EADM 310 Policy Analysis 1
EADM 310 POLICY ANALYSIS
Inclusion of Students with Special Needs
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 2
All educators are well aware of the fact that each and every student they teach is unique and
different in some way. Every student has different interests, strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. As a
result, teachers have to prepare, teach, and make adaptations that will allow all of their learners to be
successful. In today’s classrooms it is becoming increasingly common for students with special needs to
be included in the mainstream classroom. Students with special needs can be defined as students that
have intellectual disabilities, emotional or behavioural problems, or physical disabilities. The issue of
including these students in the normal classroom is a complex one, with many possible pros and cons.
The implications of inclusion are far reaching, effecting teachers, parents, students with special needs,
and other students in the mainstream classroom. It also has large implications on the financial element of
schooling. People who support either side of this issue have made their viewpoints well known, as their
passion in support of, or against inclusion have been clearly communicated.
Many questions arise when studying the inclusion of students with special needs in the
mainstream classroom. Some issues that must be addressed include:
-Do students with special needs learn better in a mainstream classroom, or in an isolated classroom?
-Is the learning of other students positively or negatively affected by having students with special needs in
-Should students with special needs spend their entire day in a mainstream classroom? Should special
education and general education be combined or separate entities?
-What are the implications for teachers? Are all teachers prepared and able to teach students with special
-What are the financial implications of inclusion? What is more important, learning at any cost, or the
cost of learning?
These are only a few of the questions and issues that must be considered when examining inclusion.
Inclusion is very important in the development of both students with special needs and students
who do not have special needs. The education system must evolve with the rest of society and the world.
The days of segregating students with special needs must be left behind with other educational policies
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 3
that have been found to be ineffective. A large part of being an educator is possessing the ability to
reflect upon and assess the effectiveness of current teaching practices. If examined closely,
administrators, teachers, parents, and students will all realize that including students with special needs in
mainstream classes will be beneficial to all parties involved. This being said, there is still a place for
separate classrooms for students with special needs. Special education and general education can be
combined in a way that will be of maximum benefit for the learning of students with special needs. A
policy of ‘best place, best practice’ should be used in the education of students with special needs. There
is a definite benefit to including them in regular classrooms, but there are situations where working in a
separate environment would be more beneficial to their learning.
Before examining the complexity of inclusion, it is first necessary to define and understand what
it is. There are many different definitions available, but they all share the same underlying principles. In
his book, From Disability to Possibility, Patrick Schwarz defines inclusion as:
The attitude that all students belong everywhere, with everyone else, in the school community. The
strategy behind inclusion is to design supports – innovative approaches to learning, differentiated
instruction, curricular adaptations – for every student in the classroom, to include the entire spectrum
of learners. (Schwarz, 2006, p. 34-35)
The New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL) expands on this definition by
including the following:
Inclusion is about looking at the ways our schools, classrooms, programs and lessons are designed so
that all children can participate and learn. Inclusion is about finding different ways of teaching so that
classrooms actively involve all children. (New Brunswick Association for Community Living, 2000,
These definitions speak almost exclusively to the idea of having students with special needs present and
learning in mainstream classrooms. It is important to remember though, that schooling is about more than
just knowledge based learning. School is also an environment for the development of relationships and
social skills. The NBACL addresses this aspect of inclusion as well, by stating that “finally, inclusion
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 4
also means finding ways to help develop friendships, relationships, and mutual respect between children
with disabilities and their schoolmates, and between pupils in the school.” (p. 10)
There is a long and storied history of the education of students with special needs. Going back
over a century, there is evidence of debate of how to best educate these students. In the late 1800’s
students with special needs were placed in special residential institutions. As the 20th century progressed,
many public schools began to take in students with special needs. However, they were isolated from
other students and were part of segregated classrooms. At this point, these students were living away
from their families, removed from their communities. In the 1950’s and 1960’s families lobbied to have
students accepted into normal schools, with the hopes of keeping their children at home and in their
community. Their efforts succeeded and many schools began educating these students; at this point
though, they remained in separate classrooms. Towards the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the inclusion of
students with special needs in mainstream classrooms has risen. However, the level and perception of
inclusion has not been strictly regulated or defined. Across provinces, divisions, and even between
schools governed under the same board, differences exist in what inclusion means. (Burge, Ouellette-
Kuntz, Hutchinson, and Box, 2008, p. 3-4) There are no set standards for schools to follow. Many
schools say that they include students with special needs in mainstream classrooms, but this is exhibited
in different ways. Some students are in mainstream classes all day, some for half a day, some for only
one period a day. In other situations, students are present in mainstream classes, but are not involved.
