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Making space in the standards agenda: developing inclusive practices in schools

Alan Dyson, Frances Gallannaugh and Alan Millward
Special Needs Research Centre,  School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, University of Newcastle
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Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002

Economic and Social Research Council UK grant LI39251001
Understanding and Developing Inclusive Practices in Schools


In recent years, inclusive education has been the focus of considerable development in terms of practice, policy and research. Despite this, there is a relative dearth of studies which explore the complexities and contradictions of the move towards greater inclusion. This paper seeks to redress his situation by reporting interim findings from a collaborative three-year research study of schools' attempts to develop more inclusive practices undertaken as part of the ESRC's Teaching and Learning Research Programme.

This paper reports findings two years into the study from the arm of the project managed by a team at the University of Newcastle. Over this period, the research team has worked with eight schools which have evolved their own definitions of inclusion, identified their own priorities for development in this area and evaluated the initiatives they have taken to meet those priorities. The move towards greater inclusion in these schools has taken place within a national policy environment which has focused heavily on the issue of 'standards' narrowly defined. The paper reports the complexities, contradictions and ambiguities which this has generated. It argues, however, that the view of schools' actions as entirely determined by this external agenda is as erroneous as the image of them battling heroically against this agenda in the name of inclusive values. Rather, schools have, to a greater or lesser extent, tried or been impelled to find spaces within the standards agenda where different values and priorities can be realised. The paper outlines some of the factors which make this process more or less likely to occur and suggests that this offers an important new way of thinking about the development of inclusive education.


In recent years the development of inclusion has become an increasingly dominant policy imperative in the education system in the UK. The first indication that inclusion was to be an explicit aim came in the Green Paper of 1997 (Department for Education and Employment). In this the government explained its commitment as part of a strategy for raising standards of education for children and young people who were identified as having special educational needs. A move towards greater inclusion was understood as the increased integration of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools based on rights of equal access to schooling as well as high standards of education. In the Green Paper, the government clearly aligned its policy with the UNESCO Salamanca World Statement on Special Needs Education 1994, which called on governments to adopt inclusion as a principled position. Since then, statements from UK government agencies have accumulated. Each of these has taken a particular stance in relation to inclusion, which may be related to their different origins. In a recent guidance document from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education), for example, inclusion is viewed as 'more than a concern about any one group of pupils' (Evaluating Educational Inclusion, Ofsted 2000 p.1) and its concerns are defined as being about 'equal opportunities for all pupils, whatever their age, gender, ethnicity, attainment and background.' Moreover, rather than rights of access to education, the clear principle upon which the guidance is based is the incorporation of all pupils into the government's standards agenda. In listing the specific groups of pupils for whom inclusion is potentially an issue* the document also provides evidence of the growing importance of another strand of policy, which is that relating to social inclusion (and exclusion). Increasingly, the development of the education system has been prioritised as a key means of solving problems of unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown, all of which are understood to be threats to individuals as well as to the economic and social well-being of society. Further complicating the situation, not only do versions of inclusion abound in government policy, but it is arguable that they reflect significant tensions between reform efforts aimed at driving up standards of educational achievement on the one hand and a concern with equity and social inclusion on the other (McLaughlin and Rouse, 2000).

In the light of the policy context in which they must operate, the question for schools is the detail of how inclusion may actually be achieved in practice. How are they to make sense of policy emanating from different branches of government and decide priorities for development? Advice to date about the detail of achieving inclusion has been relatively thin on the ground, although in 2000 the Department for Education and Employment (now Department for Education and Skills) distributed the 'Index for Inclusion' (Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, 2000) to every school in the country in an attempt to support inclusive development. However, this takes the form of a set of self-review materials which schools can use to assess the extent to which they are currently inclusive as a basis for planning development towards more inclusive practices. Although there is considerable guidance as to the processes and procedures schools should adopt in asking critical questions about current practices, the Index does not suggest any specific actions schools might take in order to become more inclusive, or offer any concrete examples of initiatives schools have taken. We would argue, too, that there is little of obvious use to schools in the current research literature on inclusion. Studies of schools that are attempting to become more inclusive remain relatively rare and when they are available their empirical foundations are often rather weak (Dyson, Howes and Roberts 2002).

