A policy of inclusion is generally understood around the world as part of a human rights agenda. We in the special needs and inclusion team at the faculty of education, Cambridge university, support this policy as an integral aspect of schooling that acknowledges the shared humanity of all learners.
In recent years, our understanding of the relationship between teachers, learners, schools as communities and their relationship to society has deepened, creating an opportunity to think differently about special needs education, what it is called and how it is provided.
While "special needs education" is defined as providing something "additional to"or "different from" that which is "otherwise available" in school, "inclusive education" challenges complacency about what is not "otherwise available" and calls for new ways of working for the benefit of all.
In inclusive education, differences between learners are seen as challenges for teaching and learning. It is not about providing something "special" for some; it is about providing something meaningful for all.
Indeed, there is growing evidence that inclusive practice can benefit all when schools stop seeing the difficulties in learning experienced by some children as problems for others to solve.
Last week, Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, called for an independent review of inclusion policies and practice. Such a review must consider the ways in which many current policies penalise, not only the most vulnerable learners, but also their teachers and schools. It should consider how funding might support innovation, reward good practice and develop staff to meet the challenge of providing education for all. We must stop seeing some children as extra work for teachers, and take heart and learn lessons from those successfully developing inclusive practice.
Dr Kristine Black-Hawkins
Dr Lesley Dee
Dr Lani Florian
Martyn Rouse and Dr Nidhi Singal
University of Cambridge Faculty of Education
184 Hills Road, Cambridge