Inclusive education: Who, what, how and why?

Both dialogues focus on an issue that the children from Czechkid have been dealing with: that of being/not being suitable for a particular school. In the first dialogue, Andrea is trying to find an answer to the question of how to get to the school she has chosen, even though she feels that she is handicapped by her Roma origin. In the second dialogue, the children discuss whether their physically challenged classmates belong to the school they are attending or not. The dialogues try to offer different points of view on an issue that has been recently intensively discussed in the Czech Republic.

  • What is...?

Inclusion consists of teaching a child with special educational needs in the same classroom as his/her peers. The child participates in school activities as a member of the class, using all support measures that s/he might need.

Inclusive School - a school applying principles of inclusion.

  • Issue

Each society has to find a solution to a question of how to deal with individuals who don't fit into the "norms" it has established for particular environments. We are going to pose this question in the context of schooling. First we are going to think about what sort of "norms" we will be dealing with and their consequences and, as social norms have a dynamic character, if there is a chance to re-evaluate them. Today, for example, it is really hard to imagine that up to the 1960s there were separate drinking fountains for " white" and " black" in the corridors of American schools. Similarly, it's possible that the generation of our children will find it difficult to understand that the vast majority of Roma children now attend special schools (which, to some extent, predetermines their place in society). Exclusion of children from mainstream education is one of the characteristic features of the Czech education system and is in opposition to the principles of inclusive education. What we would like to focus on in the text that follows are the possibilities and pitfalls associated with children's education.

The first initiatives promoting inclusive education were linked to the parents' movement for the rights of their disabled children to be integrated into mainstream education. The parents believed that children were being excluded from mainstream education due to their being physically or mentally challenged or due to their ethnic origin receive inferior education. Thus, as early as the 1980s, inclusive education was promoted by international organizations such as OECD and UNESCO. In compliance with international agreements (e.g. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989; UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965; Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960), the placing of a child in a special school started to be seen as an act of violation of his/her right to equal education opportunities.

However, if we think about the practical application of this principle, the most sensitive and controversial issue will be the extent to which it is possible to integrate children with special educational needs in regular schools. In the last 20-40 years, many countries have made huge changes with the aim of promoting the inclusion of children with special educational needs in mainstream education. For example, the report of the US Congress on the implementation of the Law on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities (2001) states that only 25% of disabled children were integrated into mainstream education in the United States in 1984-1985, while in 1998/99 it was 48% of disabled children (ED, 2001).

Although the first reactions did not favour the idea of inclusion, many experts claim that now we no longer ask whether to say yes or no to it, but rather how to carry it out. Many countries made the decision to implement inclusive education decades earlier, and introduced education policies supporting the idea of integrating children with special educational needs in regular classes, where they spend most of their school day. It is in this environment where they also use most of the support measures they need. However, the results of various researches as well as reactions of parents and teachers often indicated that despite all efforts, not all "inclusive education programs" succeeded in providing sufficient assistance to the disabled children. We have seen that it is definitely not enough to merely integrate a disabled child into a mainstream school. Moreover, it does not correspond to the concept of inclusive education.

If we look at education through the perspective of inclusion, problems do not seem to spring from a particular pupil and his/her special educational needs, but from a system which is not sufficiently prepared to provide education which would fully extend the potential of all children. UNESCO research (2009) shows that if any inclusive education system is to achieve this, it would have to offer flexible teaching methods suited to diverse educational needs and teaching styles, to curricula reflecting different pupils' needs and also to a particular environment, which must be open and friendly to all children. The necessary prerequisites also include teacher training reform and, subsequently, a suitable professional environment which would actively support inclusive education, early diagnostics, assistance of parents and the community, and, last but not least, transformation of special schools into expert centres. The Czech Act on Education provides for children with special educational needs and their right to education, whose "content, forms and methods suit their educational needs and abilities." Support measures that these children are entitled to are defined by Decree No. 73/2005 as follows: special methods, forms and procedures, special textbooks, teaching materials, compensation aids, rehabilitation aids, special education subjects in addition to regular subjects, services of an assistant teacher, reduced number of children in class, provision of pedagogical-psychological services and other potential adjustments under Inclusive Education Plan. In addition, the Czech Republic is now implementing the National Action Plan for Inclusive Education, which deals with the issue in a much broader sense with the aim of preparing a comprehensive systematic strategy for making the Czech education system accessible to all children.

To whom does inclusion apply?

Inclusion is a process applicable to the entire school environment and its individual participants, who spend there several hours a day together. In the following chapter we will look at what inclusion involves from the point of view of individual players.