Too often these students are ignored and just sit without participating, not learning any subject content or
developing their social skills.
As our society becomes more and more politically correct, many schools feel the need to give
into the pressures of those members of society who support inclusion. Hence, these schools say that
“inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms is the dominant policy,” and “acknowledge
that placement of a student [with disabilities] in a regular class is the first option considered” when
deciding how to best educate students with special needs. This may not actually be the case. Many
believe that up to 40% of students with intellectual disabilities are still being educated in segregated
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 5
classrooms. (Burge et al., 2008, p. 2) Many people are shifting their attitudes about inclusion towards
including them in mainstream classrooms. However, the best way to do this is challenging. There are
implications for teachers, parents, and students that must be considered and addressed. There are no
simple solutions, but a solution must be worked towards nonetheless.
Canada is known for and is proud of its attitudes towards diversity, acceptance, and respect. Our
nation is one where people of all cultures, backgrounds, and abilities are welcomed and encouraged to
live with freedom and without restraint. Citizens are given equal opportunities to be educated and to be
successful in all of their endeavours. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states under Section 15 that:
(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and
equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on
race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration
of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of
race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982)
All citizens of Canada are considered to be equal regardless of their mental or physical ability. Although
there is no direct law referencing education it is reasonable to say that all citizens should be given equal
access to education regardless of their mental or physical ability. Furthermore, all persons should be
given access to the same education as their counterparts. Based on this interpretation, students with
special needs have the right to inclusive education.
Canadian society has been very supportive of inclusion. Persons with special needs are active
and accepted in their communities. Burge et al. notes that “Canadians feel that people with disabilities
should have the opportunity to participate in life to their fullest potential – that is part of the ‘Canadian
way’ of doing things.” (Burge et al., 2008, p.2) They are not removed and placed in special institutions.
Rather, programs and policies have been developed to help them be as active in society as possible.
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 6
Many persons with all types of special needs are able to function almost completely independently.
Workplaces are not allowed to discriminate against persons with special needs when hiring for
employment. Transportation options and building regulations have been designed and implemented to
help persons with disabilities gain access to facilities. Actions such of these have been taken for the sole
intent of giving persons with special needs the abilities to be included in society as much as possible. If
the rest of society is making efforts and adaptations to include persons with special needs, shouldn’t
education systems be doing the same?
As mentioned above, there are many stakeholders involved in the debate for inclusion. Students
with disabilities, students without disabilities, parents, teachers, governments and school boards all have
interests and concerns that must be considered.
It is not unreasonable to say that the people with the largest interest in inclusion are the students
who have special needs. For years they have been kept out of regular classrooms, being told that it was in
their best interest. But as education is evolving and new information from research is being released, it is
becoming apparent that including students with special needs in the mainstream classroom has significant
benefits for both their learning and social development. These results have been proven repeatedly
through a wide variety of studies. Dealing specifically with academic success, it has been proven that
those students with special needs who are educated in inclusive classrooms show greater improvement on
standardized testing. They have better overall grades and show more motivation to learn than their
counterparts who are educated in separate classrooms. Looking specifically at reading and writing,
Banerji and Dailey found that students involved in an inclusive setting for three months showed
improvements in their reading and writing skills that were similar to the improvements shown by the
students who did not have special needs. (Salend, Garrick Duhaney, 1999) Speaking to the notion that
the best form of education for students with special needs is to combine special education and general
education, the results of a study conducted by Marston (1996) can be used as evidence. Marston studied
students who were educated in three different groups:
i) inclusion only – students taught in a general education setting only
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 7
ii) combined services – students taught in a general education setting with support from a special
iii) pull-out only – students taught in a special education classroom
The results showed that the students in the combined services group had significantly greater increases in
reading ability than the students educated in the other two groups. (Marston, 1996)
The implications towards the social development of students with special needs educated in
regular classrooms are also very positive. Kennedy, Shukla, and Fryxell found that:
Students who were educated in inclusion classrooms had a greater number of interactions and social
contacts with students without disabilities, were the recipients of and provided greater levels of social
support behaviours, had larger friendship networks that mostly included classmates without
disabilities, and had more lasting social relationships with students without disabilities. (Kennedy,
Shukla, and Fryxell, 1997)
A concern that is often raised by adversaries to inclusion is that students with special needs will disrupt
the classroom with behavioural problems. This concern has been shown to be untrue. Feedback provided
by teachers and parents has demonstrated that students with special needs will follow the lead of their
non-disabled classmates and act in a similar manner to them. (Banerji and Dailey, 1995)
The second group that has a concern in the debate over inclusion is students who do not have
disabilities. Many feel that the learning of these students will be negatively impacted if students with
special needs are brought into their classrooms. Less personal time with the teacher, and disruptions
caused by students with special needs are the two main concerns raised. The latter of these concerns has
been proven to be untrue as evidenced by Banerji and Dailey above. It would seem plausible that having
students with special needs in the classroom could be detrimental to the learning of other students.
