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Cambridge Journal of Education

Vol. 37, No. 4, December 2007, pp. 473488

National policy and the development of

inclusive school practices: a case study
Alan Dyson* and Frances Gallannaugh
University of Manchester, UK

National education policy in England under New Labour Governments has encompassed both a
standards agenda and an inclusion agenda, with schools required to respond to both
simultaneously. Some previous studies have seen these agendas as contradictory and have seen
schools efforts to develop inclusive practices as being undermined by these contradictions. This
paper questions this account with reference to a primary school participating in a collaborative
action research project which aimed to develop inclusive practices in schools. It shows how the
school, far from finding these agendas contradictory, drew on both in making sense of its situation.
It argues that the development of inclusive practices may draw on national policy as a productive
resource, and suggests that inclusion scholars and advocates may need to refocus their work if they
are to offer such schools alternatives to the formulations of national policy.

The context
Inclusion has become something of an international buzzword. It is difficult to trace its
provenance or the growth in its use over the last two decades, but what is certain is that
it is now de rigueur for policy documents, mission statements and political speeches. It
has become a sloganalmost obligatory in the discourse of all right-thinking people.
(Thomas & OHanlon, 2002, p. vii)

Thomas and OHanlons account of the growing role played by the discourse of
inclusion certainly rings true for the development of national education policy in
England. Under successive New Labour Governments, schools in England have
received powerful encouragement to develop more inclusive practices and forms of
provision. On taking office in 1997, the first New Labour Government formally
committed itself to the international inclusion movement as embodied in
UNESCOs Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) and to the development of
inclusion in English schools (DfEE, 1997). Since then, the discourse of inclusion has
figured widely in policy texts, for instance in statutory guidance on inclusive
schooling (DfES, 2001), in the statutory requirements of the National Curriculum
*Corresponding author: School of Education, University of Manchester, Oxford Road,
Manchester M13 9PL, UK. Email: d.a.dyson@manchester.ac.uk
ISSN 0305-764X (print)/ISSN 1469-3577 (online)/07/040473-16
# 2007 University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education
DOI: 10.1080/03057640701705690

474 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

(DfEE & QCA, 1999), in guidance to school inspectors (Ofsted, 2000) and in
regulations relating to students at risk of exclusion from their schools for disciplinary
reasons (DfEE, 1999).
Often, these policy texts have focused on a concern with the development of the
special needs education system and, in particular, with the access to and
participation in mainstream schooling of students identified as having special
educational needs (SEN) (see, for instance, DfEE, 1997, 1998, 2001; DfES, 2001,
2004). However, policy-makers have also been willing to see inclusion as concerned
with a wide range of groups who might find themselves marginalised in the
education system. The National Curriculum inclusion statement is typical in
referring to:
boys and girls, pupils with special educational needs, pupils with disabilities, pupils
from all social and cultural backgrounds, pupils of different ethnic groups including
travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, and those from diverse linguistic backgrounds.
(DfEE & QCA, 1999, section B)

This broadening of focus reflects the work of many scholars and advocates who
see inclusion less as an issue in special needs education than as the latest
development in a historical effort to create comprehensive community education
(Booth, 2003). As Thomas and OHanlon explain:
inclusive education is really about extending the comprehensive ideal in education.
Those who talk about it are therefore less concerned with childrens supposed special
educational needs and more concerned with developing an education system in
which tolerance, diversity and equity are striven for. (Thomas & OHanlon, 2002,
p. vii)