It was also our view at the beginning of the project that theoretical understandings of the processes involved in developing inclusive practices were problematic. To date two main traditions have emerged in the field. The first of these is a critical tradition, which supports the pursuit of inclusion, but suggests that its realisation is always undermined by powerful and determining forces which cause the system to continuously reconstruct existing patterns in new forms . The best that can be advocated in terms of the pursuit of inclusion is an ongoing political struggle for the principle. A second tradition is an optimistic one, which suggests that it is possible to achieve fundamental transformations in schools through the heroic efforts of advocates of inclusion within and without the education system (see, for instance, . The research reported below seeks to address the significant gap in the knowledge provided by existing research and theory about how schools may develop inclusive practices. Importantly, it was carried out in a group of ordinary schools, rather than schools nominated as particularly 'inclusive,' as has been the case in a substantial proportion of empirical research to date (Dyson, Howes and Roberts, 2002). It provides evidence of the ways in which such schools may actually set about developing inclusion, and explores some of the detail of the practical action that is possible in the context of policy that embodies some competing priorities. Part of the purpose of the study was to explore the extent to which dominant theoretical perspectives in the field of inclusion held up in the light of the action we were to witness in our group of 'ordinary' schools.

The study

The study, 'Understanding and Developing Inclusive Practices in Schools' (Grant L139251001) was one of four research networks set up as the first phase of the Economic and Social Research Council's Teaching and Learning Research Programme, the largest ever research initiative in education in the United Kingdom. It took the form of a collaborative, action-research project linking three university research teams, three local education authorities and twenty-five schools, nearly all of which were in urban areas. Schools were invited to take part in the project on the basis of a broad commitment to inclusion and the investigation was guided by the following questions:

In the context of this project, these barriers were not understood as existing for any particular group (for example pupils identified as having special educational needs), but potentially for any pupils within schools. Each of the three university teams worked with eight or nine schools in one of the three local education authorities, whose participation was negotiated with the individual LEAs and headteachers. In this article we will report on findings from the arm of the project managed by a team at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

At the start of the project in 2000, each school was asked to establish a small team, including the headteacher, and to identify a focus for taking action to develop inclusive practices. Although we offered to schools the general notion of overcoming barriers to participation and learning as a way of structuring their plans, we did not advocate a particular way forward and deliberately 'allowed' them broad scope in settling on an initiative to take as part of the project. Rather than determining an agenda for schools we decided that we should acknowledge the alternative ways in which school might go about this work. We took this stance in the light of ambiguities in the policy context surrounding inclusion, the underdeveloped nature of the evidence base in relation to its development and our view that theoretical understandings of the processes involved in developing inclusive practices were problematic.

Over the course of the next two and a half years schools developed their chosen initiatives, supported by members of the LEA advisory team and consultants employed by the LEA. The study's action research methodology meant that initiatives involved inquiry as well as action and we as a university team encouraged schools to make evaluation intrinsic to their projects. All the schools drew up written plans in the early stages of the project focusing on changes in practice in schools and on the projected outcomes of these changes, particularly in relation to the participation and learning of pupils. The plans specified a set of success criteria for actions and the data that would supply evidence of the extent to which these success criteria were met. Part of our work as a university team involved providing advice about methods of evaluation. In addition we carried out some independent data collection both to supplement schools' own evaluation data and as the basis for a critical engagement with project teams about the actions they were taking and the ways in which they might be developed. Regular review meetings took place in all the schools when data collected by the schools and / or the university team provided the basis for discussion. The schools have also met as a group with the LEA and university teams, usually on a half-termly basis, to discuss progress and share findings and there has been an annual national conference for all participants in the network. All of these occasions have provided the opportunity for the validation of findings. Although the extent and nature of the data collected in each case varies, there is extensive documentary, interview, observational and learning outcomes data from most schools gathered over more than two school years.