Students with special needs will often need extra attention and help. This, however, does not mean that
teachers will be spending all of their time with these students. There are strategies that can be
implemented to help all students. In many situations, aids will be present in the classroom to provide
assistance to those students with special needs. Allowing and encouraging students without to disabilities
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 8
to help their peers with special needs is also a very beneficial strategy in a number of ways. First it
benefits the student with special needs, because they have someone to assist them in their learning.
Second, for the students that are assisting it helps to foster a level of respect and understanding. Finally,
the social development of both parties is impacted in a positive way. A bond can be created that will lead
to respect, communication and friendship between the parties. Rather than looking at the situation as
having potential for being negative, strategies can be implemented that can quickly turn the situation into
Studies have shown that the academic outcomes of students without disabilities are not negatively
impacted in inclusive classrooms. It has been found that the amount of instructional time given to
students without disabilities in inclusive classrooms is not significantly less than the time given to
students in non-inclusive classrooms. Scores achieved in reading, mathematics and spelling have also
been found to be unaffected. Contrary to the opinion of many, results have shown that students who
actually participate in group activities with students with special needs can actually greatly increase their
learning. (Salend et al., 1999)
The social benefits of being educated in an inclusive setting are many for students without
disabilities. It also appears that the earlier students are exposed to inclusion, the better the attitudes and
understanding that is developed. Elementary students report that they develop an understanding of and
respect for other regardless of their physical or behavioural characteristics. (Biklen, Corrigan, and Quick,
1989) Overall, students without disabilities of all ages report developing attitudes of understanding,
tolerance, and increased personal growth. These are all values that every teacher and parent hopes their
students and children will learn during their youth. Our society is based on a culture of respect,
cooperation and understanding. The earlier children are exposed to difference, the earlier they will be
able to develop positive attitudes towards it. If accepting attitudes are developed at a young age, the
stereotypes and discrimination that are portrayed in our society will eventually be eradicated. If these
attitudes and values are being developed in inclusive classrooms, it is hard to discount the value of
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 9
Some valid concerns are raised with respect to the interaction between the two groups of students
in inclusive classrooms. In the studies that were conducted, students without disabilities reported feeling
uncomfortable with the physical and social characteristics of some students with special needs. Some
students also found difficulty in establishing relationships with students who had severe disabilities. In
these situations, communication was often not reciprocated by the students with special needs, making it
difficult and uncomfortable for non-disabled students. (Peck, Donaldson, and Pezzoli, 1990) These two
issues can definitely be seen as challenges and detractors towards inclusion. Many adults feel
uncomfortable and awkward being in the presence of persons with physical, behavioural and emotional
disabilities. It is not shocking then, that children would feel the same way when first introduced to
persons with special needs in their classrooms. This is not an unnatural reaction. It is however, a great
opportunity for these children to learn and accept others who are different. Our world is made up of
people with many different characteristics. Inclusion is becoming the norm in our society. Outside of
schools people are going to be dealing with persons with special needs. What kind of interactions are
going to be taking place if everyone in society is uncomfortable around people who are different from
them. Including students with special needs in the classroom needs to be seen as a learning experience.
Young children are innocent and have not formed concrete opinions of others. They are very open to all
people, mainly because they do not pay attention to the differences that adults see in others. On the other
hand, they are very impressionable. As they grow they begin to form opinions. Too often they are
exposed to negative attitudes and stereotypes towards others, especially persons who have special needs.