On the face of it, these powerful policy directives, in a system which has arguably
become increasingly centralized, ought to have produced a rapid movement towards
more inclusive provision and practice in schools. However, the actual effects have
been much more ambiguous. Analyses produced by the Centre for Studies on
Inclusive Education, for instance, suggest that progress towards inclusion
understood as the maintenance of students with special educational needs in
mainstream schoolscontinues to be painfully slow (Rustemier & Vaughan, 2005).
Likewise, Ofsteds (2004) survey of inclusive practice reports considerable
ambivalence in schools about the desirability of the inclusion agenda, and there is
some evidence of a backlash against inclusion amongst both politicians and
educationalists (Bloom, 2005; Cameron, 2005; Warnock, 2005). Meanwhile,
disciplinary exclusions appear to be on the rise (National Statistics, 2005), schools
serving disadvantaged areas continue in many cases to perform poorly (Harris &
Chapman, 2004; Muijs et al., 2004), differential achievement by race, class and
gender seems to be an apparently intractable problem (DfES, 2005a; Gillborn &
Mirza, 2000), and the education system remains unable to overcome the effects of
social background on educational achievement or later life chances (Blanden &
Gregg, 2004; Blanden et al., 2005; DfES, 2005b, 2006). In other words, at the same
time as the discourse of inclusion has become more widespread and has become
embedded in policy and accountability frameworks, there are respects in which the

National policy and the development of school practices 475

practice of inclusion, and what one might hope would be some of the outcomes of that
practice, remain problematic.
One common explanation for this state of affairs is that successive governments
commitment to inclusion has been undermined by an even more powerful
commitment to what the Prime Minister called an unprecedented crusade to raise
standards (Blair, 1999). This standards agenda has brought with it a culture of
performativity (Ball, 2003; Broadfoot, 2001), an emphasis on modernization and a
commitment to choice, diversity and competition (Phillips & Harper-Jones, 2003),
which have been widely seen as inherently antithetical to inclusion (see, for instance,
Booth et al., 1998; Halpin, 1999; Thomas & Dwyfor Davies, 1999; Bines, 2000;
Armstrong, 2003; Dyson, 2005). As Hall et al. (2004) argue:
different policy formulations, in this case the rhetoric of inclusion, with its emphasis
on celebrating difference and maximizing diversityand the rhetoric of high standards
in narrow curricular areas, with its emphasis on a particular version of ability,
curriculum, learning and teaching, deeply contradict each other. The demands of the
standards agenda, reflected in the overwhelming emphasis on SATs success, legitimate
exclusion. (Hall et al., 2004, pp. 814815)

In this situation, the argument goes, the apparent commitment to inclusion is in

fact deeply ambiguous. Armstrong (2005), reviewing inclusion policy under New
Labour Governments, argues that:
Under the banner of inclusion, educational equality is being reconceptualized in terms
of conformity to quite narrowly defined performance criteria, a definition that is
designed to select, place value upon, and advance the opportunities of certain
individuals. Yet such a utilitarian system of performativity inevitably promotes
exclusion for those who do not meet the standard. (Armstrong, 2005, p. 147)

Schools, therefore, find themselves caught between two contradictory but unequal
imperatives. Should they welcome a diverse range of students and try to develop
provision which is genuinely responsive to all of their needs and characteristics? Or
should they focus on those students whose attainments will reflect most positively on
perceptions of the schools overall performance, thus making the school more
competitive in the local education market, even though this might mean abandoning
some of its basic principles in the pursuit of standards? The outcome of this contest,
Hall et al. conclude, is a foregone conclusion:
Practice tends, unsurprisingly, towards that which is perceived to have the greatest
consequences for the survival and status of the school itself, namely, competitive league
table performance which in turn seems to push towards ability grouping, testing and
competition, thus making for a climate of exclusive practices. (Hall et al., 2004, p. 815)

However, such an account calls for further examination. Whilst the contradictions
in Government policy may seem self-evident to critics, it is clear that the
Government itself has had no difficulty in reconciling the two agendas, seeing
inclusion simply as the means of achieving excellence for all children (DfEE, 1997).
Moreover, an account which sees schools simply as the victims of national policy
contradictions overlooks the agency which schools and their teachers are able to
exercise and, therefore, the capacity they may have to make sense of contradictory

