Changing Roles For Professionals






  1. Introduction
  2. Asking ‘How’ Not ‘Whether’
  3. Beyond ‘For’ Or ‘Against’ Inclusion
  4. Educational Psychologists and Inclusion
  5. The Index for Inclusion: the Northtown Pilot
  6. Educational Psychologists as ‘Critical Friends’: Key Themes
  7. Barriers to Inclusion: The Social Context
  8. Bibliography


Inclusion is arguably the central issue facing all those involved in special education today, including educational psychologists. Yet educational psychologists have often been seen by advocates of inclusive education as part of the problem, rather than as part of the solution. Their role has been characterised as that of gatekeeper to special education, providing a pseudo-scientific rationale for resource rationing, preserving the system of categorisation and underpinning the separateness of ‘special’ education. For example Hall (1997) critiques the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) 1994 decision not to support the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education’s (CSIE) ‘Integration Charter’. He concludes:

‘Having embraced the medical model and the use of psychometrics to justify the segregation of children seen as unwanted within the educational mainstream, EPs have implicitly chosen to deny the relevance of the broader discipline of psychology to education’ (Hall 1997, p. 82).

Yet the reality is of course more complex than this. If AEP policy can be taken as a valid reflection of views and practice within the profession, then Hall’s image of EPs is already outdated. In 1998 the AEP affiliated to the CSIE’s Inclusion Charter and in 1999 the AEP Executive circulated a Position Paper, which clearly advocates for inclusive practices. Educational Psychology Services are having to respond to the rapid development of the government’s ‘Social Inclusion’ agenda, and the meaning – or meanings – of ‘inclusion’ is subject to widespread debate in the profession. Yet if educational psychologists fail to accept the challenge of showing how they can contribute to developing more inclusive ways of working, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant to the children of the next century.

Over the last decade or so an understanding of inclusive education has emerged that is distinct from, and broader than, earlier notions of ‘integration’. Integration is concerned with placing children described as having various categories of special educational need within mainstream or regular schools. This can involve transfer from special school placements on a full or part-time basis and the provision of a range of support mechanisms within the mainstream school, or the establishment of specialist units or resource bases within ordinary schools. Essentially the focus of integration is on the ‘special’ children as being additional to those already in the mainstream, and on individual adaptations and supports to enable them to function within the existing school setting.

Inclusion starts from a clear set of values that sees access to the mainstream as a civil right for all pupils, and focuses on enabling full participation within the life of the school as a community. It incorporates children described as having special educational needs, but challenges the need for a separate system of special education. It is a broader concept than special educational needs, and refers to all those at risk of exclusion from the mainstream of education, involving a range of vulnerable groups, such as those vulnerable to disciplinary exclusion, pregnant pupils, those of ethnic minority descent or for whom English is an additional language, children from traveller communities, gay and lesbian pupils and so on. Inclusion highlights the benefits for all learners of welcoming diversity and accommodating the needs of all individuals.


Thirty years of research into the efficacy of integrated schooling has been inconclusive. This reflects a number of inherent methodological difficulties (Jenkinson, 1996; Farrell, 1997), which in turn reflect a more fundamental issue: this research tradition has been asking the wrong questions. ‘Efficacy research’, as we can call it, is concerned with whether integration ‘works’; whether academic or social benefits or disadvantages can be demonstrated for pupils described in terms of various categories of special educational need; whether parents, teachers or professionals support integration or not; and so on. It includes a range of types of study in a variety of contexts, all seeking to clarify whether and for whom and under what conditions mainstream schooling can be ‘successful’. But some questionable assumptions underlie all of these approaches. Integration is typically seen as a static phenomenon, the effects of which can in principle be measured and compared between settings, so that the goals of research are generalisable conclusions about whether segregated or integrated special education is more desirable or effective.

