What’s inclusion in training? An outline

If you’ve spent time in a classroom as a teacher or parent, chances are you’ve heard the term inclusion. But what exactly is inclusion in education and what does it mean for teachers and learners?

What is inclusion in education?

In particular, inclusion in education refers to ensuring that students with physical, behavioral or learning disabilities are integrated into mainstream classrooms as much as possible. It also means giving them the support and accommodations they need to succeed alongside their peers.

In the early years of American education, people with disabilities often received no education at all. Eventually there was an urge to give these students an education, but it usually took place in special schools or special classrooms separate from other students. People felt that the special needs of these students could only be met if they were separated from the general student population. Some also didn’t want them to mix with so-called “normal” kids.

Not surprisingly, the stigma attached to “special schools” and “special classrooms” created a divide that persisted into adulthood. Many communities did not (or could not) provide meaningful education to these students. If the parents could not afford private education, these children simply did not go to school at all. In 1970, only 20 percent of children with disabilities attended school.

But in 1975, the Education for All Disabled Children Act changed things. It required free, proper education for all children. It provided funds to help schools accommodate people with disabilities and created policies such as IEPs and other tools to help these students succeed.


Source: The Harkin Institute

In 1990, Congress re-approved the law and changed its name to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as it is still known today. The law applies to children from birth to 21 years of age. IDEA requires all public schools to:

  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): All students, regardless of disability, must have access to the same general education.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): This is the part of IDEA specifically related to inclusion. It states that students with disabilities must be included in traditional classrooms as much as possible.
  • Appropriate Assessment: Schools are required to conduct assessment according to certain standards to ensure students are properly placed and regularly assessed.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): Each student identified as covered by IDEA receives an IEP that outlines the accommodations the student needs to be successful in the classroom.
  • Parent and Teacher Involvement: IDEA sets out specific requirements for how schools must communicate and collaborate with parents.
  • Procedural Safeguards: Parents have the right to view educational records, to actively participate in all educational decision-making meetings, and to be notified before changes are made.

What does “least restrictive” mean?

IDEA requires that students with disabilities be accommodated “to the greatest extent possible” in the general classroom. To determine this, schools answer two questions:

  • Can adequate education in general education be satisfactorily achieved using complementary tools and services?
  • If a student is placed in a more restrictive environment, is the student “highly appropriate” “integrated”?

Ultimately, the goal of inclusion in education is to provide education in a mainstream classroom by default, using the standard curriculum whenever possible. For some students, this will require special precautions, including but not limited to:

  • Inclusion specialists, teacher assistants, or paraeducators who teach together or spend time in general classrooms to support students with special needs
  • Classrooms such as seat changes or access to special equipment or materials

In some cases, it may not be possible to meet specific needs in general education. If this is the case, schools must make every effort to meet these needs before deciding that the student needs to spend part or all of the school day in a different setting.

Inclusion and IEPs

IDEA outlined 13 areas of special education that require the creation and use of Individualized Education Plans (IEP). An IEP serves two purposes: to set reasonable, measurable goals for the child and to specify the services to be provided by the school. Schools and teachers work with parents and experts to create a plan specific to each qualifying student. These plans include the accommodations needed in the general classroom for the student to be successful. Learn more about IEPs here.

What does a good inclusive classroom look like?

It is rarely possible to provide quality education to special needs students unless you have more than one educator in the classroom. These students often need one-on-one support, whether throughout the day or during specific activities. Inclusive classes might have:

  • Co-teachers who split their time between general classes and student care
  • Special Education Teachers (SPED) who can “push in” or “pull out” as needed (see below)
  • Paraeducators, also known as teacher assistants, support students individually or in small groups
  • Interpreter for blind or deaf students

Inclusive classrooms may also provide support for students with special equipment or rooms, such as B. Text-to-speech/speech-to-text programs, pencil grips, quiet corners, etc. Find out more about inclusive classrooms here.

Push in/pull out

Educators can provide support for special needs in two ways. They can “push in,” meaning they work with students in the general classroom when needed. Or they can “strip” and take one or more students at a time to work together in a separate location. There are pros and cons to each.

Insertion can be performed by SPED teachers or assistants, general class teachers, interpreters, speech or occupational therapists, and others. Feel free to work side-by-side with a student or provide general support with group activities as needed.

In a very quiet classroom, the push-in support can sometimes distract other students. A student may also need special direction, more time than the general schedule allows, or a safe space to deal with behavior issues. In these cases, an exit makes more sense. This is usually done by SPED teachers or assistants, counselors, or speech and language therapists or occupational therapists.

Students may have scheduled meetings or only use the accommodations when needed. Educators typically try to limit the time spent on “pulling out” as it defeats the purpose of an inclusive classroom. Learn more about “Push-In/Pull-Out Services” here.

How does inclusion benefit all students?

Source: ViewSonic

In the 1990s, schools began to put more emphasis on real inclusion. In other words, students with disabilities didn’t just attend public school only to be housed in their own classrooms. Rather, these students eventually found their place in the general classroom, assisted by specialists and paraeducators as needed. They were given equal access to the curriculum as well as the ability to socially integrate.

According to a report summarizing several studies, “Included students develop stronger reading and math skills, have higher attendance rates, are less likely to have behavior problems, and are more likely to complete secondary school than students who were not included.”

What about the students in the class without disabilities? The same report states: ‘In most cases, co-education with a student with a disability has no adverse effects on able-bodied children. On the contrary, some research suggests that able-bodied students who are in inclusive classrooms are less biased and more accepting of people who are different from themselves.”

When students with disabilities are not hidden, other children see them from an early age and learn that people of all abilities can and should learn, play and live in the same world.

What are the challenges of inclusion in education?

Proper inclusion requires full collaboration between teachers, parents and administration.

  • Administration must work to provide the right staff to support students’ needs and find funding to cover specific equipment or materials. They must also help teachers manage behavioral challenges and work with parents.
  • Teachers bear the greatest burden as they must work to support all students in their classroom, including those with special needs. They also need to communicate with parents, ask for support and provide regular updates.
  • Parents are an important link in the chain, but not all students have parents or guardians who are willing or able to get involved in their child’s education. This can be a problem, especially for students with behavioral problems.

Behavioral problems are one of the biggest problems in inclusive classes, especially when there are not enough teachers or caregivers or parents or administration cannot or do not want to get involved. Some special needs students also face bullying or social isolation, which adults in the classroom may or may not be aware of.

Inclusion in educational resources

There is much more to know about inclusion in education. Try these resources for more information.



Looking for more? See answers to teacher questions about inclusive classrooms.

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