476 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

imperatives. Put another way, such an account overlooks the ways in which teachers
belong to communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1999), most
notably those constituted by their colleagues in schools. By learning how to
undertake shared tasks, these communities develop intellectual and cultural
resources for making sense of the imperatives to which they are subject. As
Thomas and Loxley (2001) point out, therefore, it is far too simplistic to see schools
as implementing a set of national policy directions:
In education the directions are interpreted by everyone from civil servants to local
administrators to teachers, and intent is attenuated and compromised as directives,
instructions and ideas move from one person to another. (Thomas & Loxley, 2001,
p. 101)

Moreover, an account formulated in terms of a straightforward conflict between

inclusion and standards overlooks the conceptual problems with inclusion to which
Thomas and OHanlon (2002) allude. Tempting as it may be to assume that schools
have access to a clear set of inclusive principles, the reality is that the inclusion
community of practice (understood here as those advocates, scholars and
practitioners who seek to develop understandings of inclusion) has generated
multiple discourses of inclusion (Dyson, 1999) which reflect the diverse intellectual
streams which that community embraces (Clough, 2000).
It is likely, therefore, that the interaction in schools between the apparently
contradictory inclusion and standards agendas will in fact be a complex affair. The
implication is that it is important to look closely at what actually happens within
schools and, in particular, at the way in which school personnel make sense of their
situations. In the remainder of this paper we attempt to do precisely this by
presenting an account of a school which was attempting to develop more inclusive
practices while responding to the national standards agenda, and where we worked
as research partners and critical friends in this attempt. We show how its efforts were
characterized by deep ambiguities, but also how it found the national standards and
inclusion agendas mutually illuminating rather than contradictory. We argue that its
ready acceptance of these agendas was due in part to our inability to offer
formulations of inclusion which were more helpful to the school in addressing its
perceived problems in practice. Finally, we consider the implications of this state of
affairs for the further development of inclusion.

The study
The Understanding and Developing Inclusive Practice in Schools project ran
between April 2000 and March 2003.1 Over this period a network of practitioners in
25 schools in three English local authorities and researchers from three universities
worked together both to develop practice and to contribute to more general thinking
about inclusion by researching these developments. A detailed account of the whole
study is available (Ainscow et al., 2006a), but this paper will focus on work carried
out by the authors in one local authority in the north of England.

National policy and the development of school practices 477

The study was structured around four research questions:


What are the barriers to participation and learning experienced by students?

What practices can help to overcome these barriers?
To what extent do such practices facilitate improved learning outcomes?
How can such practices be encouraged and sustained within local authorities and

These questions reflected our awareness of the unresolved contradictions between

national inclusion and standards agendas which, at the time, were both being
pursued with vigour. They also reflected our awareness of the shifting meanings of
inclusion and the absence of clear models of inclusive practice. Whilst inclusion
could be defined in general terms, it could, we felt, only take on specific meaning in
particular school contexts. The formulation of barriers to learning and participationdrawn from the first edition of the Index for Inclusion (Booth et al., 2000) was a
useful starting point, particularly since it had recently been distributed to all schools
by the DfEE. However, it left open the detailed specification of those barriers and
the precise definition of what should count as participation and learning. Likewise,
the nature of inclusive practices and the ways in which they might be developed
could only be understood as schools came to terms with the constraints and
possibilities of their situations.
Accordingly, we conceptualized the study in terms of a process of critical
collaborative action research (Macpherson et al., 1998) in which we, as university
researchers, would understand these issues by working closely with schools as they
sought to define and develop more inclusive practices. By engaging in this task,
schools would be developing local theories of change (Connell & Kubisch, 1998;
Connell & Klem, 2000) in terms of what should count as inclusion and how
inclusion might be promoted in their particular contexts. By working alongside the
schools, we could not only offer technical support to their efforts (for instance, in
researching the impacts of their actions), but also push them to articulate their
theories, to problematize the assumptions underpinning them, and to explore
alternative possibilities. By comparing the local theories articulated in different
schools, we could begin to develop theories at a level of greater generality about
inclusion and the development of inclusive practices. However, by taking the
individual school as our unit of analysis, we could continue to respect local
The local authority with which we worked invited eight schools to participate, on
the grounds that they had the capacity to sustain, and were likely to benefit from,
involvement in the project. Insofar as they accepted this invitation, the schools
demonstrated some interest in, and commitment to, the development of greater
inclusion. However, they were not chosen because of any outstanding achievement
in this respect, and were no different in this respect from many other schools in their
area. Each school was invited to form a small team of stafftypically, the head
teacher, a teacher in a middle leadership position and one or more class teachers
which would work on the project. As a starting point, we invited schools to review