The fundamental methodological misconception of what I have termed ‘efficacy’ research is that what it is examining is not inclusion, but integration into an existing system. But if inclusion is understood as the development of a fully comprehensive education system that enables all learners to participate in ordinary local schools, then a different focus emerges: how to transform schools and the education system to better accommodate a wider range of diversity amongst a community of learners. Evidence of successes and failures in placing learners described in terms of categories of special educational need within existing mainstream schools, without seeking to challenge current arrangements, does not address the question of ‘whether inclusion works’. The movement towards a more inclusive education system is concerned with a process of change in schools that enables them to better meet the needs of all learners. So, for example, case studies of arrangements linking special with mainstream schools, or of programmes for placing special school students in mainstream schools, can tell us something about the experience of working within the constraints of the existing education system, or about the experience of students in moving from special to mainstream schools, or about how pupils, teachers or parents from a mainstream school respond to such initiatives. But they cannot tell us how a transformed, more inclusive education system would work – one which does not rely on a separate system for those described as having special educational needs, where resources are not prioritised for measuring and categorising individual difference against criteria for ‘specialness’, but where resources are focused on supporting the development of schools for all children.

Efficacy research which adopts the language of inclusion remains, then, focused on whether integration works or whether special schools are still needed. Its goals and methods thus belong to an earlier debate, which can no longer take us forward: for it is trying to measure the wrong thing. Further, there is a more fundamental critique of this research tradition. If being included within the mainstream of society and education is a civil right for people with disabilities, then it is arguably not a legitimate research goal to attempt to establish whether or not such a civil right should be granted. The more fruitful approaches are those which seek to discover how to promote progress towards more inclusive practices.


When inclusion is understood as a process rather than as a fixed state, the possibility opens up of moving beyond a polarisation of debate between those who are ‘for’ or ‘against’, and the issue becomes instead one of promoting progress. The issue is now how to build on existing practice, not denigrating partial attempts or initiatives that take limited steps towards more inclusive education. The broader understanding of inclusion as encompassing all learners, rather than as a new way of referring to special education, or to pupils described or categorised as having special educational needs, is crucial here. If inclusion is a process which accommodates those at risk of exclusion from school, those for whom English is an additional language, those who are described as ‘gifted’, children from traveller communities, pupils who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, and so on, then it is not restricted to disability and can no longer be conceived solely in terms of special school closure.

Advocating progress towards a more inclusive education system and developing more inclusive schools does of course pose a fundamental challenge to special education as it has developed over the last 20 years or so. It does mean redefining our goal as how to move towards a situation where we no longer need a separate special education system, with segregated special schools and the apparatus of measurement and categorisation of specialness. However this does not require those within the existing special education system who have committed themselves to educating children with disabilities or who experience difficulties in learning, to be seen as the ‘problem’. The development of a separate system of special education is best understood in its historical context as essentially a response to the growth of mass compulsory education in a competitive capitalist society, which reproduces its competitive pressures within the education system. From this perspective, both those working within the special education system, and those working within a mainstream that has traditionally excluded children who are seen as ‘special’, can potentially be allies in developing more inclusive practices. This applies equally to those professions that have developed alongside special schools – such as educational psychologists.


There have recently been a number of authoritative reviews summarising what is currently known about ‘what works’ in inclusive education (McGregor and Vogelsberg, 1998; Bunch and Valeo 1997; Sebba and Sachdev, 1997; Puttnam, 1998; Stainback and Stainback, 1996; Thomas, Walker and Webb, 1998). It would not be possible in a work of this size to attempt to survey the research on inclusion as a whole, so it necessary to take such recent reviews as a starting point from which to explore the literature more focused on the role of educational psychologists.

Hardman (1998) suggests that educational psychologists tend to be supportive of inclusion and integration, and links this to a predominantly social constructivist approach to learning. She presents an account of a study of EP attitudes, from which she concludes that educational psychologists are generally more pro-inclusion than might perhaps be inferred from the outcomes of the placement decisions to which their assessments contribute. Hardman found no significant differences in attitudes to special or mainstream placement decisions, between EPs working within LEAs described as ‘high’ or ‘low’ integrating LEAs, on the basis of C.S.I.E. figures (Norwich, 1997). This could suggest that placement decisions are not strongly influenced by the attitudes to inclusion of individual EPs, but are more likely to be related to locally existing provision. However, this kind of research does not seek to discover how educational psychologists can actively promote progress towards more inclusive practices, but to describe what in general their attitudes are today. It may, perhaps, be more fruitful to address the question of in what ways educational psychologists are supporting inclusion, and how they might promote more inclusive practices.