If students can be exposed to difference early in the educational careers, they will be given the chance to
form positive attitudes towards others with special needs. Later in life, they will be able to resist the
negative influence and stereotypes that others place on people who are different. Ideally, they will stand
up to these discriminatory practices and encourage others to value and respect difference.
This notion sounds very idealistic and utopian. Obviously just sharing a classroom with persons
with special needs is not going to lead to positive experiences. Forming relationships with students who
have moderate and severe disabilities can and will be difficult. Again, the opportunity must be taken to
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 10
encourage interaction between the two groups of students. It may take a long time and be uncomfortable
and difficult at times, but eventually great relationships can be formed.
Although concerns about socializing have been expressed by students without disabilities who are
involved in inclusive classrooms, they are not the only ones who foresee problems. Parents of students
with special needs have also expressed great apprehension and worry. Mary Kaplowitz is a Special
Education teacher in Pennsylvania. She was a supporter of inclusion until she had a child of her own who
was born with autism. She soon realized the negative impact schooling could have on her child. After
only a short time in pre-school she noticed that her son was being rejected and isolated from the other
students. None of the other children would play with him, and eventually they started making fun of him
because of his disabilities. (Tomsho, 2007) Stories such as this are not uncommon among families that
have children with special needs. The benefits of being educated and socialized with students who do not
have special needs are many and have the potential to be positive. But there is a risk of these experiences
becoming very negative. A lot of care and supervision must be exercised within inclusive classrooms by
teachers and administrators. Students that do not have disabilities have to understand the differences of
their peers and understand their roles and responsibilities. Positive attitudes must be reinforced and
negative, disrespectful behaviours must be dealt with quickly and sternly.
Including students with special needs in the mainstream classroom presents a number of
challenges to teachers. Teachers, in general, are not trained to teach children with special needs. Many
university teacher education programs will touch briefly on teaching the ‘adaptive dimension’, but unless
a teacher is a special education major or minor, they will have had very limited training. Each student
with a special need has unique abilities and disabilities. There may be certain strategies and aides needed
that will enable them to learn best. The majority of teachers will not be as educated as they need to be to
understand the uniqueness of each child’s disability, and will therefore not know how to help them learn
best. If teachers are placed into a situation that they are not trained for, it is not unrealistic to expect a
negative outcome. The child with the special need will not be taught as they need and deserve to be. The
education of the other students in the class may suffer because of the teacher devoting a majority of their
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 11
time to the students with special needs. And finally, the health and success of the teacher will be put at
risk. It is obvious that being placed into an uncomfortable position will cause great amounts of stress.
With this will come failing health and job dissatisfaction for the teacher. In this case, both the students
and teacher will suffer.
For inclusion to work, supports need to be put in place. It is not as easy as just putting the
children with special needs into the classroom and waiting to see what happens. Teachers need to be
given training on the nature of the disability of each student. They must know what the capabilities of the
students are, and what the areas of weakness are. Throughout the school year, teachers will need constant
assistance in developing teaching materials, and in monitoring the learning of their students. There are a
number of ways that teachers can be assisted. Administration, firstly, must be fully supportive of the
teachers, and provide them with the necessary materials and aides. Consultants specializing in the
education of students with special needs should be available to teachers whenever needed. At times,
teachers may require aides in the classroom to provide one on one help to students. With a strong support
system in place, there is no doubt that the inclusion of students with special needs into the mainstream
classroom can be a successful venture.
The final group with an interest in inclusion is governments and school boards. The main interest
of these two groups is the financial implications of inclusion. Education is becoming more and more
expensive and the organizations funding it are always looking for ways to cut costs. Supporters of
inclusion insist that it is much cheaper to include students with special needs into the mainstream
classroom than it is to segregate them in their own classroom. This makes sense, as the number of
classrooms, teachers and aides required could be reduced. Adversaries of inclusion counter by raising the
question: What is more important, the cost of education, or the quality of education? Is it more important
to cut corners and jeopardize the quality of education, in order to save money? Most would agree that the
quality of education is much more important. Most would also agree though, that what is correct and best
for students is not always what happens.
