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date: 17 August 2017

Addressing Dilemmas and Tensions in Inclusive Education

Summary and Keywords

Inclusive education has become a prominent international ideal and value in educational policies and practices. It is a seemingly simple concept about opportunities, equality, and solidarity that has wide global appeal. However, inclusion as applied to education connects with various social and political values that have been contested over many decades. One issue that underlies inclusion as a value is whether it represents a single coherent value or multiple values that can come into tension leading to dilemmas that need to be resolved. This issue is often overlooked in considerations about inclusive education but does affect various key issues about differentiation in the design of curricula and assessment, the location of provision, and how difference is identified and labeled and about participation in the social interaction between students who are different. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Keywords: inclusive education, hedgehog and fox perspectives, value tensions, dilemmas of difference, inclusive assessment, social inclusion, autonomy and control


The aim of this article is to further develop arguments about the nature of inclusive education through reference to recent empirical research and continuing deliberations about the nature of the values underlying and the meaning of inclusive education. The article will summarize two recent key studies that relate to the tensions about difference and differentiation in inclusive educational assessment, on the one hand, and about autonomy and control in relation to interpersonal social inclusion, on the other. It will also examine the continuing debates about values in inclusive education and education from an educational philosophy perspective, situating this within ongoing debates in political and legal philosophy. The article’s specific focus will be on inclusive education as regards students/pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities, sometimes called special educational needs. Though the argument will also be based in the United Kingdom, specifically the English context, its significance will apply to inclusion in education generally and to other countries too, as referenced in various parts of the article. The article is organized into three broad sections: the background to the values issues, the significance of new empirical research, and continuing theoretical and value considerations, followed by a conclusion about policy and practice implications.

Background to Tensions and Dilemmas in Inclusive Education

There has been a considerable growth of interest in inclusive education since the 1990s (UNESCO, 1994). In many countries this use of “inclusive” language has followed its use in UN conventions and declarations. Though inclusion language is recent, it is based on old and established values. Inclusion can be seen to represent a contemporary mixture of the values of equal opportunity, social respect, and solidarity. Along similar lines, Ameson, Allan, and Simonson (2010) identified the values associated with inclusion in a European context as (1) access and quality, (2) equity and social justice, (3) democratic values and participation, and (4) the balance between unity and diversity. It is this mix of values that can lead to significant ambiguities in its meaning and to the tensions that will be examined in this article.

Concerns About Inclusive Education

The adoption of inclusion has been attributed to its strong intuitive ethical appeal—what Pirrie and Head (2007) have called a “passionate intuition.” Inclusion has come to be seen as self-evidently a “good thing” in a similar way that democracy or human rights have come to be regarded as self-evidently good (Fagan, 2005). This has been despite ambiguities that are revealed in the key themes found in various definitions or characterizations of inclusive education (Norwich, 2013). The following are key themes deriving from recent writing about inclusive education:

  1. 1. Accepting and valuing all

  2. 2. Not leaving anyone out

  3. 3. School reorganization; problem-solving organization,

  4. 4. Promoting solidarity

  5. 5. Enhancing equal opportunity

  6. 6. Listening to unfamiliar voices, empowering

  7. 7. Active participation in school life

  8. 8. A process without end

  9. 9. Not an end in itself, but a means to inclusive society

It is often unclear which combination of themes defines what is inclusive education and whether some themes are consistent with other ones. One inclusion theorist has recognized this ambiguity and suggested that we talk about various inclusions rather than inclusion (Dyson, 1999). Ainscow et al. (2006) also recognize tensions over the definition: first, whether to keep an open mind about the meaning of inclusion, and second, how we can know what it is and support it without a clear definition. But these authors have little more to say about addressing these tensions.

Nevertheless, Ainscow et al. (2006) developed a useful typology that shows the progression from defining inclusion in terms of narrower learner characteristics (difficulty categories) to more inclusive characteristics (groups that are “vulnerable to exclusion”) and then by reference to “all” and finally to value principles. The effect of defining inclusion as about everybody’s learning guided by abstract values is that it distances inclusive education from the specific circumstances of disability and difficulties. Disability becomes one among various facets of diversity, such as ethnicity, gender, second-language learning, and socio-economic disadvantage. This can have the effect of oversimplifying the differences between the various facets of diversity (Shakespeare, 2006)—what has been seen as a homogenizing effect on differences (Cigman, 2007b).