From the legislative point of view, inclusive education mainly applies to children with "special educational needs". However, it's not just these children. As we will learn later in the text, inclusive education applies to all children. The term special educational needs has been used in the context of Czech education policies for a rather short period of time (compare: in Great Britain it was introduced in 1981, in the Czech Republic in 2004). It has been used to refer to handicapped children, children with health problems or socially disadvantaged children. The term handicap stands for a mental, physical, visual or hearing impairment, while the expressions health problems and social disadvantages cover all sorts of long-term illness, disorders leading to learning and behaviour problems and also inappropriate family environment (low socio-cultural status, vulnerability to socio-pathological phenomena, ordered institutional education, imposed protective education) or status of an asylum seeker or applicant for asylum (Act No. 561/2004, Section 16). Vanda Hajkova and Iva Strnadova (2010) suggest that the terminology used in this context is changing at the moment: the focus has shifted from the extent of the handicap (mild, moderate, severe, very severe) to the degree of support that a handicapped child needs. Thus, occasional support refers to support in difficult life situations; limited support is limited by time; and extensive support means continuous support provided throughout the day/part of the day. A person requiring full support needs assistance in all environments. It is very likely that the aforementioned shift in the terminology of special education might bring benefit even within the context of inclusive education in the Czech Republic (for more information, see Hajkova, Strnadova, p. 18).

Parents as partners and experts

The way a child is educated has a positive or negative impact on the relationship between the child's parents and the school. If the parents know that their child has special educational needs due to which s/he may be excluded from his/her natural peer group or made dependent on the use of support measures, the relationship between them and the school can be rather fragile. First, parents need to be informed about diagnostic and therapeutic services offered by counselling centres, on the ways of assistance, financing, etc. Further, it is important to systematically build trust between the school and the parents, as they perceive the potential exclusion of their child from the peer group as a very sensitive issue. If parents learn about the school environment only through the eyes of their child, and if there is a lack of mutual trust, openness and sharing of information between the school and the parents, their mutual relationship can be significantly deformed. Frustration of parents who cannot control their child's daily life at school increases especially if they have a certain idea or at least a vague notion of there being other ways of educating their child. For this reason, it is beneficial if the school can involve parents as partners when it comes to making important decisions. Even if they do not have pedagogical training, they are still the ones who know their child best. Thus they can act as a source of energy, ideas, skills and experience. Research results show that the degree of parents' support plays a major role for example in how the child will integrate into the school environment. It would be a shame not to use this potential (for instance, the teacher can discuss a video shot during a lesson with parents to identify the causes of certain kind of behaviour, and interpret the nuances that the teacher is not able to understand due to the number of children in the class).

Parents want the best for their children and they are often willing to make great sacrifices. They should therefore realize that they are not only responsible for checking their child's homework, but also for participating in the process of making decisions about the placement of their child in a particular school, about the child's individual study plan, and about employed teaching methods and other support measures and services. The school should follow the principle of an open door approach, showing the parents that they can talk with the teacher virtually anytime. Both formal and informal meetings should be organized for parents, teachers and other participants in the school environment including special education teachers, school psychologists, etc. Parents should have an opportunity to participate in activities at school, not only when it comes to organizing various events (e.g. school ball, school trips, afternoon club activities), but also when deciding upon the content of lessons (School Education Plan), in the education provided at the school, in creating a pleasant environment there, etc.

Educators and teachers

Research has shown that teachers can significantly influence the attitude of the class towards their classmates with special educational needs. For example, Goodman (1990 in Hajkova, Strnadova, 2010, p. 71) concludes that pupils' attitudes towards their mentally handicapped classmates correlated with the attitudes adopted towards them by teachers: if a teacher has a positive attitude to inclusion, it is more likely that s/he will create a morefriendly environment in the class. These findings are not only important for the parents of such children, but are also a useful tool when implementing the changes set out in educational policies and proposed by the school management. Inclusive education will clearly not work in practice unless pedagogues believe that it makes sense.

In practice, however, inclusion is not only influenced by teachers' attitudes but by other factors as well. According to Hajkova and Strnadova, these include: (a) nature and quality of previous theoretical and practical preparation; (b) practical experience; (c) influence of colleagues; (d) reflection on education and self-reflection. The last of the factors, self-reflection, is related to a teacher's motivation to continue developing his/her professional skills and personality. Moreover, inclusion depends on the quality of the school management and the support it provides and also on the involvement of the rest of the participants in the school environment (including cooks), on the support provided by the institution's establishing authority and the Ministry and, last but not least, on the environment of the school, on public opinion and, in general, on the culture of the society in its broadest sense.