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 12
It has become quite clear that inclusion is a much more complex topic than it may seem. There
are many stakeholders with valid concerns and interests in the issue. Everyone involved in the issue is
very passionate about their beliefs and views. This is understandable, as the lives and futures of many of
our youth are being affected. When all sides of the issue are studied, I believe that the most effective
educational strategy for all parties involved is to include students with special needs in the mainstream
classroom as much as possible. However, I do still feel that isolated classrooms need to be incorporated
at times. The learning that takes place in mainstream classrooms can be reinforced in settings where
students with special needs are removed from their peers. These settings may also be the best place for
learning of some subjects to occur. For example, students who are easily distracted may learn reading
skills better when in a quiet, removed setting.
The benefits of inclusion are too many to keep isolating students with special needs from
mainstream classrooms. The educational benefits and effects on learning have been evidenced. Students
taught in a general education setting with support from a special education classroom have been shown to
have the best academic success. It is also important to consider the life skills that students with special
needs must learn while in school. Social skills, including appropriate interaction and communication with
others, are important skills that all students learn in school. Isolating students with special needs from
their non-disabled peers prevents these students from improving their social skills.
It has also been shown that non-disabled students do not suffer when they have students with
special needs included in their classrooms. In fact, they can benefit. Their academic success is not
affected in any negative ways. Conversely, in some situations their academic success can be increased.
Their social skills are also improved when exposed to students with special needs. They are able to
establish relationships, and are able to develop an understanding and respect for people who are different
from themselves. Thus, inclusion is a benefit for all students and society in general.
It is true that inclusion does have many challenges. Change is never easy. But change never
happens if challenges are not addressed and overcome. Issues raised by parents and adversaries to
inclusion are valid and credible. Some studies have revealed that students with certain disabilities do
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 13
learn better in isolated settings. For example, Cohen found that “research shows significant gains as
measured by performance intelligence tests of deaf children who attend schools for the deaf – gains that
are not found in deaf children who attend mainstream programs.” (Cohen, 1994) This research cannot be
disregarded. It can be used to support the argument of combining general education with special
education. At times, isolated settings are better for learning. But the additional benefits of inclusion
(social, feelings of worth) can also not be downplayed. They are just as important as the academic
benefits of inclusion.
Change takes time, dedication and commitment. There are many changes that must be
undertaken for inclusion to be successful. Supports must be put in place for students, parents and
teachers. School boards and governments must change policy and funding frameworks for the necessary
change to be implemented. As changes are introduced, and the results start to become evident, it will be
apparent that an inclusive strategy involving the combination of general and special education is the best
educational practice for students with and without special needs.
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 14
Banerji, M., & Dailey, R. A. (1995). A study of the effects of an inclusion model on students
with specific learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28, 511-522.
Biklen, C., Corrigan, C., & Quick, D. (1989). Beyond obligation: Students' relations with each other in
integrated classes. In D. Lipsky and A. Gartner, Eds.,Beyond Separate Education: Quality
Education for All.
Burge, Ouellette-Kuntz, Hutchinson. (2008). A quarter century of inclusive education for children with
intellectual disabilities in Ontario: Public perceptions. Canadian Journal of Educational
Administration and Policy, 87, 1-22.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982. Department of Justice Canada.
Cohen, O. (1994). Inclusion should not include deaf students. Education Week.
Kennedy, C.H., Shukla, S., & Fryxell, D. (1997). Comparing the effects of educational placement on the
social relationships of intermediate school students with severe disabilities, Exceptional
Children, 64, 31 – 48.
Marston, D. (1996). A comparison of inclusion only, pull-out only, and combined service models for
students with mild disabilities. Journal of Special Education 30, 2. 121-132.
New Brunswick Association for Community Living. (2000). Achieving inclusion: a parent guide to
inclusive education in New Brunswick. Fredericton, NB.
Peck, C. A., Donaldson, J.,& Pezzoli, M. (1990). Some benefits adolescents perceive for themselves from
their social relationships with peers who have severe disabilities. Journal of the Association for
Persons with Severe Handicaps, 15(4), 241-249.
Salend, S., Garrick Duhaney, L. (2000). The impact of inclusion on students with and without disabilities
and their educators. Remedial and Special Education, 20, 114-126.
Schwarz, P. (2006). From disability to possibility. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
EADM 310 Policy Analysis 15
Tomsho, R. (2007, November 27). Parents of disabled students push for separate classes. The Wall
Street Journal. p. A1.