This is where a gap also develops between ideals and practices. The prescriptive definition of inclusive education guidelines on inclusive education (e.g., UNESCO, 2009) departs from the common usage of inclusive education as predominantly associated with SEN/disability. This defines inclusive education as a “process that involves the transformation of schools and other centres of learning to cater for all children” (UNESCO, 2009, p. 4). Though inclusion/inclusive can be used in the wider “for all” sense, doing so carries the risks of not recognizing that different education approaches and considerations may apply across these areas of difference. There is also the risk that the interests of those with disabilities might be secondary to or overlooked when pursuing other less minority interests, e.g., gender and socio-economic class interests (Miles & Singal, 2010).

Current Critiques

The most significant recent challenge in the United Kingdom to contemporary ideas and practices associated with inclusive education came from Mary Warnock, chair of the 1978 U.K. government committee that originally endorsed an integration policy (Warnock, 2005). In her recent position she rejected educational inclusion as meaning “all children under the same roof,” preferring a learning concept of inclusion, which is about “including all children in the common educational enterprise of learning, wherever they learn best.” Her perspective on inclusion gives more priority to engagement in learning over placement, a view that has also been proposed for the education of children and young people with social, emotional, and behavior difficulties by Cooper and Jacobs (2011). Research also shows that some teachers working in separate settings see that a degree of withdrawal to a separate setting has inclusive aspects in making it possible for certain children to engage in learning the same curriculum as other children (Norwich, 2008).

This tension between “inclusion” as engagement in learning (wherever is best for learning) and as participation in local schools for all is the central point of current contention in the United Kingdom and internationally. Farrell (2006, pp. 1–2) has been a rare example of someone in the United Kingdom who has argued for the celebration of special schools in terms of “providing the best education possible for children with special educational needs.” His argument for special schools is that inclusion has come to be seen as more important for schools than education. This is a position that sets up education as in tension with inclusion. However, it is possible to maximise participation in schools for all as a social educational aim, not something different from education. This is an argument against this education-versus-inclusion dichotomy in favor of seeing education as connected to inclusion (Warnock & Norwich, 2010). But in doing so, tensions need to be recognized and addressed by some balancing and trading-off between principles, which is the central focus of this article.

The other major critique of inclusive education comes from inclusive theorists who have expressed concerns about how inclusive education has become assimilated and neutralized in its policy adoption by national Governments and international organizations. Allan and Slee (2008, p. 99) describe inclusive education as “troubled and troubling; troubled because it has found respectability in policy and practice, while troubling because it is meant to be an intentionally bothersome ethical project.” Slee (2008) laments the resilience of the special educational needs system, while trying to renew his commitment to “critical confrontation” by portraying inclusive education as part of a broader reform of regular schooling. Armstrong, Armstrong, and Spandagou (2011) also identify a failure of inclusive education in an increasingly globalized world where inclusion is contested in both developed (North) and developing countries (South) (Singal & Muthukrishna, 2014). Especially with reference to the developing world, there is a call for inclusion policies to reflect local knowledge and cultural ideas, so that inclusion can be meaningful and not a set of policies transferred from a Western context (Duke et al., 2016; Le Fanu, 2013; Sharma, Forlin, Deppeler, & Yang, 2013; Singal, 2013; Singal & Muthukrishna, 2014). For Armstrong et al. (2011) and Singal and Muthukrishna (2014), the weakness of inclusive education has a theoretical and practical aspect. They see inclusion to have become weakened theoretically by the “pragmatic watering down of the underlying idealism of inclusion” (Armstrong et al., 2011, p. 37). Practically, inclusion is seen as not engaging with the realities of education and schooling.

Starting from the assumption that inclusion is an ethical project, Allan has criticized the Scottish replacement of “special educational needs” by a wider concept of “additional support needs” as a “repetition of exclusion” (2008b). This system and language are seen to create exclusion because it is a version of inclusion that sets limits on who goes to ordinary schools and is about the management of difference. In a similar way Armstrong (2005) represented the Labour Government’s (1997–2010) stance as reconstructing inclusion within a traditional special educational framework. These authors also recommend going back to the big picture of inclusion and to the radical beginnings of the movement. These perspectives represent a particular emancipatory stance that regards inclusion as a political and ethical movement.