Consultative methods of working are central to the role of educational psychologists in promoting more inclusive practices. Marsh et al (1997, p.305) review the impact of legislation on the role of school psychologists in promoting inclusion across Europe, and describe the effect of ‘statement inflation’ in the UK:

“The increase of statutory work for educational psychologists in the United Kingdom has led to a lowering in job satisfaction and perhaps some deskilling… school psychologists are likely to be maximally effective when employed as consultants and not… required to function as ‘gatekeepers’ to scarce resources.”

O’Brien and O’Brien (1996) refer to “the art of facilitating inclusion”. They cite Tashie et al’s (1993) redefinition of the special education teacher as an ‘Inclusion Facilitator’, as an example of a system-level response to inclusion. The challenge for educational psychologists is to develop the role of ‘Inclusion Facilitator’ through models of consultation. A number of approaches have been reported in the literature, both in the USA and the UK, which provide useful starting points (see for example Sheridan 1996, House and McInerney 1996, Turner 1996 and Wagner 1999).

Paige (1998) offers an excellent overview of the role of school psychologists in inclusive education, on behalf of the National Association of School Psychologists in the U.S.A. Paige identifies four strands of school psychology which are relevant to promoting inclusive education, and which build on skills that many EPs possess. Paige’s list, which is not intended to be exhaustive, is as follows:

Instructional modifications and curricular adaptations
Facilitating friendships and building social networks for students
Person centred planning for students with disabilities
Facilitating systems change at a building or district level.

Examples of other areas that can be seen as promoting inclusion are building partnership with families, positive approaches to challenging behaviours, and so on. Each of these contributions could be delivered through a form of consultation, with teachers, families and schools or with school districts or LEAs.

Instructional modifications and curricular adaptations

These classroom accommodations refer to advice on strategies to support the learning of students who are experiencing difficulties, and it is this area with which educational psychologists in the UK are arguably most familiar. It is often seen as part of the ‘bread and butter’ of the EP’s role to offer suggestions to classroom teachers on ways of working with individual pupils who are having difficulties in learning. Current EP training tends to stress an ‘interactionist’ approach which conceptualises learning difficulties in context. The Code of Practice (DfEE 1994) has had the effect of focusing EP attention on individual children, and EPs are sometimes criticised for offering classroom strategies for individuals that are impractical for a classroom teacher who is already managing a large class. However the most useful advice on classroom accommodations will take into account contextual factors and enable the teacher to support learning more effectively without creating an additional burden of planning or implementation. It is only a small step from this to consultation on classroom accommodations concerned not only with an individual, but which helps the teacher develop a more inclusive learning environment that benefits all class members. Such advice becomes, in effect, a form of collaborative professional development that promotes inclusive classroom practices.

The literature on classroom accommodations for inclusive learning is rich and relatively well known. Both the skills and knowledge involved are probably the area of inclusive practice most familiar to EPs in the UK. For example, co-operative learning strategies have been established in the literature as central to inclusive classrooms, and are available within at least some EP initial training programmes for EPs to develop as part of their professional repertoire. Indeed, educational psychologists are amongst those who have contributed to developing co-operative learning strategies which include learners who are seen as experiencing difficulties (e.g. Topping, 1995; Reason, 1991).

Facilitating friendships and building social networks for students

One of the most important strategies for facilitating friendships and building social networks for inclusion is the ‘Circles of Friends’ approach. This is now becoming more well known in the U.K., and some educational psychologists are involved in applying it in schools (Newton and Wilson, 1999; Taylor, 1997; Newton, Taylor and Wilson, 1996). It can build on social skills developed through Circle Time activities, which is familiar ground for many primary school teachers, and on other peer support strategies such as mentoring, buddy systems, peer mediation and the like. There is clearly tremendous scope for educational psychologists to contribute to this area of work, although the capacity of secondary schools in particular to respond to this, is linked to the need to promote inclusive practice at a systems level. Leyden and Miller (1996) highlight the role of peer interventions in promoting inclusive practices and call on EPs to be proactive in developing this area:

“Educational psychologists need to debate and disseminate the growing literature concerning peer interventions… By becoming informed and involved, educational psychologists can play a major part in furthering the practice of inclusive education by bringing in peers from the periphery to a position of prominence”.

