Inclusion in Context

Policy, Practice and Pedagogy

by Órla Ní Bhroin (Author)
Monographs VI, 198 Pages


Recent years have seen a rapid policy transformation from segregation to inclusion in the education of children with special educational needs in Ireland. This book investigates how resource teachers and class teachers interpret the policy and principles of inclusion and enact these in their practice. Based on a study of nine resource teachers and nine class teachers, each paired in a particular school, it includes material from both interviews and observations of practice, providing a detailed qualitative account of the actions and interactions of teaching/learning experiences. The findings provide valuable insights into how inclusion is understood, interpreted and experienced in the classroom. They will be of interest to all those who are active in the field of education for inclusion, particularly teachers and policymakers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Policy Transformation, Conceptualisations of Inclusion and Implications for Practice
  • Chapter 3: Teachers’ Practices and Pedagogy for Inclusion
  • Chapter 4: Teachers’ Understandings of Inclusion
  • Chapter 5: Communicative Routines
  • Chapter 6: Attunement
  • Chapter 7: Coherence-Fragmentation
  • Chapter 8: Whither Inclusion? Policy, Practice and Pedagogy
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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The introduction of the first piece of legislation relating to education in Ireland (Education Act, Government of Ireland, 1998) heralded a period of rapid policy transformation from segregation to inclusion in the education of children with special educational needs. As such, within the past two decades, the mainstream primary education system has experienced significant change in terms of its requirement to educate all children, including those with special educational needs. Such change constitutes a challenge to the established practices of most teachers, as they are required to interpret knowledge of special education and the policy and principles of inclusion in their constructions of practice. However, as consistently noted (Florian, 2014; Hegarty, 2001; Winter & O’Raw, 2010), definitions, concepts and principles of inclusion are many and varied, contributing to multiple interpretations in practice, while knowledge of special educational needs with implications for teaching and learning has to be acquired. Although legislation and policy documents make the presumption for inclusion, and capacity-building measures were implemented, decision-making regarding these measures “appears to have been influenced by reactionary coping mechanisms to manage and control the swift expansion of educational provision for children with special educational needs in the mainstream setting rather than a proactive commitment to inclusion” (Ní Bhroin, 2013, p. 114). This problematic context raises the question of how resource teachers and class teachers interpret and construct practices to include children with special educational needs in mainstream primary schools. To address this issue, a study was conducted focusing on resource teachers’ and class teachers’ interpretations of policy and principles of inclusion, and on the manner in which policy and principle are enacted in their practice. Although set in the Irish context, the focus of the study transcends geographical boundaries in so far as “how teachers make ← 1 | 2 → meaning of the concept of inclusion in their practice” (italics in original) is of relevance to all teachers who face the key challenge of becoming more inclusive (Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011, p. 813). With a focus on resource teachers’ and class teachers’ understanding and constructions of practice to include children with special educational needs in mainstream primary school, the purpose of this book is to report on the study.

The study was exploratory and interpretive in that it sought to provide insight into inclusive practice in the mainstream setting from the perspectives of the key constructors of that practice and to increase understanding of inclusion by systematically documenting teachers’ intentions and pedagogical routines. Additionally, it was anticipated that documenting these “realities” had potential to inform policy while providing insights relating to improvement of practice through professional development programmes. On this basis, the rationale for the book is to extend the current literature on how teachers enact the concept of inclusion in practice, to disseminate constructions of practice and pedagogy that support the inclusion of children with special educational needs in mainstream primary schools and to add to debate on the interpretation of the principles of inclusion in practice, with implications for teachers and those involved in their professional preparation and development, and for policy makers. The following sections of this chapter articulate my personal interest in the substantive focus of the study, justify the significance of the study at this time, and discuss the terminology of policy, practice and pedagogy to indicate the understanding of these terms that underpins their use in the study, concluding with an overview of the remaining chapters in the book.