Plural Value Position

Norwich (2013) interpreted Slee’s (2010) and Allan’s (2005) position that inclusive education is an ethical provocation as a purity-maintaining perspective; it provides a stimulus to thought and action but does not engage with possible limitations to inclusion in formulating a feasible way forward. This difference between ethical provocation and practical limitations can be seen to be one between ideological purity and impurity (Norwich, 2002). What is meant by ideological purity is that the value position, in this case inclusion, has no negative aspects; if negative aspects are attributed to inclusion, then these aspects are said not to reflect on inclusion but something else, e.g., integration. This sets up for some a dichotomy between inclusion and integration. Another example of the attempt to protect the purity of inclusion is shown in the position that criticizes any attempt to integrate elements of the social and individual models of disability—criticizing it as reflecting the “resilience of the special educational episteme” (Slee, 2008, p. 103). This kind of purity-maintaining stance involves a logic that falsely overdraws and maintains dichotomies and splits, as Low (2010) has pointed out in relation to the split between the social and the individual deficit model. This faulty logic, for example, involves a move from “disability is not only individual in origin” to “disability is only social in origin.” It is a stance with no place for a critique of a social model of disability that recognizes important social dimensions in interaction with individual dimensions of disability.

The distinction between ideological purity and impurity has parallels with one used by Berlin (1978) in his distinction between hedgehog and fox perspectives, based on the Greek poet Archilochus’s statement that the fox knows many things while the hedgehog knows one big thing. For Berlin, hedgehogs have a single central and universal vision acting as an organizing principle, whereas foxes pursue many ends, some connected and others contradictory. In adopting this distinction, Norwich (2013) used it, as Berlin does, more as a continuum of difference than as a rigid dichotomy. The contention is that inclusive education, especially in its radical versions, veers toward a hedgehog perspective that commits to one big value and idea that provides security and purpose. For others, inclusion, or at least the long-standing values underpinning it, are several values that can at times come into conflict and present dilemmas; this is a fox perspective with which the argument in this paper is aligned.

Berlin suggests that a fox perspective does not try to fit varied experiences and values into an unchanging unitary (hedgehog) vision. A fox perspective would be suspicious of thinking that sets up oversimplified dichotomies that favor one element to the exclusion of others in order to fit the single principle or position. Though the fox style goes beyond critique and seeks resolutions to tensions, it realizes that this may not be in the form of a “pure” coherent position.

In adopting Berlin’s hedgehog–fox distinction to positions about inclusion, Norwich (2013) also extended this analysis by identifying two typical approaches to value and philosophical tensions associated with these perspectives. The first approach in the hedgehog perspective is that the two opposed elements of dichotomies in tension are split from each other, with one invested with negativity and rejected while the other is invested with positivity and strongly endorsed. This is evident in accounts of a progressive switch or turn from one perspective to the opposite, e.g., from a medical to a social model of disability or from special needs to inclusive education. The second hedgehog approach is that no links are seen between the dichotomy elements—a position that is often maintained by a silence about contrary views that show links. By contrast, in the fox perspective there is openness to seeing some connection between the elements or principles in tension. Positive and negative judgments are not confined to one or other element; it is not about either/or but both/and. To achieve coherence, resolutions are sought that combine plural values as much as possible, with these resolutions open to change over time. But because values are sometimes incompatible, there is inevitably some choice that will entail some “irreparable loss” (Berlin, 1990, p. 13). This is a general outline of the fox stance that recognizes tensions leading to dilemmas and hard choices.

Kinds of Dilemmas in Inclusive Education

Norwich (2013) has argued that the tensions and dilemmas in inclusive education go beyond dilemmas of difference (difference as enabling–stigmatizing) to also involve tensions about autonomy–control (between participation–protection, choice–equity) as well as underlying philosophical dilemmas about what exists (as real or relative) and about knowledge (as serving investigation or emancipation). The dilemmas-of-difference position is a way to conceptualize the continuing questions about when specialized or differentiated aspects of the system are excluding and humiliating and when they might serve the interests and requirements of children and young people with disabilities and difficulties as seen from their own and parents’ perspectives. Minow (1990) posed the dilemma in these terms in the form of two questions setting out the negative risks associated with two different options:

When does treating people differently emphasize their differences and stigmatise or hinder them on that basis? (differentiation stance) And when does treating people the same become insensitive to their difference and likely to stigmatise or hinder them on that basis? (commonality stance).

(p. 20; italics added)

However, this tension can be reframed in terms of how difference is evaluated, with the recognition of difference as either enabling or as stigmatizing (Norwich, 2013). International research reported in detail in Norwich (2008) indicated that dilemmas of difference can be seen to underlie key issues in the education of pupils with difficulties and disabilities in terms of identification of pupils (categories and diagnosis), the design of the curriculum (differentiated curricula and teaching), and the placement of pupils (in special schools and classes).