Person centred planning for students with disabilities.

Person centred planning is probably one of the least well developed areas of inclusive education in the UK. The notion of person centred planning is perhaps more familiar in the U.K., in the context of services for adults with disabilities, for example through ‘Shared Action Planning’ (Brechin and Swain, 1987). This is an approach to planning with an individual and their family, based on clear statements of values with the aim of enabling the ‘client’ to retain more control over the planning process. However, there has been relatively little attention to approaches to person centred planning with children or in education. There are a number of tools which have been described in the literature but which are not well known in the UK: such as MAPS, or ‘Making Action Plans’ (Forest, Pearpoint and O’Brien, 1996); PATH, or ‘Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope’ (Pearpoint, Forest and O’Brien, 1996)); and COACH, or ‘Choosing Options and Accommodations for Children’ (Giangreco et al, 1993)). This remains an area for further development for application to the UK context.

Facilitating systems level change at a building or district level

The focus for this discussion is on the involvement of educational psychologists with one particular tool that has been developed to support school-level change: the ‘Index of Inclusive Schooling’. This represents an approach to school self-reviewing in relation to a number of dimensions of inclusion. A possible role for educational psychologists here is that of ‘Critical Friend’ to schools that are using the Index to review their practice in relation to inclusion and to plan and develop more inclusive practices. It is not proposed that only psychologists can perform this role, or that this represents the only or necessarily the best way for EPs to promote inclusive practices: the intention is simply to investigate how EPs can contribute in this particular way and how this might relate to other aspects of their role.


This study is based on the experience of a group of educational psychologists who supported schools using the ‘Index of Inclusive Schooling’, by acting as ‘Critical Friends’. The ‘Index of Inclusive Schooling’ was developed by the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education with colleagues from Manchester, Cambridge and the Open Universities, as a tool for schools aiming to make progress towards more inclusive practices. The ‘Index’ is described in a number other papers at this Conference and has recently been published by the DfEE and sent to all schools. In 1998/9, the Index was trialled by schools in four LEAs, one of which, ‘Northtown’, provided the context for this study. The role of Critical Friend to schools using the ‘Index’ was investigated as an aspect of EP’s work that can promote inclusive practices, by analysing interviews with six EPs and Critical Friends involved with the Index Project. Preparatory work included a six month period of involvement with the Northtown Index Project and interviews with six members of one school’s Coordinating Group. Key themes from the interviews with EPs were identified that seemed to reflect significant aspects of their experience and that may be helpful to colleagues who are interested in supporting schools in this way.

The ‘Index for Inclusion’ describes a process for schools involving a ‘Coordinating Group’. Two quotes from members of the Co-ordinating Group at ‘First School A’, my sample school, will serve to give a flavour of the interviews. I asked the parent member how she talked about inclusion with other parents in the Punjabi-speaking community, when they met at the school gates whilst collecting their children each day. She said:

“A lot of people ask ‘why are you going to these meetings, what are they about?’… I’ve had to explain that an inclusion meeting is all about the children, the parents and the staff in the school working together… so everyone can join in more.”

When asked about the role of the Critical Friend, the SENCO said:

“…to be inclusive requires some action and evaluation…. you can’t just rely on hoping that what you do will be inclusive. When you look in the Index, the Indicators are really far reaching…

She [the Critical Friend] would ask questions about school routine and procedure and I’d say we do it like that because, erm, well – then all of a sudden I’d say why do we do it like that – this is ridiculous, let’s have a look at it”


The ‘Critical Friend’ role is described in the Index materials as that of supporting a school through the process. In ‘Northtown’ EPs were interviewed during and after a pilot year of the Index materials, where they played a Critical Friend role. Four key themes emerged from the interview analysis, each of which seemed to be reflected in the experiences of all of the EPs involved; and to offer insights that may be helpful to colleagues seeking to support schools using the Index materials by acting as Critical Friends. There is inevitably a degree of overlap between the issues identified as ‘key themes’, which are offered as a way of structuring and understanding the data presented in the EP interviews. The key themes were:

