knowing them. These separating conditions and processes contribute to the creation of stereotypes, which, argues Sibley (1995),

play an important part in the configuration of social space because of the importance of distanciation in the behaviour of social groups, that is, distancing from others who are represented negatively, and because of the way in which group images and place images combine to create landscapes of exclusion. (P. 14)

At the same time, exclusions can be experienced within ordinary schools and colleges through their curricula, cultures, and practices. These exclusions relate not just to the physical environment but also to teaching and learning, assessment, school organization, position and role in the local community, interpersonal relationships, and the discourses deployed in relation to all of these. This argument understands curriculum as being at the center of the procedures, processes, and cultures in schools and the views of the world they represent and transmit.

Curriculum is concerned with the messages that institutions transmit about knowledge and culture through its rules and social practices, as well as with the formal content of lessons. This notion of curriculum implies that selections are made from existing cultures, values and “canons of knowledge” at all levels, thus involving the drawing of boundaries and the assigning of differential spaces to different groups. These boundaries and spaces are both literal (the particular school, institution, classroom) and symbolic (their culture and curriculum) and they sustain each other. Underpinning both are the processes and procedures involved in selection and demarcation in the curriculum. (Armstrong 1999:82)

The introduction of the National Curriculum (Education Reform Act 1998) in England and Wales has had profound effects in institutionalizing and regimenting the experience of teaching and learning and in imposing a particular “English” interpretation of what counts as knowledge. Far from reflecting the country’s cultural diversity and richness, the National Curriculum has “asserted a particular strain of heritage culture,’ which ignores or devalues other cultures and experience” (Armstrong 1998:158) and is thus instrumental in excluding many students from full recognition and participation in education.

Issues and debates surrounding inclusion and exclusion involve all members of the community, including any groups or individuals who may experience discrimination and exclusion on the grounds of race, gender, socioeconomic or political status, impairment, perceived academic attainment, or lifestyle. This view of inclusive education, far from being a diversion or dilution, greatly strengthens the arguments surrounding the exclusion of disabled students from ordinary educational settings because it connects those arguments to wider issues involving whole communities in a common struggle.

Part of the task of removing injustices in education involves

a self-critical analysis of the role schools play in the production or reproduction of injustices such as disabling barriers of various forms. Schools need therefore to be welcoming institutions. It is more than mere access which is at stake here. It is a quest for the removal of policies and practices of exclusion and the realisation of effective participatory democracy. It also involves a wider concern, that of clarifying the role of schools in combating institutional discrimination in relation to, for example, the position of disabled people in society. (Barton 1997:234)

Interest in comparative research and cross-cultural issues has been part of a wider interest relating to processes of globalization and a repositioning and reinterpretation of relationships between and within countries and cultures. There is an emerging interest in questions about social exclusion, and demands for a more “inclusive society” are being articulated in different ways in a variety of contexts. Inclusion is a highly contested notion, made more complicated by the commonly paradoxical relationship between stated policies purporting to be concerned with equality and social justice (e.g., “care in the community,” the U.K. Disability Discrimination Act of 1995) and enacted policies as they affect disabled people. Formal policies in education at national, LEA, or school levels relating to “integration” or “inclusion” may be reworked and reinterpreted in an infinite number of ways, through the mediation of particular agents and conditions. Policy, argues Fulcher (1999), is made through struggle between different actors in multiple arenas:

In classrooms, the teacher’s decision to call a child an integration child (or by one of the more obviously derogatory disability labels), to include or exclude a student, is clearly a struggle, sometimes easily won, sometimes not: whether that means changing the curriculum to include a student, or persuading unwilling parents to agree to exclusion, or calling a psychologist to “assess” a student.

Implicit in seeing these different encounters and their products (reports, debates over means, exclusion, etc.) as policy is the idea that policy takes different forms. Thus government reports or law, a teacher’s decision, or a style of pedagogy, can equally be called policy, as the exercise of power, that is, the capacity to make decisions and act on them. (Pp. 7-8)

It follows, then, that barriers to inclusion in ordinary schools arise through the ways policy is made and interpreted at the level of discourse, attitudes, assessment, curriculum, and pedagogy.

In 1994, Professor John Tomlinson was appointed to chaira committee that was set uptoex-amine existing policies and practices for students with learning difficulties or disabilities in the Further Education sector in England. This was the first committee commissioned to examine the national situation. It worked for three years and published a report titled Inclusive Learning (Further Education Funding Council [FEFC] 1996).

The committee was critical of a series of unacceptable preconceptions that it maintained had dogged much of the provision for disabled students. It included the beliefs that

these students are different from their non-disabled peers in the way they learn or in the amount they are capable of learning, that these students are distinguished by experiencing greater difficulty in learning than all other students. (FEFC 1996:2-3)

However, what the committee found was a number of commonalities between disabled and nondisabled students. They both

use the same repertoire of processes for learning. They each bring different experiences of success and or failure to the learning task and as a consequence, have developed strategies which may assist or get in the way of learning. (FEFC 1996:33)

Indeed, they argued that when students experienced such difficulties and achieved less, it was because of an “insufficient match between how and what they need and what to learn and what is actually provided” (FEFC 1996:33).