478 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

the inclusiveness of their current practices and offered them the Index for inclusion
(Booth et al., 2000) and Ofsteds Evaluating educational inclusion (Ofsted, 2000)
(which had also recently appeared) as resources that might be helpful to them in this
process. We made it clear that these frameworks were based on somewhat different
assumptions about inclusion and that their use was, in any case, optional. A few
schools spent a considerable amount of time on these reviews, but the majority
including Broadmeadow, the school which is the focus of this papermoved
rapidly on to formulating action in respect of a problem in inclusion (as they
interpreted it) that was already a matter of concern for them.
School teams met regularly (often, weekly) on a more or less formal basis and
acted as a project steering group in formulating, guiding and monitoring action.
They were encouraged to carry out their own research into the effects of their
initiatives and this was typically supplemented by data collected by the university
team at the schools request. The Broadmeadow team, for instance, were interested
in extending the range of pedagogical approaches in the school to make them more
inclusive. Amongst other things, therefore, they collected class teachers planning
documents and held focus group discussions with students to see if they could
identify changes in teachers practice and the responses of students to those changes.
With the same aim in mind, they asked us to undertake our own interviews with
students and to carry out lesson observations. In addition to the fieldwork requested
by the schools, we collected school performance data and undertook formal
interviews with the head, other staff members, parents, local authority personnel
and, where possible, school governors, on a recurrent basis throughout the study.
The university researchers visited the schools at least once every half term for
discussions with the school team. Typically, these took the form of a review of
progress, a sharing of data and a consideration as to the implications of what each
team was finding for the development and evaluation of the schools actions. The
university researchers also produced an annual report for each school team which
gave a summative account of developments and findings in the previous 12 months,
and which was then discussed at a meeting with the school team. In addition, teams
from the eight schools met together on a termly basis and there was an annual
conference for schools from across the three participating local authorities. In these
meetings, school teams made presentations to each other, visited each others
schools and worked together in discussion groups. In this way, they were able to
share their practices and concerns, discuss possible ways forward and work towards
some agreed understandings of inclusion. The university researchers participated in
these meetings and contributed to them as critical friends of the school teams.
The nature of this process meant that data analysis was ongoing. To some extent,
it was informed by immediate local concernswhether, for instance, a particular
change in practice had achieved its intended aims. However, at each stage the
implications of emerging evidence for answers to the four overarching research
questions were considered by the university team separately and in conjunction with
the school teams. The theories about inclusion and the development of inclusive
practices that were thus articulated differed from each other in detail. However, one

