Inclusion is a worthwhile goal for any education system. If we are in favour of inclusion then we are in favour of ensuring that schools make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of children with a diverse range of disabilities and disorders. Not only is this likely to be good for these children, it is likely to benefit the wider school population by exposing them to different perspectives. I think that we can all agree on this.
The fact that inclusion is a moral good perhaps leads some of its proponents into an overzealous form of advocacy. When inclusion is seen to fail then it is because it is not proper inclusion. Anyone who highlights challenges or raises questions is treated as if they are morally questionable. Inclusion is seen as a rights-based movement, similar to the civil rights movement in 1960s America. But this is not an accurate picture.
When advocates propose a ‘bill of rights’ for excluded students, it is worth asking why it should stop there. Why not have a bill of rights for all school children? I can think of a few important rights: The right to safety; the right to freedom from harassment and bullying; the right to an education free of disruption. However, as is often the case, it is clear that the rights of different individuals may come into conflict. The right of one child to be included in a classroom may conflict with the right of another child to freedom from harassment.
This is because some children suffer from disorders and disabilities that affect their behaviour; disorders such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD). There is ample room for discussion about the nature of these conditions but, whatever your standpoint, it is a fact that they are often associated with troubling and disruptive behaviour. ODD and CD are quite clearly defined by it. These behaviours may then impact on the experiences of other children.
Simply asserting the right for all children to be included is not helpful because it does not take account of the effect of troubling behaviour on other students. Instead, advocates of inclusion should demonstrate how to include students with various disabilities and disorders. They should run trials to demonstrate the effectiveness of these approaches. If, as many appear to believe, a non-punitive approach is the best way to include children with behavioural difficulties then they should demonstrate this by running high-quality, preregistered, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in real classrooms. They could compare a wide range of approaches against each other and a control, measure numbers of behavioural incidents, survey student and teacher perceptions and monitor academic outcomes. No one trial would be definitive, but as a body of work this would increase our knowledge of the best way to include as many students as possible.
This would be a worthwhile use of time and energy, far superior to vociferously asserting that education systems have a moral obligation to do things that education systems don’t know how to do.