Drawing on Core Values
Engagement and Challenge
Child Centred Focus
Permeating Practice

Key Theme One: Drawing On Core Values

‘Drawing on Core Values’ refers to the way in which EPs seemed to make use of their own personal and professional values to understand inclusion. The particular values identified varied from person to person, but in each case there was a clear element of drawing on ‘core values’ to interact with both the Project schools and with the Index materials. The interviews give a sense of a process of EPs bringing their own perspectives on inclusion to their role as Critical Friend, engaging in interaction with the schools and with the Index materials, and in so doing developing their own approaches further. It became apparent that the EPs were each drawing on their personal journey towards their current understandings of inclusion in education, as a basis on which to collaborate with the school Co-ordinating Groups, in thinking ‘with’ or ‘alongside’ them in reflecting on the issues arising in each school. The experience of using the Index materials to work with a school as a Critical Friend, in turn influenced the thinking of the EPs involved. Ainscow, Farrell, Tweddle and Malki (1999) describe how the discourse of inclusion can vary between LEAs, with some LEAs standing out as different, by showing evidence of a clearer and more consistent shared approach. The Index materials seem to have provided a basis for a common ‘language of inclusion’ for discussions in Northtown around the Index Project, whilst the EP interviews contain some elegant descriptions which go beyond the more general language of the Index.

Key Theme Two: Engagement And Challenge

The ‘Engagement and Challenge’ theme is concerned with the balance between providing support through reassurance and offering a challenge, between being a ‘critic’ and being a ‘friend’. There seemed to be a sense of stages in the development of the Critical Friend role, from initially encouraging schools to engage with the Index materials by adapting their use to each school’s context, towards offering more challenges to established thinking within the school. The EP interviews matched the accounts given by the schools of their early experiences with the Index materials, that they needed the support of their Critical Friends in engaging with the Index by adapting the materials to their own particular context. The contributions of EPs to discussions in schools during this initial phase of supporting engagement tended to be characterised as reassurance, with more challenging questions and suggestions often coming later in the Project. For EPs who were allocated to schools with which they were previously unfamiliar, there was an initial period of establishing credibility with the Co-ordinating Group; but they were often able to make positive use of their ‘newness’, as giving them license to ask ‘naïve’ questions about established practices. For those who were Critical Friends to schools they knew well, there was a continuing element of self-questioning about whether they were subject to pressures towards ‘collusion’ with existing assumptions and practices within the school, or whether they were sufficiently independent in their approach. Of course the process of ‘Engagement and Challenge’ developed in the context of a research project, with particular time scales and support structures that became part of the experience of using the Index of Inclusive Schooling in Northtown. The issue of working with the Index both as a time-limited Project and also as a continuing process within schools added a further dimension to this theme.

Key Theme Three: Child-Centred Focus

The theme of a ‘Child-Centred Focus’ refers to the contribution the EPs tended to make to the processes of collecting and interpreting data. Often EPs found that they were able to suggest ways of collecting data that more directly involved pupils, or they helped schools to recognise pupils’ perspectives more clearly when interpreting data. In each case EPs were able to support the Project schools with advice on qualitative research methods, either in terms of data collection or interpretation or both. A number of the EPs identified their role in supporting Index Project schools in maintaining a clear focus on the views of pupils when gathering or interpreting data. This seems to be a key element of what the EPs actually ‘did’, in terms of an identifiable additional outcome of their interventions in the Index schools. The pupil questionnaires in several schools generated data about pupil perspectives that was unexpected by school staff. There was a tendency in some cases for teachers to ‘over interpret’ the views expressed by pupils, rather than accepting them as valid at face value. In some cases, teachers saw pupils views as representing a misunderstanding of adult intentions, that needed to be re-interpreted in the light of the adult perspectives. Several of the EP Critical Friends described how they encouraged school Co-ordinating Groups to take data on pupils’ views as a valid perspective in its own right, from which significant lessons could be learned even if it conflicted with adult understandings.