National policy and the development of school practices 479

element remained more or less constant across all of them. Although we had
anticipated that schools might see the inclusion and standards agendas as
contradictory, it in fact became evident that they were seeing the two as closely
aligned. Moreover, it became clear that, despite the apparent implication of the
inclusion agenda that student diversity should be valued and seen as a resource,
schools were operating with a strongly deficit model of those students and families
who did not conform to certain expectations of academic achievement and support
for the schools priorities. These tendencies were evident to differing extents in all of
the twenty five schools in the study (see Ainscow et al., 2006a, b). However, for the
purposes of this paper, we propose to illustrate them from one school
Broadmeadow Primarywhere the issues were particularly clear.
The Broadmeadow case
The context
Broadmeadow was a large (350+) primary school lying at the fringes of an urban
area, primarily serving a single social housing estate. Although in terms of children
from minority ethnic groups and those identified as having special educational needs
the school was below national averages, it served an economically disadvantaged
area and had an above average proportion of students (31%) who were eligible for
free school meals. On a number of indicators the school could be regarded as
developing in an inclusive direction, for example in relation to its positive ethos, its
attention to childrens individual needs, its community links and collaborative
culture. As one teacher who was relatively new to the school commented:
the ethos in the school is absolutely fantastic and when I came into the school and I
started working with the lower maths [group] for instance, I noticed quite a lot of the
children, no matter what ability they are, they all seemed to help each other out.
(Teacher A)

However, there was a view across the staff that many children faced a common
barrier to learning which had to be addressed if the school was to be truly inclusive:
its nearly always languagethe problem (Teacher B). Or again:
I think when were thinking in terms of making education more inclusive for everyone,
even for our more able childrenthey dont often have the skillsthe language and the
thinking skillsthat they need to maximize their potential. (Teacher C)

This issue of deficiencies in language and thinking skills (the two were rarely if
ever differentiated) was typically seen as related to gender, on the grounds that,
Female language centres are more highly developed (Teacher B). However, gender
differences were seen as cross-cut by family and community background:
the children we take in particularly have problems with language. Because I think their
first-hand experience is quite little I think their lack of experience with language,
perhaps at home, already has created a problem when they come into school. (Teacher B)

This lack of experience was, we were told, attributable to parents who themselves
had limited reading skills, who failed to provide books and reading opportunities for

480 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

their childrenand who were then afraid of exposing their lack of skills through
contact with the school. This was seen as a wider social rather than school-specific
phenomenon. However, the problem, teachers told us, was particularly acute in the
area served by the school, where there had been a changing population, a lack of
employment and a high level of instability within families, accompanied by low levels
of parenting skills in some cases. These problems were further exacerbated in the
case of boys by a yob culture within which boys influence each other adversely as
they grow older, and by a cultural expectation of stereotypical gender roles. There
was, therefore, a need to address:
motivation and attitudes to learning. [I] dont think much more can be done on
basic teaching strategies (weve done a lot) but attitudes. Cultural dimension too
family expectations and experiences addressing the northern lad culture. (Head

The response
As the heads comment above suggests, the school was already involved in a wide
range of initiatives to address the challenges it saw itself as facing. At first, in
common with other schools in the network, it was uncertain how to interpret
inclusive education and what further action to take within this project. However, it
rapidly settled on the introduction of a wider range of teaching styles, focusing
initially on English and other subjects where writing was involved. In particular,
teachers would be encouraged not to proceed straight to writing activities, but to
ensure that students engaged in experiential learning first, and that they were given
appropriate frameworks (mind maps, writing frames and so on) on which to build
their writing. Within each class a target group of students would be selected from
those who were expected to benefit most from the new approach. These were,
essentially, children whose attainments were a little below average. The head
differentiated clearly between these children and those identified as having special
educational needs who, she felt, were unlikely to benefit because they have phonics
They [the target group]re underachievers. Theyre actually children of the broadly
average ability but who are underachieving. Whereas our SEN [special educational
needs] children on the whole they havent got the average learning potentialtheyre
below average, and some are significantly below average.

The impact of the approach on the target children would be monitored closely,
though the expectation was that all students would benefit to some extent.
The rationale for this line of action stemmed from the analysis of students
difficulties that we set out above. Given the deficits in language skills displayed by
many childrenespecially boysthe rest of their learning would be insecure unless
something was done to overcome this weakness. In the heads words:
Were always playing catch up with some children, but its too late. The catch-ups
coming too late. And the sort of catch-up were doing, it goes some way, but its
building bricksits like building a wall isnt it? And the top rows going to be very

National policy and the development of school practices 481

wobbly if you havent got the bottom right. And some of those early layers of bricks are
either missing completely, or theyre very insecure. And this is obviously impacting.
And its the barrierits whats stopping these children attaining what they should
attain for children of their age.