However, the Norwich (2008) research also illustrated how professionals across the United Kingdom, United States, and Netherlands attempted to resolve these specific dilemmas. As regards the identification dilemma of difference, this typically involved a combination of the commonality and differentiations stances (as defined by the quote above), while recognizing some remaining tensions despite these resolutions. When labels were recognized as necessary, the suggested resolutions often involved strategies that went beyond negative labels by focusing on individuals and needed provision while showing sensitivity about labeling. Curriculum dilemmas of difference is a way of conceptualizing long-standing recognition in education of the tensions in designing curriculum programmes generally (Berlak & Berlak, 1981; Judge, 1981), not just in the disability and difficulty field (Lawson, Walte, & Robertson, 2005). For the large majority of professionals who recognized a curriculum dilemma, for example, in terms of problems in implementing differentiated curricula and in using some program standards and tests, the resolutions were also in terms of combining the commonality and differentiation stances—for example, modifying general curriculum to meet individual needs and curriculum and teaching flexibility—while some recognized continuing issues when aspects of the common curriculum is left out. For the placement dilemmas of differences, which is a way of conceptualizing many of the studies about parent and children/young people’s perspectives on separate placements (Norwich, 2013), a similar pattern of findings was evident, with typical resolutions involving a model of mixing ordinary and separate placements as much as possible underpinned by improved staffing, collaboration, communication, and planning. For many there was also an acceptance that separate settings might be appropriate depending on individual needs.

Norwich (2013) presented the tension between participation and protection as reflecting a dilemma about autonomy–control that is relevant to inclusive values with their emphasis on undertaking activities in collaboration with others (child–child, student–student, and parent–professional/school). Proponents of inclusive education have a tendency to avoid examining the value tensions between participation and protection. For example, there has been a lack of analysis of how the child’s voice is represented in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which is often used to justify participation. As Lundy (2007) has argued, Article 12 (express views and given due weight) cannot be seen in isolation from other Articles about a child’s best interest dependent on others to represent their rights/best interests (Article 3), the adult right to provide direction/guidance (Article 12), and the right to be safe (Article 19). The idea that there may be “limits to participation” has been a contentious position, with some opposing any limits based on the slippery slope argument (Rose, 1998). However, Harding (2009) has suggested that there is a difference between decisions based on individual functional assessment for specific settings and tasks and general assessments based on categories of disability, as in Mental Capacity 2005 legislation. Some participation and child voice advocates (Percey-Smith & Thomas, 2001) are sceptical of the tradition of adult protectiveness, as they see children being abused in the name of child protectiveness, a kind of abusive “protectiveness.” For them, child voice is the best means of securing protection. Though child participation can well be a means to secure child protection, there may also be cases where the balance of judgment requires that participation be limited by protectiveness, especially in life-threatening situations. In these cases, limits should be justified through a transparent and accountable system, as Healy (1998) has argued.

Norwich (2013) has also integrated these arguments about dilemmas of difference and of autonomy–control as reflecting dilemmas of plural democracy, following Dahl (1982). In Dahl’s analysis, individuals and organizations ought to have some autonomy but also be controlled as they have the potential for injustice. Seen in this way, the central dilemmas related to the education of children with disabilities and difficulties can be linked to wider political and policy issues in a plural democracy.

New Empirical Research

This section discusses recent empirical work about tensions in inclusive education as explored earlier, more particularly the tension between autonomy (choice) and control in educational settings and tensions in inclusive assessment as an extension of the curriculum tension.

Social Inclusion: Autonomy and Control in Social Interaction

Recent research by Koutsouris (2014a, 2014b) has explored a tension between social inclusion, taken as a moral imperative, and preferences for social interaction with perceived similar others in educational settings. A preference for social interaction with similar others has been seen as a threat to the purposes of inclusion, as it appears to put into danger the ethical project of building a just and inclusive society where all people should have a place (Allan, 2005; Slee, 2012). To explore this preference for social interaction with others perceived as similar, Koutsouris used the empirically based concept of homophily from sociology (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001) and the similarity-attraction hypothesis from social psychology (Byrne, Clore, & Smeaton, 1986).