School leadership

If schools are to become inclusive, one of the most important roles will be played by the school management. Headmasters are those who, on the one hand, try to maintain continuity, and on the other hand provide leadership when implementing changes in education.In inclusive education, it's their leadership skills and their attitudes that play an important role, especially with regard to the following three basic issues: Firstly, are they able to see the benefits of inclusion for all children attending the school? Secondly, do they actively and systematically support implementation of inclusive education strategies? Thirdly, are they trying to develop cooperation between the school and the parents, or, generally, with the whole society?

Literature in Czech includes, for example, texts by Milan Pol et al., Faculty of Arts of Masaryk University in Brno, who has been dealing with the issue of school management, strategic planning at schools and the role of head teachers for a long time, and has published the results of several interesting researches and theoretical reflections on the transformation of schools.

What is and what is not inclusion

Our perception of differences

To be able to better understand the principles of inclusion, it is helpful to look at its opposite - exclusion. First, let's think about what comes to our minds when we hear the term exclusion. The following statements describe ways in which a person may be excluded.

"You can't join our group!" "Don't let Sylva join our group!"
"You're not my friend. I won't play with anybody like you."

Most of us have probably have experience of a similar situation, or at least have heard about one. People may be excluded or not accepted by others on account of their being different, whether due to a physical feature, social status or anything else. The above-mentioned statements made by children might have had a racial overtone or might have been aimed at a physical handicap, but not necessarily. In fact, it does not matter in what way a person differs from others, since everybody differs from the rest in one way or another.

What matters is our reaction to dissimilarity rather than its nature. Clearly, our reaction is influenced by our environment. Interestingly, some acts of exclusion are perceived (by the people around) as acceptable, some as useful and others as fashionable. It should be also noted that the perception of what is "normal" and what deviates from the norm and what is or is not accepted as a deviation from the assumed norm changes with time and place. Fortunately, the social climate in the Czech Republic has been opening and what was not acceptable 20 years ago has now become practically commonplace, e.g., wheelchair-accessible buses or wheelchair-accessible offices. The role of schools is not only to maintain and preserve the existing social habits worth preserving for future generations, but also to transform the society.

Thus, if it is likely that all of us have once found ourselves directly or indirectly involved in a situation where a person was excluded, we should think about our experience (often hurtful) because if we are able to reflect on our own experience with the exclusion (in the ideal case also with inclusion), it could help us when implementing inclusion at schools. In any case, we first need to work with our experience and analyse the possible origins of our current attitudes and values.

Inclusion or exclusion

The following two practical situations have something in common.

The group at the back

Due to a decrease in the number of children in the new generation, the management of the special school and the nearby elementary school decided to merge the two institutions, creating an elementary school that would provide inclusive education. As a result, all children attending the special school began to share classes with children from the elementary school. Mrs Fialova, a teacher from the special school, was chosen to provide assistance in regular classes as she had the necessary qualifications. When we came to the 2nd class, the lesson of Czech had just started. As soon as Mrs Fialova walked into the classroom, several children greeted her and ran to her to the back of the room. Meanwhile Mrs Drobna, the main teacher, began to teach the lesson. In the course of the lesson, the two teachers didn't speak a word with each other, nor did they establish eye contact. Also, the children from the small group at the back of the class didn't communicate with the rest of the class. Only when Mrs Fialova left, the children started to work with the rest of the class.

Loose translation from: School Change and Inclusive Schools: Lessons Learned from Practice Author (s): James McLeskey and Nancy L. Waldron Source: The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Sep. 2002), pp. 65-72


Several months after having started attending kindergarten, Jachym was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, which was later specified as dysphasia - in layman's terms, it's an uneven development in various areas of personality. The director of the kindergarten "recommended" to Jachym's mother that the boy only stay in the institution in the presence of an assistant teacher. Jachym's parents found (and, before the first year ended, paid the expenses for) a student of the Pedagogical Faculty, who, however, could only come to the kindergarten at 8.45am and leave at 11.15am. For this reason, Jachym could only stay in the kindergarten during these hours. All children were supposed to be in the classroom at 8.30 at the latest, because after that the kindergarten officially closed. Only Jachym came 15 minutes later, so he missed the session of all children held each morning. He spent the rest of the day under the supervision of his assistant, who was running behind him from one place to another due to his choosing activities himself, regardless of what the rest of the class was doing. He loved flowers and he learned the names of dozens of plants. On visits that he paid to his friends from the kindergarten, he would surprise their parents with his ability to sit and play with small building parts of a kit, even if it were for a whole hour. The teacher considered Jachym an ill-behaved, hyperactive child and did not try to engage him in joint activities or in the group of children in the kindergarten. She transferred the responsibility for his education to the assistant, who, however, wasn't able to fully accept this responsibility as she hadn't finished her studies and lacked experience. The teacher failed to use Jachym's exceptional knowledge of plants to make him feel successful; on the contrary, she ignored it since it did not fit into the curriculum she had been using for several years, which didn't take into consideration the possibility that a child might have an encyclopaedic knowledge of biology. Jachym didn't eat anything in the kindergarten; he only drank juice he brought from home. He didn't attend any of the club activities in the morning or afternoon, or go for any of the quarterly stays in the countryside offered by the kindergarten. He went for a trip only twice, accompanied by his mother. When the assistant broke her leg and couldn't come to the kindergarten for two months, the director asked Jachym's mother to keep the boy at home. Without any advice and any interest on the part of the teachers, Jachym left the kindergarten and was enrolled in a special school.