What the schools did

The eight schools that we worked with, a group of two secondary, five primary and one junior schools, chose to pursue a number of different courses of action. Several made what could be characterised as radical and ambitious plans for developing inclusion. One of the secondary schools, for example, decided to develop the skills of some of its students to act as a reference group who could feed back to the staff what it was that made them feel positive about the school and therefore attend. Feedback from these students would provide a basis for the school to initiate development building on the positive aspects of the school's provision. One of the primary schools sought to achieve a cultural transformation in the school so that it would become a 'learning community' and planned to use the Index for Inclusion as a stimulus for operationalising its vision. Most of the schools, however, decided to pursue what were initially fairly narrow courses of action. Five of them settled on initiatives to improve writing. Although their ultimate aims were similar, these schools planned to pursue these aims in a variety of different ways. It is the action taken by two of these schools that we will describe in more detail below, one of which we will call Oliver Street Primary School, and the other Everingham Primary School.

Oliver Street

Oliver Street is an inner-urban primary school that serves a community facing some severe economic and social problems and that has to cope with a high level of population turbulence. In 2001 45.4% of children were entitled to free school meals and 26.9% spoke English as an additional language. 30.6% of children were identified as having special educational needs. The school is a focus for a number of initiatives (for example funded by the Single Regeneration Budget, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions) that are designed to sustain the community and support the process of teaching and learning.

At the beginning of the project, the school was concerned that levels of attainment in writing were too low and that despite its best efforts results seemed to have reached a plateau. Teachers had been involved in some in-service training on the use of thinking skills techniques in the classroom, and the school believed that these techniques might be a useful avenue to explore as a means of stimulating better writing. Initially the project group was particularly interested in the development of teachers' questioning skills to provoke 'higher order thinking' in children, which they hoped would then inform the content of their writing. To begin with, two teachers assumed the main responsibility for the day to day running of the project and committed themselves to teaching a Year 2 class together one lesson a week, when they would employ new questioning techniques and monitor both the process of implementing these and the impact on the participation and learning of pupils in the group. The school was interested in the effect on pupils across the 'ability' range and whose motivation appeared to vary within the group.

Over the course of the project the school sustained its commitment to this initiative, collecting a range of data to evaluate its implementation and impact. In the second year action was expanded so that two partnerships worked concurrently. The school also began to explore some new avenues, for example the development of pupil questioning and ways of responding to pupils' preferred learning styles. Dissemination within the school meant that teachers individually developed approaches to teaching and learning based on what had been learned during the first year.


Everingham is a large primary school situated in a small seaside town. Standard indicators of population characteristics and performance are broadly in line with national averages, except that 3.6% of students (figures for 2001) have statements because the school has a 15-place support base attached to it for children in Key Stage 2 identified as having moderate learning difficulties. The school is characterised by a high degree of stability, although recently the pupil intake to the school has changed marginally as a result of local housing policy.

The school's original project arose out of a concern that some children performed less well in writing than in other aspects of literacy. There was a belief that such children might perform better in non-fiction than in fiction writing, and the project was an attempt to promote non-fiction writing to address this issue. There was a hunch that, in recognition of a limited problem of boys' underachievement, the focus on non-fiction writing might have a positive effect on boys' motivation in particular. During the first year of the project, displays of non-fiction work were mounted, training for all teachers in relation to the development of non-fiction writing took place, there was a review of curriculum planning and (ongoing) work on developing the library began. After a year of the project the school revised its original course of action, based on an evaluation of its effect on National test results and impressions of the extent to which it had achieved its original aims. It was decided that the success of the project had been noticeable but limited, and that to achieve a greater impact it would be necessary to expand its scope.