Inclusion is an expression of a demand for social justice, respect, and participation (Thomas, 2013), rooted in an ethical obligation to a just society (Allan, 2005); therefore, it is largely conceived in ideological terms (Armstrong, 2005). For some this has led the inclusion discourse to fragmentation and confusion, especially evident in education (Cigman, 2007a; Pirrie & Head, 2007). Such a disparity of approaches can result in people understanding the same values differently, such as what it means to show or withhold respect (Dworkin, 2010). Cigman (2007b), building on Margalit (1996), stresses that respect in education is often seen as an attempt to avoid the humiliation that any kind of a recognition of difference can bring about. This is a reason why difference tends to be replaced by the neutral notion of diversity (MacKay, 2002) and respect comes to be translated into a demand for inclusion for all (Tremain, 2005), so denying a recognition of individual differences, needs, or preferences.

As an expression of individual preference, homophily describes “the observed tendency of like to associate with like” (Kossinets & Watts, 2009, p. 405). It can be based on (perceived) attributes such as values or status (McPherson et al., 2001) and is produced either by contextual factors or from the interaction between individual preferences and social structures (Kossinets & Watts, 2009). Although homophily can lead to powerful relations, based on association, it can also conceal racism, fear of human differences, or internalized oppression/domination (Rowlands, 1995; Tappan, 2006). Homophily can be seen to teeter between choice and discrimination. Perhaps because of these controversies, inclusion and homophily are rarely examined together. The studies that explore homophily in relation to inclusive education (Frostad & Pijl, 2007; McCormick, Cappella, Hughes, & Gallagher, 2014; Nangle, Erdley, Zeff, & Stanchfield, 2002) or to young people’s preferences (Burgess, Sanderson, & Umaña-Aponte, 2011) do this mostly from the perspective of friendship formation. This is also because the very idea behind homophily, i.e., individual choice, is a subject of intense debate especially when such a choice is seen as contrary to ideas that promote social justice aims (see e.g., Phillips, 2000; Young, 2008). There is also a strong argument that the role of education is one of preparing and encouraging children and young people to embrace difference; this approach considers homophily only to be a form of discrimination and disregards other aspects such as the emotional and practical need to be among people that share similar ideas and characteristics. For some people, such as young people with disabilities, this can be as important as being able to forge social relationships with non-disabled people or with people seen as different in other aspects.

Therefore, examining homophily and inclusion together can reveal a tension with an ethical dimension. Inclusion is considered to have more ethical weight than individual preference, since homophily is not seen as an expression of respect of the other. Yet the ethical obligation to include all people might not consider an individual’s preferences, especially when they are contrary to the purposes of inclusion. Young people with disabilities, for example, often experience actual difficulties, and their preference to be among others whom they perceive as similar can be related to these difficulties. This preference can be an expression of individual choice, and it has been argued, drawing on Sen’s capability theory, that promoting young people’s autonomy, namely the freedom and capacity to choose the lives they value, is a matter of justice (Terzi, 2005). The question that is raised here is whether individual preferences can be respected when they come into tension with a broader social good, such as inclusion. In education, a tension between inclusion and homophily is particularly relevant to students with disabilities or other minorities—in terms of how their preferences for social interaction with similar others may come into tension with the principle of including all people and whether and how schools respond to this.

This tension is experienced because people do not necessarily share the same understanding about what it means to show respect. For some, showing respect is translated into a demand for full participation (Tremain, 2005), while others acknowledge that not all young people have the same wishes (Terzi, 2005) and so individual differences can also be an expression of respect for the other. This analysis gave rise to several questions:

  1. 1. How do young people perceive similarity and difference in themselves and the others around them?

  2. 2. How do school staff perceive young people’s preferences for social interaction?

  3. 3. Is homophily consistent with the experiences of young people and school staff?

  4. 4. Do young people and school staff perceive inclusion as an ethical obligation?

  5. 5. Do young people and school staff recognise a tension between inclusion and homophily?

  6. 6. What is the role of choice in relation to the moral imperative of inclusion?

  7. 7. How is this potential tension handled at a classroom and school level?

Study of Tensions Between Homophily and Inclusion

In a recent study by Koutsouris (2014a, 2014b) in southwest England, staff members from mainstream and special schools (13 teachers, teaching assistants, and school administrators) and young people between 15 and 25 years of age in or out of school (27 young people identified as visually impaired and with Asperger syndrome and those without disabilities) were interviewed. Eight scenarios were constructed to describe an unresolved tension between homophily and inclusion, influenced by research in moral psychology (Haidt, 2012; Kohlberg, 1981; Turiel, 2008). These were used as a stimulus for discussion during in-depth semi-structured interviews.

