Is Inclusion in Australian schools a Utopian concept?

Forbes (2007) Towards Inclusion: an Australian perspective. Support for Learning • Volume 22 • Number 2 • 2007

Inclusion has been touted as the philosophical way forward but is it a mere Utopian notion ignoring the fact that the the meeting of all need cannot take place without organizational and systemic 'revolutions' to the education system and paradigms in place in Australia.  This article outlines the views of the Australian Special Education Principals' Association (ASSEPA) on inclusion (2007) and the impact full inclusion may have on Australian Government schools.  It is thought provoking especially if you are sitting on the left and hold the view that "separate can never be equal".  Is this a realist approach? Are students with significant special needs better placed within settings that are resourced with curriculum and staff that can meet their needs? Or is this a move by school principals, should this article represent them, that inclusion in its pure form places undue pressures on the systems which subsequently lead to the detriment of all students. 

The article does seem to be very protective of preserving the status quo of having segregation through mainstream and special education settings. Whilst the paper states early on that it is not seeking to denote inclusion it throws up many challenges that schools and principals face in achieving a true inclusion of students with special educational needs.  Many of the claims made in the paper are valid pressures that exist within the education system.  However, the paper makes many sweeping statements such as:

"in Australia, many argue that there is no longer a need for 'special educators' in an age on inclusive education"

What this statement does is negate to understand the impact well trained special educators have in mainstream settings.  What this paper does do is provide an alternate model of students with disability being educated separately in cluster schools that draw upon the resources of specialized settings when needed.  Whilst this is one solution to the problem it ignores the very premise of inclusive education is the education of all student and not a pseudo form of inclusion where students are placed in satellite schools with little or no interaction with their peers. Yes, the claims made by the paper do hold water but the issues presented are systemic ones.  Whilst this article is very pragmatic in its approach with meeting the legislative mandate of inclusive education it does not think beyond the exclusionary systems in place that continue to perpetuate disability.  

Are the claims made in the article valid?

Is true inclusion simply a utopian view in the current educational model?

Is the model presented at the end of the paper simply a remodeling of segregation?

Whilst the paper does not actively seek to denote inclusion it highlights the reality of the challenges that inclusion places on schools.  The authors present the current context of inclusion as a philosophy at odds with current practice.  There is a current belief amongst many inclusion advocates that the necessary needs of students can be created in any mainstream school.  Such statements ignore the necessary specialised teaching skills, human and financial resources required to achieve this (p.67).  This 'misconceived' notion of inclusion that simply makes reference to place is ubiquitous.  The belief that an inclusive school is where everyone belongs, accepts difference and are cared for by members of the community is simply an idealistic view void of any consideration of the necessary processes and resources needed.

ASEPA expressed concern that mainstream teachers will be unable, for a variety of reasons to take on the added necessary professional responsibilities of including students with disability.  The placement of students into mainstream classes places the following demands on teachers

  1. Students who are included in mainstream classes with significant special needs, for whom the teacher has not been prepared
  2. Students with exceptional needs for whom a greater degree of teacher expertise is required.
  3. The current policy of parental choice has created an expectation that all teachers will be equipped to cope with all the disabilities in all settings.

 I feel these claims against inclusion are somewhat exaggerated and ignore the work carried out by the many special education practitioners who work tirelessly to support teachers and students in mainstream schools.  Yes, I do agree that students with significant needs do place additional demands on already overstretched teachers and schools. I also agree that for inclusion to be successful it must be resourced both through funding and trained personnel.