The school therefore decided to seek the support of another LEA adviser (its 'Quality in the Classroom' co-ordinator) to introduce 'thinking skills approaches' in classrooms, which it was hoped would enhance the development of non-fiction writing in the school. As well as delivering twilight training to all teachers, this adviser modelled approaches in two classrooms over a period of a term, which included the use of alternative methods of recording as well as ways of managing pupil groupings more flexibly. The school hoped that new approaches would make it easier for statemented children to participate in lessons and decided to increase the amount of time these children spent with their peers in mainstream classes. Data collected by the school in the second year of the project, supplemented by our own interview data, provide evidence of changes in practice across the school and of the success of the school in arousing the interest of pupils in non-fiction. There is also evidence that new techniques were indeed successful in encouraging the participation of some of the statemented children.

Making sense of the data

At the level of individual cases making sense of the data has been relatively straightforward, given the way we have chosen to structure our work with schools so that evaluation has been an integral part of the initiatives they have taken. We have a body of evidence relating to ways in which schools have taken action with the aim of overcoming barriers to participation and learning, and the extent to which their action has been more or less successful in its own terms. Our data provides evidence in relation to the outcomes of schools' actions, both in terms of impact on practice and on the participation and learning of pupils. On the other hand, the task has been a lot less straightforward once we have begun to ask ourselves how the action schools have taken might be understood in terms other than those of the individual evaluation frameworks set by the schools. One consequence of allowing schools in the project the autonomy we have done is that it has given rise to considerable diversity across sites in terms of both action and evaluative frameworks and this is an issue we have had to address in our analysis.

The importance of context

In looking for common themes across all our data it has been impossible not to be struck by the way that the action schools have taken has been affected by the wider context in which they operate. This, of course, is what researchers from a 'critical' tradition would have predicted and in noting this finding we suggest that to an extent this research supports the credibility of such theories. Firstly, given the backcloth of the standards agenda, against which all educational policy governing schools takes shape, it is hardly surprising that a preoccupation with standards has been the running thread throughout all that schools have done during the course of the project. This is perhaps most clear in the selection of the pedagogy of writing as a focus for development by five of primary schools. Raising attainment in writing is a national objective, whose urgency has been strengthened in the schools discussed here by its adoption as a priority by the local education authority. However, the standards agenda can clearly be seen to be operating in the other schools too. It can be discerned, for example, in the case of the school seeking to develop a learning community, which set in train a course of broad development to achieve a cultural transformation. Although the school identified a range of success indicators for its work across the dimensions of staff culture, pupil involvement, community involvement and teaching and learning, the headteacher and other stakeholders were quite explicit in stating that the terms by which the success of school development would ultimately be judged are national test results, and particular strands of development, for example policy and practice in relation to target setting, are driven strongly by the school's concern to raise standards. Whilst supporting the broad course of development adopted by the school, the chair of the governing body stressed the importance of achieving high standards to us:

It is important that we're up there. You're judged on your success, and the only way that we're going to get more pupils into the school, and I know falling numbers with the birth rate and everything are an issue, so the best will survive. I know this school - I went to this school, and I think it's rather nice that my children have gone to this school, but I want them not to have average. So I think there's a big expectation for me that I want these SATs results up.

The second contextual influence of which we have been acutely aware is that provided by the culture and practices of the local education authority. In the context of the project as a whole, it is interesting to compare the different 'styles' of the LEAs with which we have been working and to consider the effect these have had on the action that schools have decided to pursue in different areas. Comparison between the LEA that has worked with Newcastle University and one of the other LEAs is particularly illuminating. We will call them Riverside and East City here. Inclusion policy in East City is well-developed and in April 1999 the Education Committee agreed an action plan for developing inclusive education. The definition of inclusion used in policy documents demonstrates the influence of a history of collaboration with one of the authors of the Index for Inclusion (a member of the project research team), in that it is taken to be:

'...the process of increasing the participation of children in the curriculum, culture and community of their school thereby raising education standards for all' (East City Inclusion Policy and Action Plan).

