View from the bridge

27th October 2000 at 01:00
WORKING TOWARDS INCLUSIVE EDUCATION. By Peter Mittler.David Fulton pound;16.

Given that the Conservative Party is inclusive now, can "inclusive" actually mean anything any more? The word is now de rigueur for mission statements, political speeches and policy documents. Peter Mittler gives meaning to education's use of the new buzzword, stressing that inclusive education is not just about "special needs" or disability, but is about "reforming the organisation and curriculum of schools and the education system as a whole to meet a wider range of needs". It is about valuing diversity and difference rather than sectionalising them. And it is about addressing poverty, inequality and discrimination as major causes of differential educational outcome. Mittler makes the case convincingly.

The book offers very much a "view from the bridge". Throughout, one feels the impact of Mittler's huge contribution to the field of special education over the years and his involvement in decision-making at the highest level.

His experience means that his view is panoramic. He makes a global sweep, summarising major international commentaries and developments, at the same time as contextualising that overview in the lessons of more than a quarter of a century of research onnot just special education but also the outcomes of programmes such as Headstart and Sure Start.

All this is expertly done: a mass of information is synthesised and presented in an easy conversational tone. One feels the author's finger on the pulse, with many comments about the present Government and its initiatives - although in this sense it will perhaps need a second edition before too long.

Fashionable ideas are critically handled where necessary, such as the Government's commitment to inclusion held simultaneously with policies that promote competition and thereby encourage exclusion.

The author casts a critical eye over school effectiveness as a model for inclusion and suggests that school effectiveness on its own is insufficient to promote more inclusive practice.

There is much more: on the curriculum, on preparing teachers, on parents. In all of this the emphasis is on summarising and commenting on research and official reports rather than easy advice.

This is a major summative contribution to the field. Intelligent in its compilation and encyclopedic in its scope, it is one of the most significant sourcebooks on inclusiveeducation available.

Gary Thomas is a professor in education at Oxford Brookes University

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