Tensions in the field of inclusive education

Tensions in the field of inclusive education

My colleague Gunnlaugur Magnusson describes in the article "From Salamanca to Sweden: inclusive education as policy in transit" (see link below) three tensions in the field of inclusion which I intend to discuss in this blog.

Gunnlaugur's article otherwise has a broader focus and analyzes the policy for inclusive education and how it, so to speak, traveled from Salamanca into the Swedish educational system. I can really recommend the article to anyone looking for a thorough description of this process. Here, however, I intend to discuss the three tensions ("tensions") identified in the article.

More specifically, the tensions concern 1) who is to be included, 2) the relationship between inclusion and special education and 3) how inclusion is to be organized and shaped. Let's discuss them in turn.

Who should be included?

There is a tension here between the position that inclusion involves all students over the position that inclusion concern different groups and the position that inclusion is only about students with disabilities / in need of special support. The Salamanca Declaration is certainly not crystal clear on this point, but the emphasis in the document is on students with disabilities.

Gunnlaugur points out that expressions such as "everyone should be included" in its formulation almost presupposes that someone has been excluded and thus point out one group or several groups as not naturally belonging. This is something of a paradox and easily puts the designated groups in a subordinate position.

At the same time, there are also those who see a danger when the inclusion discussion include all students/ many student groups because it takes focus and resources away from students with disabilities.

The relationships between inclusion and special education

Here, too, are different positions to be found. The word "inclusion" often becomes almost a synonym for "integration" and is then about how students with disabilities can be placed within the framework of the mainstream. This is close to how people thought in traditional special education, where this thus was discussed in terms of integration. This usually means that specially trained staff should facilitate placements in the mainstream classroom.

There are also those who believe that special education stands in the way of inclusion. As Gunnlaugur points out, there are researchers who believe that the special education's identification and categorization of students' difficulties is not in itself compatible with inclusion. The really radical proponents of inclusion almost want to abolish special education completely. Peder Haug takes such a position in his interesting book, "Pedagogical dilemma - about special education" from 1998.

Of course, there are a number of intermediate positions here, but few would probably argue that special education should cease completely. However, as I have pointed out on several occasions in this blog, it is surprising how many proponents of inclusion that seem quite untroubled by the fact that special education rests firmly a distinction between normality and deviance.

Organization for and implementation of inclusion

There are also a number of different views in this area. Well known is the American researcher Tomas Skrtic's idea that an inclusive school needs a completely new type of flexible organization that is basically not built on the basis of a bureaucratic logic (as school systems are). Instead, he advocates a high degree of professional autonomy, where joint problem solving is the key to how schools should be able to meet the needs of all students in an inclusive environment.

Others want a clear difference between a normal system and a special education system where the latter according to this view is necessary to support inclusion. This is how many influential special education researchers have thought about inclusion.

Already in the Salamanca Declaration, a number of measures at different levels, from the global level down to the classroom and support systems, are enumerated. These measures are seen as prerequisites for inclusion to be developed. Unfortunately, however, the fact that inclusion requires major, systematic changes often disappears in the discussion. It is also a pity that there is largely a lack of research that shows which factors are most important for creating inclusive schools and classrooms and how such factors interact (see link to previous blog below).


It is very important to note that the field of inclusion is not as homogeneous as it may seem. While (so far) few in the special education area have been opposed to inclusion, there are still quite different things that one strives for. That one has managed to gather different views under the banner of “inclusion” means that important differences have been made partly invisible and may have hindered necessary discussions to develop.

It is thus important to distinguish inclusion advocates who believe that inclusion is only about the situation for students with disabilities who are placed in regular classes, where the need to develop a special education support system is strong, to those who believe that inclusion is about all students and where you see a certain skepticism about special education, at least if this becomes too extensive.

I notice that I return to a more general argument, which I have presented in other blogs, which is about the importance of being clear about which goals for  education that are advocated. If we do not clarify what we want with education, for example in terms of inclusion. we risk having a discussion where we think we mean the same thing even when we differ in quite fundamental ways.

Link to Gunnlaugur Magnusson's article:


Link to blog about how research can be developed to help create more inclusive environments:



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