In part, therefore the aim was to provide children with some of the experiences
that were missing from their livesfor instance, one teacher (Teacher D) justified an
experiential approach by reporting how she had shown children a picture of a duck,
which none of them could name because none had ever seen a duck. Partly, it was to
give them thinking skills techniques which would enable them to produce a higher
quality of writing. Partly, too, it was based on the assumption that children might
possess abilities that were hidden by the skills they lacked, and that, in particular,
were not captured by national assessments:
although maybe a childs not very good at writing, theyre able to develop their own
skills in writing through pictures or words, and then building up through that. Because I
think, especially with SATs [national assessments of attainment], if a childs not very
good at writing and they cant get their point over in writing, they lose marks. Yet Ive
got loads of children in my class that when theyre sitting on the carpet theyre really
eager to answer questions, they know a lot about a subject, its just theyre failing at the
writing. And I think inclusion is a lot about that. About not sort of looking at a child and
thinking Oh well, we cant really do the writing aspect of it, itll just be rubbish.
Because, I think, different children, different abilities. (Teacher A)

These different rationales were reflected to some extent in somewhat differing

interpretations of the project by the head and deputy. The former was, so far as we
could judge, entirely committed to the project, but had to keep a weather eye on how
it affected the schools performance as measured through national assessments. She
was acutely conscious that the schools approach was experimental, particularly in
the context of a National Literacy Strategy which effectively prescribed pedagogical
approaches for schools. It carried with it, moreover, the risk that school performance
would suffer. As she explained: I hope the strategies have an effect on the SATs.
Were under huge pressure. Or again: Ultimately [its] about raising standards. Or,
most tellingly: Its about Level 4s [the benchmark level of attainment for judging
school performance] really, isnt it?
The deputy head, however, was less directly responsible for ensuring that the
school met its performance targets. He felt that a focus on hitting targets in terms of
proportions of students attaining particular assessment levels might be in itself
the strategies we use to bring these kids on should be available for every child, not
just those that are borderline. If were changing the whole culture of the school, we
dont want to exclude some children at the benefit of the school [the head] and I are
at loggerheads on this one

However, it would be misleading to characterize this difference as a straightforward contest between an inclusion-oriented deputy and an instrumental head
teacher. On the contrary, the views of both were marked by ambiguity. This was
evident in the heads comments about targeting students for participation in the

482 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

we want to, obviously, impact on all children, and I have this hang up that if you do
something for a group and it really works, you disadvantage others by not doing it [for
them], so it is for all children, but there will be target groups.

Likewise, the deputy, even while advocating cultural change, could not avoid the
need to think in terms of the more instrumental aims of improving writing and
raising attainment:
If you think of like a triangle or pinnacle thingat the end of it we would like to see,
from the schools point of view, a specific improvement in attainment in some areas
[such as] writing. But we felt that the opportunity with this project would be to
influence kind of a cultural change, in staff as well. And we could use it to look at
teaching styles, learning styles, expectations, but with the focus that all these strategies
and ideas towards thinking, a whole host of things, will benefit writing.