Although support measures were employed in both cases, it is clear that neither of the two are examples of real inclusion, but rather physical inclusion, or mainstreaming. Physical inclusion cannot guarantee the success of real inclusion, where a child is accepted by his/her environment (the class) as an equal partner.

Mainstreaming - or inclusion in mainstream schools, began to gain support (e.g. in the USA) more than 30 years ago. A child included in mainstream education is expected to carry out the same activities and behave in the same way as other children in the class. That means that the child adapts to the group of pupils, if need be, with the assistance of a special needs teacher, who will help him/her to learn to read, to do homework, etc. Mainstreaming thus expects that a pupil gradually adapts to the conditions of a regular class, so that no changes need to be made for his/her sake.

In contrast to this, inclusion implies that changes will be made in the class, or rather in the curriculum, organization and teaching strategies, etc., in order to meet the needs of all pupils. However, inclusive education does not limit itself to spatial rearrangement, which would leave actual segregation untouched. (It is more than likely that children who are set aside to work in a separate, independently working group, may feel more stigmatized than if they attended a special school.) Real inclusive education, on the contrary, creates conditions in which the concept of difference in its broadest sense is understood as a natural part of any group and everyday reality. However, inclusive education can only work if it is sufficiently premeditated (planned), prepared in advance and supported in many ways.

Inclusive education and quality

Deterioration in the quality of lessons is often mentioned as a consequence of inclusive education. There is concern that with increasing inclusive education there will be less successful students, both among children with special educational needs as well as among the rest of the class. We may also hear voices saying that by including children with special educational needs in regular classes, the quality of their education will deteriorate since in special schools they attend classes with fewer pupils, the teachers are better equipped with teaching aids and have qualifications in special education, etc. Nevertheless, this opinion is based on an assumption that teachers automatically focus their attention on children who are potentially successful, the rest of the class automatically hindering their progress. Further, it suggests that teachers a priori aim their lessons at a homogeneous group of average and slightly above-average students (mainly with regard to the choice of teaching methods), and for this reason, the presence of children below the average reduces the efficiency of their teaching methods.

This premise, however, defies the results of studies demonstrating an increase in the quality of education when using individualized and differentiated teaching techniques, i.e. inclusive education methods. American researchers Paul J. Jordan and Anne Stanovish (2004) found that teaching strategies taking into account the diversity of students' individual needs lead to greater involvement of students in education, better results and also to their creating a better self-image, which is true both for children with special educational needs and children without them. As a result, the following can be deduced: if appropriate teaching methods are used in inclusive education, the presence of children with special educational needs in mainstream classes may increase the quality of education provided to all students.

Many studies try to prove that inclusive education either does not affect children's results or is beneficial and useful to all children. For example, Kalambouka, Farell, Dyson and Kaplan (2005) carried out a meta-analysis of 40 studies and discovered that more than half of them found that inclusive education had no influence on the results of pupils. 9 of the studies confirmed its positive impact and the rest of them brought negative results.

Similar results were obtained from a study of third grade students carried out in Canada, which showed that successful results are not influenced by the number of children with special educational needs (Jordan, Stanovish, 2004 p. 622), also from a research carried out by Huber Rosenfled and Fiorello (2001) from Philadelphia, Hunt, Strub, Alwell and Goetz (1994), and, further, by Canadian researchers Saint Laurent, Dionne, Giasson, Royer, Pierard and Simard (1998) who conducted their research in 26 third grade classes. A comprehensive study conducted in Britain by Dyson, Farell, Polat, Hutcheson and Gallannaugh (2004) proved that if a school provides inclusive education (i.e. is attended by children with special educational needs), it has no impact (or a very small impact) on the overall results compared to other schools.

The above-mentioned British researchers tried to find an answer to the question of when the presence of a child with special educational needs has a negative impact on the whole class. They noticed that there are two groups of schools providing inclusive education for children with special educational needs: schools where children have better results and those where children's academic skills worsen. They tried to compare all influencing factors and concluded that schools differ in the extent of their commitment to inclusion; in tailoring study plans to the needs of children; in monitoring the results of individual children; and in the quality of the strategy the school uses to improve children's study results.

