THE LANGUAGE of inclusion is now at the heart of the education debate.
Pledges of allegiance to "inclusion" are almost compulsory among education policy-makers.
Politicians make such regular references to it that you might think that they were cut and pasted from speech to speech.
So, a 109-page guide to implementing inclusive education, sent this week to all 26,000 English primary, secondary and special schools, is essential reading.
The Index for Inclusion, by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, in co-operation with Manchester University and Canterbury Christ Church University College, rips up much of the inclusion debate's received wisdom.
The language of "special needs education" is described as a potential "barrier to the development of inclusive practice."
The report says: "It confers a label that can lead to lowered expectations.
"It can encourage some teachers to think that the education of students (with) special educational needs is primarily the responsibility of a specialist."
The report blames the label for focusing on students' problems and deflecting attention from the "barriers to learning and participation" within the system.
The index challenges schools to examine their own part in excluding children from education. All sections of the school community are involved in a model consultation process to make inclusive education central to school development plans.
"We are not suggesting schools have it in their power to remove all barriers, since many such barriers reside within contxts over which schools have very little control," the report says.
"As far as we are able, we have set out a clear and comprehensive view of what inclusion might mean for the development of schools."
A five-stage review process is mapped out (see Clipboard).
The back of the booklet includes more than 50 pages of criteria and questions to help schools, parents and children investigate their school's culture, policies and practices.
For example, the general statement that an inclusive school "strives to minimise discriminatory practices" is backed up with 14 detailed questions including: "Do staff attempt to counter
stereotyped attitudes towards
people with impairments?"
With pilots in 22 schools already completed, and enthusiastic Government support, the Index for Inclusion seems set to play a major role in shaping practice in an often poorly-
implemented area of policy.
Index for Inclusion is available from CSIE, 1 Redland Close, Elm Lane, Bristol BS6 6UE. Price pound;24.50.
FIVE STEPS TO A MORE INCLUSIVE SCHOOL
* First phase (half a term)
Set up a co-ordinating group. This could include senior staff, parents, students and a "critical friend" from outside the school.
* Second phase (one term)
Consult staff, governors, students, parentscarers and members of the local community about the current state of inclusive education in the school.
* Third phase (half a term)
Rewrite the school development plan to reflect the insights gained in the review.
* Fourth phase (ongoing)
Implement the changes.
* Fifth phase (ongoing)
Continually review the school's practices.