It seems reasonable to suggest that the EPs were well placed to advise on qualitative research methods because of their training and experience. Their generic role involves developing a clear focus on understanding children’s views of themselves and their school experiences, in a way that teachers rarely have the opportunity to do. Educational psychologists often observe classes, interview children individually and develop skills in attempting to understand aspects of children’s perspectives; whereas teachers more often work with children in groups, and are rarely able to observe classes or to spend extended time with individuals. A consistent pattern emerged from the EP interviews of advice on qualitative research methods with a focus on the children’s perspectives as a key contribution that the Critical Friends made to the School Co-ordinating Groups.

Key Theme Four: Permeating Practice

‘Permeating Practice’ is concerned with the relationship between the experience of participating in the Index Project, and the more general role of EPs. The EPs all made use of consultation skills developed through their generic role and their training to contribute to the Index Project within schools, whilst the Index Project contributed to developments around inclusion within Northtown EP Service. The notion of permeation refers to whether promoting inclusion is seen by EPs as something additional to their usual role, or whether the commitment to inclusive practice shown by EPs acting as Critical Friends influences the whole of their work. The former approach might be described as a ‘bolt-on’ approach to promoting inclusion, the latter as reflecting a ‘permeation’ approach. What emerged from the interviews was that whilst the Critical Friend role within the Index Project was recognised as a discrete part of these EPs’ work, it was influenced by consultation skills they had developed through their generic role; and their generic assessment work was in turn influenced by the experience of the Index Project. Their experience seems to have sensitised them further to ways of presenting inclusion as an issue for all learners, one that links with schools’ general priorities, rather than as an issue concerned primarily with special educational needs.


The EPs interviewed in this small study showed how they were able to support the development of inclusive practices in several ways:

They supported schools in engaging with and taking ‘ownership’ of the Index materials and process
They balanced the critic and friend elements of their role with sensitivity
They enabled schools to focus more clearly on the perspectives of the children, through their collaborative inquiries
They brought their own perspectives on inclusion to the schools and often broadened them in response to working with the schools and with the Index process and materials
They showed the skills needed for effective collaborative consultation
The EP Service took the initiative in raising awareness on inclusion within Northtown LEA at a senior level
The experience of the Index Project has influenced the way some EPs approach assessment
· EPs in Northtown are likely to be working with the Index of Inclusive Schooling with an increased number of schools next year, and are piloting some assessment materials intended to promote more inclusive practices.

The Key Themes have a number of potential implications for colleagues planning to work with schools using the Index of Inclusive Schooling, by offering support through the role of Critical Friends. It may be helpful for future Critical Friends to reflect on their own ‘core values’ in relation to inclusion. In identifying their own personal and professional journey towards understanding inclusive practices more clearly, they may find themselves better placed to support colleagues in schools in working through such issues in their particular settings. In preparing for their role, Critical Friends may wish to consider the processes of engagement and challenge offered to a school by the ‘Index’, in the context of the development of their own relationship with the school. It may be useful for Critical Friends to be aware of the significance of pupils’ perspectives in evaluating inclusive practices, and to consider whether schools have been able to identify this issue clearly. Critical Friends can gain from approaching their role in a spirit of collaborative enquiry, so that they are alert to the possibility of learning from schools about the development of inclusive practices. Critical Friends may gain most from the experience when they are stimulated to reflect on how far their commitment to inclusion permeates their own professional practice.

Educational psychologists’ role in many LEAs is severely constricted by the Statutory Assessment process, which is focused on individual children and on existing provision. A minority of EP Services have found ways of minimising the level of Statementing with the support of their LEA, but many EPs spend much of their time on individual assessment. EPs often have little opportunity for collaborative consultation or for working with schools on the issues raised by the Index. Despite the initiative and achievements of EP Services in places like Northtown, and others that have perhaps gone even further, it could not be said that the principles of inclusion yet ‘permeate’ EP practice.

