Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

Final Conference – Inclusion in Action: a holistic approach to inclusion

The INSCOOL II project’s final conference, held in Brussels on May 17, opened with setting a common definition and understanding of ‘inclusion’ in education. The British Council (Poland) – the project coordinator – outlined that inclusion is about welcoming and supporting the participation of learners in all their diversity and exceptionalities. Inclusion in education is a deep and complicated matter – an ongoing process which requires everyone’s dedication and active collaboration.

The conference’s keynote speaker – Dr. Chandrika Devarakonda – delved deeper into the essence of inclusion by touching upon the concept of invisible diversity. As the project’s face to face courses and MOOC similarly try to capture, diversity is engrained well beyond what meets the eye. Every individual is diverse precisely because they are ‘individual’. Inclusion is relevant to all societies, in all contexts, and is a precondition for a thriving society, as where there is no inclusion there are no healthy individuals. Dr. Devarakonda closed her speech by raising the following thought-provoking questions, inviting participants to continue the reflection beyond the conference: what is the difference between including everyone and not excluding anyone? Do we see inclusion and diversity as a barrier or as an enabler?

Essentially, to improve inclusion within schools there is a need for defined strategies for implementation, as well as more funding – which must be used effectively. These strategies must be co-developed with the diversity of students as well as educators bodies and through national discussions. These processes can support the development of common definitions of inclusion in education. 

Anna Maria Giannopoulou – Directorate General for Education –  mentioned the lack, and consequent need for, implementation of inclusive strategies. Panagiotis Chatzimichail – Organising Bureau of School Student Unions – agreed on the gaps in implementation, and added a second need: funding, and, more specifically, targeted funding. Indeed, while policies are proposed, the implementation of such policies fail to materialise oftentimes because of inadequate funding. However, where there is funding, key contributors to inclusive school environments, such as having a safe and comfortable learning space, are overlooked. Hence, to promote inclusive education together with the co-creation of policies with the main stakeholders, there needs to be more – and especially – targeted funding underpinned by effective policy implementation

Another key point raised during the fishbowl discussion was the diversity not only among the student body, but among the teacher body, too. Ekaterina Efimenko – European Trade Union Committee for Education – highlighted how, at the policy level, having different backgrounds must be understood as an advantage, not as a barrier. Only once this mindshift happens, can inclusion truly take place in the school setting. Anders Lindholm – Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union – added to the discussion the need for country-by-country needs analysis. Given every country differs from another, countries should individually assess where the investment is most needed to support inclusive education, taking also into account differences within countries and their regions. Lastly, as Sogol Noorani – EURYDICE – pointed out, inclusion must be looked at through a bigger lens: national policies must address intersectionality and look at specific needs. Not only do we need to establish a common understanding of the term ‘Special Educational Needs’ (SEN); we also need to look beyond ‘SEN’ and have inclusive education policies that target everyone, including minorities which are rarely acknowledged in national policies.

The conference’s workshops focused on three main areas for inclusive education: (1) policies supporting inclusion; (2) online training support; and (3) training needs of teachers and school educators. Policies and strategies need to address teachers’ needs on training, as well as provide flexibility, including time and space to work with the curriculum. A fundamental aspect not to overlook is teacher well-being, support, and financial recognition, including for training and extra working hours. For the online support, the INSCOOL II’s MOOC was highlighted, and questions and answers on how it worked were held. It was concluded that the MOOC is a useful tool for teachers and the whole educational staff to improve their approaches to and methodologies on inclusive education, and develop new ones. Lastly, in the third workshop, an important training need for teachers emerged: how to comprehend the diversity of student bodies and truly accommodate their students’ needs. Teachers and educational staff need to be supported, and the school and overall community should work as a whole, to advocate for and implement inclusive education. 

The INSCOOL II conference was an important moment where open discussions were encouraged and key points were raised pertaining to the definition of inclusion and policy actions to take for inclusive education. The bottom line is that every student should have access to quality education, and that an education which fails to be inclusive is a low quality one. Everyone’s efforts are needed for this to happen. Indeed, the INSCOOL II project advocates for a Whole-School Approach, where inclusive education is the responsibility of the whole (school) community.

Help us build a Community of Practice of student teachers, teachers, school heads who want to see more inclusive practices within the school education, by joining the Facebook page, and enrolling in the MOOC.

The INSCOOL II project journey does not stop here. Stay in tune with the project’s website to have a read through the policy recommendations, coming out in a month!