Inclusion and standards at Broadmeadow

In many ways, Broadmeadows response to our invitation to develop more inclusive
practices is a classic example of the subversion of inclusive principles by the
standards agenda, comparable in many ways to that observed by Hall et als (2004)
study of the relationship between inclusion and national assessments. Inclusion is
defined in the schools project not in terms of valuing difference, but of enhancing
learning and, specifically, of finding ways of enabling otherwise low-attaining
students to achieve within the curriculum. Achievement in turn is defined in terms of
reaching benchmark levels of national assessments to the point where the whole
project can be described as being all about Level 4s. In a process of triage which
seems to be a common by-product of the standards agenda (Gillborn & Youdell,
2000), the schools population is divided into groups on the basis of their likely
performance in these assessments. Crude distinctions are made between those who
are doing well, those who are on the borderline, and those, identified as having
special educational needs, who cannot reach the required level. The characteristics
of these groups are then evaluated in terms of the extent to which they enable them
to reach benchmark levels of attainment. The special educational needs group lack
learning potential. A further large group of students lack the necessary language
and thinking skills. This deficit discourse (Benjamin, 2002, p. 138) is then
extended to their families and communities, which are held to have prepared these
children inadequately for the demands of schooling.
However, this account of Broadmeadows response overlooks some of the
ambiguities noted above. Most obviously, there is the ambiguity between and within
the heads and deputys positions on targeting. Related to this is the ambiguity about
the instrumentality of the new approachis it really all about Level 4s, or is it an
attempt to provide children with some basic tools for learning? Similarly, there is the
ambiguity about whether the schools project is a validation of difference or a
pathologization of difference. Is it simply about making good childrens deficits, or is
it based on a view of different children, different abilities which requires the school
to find ways of responding to these differences on equal terms? Moreover, if the head

National policy and the development of school practices 483

is anxious about the new approach, this is because, far from being a form of
compliance with national imperatives, the move to experiential and language-based
learning is seen as a risky departure from those imperatives.
Significantly, however, this is a departure in terms of means rather than ends.
There was consensus amongst the teachers we worked with that achievement should
be a priority and that inclusion could be defined in terms of raising achievement
levels for students who hitherto had done badly in schools. Teachers slipped easily,
therefore, between talk of equity and targeting, creating opportunities for all and
remediating difficulties, opening up new learning pathways and getting children
through writing SATs. Indeed, the degree of open revolt against (or even sullen
compliance with) the standards agenda was strictly limited across the 25 schools
participating in the project nationally (Ainscow et al., 2006a, b). For the most part,
teachers saw the standards agenda as very largely compatible with the projects
invitation to develop inclusive practices and, in many cases, as at Broadmeadow,
interpreted inclusion as being about the right of all students to achieve.
It is possible, of course, that all of this represents a permeation of schools by the
attenuated version of inclusion which Armstrong (2005) sees as characteristic of
national policy. However, this ignores the extent to which both the inclusion and
standards agendas were reinterpreted by schools such as Broadmeadow. From the
former, the school appears to have taken a concern with marginalised students, a
serious engagement with the issue of student difference, and a willingness to take
risks with its teaching in the interests of its students. From the latter, it has taken a
framework of educational goals against which its own efforts and the characteristics
of its students and their families can be calibrated. The promulgation in national
policy of Level 4s as the measure of educational achievement gives the school a
ready means of focusing its actions, of assessing the perceived weaknesses of the
children and families with which it has to work, and of determining what remedial
action it needs to take. It is at least arguable, therefore, that standards and inclusion
are mutually supportive for Broadmeadow rather than contradictory: without
inclusion, the standards agenda, in this school at least, would not only be highly
instrumental but would also be incapable of responding to difference; without
standards, the inclusion agenda would remain a somewhat open-ended set of
principles with no clear means of operationalization.
Some wider implications
If this analysis of Broadmeadow is correct, then it implies a different relationship between national policy imperatives and the development of inclusive practices
in schools from that which is commonly assumed. Instead of policy acting to
constrain or subvert inclusive developments, it may make more sense to think in
terms of a complex dialogue both within national policy and between national policy
and school responses. However attenuated the version of inclusion offered by
New Labour Governments may be, it is nonetheless part of a consistent policy
concern (again, however ambiguous) for social justice (Whitty, 2001; Paterson,