Teachers as mediators of learning were particularly criticized for often not knowing about the variety of ways in which people learn. Also, the report identified low expectation on the part of many teachers as being another barrier to learning.

Pupils experience exclusion within school practices and interactions and as a result of being removed from schools. Others exclude themselves by refusing to attend school. Exclusion also applies to those who have never been allowed entrance into mainstream schools. Thus, segregated special education, according to two key proponents of inclusion in the United States, plays a major sorting role and has increasingly become a means by which the smooth running of the mainstream system can be maintained (Lipsky and Gartner 1996). For many disabled people, especially for their organizations, such provision is viewed as part of the disabling barriers that need to be challenged and removed. In relation to segregated provision, Morris (1990), a disabled feminist, argues that

this is one of the most important lessons I have learnt. People’s expectations of us are formed by their previous experience of disabled people. If disabled people are segregated, are treated as alien, as different in a fundamental way, then we will never be accepted as full members of society. This is the strongest argument against special schools and against separate provision. (P. 59)

Parents, in their role as advocates for their disabled children, are often engaged in challenging deep-seated beliefs about disability. Cross-cultural research indicates that this is often a frustrating, stressful, and disempowering experience, especially as many professionals ignore or devalue the everyday knowledge that parents have about their children (Brown 1999; Ware 1999).

A group of parents in Sheffield, England, demanding that their disabled children be educated in ordinary schools, illustrates something of the passion and intensity of the commitment involved in the following statement:

For us the concept of segregation is completely unjustifiable—it is morally offensive—it contradicts any notion of civil liberties and human rights. Whoever it is done to, wherever it appears, the discrimination is damaging for our children, for our families and for our communities. We do not want our children to be sent to segregated schools or any other form of segregated provision. We do not want our children and our families to be damage din this way. Our communities should not be impoverished by the loss of our children. (Murray and Penman 1996:vii)

The existence of segregated provision, catering for “special” pupils taught by “special” teachers supported by “special” courses in teacher training, has all contributed to the legitimation of values, attitudes, and practices that are inimical to the realization of an inclusive society and educational system (Lipsky and Gartner 1997).

In presenting an argument in support of inclusive education, we are very aware that not all groups are in favor of such an approach. For example, there are differences of view within the Deaf community between people who have acquired or developed hearing loss and are not native users of sign language and those whose congenital hearing impairment has involved them in using sign language with their deaf parents. The latter define themselves as deaf. They perceive themselves as a linguistic minority and support segregated education and separate social existence. This has been a contributing factor in creating difficulties to relations between deaf people and the disability movement as a whole (see Barnes, this volume). Some examples of both the complexity and degree of challenge that this entails, in terms of struggling for a more inclusive encounter, are illustrated by Corker (2000) in her report of an ongoing research project involving deaf children in schools. She highlights the difficulties of bullying in the interaction between deaf and hearing pupils within the deaf social group. Some examples of progress are also evident in the ways in which the deaf and hearing pupils increasingly come together to negotiate tasks and to share goals in the pursuit of what it means to “include” in this context. We do not underestimate, therefore, the learning that has still to take place between all parties, the risk taking that such a project involves, or the forms of support that will be required for inclusion to become a reality within schools and society more generally.


The analysis we have offered in this chapter attempts to challenge some existing perspectives on the question of inclusion and exclusion. By focusing on the issue of inclusion into what, we have briefly highlighted some of the fundamental exclusionary policies and practices that are endemic to the existing educational system. These are both deeply rooted and multifaceted and are informed by inequalities and discriminations at work within the wider socioeconomic conditions and relations of society.

It is essential that the question of inclusion be viewed as a fundamentally political issue, which, as Slee (1999) maintains, “is about who is in and who is out, about which students are in the educational mainstream and who is consigned to the status of others’” (p. viii). This raises serious questions, including the following: What will it take to change this discriminatory structure? What are schools for and for whom? What do we most value about schools and why?

From the perspectives we have adopted, inclusion is not about placement into an unchanged system of provision and practice. Also, it is not merely about the participation of a specific group of formerly categorized individuals (Ainscow, Booth, and Dyson 1999). Thus, it goes well beyond the issue of disablement. It is about removing all forms of barriers to access and learning for all children who are experiencing disadvantage. This approach is rooted in conceptions of democracy, citizenship, and a vision of the “good” society.

For Oliver and Barnes (1998), their vision is of

a world in which all human beings, regardless of impairment, age, gender, social class or minority ethnic status, can co-exist as equal members of the community, secure in the knowledge that their needs will be met and that their views will be recognised, respected and valued. It will be a very different world from the one in which we now live. (P. 102, emphasis added)

Thus, inclusive education is not an end in itself but a means to an end—that of the realization of an inclusive society. This necessitates schools adopting a critical stance both internally and externally toward all forms of injustice and discrimination.