“An inclusive education system at all levels” – what does this mean today? Dr Tim Williams examines the facts versus the declarations

The Salamanca declaration (UNESCO, 1994) is often thought to mark a turning point in the move towards inclusive education. It declared that education was right for all and that the education should take place in regular education settings. It has been reinforced by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (aka CRPD – UN, 2006) which asserted that “States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels” (Article 24 of CRPD). Ten years after this, the UN took stock of the situation and showed that 87% of UN Member States had ratified the convention (weblink).  Figure 1 shows the status of the convention around the world.

Figure 1 Taken from the weblink above, this map shows the legal status of the CRPD. Most of Europe is coloured orange which indicates the highest level of agreement with the CRPD and its optional protocol.

My interest in this topic had however been piqued earlier because a friend of mine began work for the European Agency for Special Needs Education which publishes data on the extent of inclusive education in a number of member countries through a biennial survey. When I looked at the data tables in the surveys I was struck by how different the levels of inclusive education were across the jurisdictions of Europe. I have carefully used the word “jurisdiction” here because nation states do not necessarily have unified education systems. For instance in the UK there are four education systems which are evolving differently  (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales). In Germany each of the Länder have their own education policies and so on. So my first step was to look at the data. I chose as an indication of inclusive education to display fully segregated education which is the converse of inclusive education because I naïvely believed that the data would look much the same whereas the definition of inclusive education is less clear. Some forms of inclusive education simply educate the children with SEN in the same buildings as other pupils even though they have little contact with each other. Other systems use inclusive education to mean that children with SEN are educated in the same classrooms and following the same curriculum at the same time.

According to the latest survey data the percentage of pupils with Special Educational Needs in fully separate education settings varies between 100% in Switzerland and 7.11% in Croatia. The data is displayed in figure 2:

Figure 2 Bar Chart showing the Percentage of children with SEN educated in entirely separate settings. The home nations are shown in orange to highlight their differences. Note that some large countries (Belgium, Germany) are not represented in this dataset.

I have been trying to understand why the rates of segregated education are so high in some countries and almost non-existent in others. In the USA researchers have found that school districts with more people in them (largely urban ones) have much higher rates of segregated education than school districts with scattered populations (rural ones). There is however a confound between population density and poverty with more rural communities often having fewer financial resources than urban districts. At the level of jurisdictions as represented in figure 2 we might be able to identify whether there is higher correlation between population wealth and segregation. Alternatively it might represent a problem of geographical distance – populations that are more scattered cannot transport their children to segregated schools which might be several hours travel time away from the child’s home. So I compiled data on rurality from the EU, income levels from the trading economics website and a measure of income inequality (The GINI coefficient) from the World Bank. Unfortunately the correlations between percentage of children in segregated education bear little statistical relationship  to any of these indices: Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient (Segregation-GDP per head) = 0.17, p = 0.88; Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient (segregation-GINI coefficient) = 0.03, p=0.88;  Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient (Segregation-rurality index) = -0.04.

There are a couple of other factors that might be significant but which are not obvious from the data presented so far. Using the 2008 dataset on the levels of inclusive education shows that Italy is statistically different from the other jurisdictions – see figure 3. Why might this be so?

Figure 3 shows the proportion of children with SEN educated in inclusive settings in the primary age range. The only point that is labelled is Italy which has nearly 100% of its pupils with SEN in inclusive settings. The plot is a double square root plot which compares the square root of the number of pupils with SEND at primary age in inclusive settings (vertical axis) with the square root of the number of pupils with SEN of primary age in segregated settings (horizontal axis).

Data on the trends of inclusive education in Europe are instructive. They show that Italy has always had an exceptional percentage of children with SEN in inclusive settings throughout the 21st century. This probably because legislation in Italy to promote inclusive education started in 1971 and in 1992 legislated to include all pupils in inclusive settings with the exception of a few schools for the deaf and/or blind that pre-existed the legislation.

In Germany the situation mirrors that of Europe more generally. The Ministers of Education of all the Federal Länder agreed in 2010 to promote inclusive education. There is a wide variation between the Länder in the proportion of pupils educated in specialist segregated settings. Figure 4 shows the percentages of children educated in inclusive settings.

Figure 4 The percentages of primary age children with SEN in inclusive settings grouped by Land (Province). The greatest proportion of children educated in inclusive settings is seen in Bremen, with hte least in Bayern and Hessen. The bars in colour represent those Länder studied by Blanck, Edelstein & Powell (2013).

This data distribution is strikingly similar to the data from Europe displayed in figure 2. Blanck, Edelstein and Powell (2013) argued that the differences between the Länder might be due to institutional inertia and the presence of powerful forces resisting change not due to ideology, but potentially because of their financial and human investments in segregated education. They discuss four possible mechanisms for the persistence or otherwise of segregated education:

  1. Functional reproduction – the existing institutions continue to exist because there is no advantage to change from providing segregated education to providing inclusive education. The segregated institutions continue to provide all the examples of education of children with SEN so other forms of education are not able to demonstrate their abilities to be effective educators.
  2. Power-based reproduction – existing institutions have power because they have sequestered to themselves the knowledge necessary for effective special education and therefore they do not actively promote an inclusive model, and promote a segregated one;
  3. Law based reproduction – the system of laws may maintain a segregated system of education for SEN. Conversely, if a jurisdiction decides to enforce inclusive education (e.g. Italy) then inclusive education will spread.
  4. Utilitarian reproduction – essentially a financial argument for stability of maintaining a system of segregated education since the costs of change are too high.