The situation in East City, where policy is 'up-front' and where there is a well-developed rhetoric surrounding it, contrasts strongly with the Riverside context. In this borough no inclusion policy as such yet exists, although planning for inclusion forms part of the Education Development Plan in sections relating to improving standards for pupils with SEN and to promoting social inclusion (Education Development Plan, 1999 - 2002, Riverside Borough Council). The absence of an explicit policy based on a broad conceptualisation such as that implied in the Index for Inclusion may partly explain why, when invited to address the issue through this project, schools in Riverside approached the challenge somewhat cautiously, and, initially at least, most took action which appeared to be narrowly conceived. By contrast, teachers involved in the project in East City, we would argue, approached the project with definite preconceptions about what inclusion should look like in practice.

We would argue, too, that action taken as part of the project has been influenced by traditions of school development in different areas. We noted that LEA advisers in Riverside were held in great respect, and this seems to be a result of supportive relationships that have been built up with schools over time, based on practical guidance that is of immediate relevance to schools. A good example of the way these relationships operate is provided by the work of one member of the advisory team attached to the research project, the co-ordinator of the LEA's 'Quality in the Classroom' project. The support she offers takes the form of 'hands-on' intervention in which she models successful approaches to teaching and learning. One of the LEA steering group described the origins of the project:

'That project was the brainchild of xxxxxx (Director of Education at the time the project began), because he had the foresight to see, "Well you can have all these working groups and you can have a national literacy strategy and goodness knows what, and be ticking all of those off, but you need somebody working with teachers in the classroom to effect some change..."'

The particular interest of the 'Quality in the Classroom' co-ordinator is the implementation of thinking skills strategies and she has a track record of enlisting schools in this endeavour. It is hardly surprising, then, that schools in the project have eagerly taken up the chance to work with her and a number have used the introduction of thinking skills approaches as their chosen mechanism for developing inclusive practices.

Another key element of the tradition of school development in Riverside has been the LEA's promotion of 'action research,' focusing on teaching and learning in the classroom. Indeed, the most senior member of the steering group when the project began, the Assistant Director of Education, had herself co-ordinated a set of 'action research' projects in primary schools, with the ultimate aim of setting up a database of good classroom practice within the borough. We were told by a member of the steering group that:

'when the university approached us to be part of the project, she could see that could be the icing on the cake for that particular work...'

The LEA also had an established relationship with members of the university team at Newcastle based on projects undertaken with schools in relation to pupils identified as having special educational needs. The experience of these projects has helped to generate a creative research culture in the borough:

'X and Y (university researchers) in particular supported them (teachers) with the philosophy and the methodology, but most of the hard graft was done by the teachers in the school, where they identified the focus, thought about, "Well, what evidence to I need? How am I going to interrogate this evidence, and what do I do next?" So that the heads could see that as a result of their investigation there was something very, very positive, which they then transferred into whole school development'.

This history has meant that schools in Riverside have been receptive to the evaluation methodology that we promoted as the means of investigating the ways in which inclusive practices might be developed . Of course, the fact that members of the research team have been part of this history raises the question of the extent to which the university team has itself affected the nature of the development in the schools. Like the Newcastle team, the other research teams also have established relationships with the LEAs they have worked with for this project and in each area a distinctive methodology for inquiry has been adopted. It may not be possible to disentangle the influences on local research methodologies of the different LEA histories or university traditions. However, it is necessary for us to acknowledge that whilst in one sense we have taken the role of 'outsiders,' adopting a critical stance towards the development which has taken place in schools, we are in a very real sense also 'insiders,' based on our history of involvement in changing practice in the LEAs.


In attempting to make sense of the contextual influences on schools and the individual actions they have taken, our interpretation leads us to diverge from the somewhat deterministic perspective of researchers from a critical tradition. We support the view that the standards agenda does indeed provide a constraint for action, as evidenced by the foci of the initiatives taken by schools as part of this project, which have been circumscribed by objectives for raising attainment. Not only this, but they have clearly been affected by the local context and particular histories. However, our findings suggest that in spite of this there is still room for practitioners to exercise agency and the two examples above provide some illustration of the way that schools in the project have done this. In the case of Everingham, by employing teaching approaches that had as part of their aim the introduction of more flexible grouping practices, the school acted against the current orthodoxy of grouping strictly by attainment. For their part, teachers in Oliver Street did not base their action to improve writing on official guidance about ways of delivering the literacy curriculum, but instead chose to explore a new pedagogical approach that, in its reliance on substantial amounts of oral work, might be regarded in the current climate as something of a risk. A third school, which wanted to improve writing by introducing thinking skills approaches and increasing its reliance on experiential learning, described its work as a 'leap of faith.'.

