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27th May 2005 at 01:00
Policy and Power in Inclusive Education: values into practice

Edited by Jonathan Rix, Katy Simmons, Melanie Nind, and Kieron Sheehy

RoutledgeFalmer pound;22.99

Curriculum and Pedagogy in Inclusive Education: values into practice

Edited by Melanie Nind, Jonathan Rix, Kieron Sheehy and Katy Simmons

RoutledgeFalmer pound;22.99

These two compilations are out of the mould of coursebooks that have consistently emerged from inclusive and special education teams at the Open University. They offer interesting readings, mostly reprinted from academic journals, that inform about a broad-ranging vista of activity. Although there is an excellent introduction to the 20 or so readings in each book, the glue that really binds the articles together would be the OU course, for which they form the reading: Researching Inclusive Education, part of the MA programme. The glue is needed, since some very disparate articles sit next to each other.

Although both book titles have the suffix "values into practice", one would need to be an experienced and imaginative practitioner to know how the values being espoused in most cases have practical implications in the classroom. Thus, for me, the best of the articles in these books were the case studies that gave direct glimpses into real classroom life and unfolded the intricacies of children's confusions and insights in much the same way that John Holt did in his magnificent book How Children Fail. Not all of the material selected for inclusion in these compilations was like that though: in one or two of the more academic articles there was a certain sense of dej... vu.

Policy and Power in Inclusive Education is a solid collection of material that examines policy initiatives, according to the blurb, "in all nations".

The blurb goes on to say that "readers will be encouraged to develop their own framework, allowing them to conduct policy analysis and development within their own educational framework." Without the accompanying course, I'm not sure how this is to be done just from the resources of the book, but it is a fine aim and with the assistance of the course I'm sure such development will be possible, given the rich diversity of source material.

There are general papers on the nature of inclusion, articles on inclusion in Norway, the United States and South Africa, and pieces on migrant worker children and gay and lesbian issues.

The explicit focus on international work offers some interesting comparative perspectives. What I have never seen - and something that would be valuable in this context - is a critical analysis of the place of comparative study or international consultancy in the field of inclusive education. What, in other words, are the assumptions behind international analysis and commentary, how are they framed, and who benefits?

Curriculum and Pedagogy in Inclusive Education is equally diverse, offering articles on themes as varied as specialised pedagogy, the education of black children, observations of teachers in Asia, creating inclusive materials, mathematics education, and much more. For me, its peculiar strength and vibrancy came in the chapters where one could hear the children's voices coming through. Julie Allan mentions in her chapter Frank Coffield's observation that children function well as "bullshit detectors", and it would indeed be valuable to ask children to comment on some of the reflective discourse of teachers and academics about inclusive education.

One knows from talking to children that the terms "special needs" and "learning support" have already become derogatory, and the way that this has happened - as it has so often happened in the past with other terms - should lead one to ask what it is about education that causes such a process to occur.

The focus in both titles is resolutely on recent material and while this gives an up-to-date view, there is little sense of the journey that has happened over the years in making education inclusive. There are one or two editing niggles that need sorting out, especially in a reader, such as some incomplete references and indices to subjects only (names are omitted).

Overall, though, these are very worthwhile compilations, bringing together collections of lively articles that give snapshots of policy and practice in hugely varied contexts. I would advise enrolling on the MA course for which they are readers, though, if you want to take full advantage of such a rich meal.

Gary Thomas is a professor in education at the University of Leeds

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