In the German examples chosen by Blanck et al. (2013) there were very clear differences between the Länder. In Schleswig-Holstein, the Education minister determined as early as 1988 that inclusive education would be the route for the education of children with SEN. The educational professionals also developed training to enable inclusive education, thus weakening the power based reproductive stability. The authors point out that Bayern has long held itself apart as a separate entity within the German Federation and the traditions of education have been more closely linked to religious influences than elsewhere. In particular the Roman Catholic Church had invested heavily in providing charitable activities such as specialist and segregated education for children with SEN. The control of the Ministry of Education of local officials was seen as weaker since they had little local data on which to base their decisions.


The two sets of data (Europe, Germany) taken together show that important disparities in the success of inclusive education may arise. The data available do not suggest that the persistence of segregated education is due to economic factors, but rather as Blanck et al. (2013) have argued there are more “sociological” reasons for the success or otherwise of inclusive education. In this context one might note that Italy was also a major player in developing radical implementations’ of community (integrated) care for all people with mental illness (e.g. Reali & Shapland, 1986) including those that found themselves in police cells. In the future, it might be instructive to investigate the extent to which the four mechanisms suggested by Blanck et al. (2013) can hinder the changes in policy, or whether as the examples of Italy and Schleswig-Holstein suggest, a strong legislative impulse is also necessary for the abolition of segregated education.



Blanck, J. M., Edelstein, B., & Powell, J. J. (2013). Persistente schulische Segregation oder Wandel zur inklusiven Bildung? Die Bedeutung der UN-Behindertenrechtskonvention für Reformprozesse in den deutschen Bundesländern. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Soziologie= Revue Suisse de Sociologie39(5), 267-292.

Reali, M., & Shapland, J. (1986). Breaking down barriers: the work of the community mental health service of Trieste in the prison and judicial settings. International journal of law and psychiatry8(4), 395-412


Dr Tim I. Williams, D.Phil., AFBPsS

Associate Professor, Programme Director for the PGCert SENCo, Pathway Lead for Inclusive Education

HCPC registered Clinical and Educational Psychologist

Accredited Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapist



Are you an early years practitioner or a TA working in KS1 or KS2? Come and hear about how you could progress your career and achieve a degree whilst working

Our Foundation Degree and BA in Children’s Development and Learning have been running for over 10 years and have helped 100’s of people like you to advance their job prospects. Available to practitioners working with children aged birth to eleven, the courses lead on to a range of postgraduate options, including our Ofsted-acclaimed Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice.

Attending university whilst earning means your work and studies are closely related.  As one of our graduates said, “So much of the teaching is about reflection and improving on your practice.”

An early years teacher needs the highest level of communication skills, a wide spectrum of knowledge and a passion for social justice. It’s a really valuable and important role and is increasingly recognised as such. Research has shown the importance of children’s earliest educational experiences in relation to their chances in life and the impact that highly-qualified staff have on their growth and wellbeing. 

One Early Years graduate described her career as “The most compelling job in the world.”

 We hold regular, free sessions on Early Years careers and degrees here at the IoE’s London Road campus in central Reading.  Our staff have a wealth of experience in nurturing the talent that lies in the children’s workforce. Come and meet our small, friendly team and find out more about what our programmes can offer you.    


Date Time Course being discussed
Monday 4 December 2017 16.00 – 18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

Monday 8 January 2018 16.00 – 18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

Monday 5 February 2018 16.00 – 18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

Monday 5 March 2018 16.00 – 18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

Monday 9 April 2018 16.00 -18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

Monday 14 May 2018 16.00 – 18.00 Foundation Degree in Children’s Development & Learning

BA Children’s Development & Learning

Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years Practice with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

To book a place or for any further information please email us on





PGCE Primary and Secondary applicants – don’t delay as programmes may close as soon as places are filled

With a highly experienced community of academics, strong partnerships with local schools, and incredible facilities and resources, the nationally renowned Institute of Education is the place to gain your teaching qualification.

QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) is the qualification required by those who wish to teach in state schools in England and Wales, and a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate of Education) is an additional academic qualification which includes QTS.

The PGCE is one of the most popular routes into teaching, and is ideal for both graduates and for those considering a career change. We offer PGCEs focusing on a wide range of specialist subjects. The one-year course blends academic and practical learning through a combination of school placements and University-based sessions.

We offer PGCE qualifications in early years, primary and secondary teaching; you will need to specialise in a certain age group and/or subject areas. As well as considering your preferred age range and, where appropriate, subject area you will need to decide whether you would like to complete a university-led PGCE or a school-led qualification. 

Early application is advised as programmes may close as soon as places are filled.