Jennifer Katz and Miranda Pat, experts from the University of British Columbia who conducted a search covering dozens of studies on the outcomes of inclusive education from the past 20 years, suggest that the findings of research in the development of social and academic results clearly speak in favour of inclusion, both with regard to children with special educational needs and their classmates without special educational needs. Only very few studies have shown that inclusive education (if done correctly) leads to deterioration of children's study results. International studies conclude that the best results, both in terms of soft skills and academic skills have been achieved in Nordic countries, whose education systems are believed to belong to the "most inclusive in the world" (compare, for example, PISA).

The table below summarizes the potential benefit of inclusive education for both children with special educational needs and their classmates without special needs diagnosis.

Benefits for pupils with special educational needs Benefits for pupils without special educational needs
1. Friendship 1. Friendship
2. Increased participation in social relations and social networks 2. Increased ability to accept diversity and appreciate its benefit
3. More models of how to achieve academic success, develop social skills and behave 3. Greater understanding of differences among people
4. Greater exposure to regular curriculum (ie., FEP for primary schools) 4. Greater respect for people in general
5. Better results in achieving the objectives set out in IEP 5. Better preparedness for adult life in an inclusive society
6. Increased ability to learn new skills and generalize 6. More opportunities to learn the skills needed for teaching others
7. More frequent and easier integration in different environments in future 7. Better academic results
8. More interaction opportunities 8. The teacher is more sensitive to all students' needs
9. Greater expectations from teachers, classmates and the pupil himself/herself 9. Greater number and variability of sources and teaching techniques
10. Better cooperation between teachers at the school  
11. Better cooperation with parents  
12 Enhanced integration of families in the local community  

Inclusive teaching strategies

Basically there are two basic ways of approaching inclusion.

  • A. Multiply the "sources", i.e. include an assistant teacher or a special pedagogue in the class; reduce the number of children in the class; provide a larger time span for work with individual pupils.
  • B. Carry out changes in the content of lessons, i.e. redefine objectives and competencies, role of the teacher, class organization, evaluation, school climate favouring inclusion, etc.

It must be emphasized that if these ways of implementing inclusion are to bring maximum benefit, they must both penetrate the entire school system. This can be demonstrated by the following argument of a first grade teacher, who said that she cannot afford such "innovations" (such as inclusion of a child with a physical handicap in her class), since she cannot pass a pupil to the 2nd level of elementary school unless the pupil masters the knowledge of the 1st level. Otherwise the child wouldn't be admitted to the grammar school, which would have a negative impact on the results of the whole school. She said she would also run a risk of being criticized by 2nd level teachers and the children's parents. As we can see, if we want the inclusive model to work, much more needs to be provided than just an assistant teacher in the class.

Support measures

... Yet, she is too handicapped to be able to attend regular school.

Patricia suffers from Downs syndrome. She's now attending the fifth class. When she started going to school, she was placed in a regular class at an elementary school. However, after two months, the school recommended parents to send her to a special school. The teacher said it was a really difficult decision: the children loved her, but Patricia simply couldn't keep pace with them when developing reading skills. (For more details, go to

Many parents and teachers believe that children with severe handicaps cannot attend regular classes, since their skills lag behind the capabilities of other children too much. However, no pupil needs to meet any imaginary level of knowledge to be able to receive education in a regular class. Rather, the benefit of inclusive education consists in multiplication of children's social capital. For this reason, it is convenient to use teaching strategies that develop cooperation among children, e.g.: cooperative teaching; flexible group work; peer tutoring; parallel instructions at different levels; opportunities to choose from various activities and materials; evaluation based on progress; team learning (2 teachers); use of IT; engagement of parents and communities all of these strategies can be used to improve the practice of inclusive education.

Inclusive education strategies can be divided into those that individualise the education process and for this reason are beneficial for all children at all types of schools: cooperative teaching; peer tutoring (one pupil teaches another); greater visualization; individualization of learning; emphasis on the development of social skills and friendly environment (these strategies are beneficial for each student because they focus on the individual needs). The second group involves strategies based on support means used only for some groups of children and strategies suited to specific needs of a particular individual and his/her needs.

The most frequently cited strategy promoting inclusive education is probably the cooperative teaching method. Slavin, Madden and Leavy (1984 In Katz and Mirenda p. 19) examined the effects of cooperative teaching and of giving of individualized instructions. They found that cooperative teaching methods improved the sociometric status of children with special educational needs. When using cooperative teaching methods, teachers rated pupils as more confident and disciplined. Positive impact of cooperative teaching on a child's social interaction and self-concept has been confirmed by many researchers. Research has shown that the cooperative method is beneficial both for children with special educational needs and pupils without them. (e.g. Hunt, Staub et al. 1994; Kamps, Barbetta, Leonard, & Delquadri, 1994, King-Sears, 1997 in Katz & Mirenda).