In seeking an explanation for schools' motivation to act independently, we are drawn to reports from teachers that existing practices at the time the project began were neither sufficient to engage all the pupils in their schools or to deliver the results demanded by targets. A number of teachers have spoken about reaching or nearing a plateau in the standards their schools could achieve. One headteacher told us about the amount of time already spent on developing 'basic teaching strategies' and her feeling that there was not much more the school could do in this respect. Despite having been working on writing for some time, there were some children who were simply not responding. In the first year of the project, teachers at Everingham discovered that simply 'raising the profile' of non-fiction writing, for example by increasing the amount of time devoted to it in lessons, brought about only a marginal change in levels of participation and learning. We suggest that the difficulty schools experience in marrying together the demands of the standards agenda, with the reality of the pupils they have to teach, results in what could be described in organisational terms as 'dissonance,' and that it is this that has provided the stimulus for schools in the project to take action in an attempt to respond more effectively to their situations. A teacher in one of the schools provided a nice metaphorical description of the operation of 'dissonance' when he spoke of the way that non-responsive children (in this case children identified as being from educationally unsupportive families) cause 'grit in the machinery:'

'If they had been born in a different family somewhere the children we are targeting would have been average. They cause grit in the machinery because they don't have the attributes that make education work for them'.

In order to get the machinery working smoothly, schools have found it necessary to try alternative solutions to the problem of disengagement in their pupil populations.

Dissonance has been manifested in various forms in the schools involved in our research. In some, the delivery of the standards agenda has been largely unproblematic for the majority of pupils, and it is only in the cases of small groups of individuals that schools have been presented with any difficulties. In other schools, the mismatch between the ambitions of the standards agenda and the receptivity of their whole population to that agenda has been much greater. As the extent of dissonance has varied, so too has the scope of the action taken by schools in response. Some schools have pursued relatively narrow paths, whilst others have taken much more wide ranging courses of action. Thus we have the example of one school that adopted what might be described as a classic 'remedial' approach to the problem of the perceived underachievement of an identified group of children, withdrawing individuals from lessons for extra support when their attainment in writing lagged significantly behind their attainment in reading. Other schools engaged in wholesale reviews of their approaches to teaching and learning, so that at Oliver Street, for example, the aim was to try and address the needs of all pupils at some level, in order to:

'give Oliver Street children something that will make them more equal with other children in leafy suburbs'.

Space in the standards agenda

Whilst the operation of dissonance has provided a dynamic for school action, and influenced its scope, our findings suggest that there are other critical factors that have determined the precise nature of the initiatives schools have taken. Not surprisingly, the way actions have been carried through and the impact they have had has been partly dependent on a range of factors whose importance to organisational effectiveness has been widely noted in research literature, for example the nature of leadership (see, for example, Kugelmass, 2001, Hunt et al, 2000, Deering, 1996, Dyson and Millward, 2000). Thus we have the exceptional example of a school in which action failed to develop, which provides a classic picture of organisational disarray. In this school a fractured staff culture, ineffective leadership and initiative overload combined to create a context in which the school's initiative had very little chance of success.

Secondly, external agencies (the LEA and the university) have played a part in maximising opportunities for development. Although the LEA context in Riverside could be argued to have provided something of a constraint for schools, particularly given the authority's function as a conduit for the transmission of government policy in relation to standards, there are also grounds for suggesting that it provided schools with an opportunity to be creative. The commitment of the authority to the development of classroom practice and to action research as a means of facilitating this development has been backed up during the course of this project with significant resources. Funding has enabled teachers to carry out their school investigations and to take part in a programme of support and development meetings, and a group of advisers and consultants has been allocated to work with schools and the research team. In addition to providing advice to schools at an individual level, advisers have co-ordinated the regular meetings at which schools have been able to discuss progress and share findings and been largely responsible for the organisation of some of the national project conferences. The LEA's commitment to the project, we would argue, has played a large part in ensuring the priority that schools have placed upon it and to sustaining the development that has taken place.