484 A. Dyson and F. Gallannaugh

2003). Likewise, however driven schools may be by the targets and prescriptions of
the standards agenda, for some of them at least, concerns for inclusion and social
justice continue to inform their understanding of what raising standards actually
This has implications for the prospects of developing inclusive practices in
schools, and for the nature of those practices where they do emerge. As we have
seen, such developments are commonly viewed in terms of struggles for inclusion
(Vlachou, 1997) between the principles of inclusion and the very different principles
underpinning national policy imperatives. The hope is that teachers committed to
inclusive values will find what Booth calls: space to justify choosing those actions
which are in accordance with [their] values (Booth, 2003, p. 13).
The metaphors of struggle and space suggest that schools either tackle national
policy head on or find some means of escaping its prescriptions. However, our
account of Broadmeadow suggests a different metaphorthat of schools drawing
on policy formulations as a resource in making sense of the situations they face. To
be sure, such a metaphor implies that schools understandings of inclusion will be
marked by the ambiguities and contradictions of national policy. However, it also
implies that they will not be determined by national policy. Some development of
inclusive practicehowever hesitant and ambiguousmight be possible even if
national policy were entirely hostile, and is, we suggest, even more likely in the
current ambiguous policy context.
One implication is that relatively small shifts in the nature of national policy
formulations might increase the resources for inclusive development available to
schools, and elsewhere we argue for this as a way forward (Ainscow et al., 2006a, b).
A further implication, however, is that, if schools are to have access to other kinds of
resources, these will need to connect to the sorts of challenges which teachers
actually see themselves as facing. Specifically, if the inclusion community of practice
is to offer schools alternatives to the less-inclusive aspects of national policy, those
alternatives will have to connect with teachers concerns in this way. Our experience
in working with Broadmeadow, however, was that we felt unable to offer the school
anything much more specific than critical friendship based on what we understood
to be the broad principles of inclusion. We were in no position to offer our teacher
partners specific guidelines for action of the kind that they could find, for instance, in
the national standards agenda.
It may be that this was simply a tactical mistake on our part, or a reflection of our
failure to understand what is on offer from the inclusion community of practice.
However, Thomas and OHanlons (2002) observation that inclusion is often little
more than a buzzword suggests that the problem might not be ours alone. It is
beyond the scope of this paper to undertake a full analysis of why this might be the
case. We note, however, the extent to which scholarship on inclusion is concerned
with a process of cultural vigilantism (Corbett & Slee, 2000), which Slee elsewhere
asks direct questions: Whos in? and Whos out? [and demands] a cultural
calculus wherein we evaluate and question the relative values afforded to different

National policy and the development of school practices 485

people and groups of people through the culture of schools and classrooms. (Slee, 2001,
pp. 116117)

We see this focus on identity and difference in much of the inclusion literature
(see, amongst many others, Corbett, 1996; Corbett & Slee, 2000; Benjamin et al.,
2003; Cremin & Thomas, 2005; Messiou, 2006), and note how, in the Index of
inclusion (Booth & Ainscow, 2002), it generates not specific guidelines for action, but
lengthy sets of school self-review questions.
We would not wish to deny the importance either of this substantive focus
on identity and difference, or of the interrogative process from which inclusive
practices are held to emerge. However, neither can we help wondering whether
these are the only, or the best, ways to connect with the concerns of schools
such as Broadmeadow. As Nind, in another review of the field observes, while the
sociologically-literate perspective that has dominated much thinking about inclusion is crucial, in itself it is not sufficient. We are, as she argues, still: a long way
from a good collective understanding of inclusive pedagogy and curriculum (Nind,
2005, p. 274).
In this situation, we should not be surprised if schools such as Broadmeadow draw
on the prescriptive formulations of national policy more than some of us might
ideally like. Unless and until we can offer them something better, this will continue
to be the case.
1. Economic and Social Research Council UK grant L139251001, part of the Teaching and
Learning Research Programme. The other investigators in this study were Mel Ainscow of
Manchester University and Tony Booth of Christ Church University College Canterbury.

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