See also

Information about our PGCE courses here

Teacher training application advice from UCAS 

IoE academic hosts international workshop to discuss challenges and benefits that face the million children in UK schools for whom English is not the first language

On 26th and 27th September, Dr Holly Joseph hosted a workshop funded by the British Academy at St John’s College in Oxford, entitled, “Language, literacy and learning in children who speak English as an additional language (EAL)”. The workshop brought together senior academic and early career researchers from across the UK and Europe, united in trying to find out more about the challenges and benefits that face the million children in UK schools for whom English is not their first language. The workshop was unique in bringing together researchers from very different backgrounds and perspectives, enabling discussion between academics whose paths seldom cross.

The President of St John’s College, Professor Maggie Snowling started the workshop, talking about her research on children with reading difficulties and its relevance to EAL children. Professor Victoria Murphy and Professor Steve Strand, both from University of Oxford’s Education department, gave wonderful talks on the importance of vocabulary development for EAL children (Prof. Murphy) and the attainment of EAL children and how focusing on language background and ethnicity can give further insights in to which children are most at risk of low achievement (Prof Strand). Our very own Dr Naomi Flynn gave our final keynote, talking about EAL children’s identities at school and at home, with fascinating interviews with children, their parents and their teachers. Alongside the four keynotes, were a number of shorter presentations from early career researchers which showcased the innovative and exciting new research taking place in the area.

There were some broad themes that came out of the workshop: 1) Is EAL a helpful term when it includes such a variety of children? 2) How can we best assess EAL children’s current English proficiency and their experience of English and other languages at home? 3) Quantitative and qualitative researchers need to work together to provide richer data sets and deeper understanding of the key issues; and 4) Contrary to common public perception, there is no detriment to monolingual English speaking children if there is a high proportion of EAL children in their classroom; indeed there is some evidence that EAL children actually progress faster than their peers!

A second workshop for teachers and other practitioners will take place at the Institute of Education, University of Reading on 21st March, 2018. Here we will discuss issues relating to assessment, policy, literacy and language. More information to follow soon – watch this space.

For more information about this or any other events, please email us: ioe@reading.ac.uk

Coming into the final furlong of your degree? Thought about transforming lives through education? Remembered your alumni discount for further study here?

One of the most attractive career options available to students from almost any discipline is the University of Reading’s own Institute of Education. 

With us you have the advantage of your alumni discount; you can explore the many routes to becoming a teacher; discover short courses that convert your knowledge to teaching power; and engage in a career in one of the UK’s most rapidly expanding fields of expertise. 

Embracing the demands of the 21st century requires educated, engaged and active citizens; individuals with resilience and the confidence to tackle challenges. At the Institute of Education we have the research, the expertise and the passion to help develop you into one of these leaders.

The IoE is ranked 3rd in the UK for Education (The Guardian University League Table 2018), with internationally renowned and award-winning academics. Our highly reputable partnerships with over 300 schools enables us, together, to train the next generation of outstanding teachers.

Come and see us in London Road to find out more – it’s beautiful here!

CONTACT US: Email: ioe@reading.ac.uk, Telephone:  + 44 (0) 118 378 2601

After hurricane devastation on British Virgin Islands, recent IoE MA grad Kimberly George is working to get her school up and running again.

Kimberly George recently returned to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) with her family to take up her new post as head of a high ranking local primary school. Coming home with her MA Education from the Institute of Education, Reading, Kimberly was looking forward to the challenges of her new role. Yet the situation she walked into was one she could never have predicted.

The BVI had just been virtually flattened by two devastating hurricanes. Her own school, the Bregado Flax Educational Centre (Primary), was dreadfully damaged and its secondary section completely destroyed.

“Most persons have lost everything”

Kimberly is now facing one of the most challenging situations a new Principal could imagine. While her section of the school will be usable after extensive repairs, the primary children will have to be taught in temporary accommodation while work is underway – and there is a desperate need for equipment and teaching materials.

Kimberley explained:

We have been hit really badly by two hurricanes. The BVI is quite devastated now. No communication or anything. Most persons have lost everything. And are leaving the country. My family is well. We lost our roof and the things in our home but we are alive. Thank God. My girls had to be relocated for school, as school will not be up and running for a while. They are staying with my family members abroad. It is quite difficult but the people of the territory are working to rebuild.

Artwork by students of the school

“As the new Principal of the primary school it is going to be challenging in my role as we have lost more than half the schools in the territory. I am working with the staff and people in the community to see how best we get the school up and running, with government help of course. Our education department resumed school with the first group of students on October 5. We will be housed in a temporary building until we get the school fixed.”

The IoE’s Dr Helen Bilton and Dr Karen Jones have set up a ‘Just Giving’ page to help Kimberly raise funds for equipment and teaching materials for the school.

Dr Helen Bilton said:

It was a great pleasure to have taught and worked with Kimberly as she progressed through her MA. She is a strong, influential and inspiring figure, as was plain during her time with us, and as has become clearly evident in her calm management of a nearly impossible situation in the aftermath of the devastating events in the British Virgin Islands. At the IoE, we are all wholeheartedly behind her in her remarkable efforts. Raising funds in this way is, we feel, the very least we can do to help.