As a research team, we have endeavoured to support teachers in developing the confidence to collect and analyse data on a systematic basis as an integral part of their practice and as a basis for taking effective action to promote the participation and learning of pupils in their schools. The opportunity to participate in a national research network has expanded the opportunity for teachers in Riverside to share their experiences and discuss findings with other practitioners and researchers. Moreover, we have encouraged schools to take control of their initiatives and rather than reach for 'off the shelf' solutions to problems to surface their own ideas and resolutions through the process of action research. There is an identifiable theme in our data concerning the enthusiasm that teachers have expressed about being involved in a project that is not related to the implementation of yet another new government initiative. Teachers have spoken of the extent to which in recent years they have lost a degree of autonomy as a result of the necessity to deliver the standards agenda and have felt unable to explore all the possible pedagogical solutions to the problems they are facing. To an extent the project has allowed them to rediscover their 'professional wisdom' and trust their judgements in taking action that they perceive to in the 'best interests' of pupils. One of the LEA team described the reaction from some headteachers when they were invited to take part in the project:

'what emerged when we approached several of the Heads about the project, they were sort of fired up with the idea because it was right for them, as Head teachers - 'I really need something like this for my professional development'. And of course the other thing they said was, 'It's been wonderful to get involved in something which we haven't got to get involved in'.

What all of this suggests is that it is indeed possible for schools to find 'spaces,' even in heavily controlled circumstances, to develop innovatory practices that facilitate the participation and learning of their pupils. These 'spaces' are partly provided by the operation of dissonance, and may be encouraged or inhibited by organisational factors and forms of support for school development. Furthermore there is evidence that there is amongst teachers still a reserve of commitment to a particular kind of professionalism that in recent years has been somewhat undervalued, and which could provide, if nurtured, a stimulus to the development of practice in schools.


The implication of our work in 'ordinary' schools is that a transformational view of inclusive education seems unlikely to be one that will take root in the vast majority of schools. This view fails to take account of the contexts in which most schools currently operate and the forces which shape their opportunities for action. We suggest there is a difference between creating an atypical inclusive school and making a more inclusive system. Given the right combination of circumstances and commitment, individual schools may be fundamentally changed, but such action is unlikely to be able to be replicated. However, we do believe that it is possible to learn from the kinds of developments in practice that we have witnessed during the course of this research, which include an increase in the capacity of the schools in the project for basing their work on processes of inquiry involving the collection and analysis of data. In this respect, it is important to highlight the role played in the project by external agencies. Without the resources provided, in this instance by the LEA and the university, it is unlikely that the capacity would have existed for schools to engage in the development work that they did. In addition, we would advocate the importance of supporting a particular kind of professionalism, which involves enabling teachers to exercise judgement in order to capitalise upon the leeway that exists in the system to better meet the needs of the pupils in their charge.

The question remaining is what all this adds up to in relation to the way that schools may shape pupils' experiences and affect learning outcomes? We would not argue that teachers' enthusiasm for autonomous action represents outright resistance to the standards agenda. In fact, not only do teachers feel required to comply with this agenda, but in many cases they are supportive of it. What seems to be the case is that teachers have used the occasion of the project to mould that agenda with the aim of maximising the attainment of an increased number of pupils in their schools. In this way it could be claimed that they have genuinely improved the life chances of their populations. On the other hand, in their accommodation to notions of attainment mandated by national policy, some would argue that the schools are helping to perpetuate restrictive notions of achievement. Nonetheless, current developments in national policy do not seem to offer much chance of a re-examination of these notions and we would suggest that a policy which allows schools some 'space' to operate provides the best chance as things stand of maximising the participation and learning of all pupils.




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This document was added to the Education-line database on 20 September 2002