The experience of investigating the contribution of Educational Psychologists to supporting the development of inclusive practices by acting as Critical Friends to schools using the ‘Index of Inclusive Schooling’, has pointed to the issue of evaluating EP Services. It may be a fruitful task to develop an evaluation framework that would assist EP Services in considering their position in relation to inclusion. Booth and Ainscow’s (1998) ‘Dimensions of Difference in Perspectives on Inclusive Education’ could form a valuable starting point, in addition to the Index of Inclusive Schooling itself. One dimension of an evaluation framework that might be appropriate would be to consider how pro-active an EP Service is in promoting the development of inclusive practices. The aim here is to suggest an approach that would not artificially polarise EPs as ‘for’ or ‘against’ inclusion, but would point to the range and complexity of factors influencing EPs’ roles. Such an evaluation would need to address LEA factors, as well as between and within school differences. The current climate of Best Value and privatisation is not often conducive to promoting more inclusive practice.


O’Brien and O’Brien (1996) are adamant that inclusion cannot be imposed from above, asserting that “commands are futile as a way to better education”. They point out that the development of inclusive schools necessarily involves growing beyond present boundaries, that inclusion cannot be measured by league tables of test results, and that the literature on school reform has produced no consistently reliable method for implementing mandated change.

Booth (1999) offers an analysis of the contradictory effects of ‘New Labour’ education policies on inclusion, pointing out that the Blair government has continued with Conservative policies on reducing local government control over education and expanding the central government mandate. The compulsory elements of the National Curriculum, the Standards Fund bidding system and initiatives like the literacy and numeracy strategies combine to reduce the arena for local curriculum initiatives. More significantly, the creation of a ‘market’ for school places has been retained with league tables of test and examination results that has had: “In many cities … an effect of exacerbating ethnic segregation”.

Middle class parents tend to be more able to move into areas served by schools that perform better in league tables, resulting in a decline in inner city schools in some areas. The massive rise in school exclusions in the early 1990s has widely been attributed to the competitive pressures produced by the combined effect of SATs, league tables, OFSTED inspections and the market for school places. Lyndsay (1997, p.57) warns that:

“The value promoted by the government has been one of competition rather than collegiality. Schools are allowed to expand: popular schools will be able to attract more pupils (and the cash that follows). Selection of pupils (rather parental choice) is now increasing… Exclusions have increased to an unacceptable degree and in a free market, skew the distribution of placements of pupils with difficult behaviour: popular schools can easily reject pupils. The move towards high standards can lead to reduced choice and restricted opportunities for pupils with SEN”

In addition, the Secretary of State’s staunch defence of OFSTED has supported the call for increased setting. Proposals for Performance Related Pay for teachers threatens to undermine attempts to develop the collaborative ethos so central to promoting inclusive practice in schools. Class sizes have been reduced at Key Stage One in line with election promises, but have continued to rise slightly for other age groups.

It is these heightened exclusionary pressures that are often uppermost in the minds of classroom teachers, and that provide the context in which the government’s inclusion policies will be worked out. There is however real progress in government rhetoric on inclusion, from the Secretary of State’s reference to inclusion in the context of ‘rights’ in his foreword to the Green Paper ‘Excellence for All’ (DfEE 1997), to the call for all schools “to develop an inclusive ethos, for example by involving all staff in training activities which promote a greater understanding of inclusion” in the Programme of Action (DfEE, 1998). The Programme of Action refers to inclusion as a ‘cornerstone’ of government strategy, and there is a requirement for LEAs to demonstrate action to promote ‘inclusion’ through an annual Education Development Plan and a mainstream Behaviour Support Plan. There is also a clear commitment to a continued role for special schools, although they are expected to develop closer links with mainstream schools.

The Programme of Action highlights that some schools are “showing that an inclusive approach can reinforce a commitment to higher standards of achievement for all children” – yet it is precisely the exclusionary pressures identified above that are inherent in the government’s Standards Agenda. There is an attempt to create an almost moralistic pressure on schools to improve, using successful schools as examples, without significantly increasing funding or dismantling the marketisation reforms of previous Conservative governments. Booth (1999, p.2) describes a “fragmentation” of government thinking on issues of inclusion and exclusion, with different policy units producing a “bewildering” range of documents on related issues in isolation from each other – he gives the example of telephoning the ‘Special Needs Division’ of the DfEE and speaking to someone who had never heard of the ‘School Inclusion Division’ down the corridor. In this context, only by proactively developing more inclusive practices will educational psychologists be able to define a clear role for themselves.


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