Personal Interest in the Substantive Focus

My personal interest in teachers’ practices of inclusion arises from my professional experience as a former class teacher and resource teacher in a mainstream primary school and as a teacher educator currently involved ← 2 | 3 → in initial and continuing professional development. Having qualified as a primary school teacher in 1983, I began teaching a combined first and second class in September of that year, in a school designated by the then Department of Education as disadvantaged. The development of my expertise as a class teacher was accompanied by a growing appreciation of heterogeneity and individuality, and while the need to do something additional and above the ordinary in designing the teaching-learning experiences for some pupils was obvious, my knowledge of how was acquired by trial and error. In 1990, the establishment by the Department of Education of a psychological service for primary schools on a pilot basis in two areas in Ireland, one being West Dublin where I taught, led to improved access to pupil assessment. However, due to “crisis demands for assessments” (Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), 1993, p. 1), any form of teacher support was rare and in-service or continuing professional development in the area of special education and inclusion was not available for class teachers at this time. In retrospect, regarding practice, I considered individual objectives and devised individual learning activities for some, because not to have done so would have led to a mini riot. Nonetheless, I was more motivated by keeping everybody gainfully employed than a commitment to inclusion.

In 1999, a system of resource teaching allocation was introduced by the Department of Education and Science (DES, 1999a) as the automatic response to applications for additional teaching support for pupils with special educational needs enrolled in mainstream primary schools (this is elaborated in Chapter 2). I was one of the resource teachers appointed as a result of this departmental initiative. This appointment was shared between two schools, based on the number of children with assessed special educational needs in our school combined with those in the neighbouring boys’ school. The appointment of a resource teacher meant that the most challenging children in the school who had previously been receiving learning support transferred to resource support; it did not result in the transfer of children with special educational needs from special schools. The realities of resource teaching, without designated time for collaboration in planning and implementing an education programme for the children with special educational needs, without in-service (the dramatic increase ← 3 | 4 → in the number of resource teachers appointed rapidly outpaced induction course placements), without a classroom base from which to operate, and in most cases, the relief of class teachers when they and other students “got a break” from the students with special educational needs, were difficult to reconcile with the rhetoric of inclusion. As such, the problems associated with interpreting the principles and policy of inclusion and enacting this interpretation in practice, which form this study’s focus, were inextricably linked with my teaching experience as both a class teacher and resource teacher.

As a teacher educator involved in initial and continuing professional development, I have contributed to a number of courses at various levels concerned with increasing teachers’ understanding and expertise for teaching students with special educational needs. A key element of this work has been the preparation of teachers to assess for, plan and teach individually relevant learning programmes. This is useful to teachers working in special schools who can pursue individual programmes in the context of the low pupil-to-teacher ratios assigned to these schools (DES, 2002). However, one of the consequences of inclusive policy reform is the ever increasing number of additional support teachers in mainstream schools participating in continuing professional development. Evidently, inclusion is an issue for these teachers while in terms of “fit for purpose”, professional development for teachers in special schools may not automatically transfer to the mainstream or to resource teachers in mainstream schools. As such, the extent to which continuing professional development is adequate for resource teachers and additional support teachers in the mainstream setting in terms of preparation for inclusion becomes an additional issue. My professional role within this context contributes significantly to my interest in this study’s focus.

Apart from personal, professional interest, the substantive focus of the study is pertinent in terms of shedding light on how teachers understand and enact inclusion in practice. Additionally, the study is particularly significant in relation to educational policy and practice in the Irish context at this point in time. Although elaborated in Chapters 2 and 3, the study’s significance is justified briefly in the following section. ← 4 | 5 →


VI, 198
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (August)
Inclusion of children with special educational needs Practice and pedagogy for inclusion Policy of inclusion
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VI, 198 pp., 1 b/w ill., 10 tables, 3 fig.

Biographical notes

Órla Ní Bhroin (Author)

Órla Ní Bhroin is Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Special and Inclusive Education option on the Master of Education at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University. She is also Deputy Director of CREATE21, the Centre for Collaborative Research across Teacher Education at the Institute of Education (DCU). She is a former primary school teacher in both mainstream and resource settings.


Title: Inclusion in Context
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