Peer tutoring, or mutual support of peers, is a special kind of cooperative teaching. Pupils cooperate on solving problems, thus obtaining the knowledge they are supposed to learn. One child usually takes over the role of a tutor assistant, who lends his/her support to his/her classmate with special educational needs. Peer tutoring does not mean that a teacher might say: Jane, could you please help Hana to do the task? On the the contrary, peer tutoring requires that a teacher properly structure his/her lessons, adjust instructions and materials and train tutors how to present the subject matter, how to ask questions, how to give feedback, etc. (D. R. Mitchell suggests that it is appropriate to include approximately 10 minutes of peer tutoring 3 times a week; for details, see page 55). Learning programs using mutual assistance provided by classmates have many times proved to be more efficient, especially with regard to acquisition of cognitive skills, social skills and skills related to communication and development of the ability to work independently both in children with special educational needs and their classmates - tutors (King-Sears & Cummings, 1996; McDonnell, 1998 In Katz & Mirenda). For example, Kamps et al. (1994) examined the impact of peer tutoring on the reading skills and social interaction in classrooms with autistic children. The results show that the level of reading skills improved in both groups of children and, moreover, it boosted their social interaction.

Strategies that adapt the process of giving instructions can also be considered to belong to instruments that have proved to have a positive effect on inclusion. They include, for example, giving children chances to choose, either among various activities or different materials, or when setting up a team, or letting them decide how to carry out certain task. Moes (1998 in Katz and Mirenda) says that autistic children showed better ability to concentrate and carry out given tasks more precisely if they were given an opportunity to decide on the way in which to carry them out and on the sequence of steps to be taken (in that particular case they chose reading). If you offer children other, alternative ways of doing certain tasks than in writing (e.g. they may choose to do an oral presentation, role play, creative project), they will be able to make the best of their strengths in the learning process instead of struggling with their weaknesses all the time. (Hay, Courson, & Cipolla, 1997).

Parallel instruction strategy is used in contexts where the goals, methods, speed and even the nature of activities is adjusted to individual children's needs. From the point of view of integration, this technique is considered as one of the most effective (King-Sears, 1997, Maker, Nielsen, & Rogers, 1994; Saponi-Shevin, 1996 In Katz and Mirenda). It consists in integrating children with special educational needs in a regular class while adapting the tasks given to them according to the level of their cognitive and other skills. Yet, parallel instructions have another important function - they enable children with special educational needs to become an integral part of a class, to work in the same way as others, which makes them feel to truly belong to the class (Schnorr, 1990).

Some other tips

When giving organizational or didactic instructions, use cards with pictures/words Children use cards with pictures / keywords / yes-no answers, etc., to respond to your questions, e.g. when doing text comprehension tasks Use regular gestures (sign language, if necessary) in case of repeated phrases such as, Good morning, let's start, let's read, etc. Use PowerPoint presentations with images Plan the seating arrangements so that children's attention be disturbed by the environment as little as possible

In most cases, the above tips are suitable for all pupils and can be used in all types of schools. The same applies to the requirements for teachers' skills and knowledge: knowledge of social psychology and educational management, ability to work with heterogeneous groups, differentiation of teaching skills, training in social marginalization or consulting practice, which is a useful tool when communicating with parents. This list, though very reduced, makes it clear that the efforts to implement inclusion in education should be beneficial not only for the quality of the education itself, but also for the development of teachers' skills.

An interesting study was carried out by Paula Jordan and Anne Stanovich (2001), who analysed Canadian teachers' opinions on inclusion in relation to the quality of their teaching methods. They found out that better and more efficient teaching methods were used at schools where teachers were disposed to include children with special educational needs in their classes and work with them responsibly, compared to schools where teachers had no trust in inclusion. Further, British experts Dyson A., Farrell, P., Polat, F., Hutcheson, G., & Gallannaugh, F. (2004) traced certain correlation between better study results and teachers' positive approach to inclusion, even if there were no children with special educational needs at a particular school.

Inclusion and development of social skills

Inclusive education does not focus only on academic results but also on developing children's social skills. Its goal is to teach children to work in a team, establish contacts with each other and get along in spite of having different skills than others. Children learn to respect and value the diversity and the skills, with which each child comes to a group, which contributes to their sense of belonging.

Inclusive education creates space for discussions; for example, why didn't the girls let Jan play with them in the kitchen corner? It takes a lot of energy and time for a teacher to tune in and feel the importance of children's experience at school and it might be at the expense of time that the teacher used to spend on correcting written tasks. Inclusive education involves planning and developing positive environment and harmonizing the dynamics of the class. In this sense we could ask ourselves some general and somewhat heretical questions: should we just use drill methods to make children pass the SCIO national comparative tests and let them treat each other with indifference, and ignore manifestations of bullying? Or should we, on the contrary, teach them to create a community of equals, which they would appreciate even after school, when they grow up? Teachers very often complain of lack of time; however, it might be beneficial to change our criteria for a good school and good students and include another dimension in our purely academic perspective (e.g. with regard to enrolling children in grammar schools, etc.), that of taking into account social aspects and, generally, the way how children feel at school.

In their book, Iva Strnadova and Vanda Hajkova (2010) from the Pedagogical Faculty of Charles University advocate that teachers' attention should not focus on children's weaknesses. Instead, it should concentrate on their abilities and strengths; on satisfying their needs as much as possible, highlighting their achievements. The following table should provide some inspiration as to the general steps to positively motivate each pupil and make him/her experience success.

1. First, praise the child for his/her last achievements 2. Agree on what you are able to do that day. 3. Sum up what the child managed to learn that day/in what s/he succeeded 4. Talk about what was difficult and why? (Don't talk about the whole day, only about its particular part/about a particular skill) 5. Provide feedback, focusing on the moments where the child was making an effort.

To allow a child to experience success, it's important to help him/her set small, specific goals, which will connect to a more general goal, which is of personal importance to the child and encourages his/her belief that s/he can positively influence his/her life.

In an inclusive environment, it is necessary to create enough opportunities for communication between teachers and pupils and between pupils themselves, since the basic premise of inclusion is to teach children to respect others and accept them, which is not possible without listening to others, discussing, tolerating different opinions and, in general, without being interested in other people, in their life experience. If a teacher abides by the principles below, s/he is on the right track to developing inclusive environment:

  • Give non-stereotypical praise to all students and enhance both their self-respect and respect for others
  • Trust in children's abilities
  • Create space where children can choose from activities and manage things independently
  • Create space where they can express their individual views
  • Give space to children to ask open questions and develop creative thinking
  • Encourage pupils to feel respect
  • With wit and a warm relationship to pupils, the teacher contributes to nondirective classroom management
  • Inspire the search for compromises and common solutions
  • Dispel fear related to the teaching process and revelation of failure
  • Assign tasks, whose performance is feasible but requires increased effort

Inspired by Zelina (In Petlak, 2003) quot. In Hajova Strnadova, 2010, p. 110

Friendships are important for building social skills and attitudes. In addition, they improve children's quality of life.

Tips for supporting friendship development:

Instead of promoting competition, opt for more cooperative methods Create class rituals open to all, with no exception (e.g. lessons with the class teacher) Make use of children's literature to start a discussion about friendship, about the sense of belonging, etc. In cooperation with children, create icons/images enhancing polite and friendly behaviour toward each other Establish class rules that encourage respect (e.g. taking turns when speaking in order not to omit anybody).

It should be noted that even children themselves may partake in the creating of an inclusive environment: they may, for example, come up with an idea of how to better integrate a child with a severe handicap into a group, or how to facilitate communication with him/her. In one class, pupils designed and created cards, which they later used to communicate with a seriously disabled friend. If we, hand in hand with children, start to ask ourselves questions like: "What could be done to make it possible for everyone to go for a trip?", "What food should be prepared in the school canteen for a dinner party, so that everyone could eat it?", we are on the right track to creating an inclusive climate.

Inclusion as transformation of the whole school

Inclusion requires a new approach at all levels of the education system, even at institutions that are somehow linked to education. If a child with special educational needs is to be integrated in a group of pupils, support of both the management of the school and its establishing authority will be needed. For this reason, the National Plan for Inclusive Education provides a comprehensive solution covering all levels of the education system: e.g., a per capita increase for each pupil with special educational needs, which would lead to a decrease in the number of children in classrooms and acquisition of funds for employing assistant teachers/ special pedagogues.

It is beyond any doubt that the issue of inclusion concerns personal values for this reason, the first step should be to transform school culture. The expression school culture covers both "school environment", a term used in educational and psychological literature (e.g. Cap, Mares), as well as shared values, established ways of acting (to which no special attention is paid, as it's the way we do it at our school), attitudes, etc. These constituents first need to be identified and examined as to whether they might not be the very obstacle hindering the implementation of inclusive education.

School culture reflects not only the value orientation and behaviour of individual members of the school environment (an important role is usually played by school management), but also the overall orientation of the society in which the school has been established (local, regional, territorial or global). Inclusive education may also reflect religious values including Christian respect (for the hindmost), anti-racist beliefs regarding unjustified exclusion of people, e.g. due to their skin colour, or simply the belief in every child's right for the best education possible (Charter of Human Rights). If we want to examine whether (our) school culture favours inclusion, we should ask ourselves, for instance, the following questions:

  • Does everybody at school feel (and will feel) welcome and accepted as a member of the school?
  • Do all participants in the school environment cooperate with one another and help one another professionally (teachers, school management, parents, other school staff?)
  • Is the school open to the community? Does it work on the principle of a community school?
  • Does co-operation and development of social skills form the core of all subjects, organization and extracurricular activities?
  • Is the implementation of inclusion supported by sufficient resources such as time, energy, etc., and is engagement in it as well as initiatives related to it perceived positively plus are they adequately rewarded?

Additional tips for evaluation of the level of inclusive education at your school may be found in Zaznam z pozorovani (Observation notes), Strnadova, Hajkova, 2010, pp. 98-102). Even if we set out our vision, it is sometimes difficult to implement it immediately, as the following passage illustrates:

When we created the plan of inclusion a couple of years ago, we had no clue how to carry it out. We tried out different things, some worked, others didn't. Although we have been trying to implement inclusion for five years, it hasn't been until that we have started to understand how to do it. However, it's virtually every year that we plan a new strategy. Sometimes we even make changes during the year, because pupils and teachers change, and above all, it's our understanding of how to do things that keeps growing." (Michael G. Fullan and Matthew B. Miles, 1992, p. 748).

Literature on management or the theory of organizational changes place most emphasis on the development of each individual. This also applies to education, mainly with regard to finding the right direction to inclusive education, where it constitutes the main tool for teacher training. As Fox and Ysseldyke (1997) say, teachers must assume new responsibilities and extend their role to cover new areas... which may be personally threatening. It is certainly very difficult to adjust the inclusive education model to various needs of individual schools or comply with the need to further educate teachers. However, it would be certainly beneficial to at least visit a school where inclusive education has been successfully implemented or draw on experience of teachers from special schools and teachers qualified in special education. If a school is to educate its students on the basis of inclusive education, all participants in the school environment must think about the following questions:

  • What has led us to choose the inclusive education model?
  • What methods and strategies can be used here to implement inclusion, and to what extent?
  • How can we, as teachers, cooperate or co-teach?
  • What teaching strategies and curriculum changes would be suitable?
  • Is it possible to employ alternative methods of creating groups of pupils (e.g. small groups of children of different age, peer tutoring)?
  • What skills are needed to carry out changes in planning and evaluation?
  • What personality/social skills does a teacher need to be able to resolve conflicts, create a friendly environment, etc.?

Michael Fullan, a renowned author who dealt with the reform of education, argues that the change can only succeed if we focus on the development and relationships among the individual factors. In school context, these include curriculum, teaching methods, teacher training, community, student support system, but also the environment, school management, cooperation with parents and many other factors.

Let's go rafting

It's clear that profound and complex changes need to be made during the transition to inclusive education. At the same time it must be noted that these changes have always been associated with a wave of resistance, denial and rejection. In other words, if we decide to try to carry out pre-meditated steps to increase the inclusive character of education at our school, we are very likely to face a wave of resentment and resistance from our colleagues, subordinates, superiors or even establishing authorities. If we, on the contrary, have the impression that the transition to inclusive education is comparatively smooth, we should not hesitate to consider whether the changes we have implemented have not been rather superficial (see examples of mainstreaming mentioned above). The fact is that shallow or sporadic attempts do not provoke resistance.

It's possible that we spend most of our energy at school trying to pull together. For instance, drawing up of SEP is seen by many teachers as a kind of team bungee jumping. However, they see the challenge in working as a team rather than in having to prove their didactic and conceptual skills. Many teachers who have reflected on their joint work on SEP reveal that it has mainly contributed to improving the relationships with their colleagues.

Implementing inclusion into practice may be compared to doing extreme sports, such as rafting on the river Zambezi.

The objective of the school is to take a ride down the river without anybody staying on the bank: neither the rather timid director nor the cook, because it could have large consequences for the rest of the voyage. To make matters worse, there are people who have never taken a ride down the river and water makes them panic. It is therefore clear that thorough preparation is needed if a group of people decides to go rafting together - they must prepare everything in advance, assess their skills, gain some experience and above all, they mustn't give up before setting out for the trip.

Inclusive education is a difficult challenge as there is no guarantee whatsoever that despite all efforts, the school will produce happy and clever graduates. It involves asking and answering lots of questions, seeking new opportunities, learning new things, overcoming many obstacles, but also having fun and feeling some sort of satisfaction. No change in education can take place without the involvement of concrete individuals - a particular pupil and a particular teacher.

In conclusion, I would like to raise one question: Do you believe that inclusive schooling is just a passing fashion, or do you see it as a way of providing good education?

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