Analysis showed that the young people responded following the same pattern in most scenarios. They either identified a tension between homophily and inclusion or they supported one of the two sides, homophily or inclusion, as more important. This tension between homophily and inclusion was described in all scenarios as a tension between what one wants to do (to be among the people he or she prefers), and what he or she should do (to include all people). The ethical dimension of the tension was related to different understandings of what homophily can represent—choice to be among the people one prefers (ethically permissible) or discrimination against different people (ethically unacceptable). Overall, homophily was seen to have positive aspects (such as understanding, comfort, perceived commonality and equality, security, practical issues of communication, participation, trust) but also a negative side (related to oppression, bullying, fear, lack of confidence, and exclusion).

The young people recognized the ethical importance of including all people, but they did not justify its enforcement against people’s genuine wishes. They also stressed their difficulty in suggesting a viable resolution for the inclusion–homophily tension. Where they could resolve the tensions, it was argued that this might be done by some balancing between the two opposing sides (want and should), for instance, in the form of discussion that would take both sides into equal consideration.

School staff also identified an inclusion–homophily tension with a moral dimension, while believing that to acknowledge students’ preferences was generally an expression of respect. For them preferences for social interaction should be respected only when they are directly related to particular educational needs (for all students) or to disability-related needs (for students with disabilities). Possible resolutions to the tension involved a fragile balance between the two opposing sides. All students should be included as far as possible, but since they are different, they should not be treated the same.

School staff also explored whether the inclusion–homophily tension can be the subject of a school policy, yet no clear direction was evident. Various policy areas were viewed as relevant: equality and diversity, special educational needs, bullying, inclusion, and (anti)discrimination policies. Some saw that the inclusion–homophily tension cannot be set out in policy rules and procedures, while others suggested the creation of a new policy or that it was not matter of policy at all, but something to be resolved on occasion by the teachers.

As many young people stressed, especially young people with disabilities, they often felt forced to coexist with people they would prefer to avoid or they do not know. As one young person explained, any attempt to force inclusion was “a kind of disrespecting you.” An added complexity is that homophily might conceal discrimination (McPherson et al., 2001). A conflict of values was evidently unavoidable in the findings, reflecting the “need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to other” (Berlin, 1969, p. 1i). The difficulty lies particularly in the compromises that each side has to make, what Goodhart (2004) has called trade-offs.

However, tensions between values are largely overlooked in educational practice and in relevant policies. The same applies to frameworks, such as the Index for Inclusion (Booth & Ainscow, 2011) that recognize the role of dialogue but does not refer to value tensions and the recent SEN Codes of Practice (DfE/DOH, 2015) that ignores the inclusion–homophily tension. Perhaps the management of this tension requires a particular kind of educational institutional culture and ethos, one that involves a process of negotiation about what should and should not be prioritized. This would be a school culture that puts the individuality of the students at the center and provides space for negotiation and input from staff and students alike (Harber & Trafford, 1999; Hatcher, 2005).

Such a school culture can be described as democratic in the sense that a conflict of values and inequality of power is inherent (Mouffe, 1999). In this this kind of culture the aim is to encourage teachers and students to engage in dialogue. In Mouffe’s (1999) terms, the aim is to transform an antagonism between opponents into an agonism, a process of constant negotiation between people who might share the same values but understand them in different ways (Dworkin, 2010). The recognition of young people’s right to be involved in decisions that concern their lives, even when their preferences can come into tension with what is considered as politically correct, is also a matter of justice and respect and reflects democratic values. Inclusion would be an externally forced and meaningless obligation or a set of prescribed practices in the form of formal and often futile school policies if it is not the product of an agonism; in other words, inclusion can be a shared value only if it is constantly under negotiation.

Inclusive Assessment—International Study

A second area of recent research relevant to tensions in inclusive education is about inclusive assessment, which has been developed by Douglas, McLinden, Robertson, Travers, and Smith (2016) as an extension of the curriculum dilemmas of difference, discussed above. Douglas et al. (2016) examined how students with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are included in assessment arrangements in an international comparative study. Their concept of inclusive assessment was based on a three-part framework they developed about what is entailed by inclusive assessment: (1) all students are included and benefit from educational assessment (in other words, who is assessed); (2) educational assessments are accessible and appropriate for the diverse range of children in the education system (or how students are assessed); and (3) the full breadth of the curriculum is assessed, including curriculum areas of particular relevance to students with SEN/disabilities (what is to be assessed).

This comparative study was based on a literature review relevant to the three national case studies’ (United States, Ireland, the England) policy and administrative policy documents, supplemented by phone and email contacts with national experts. From these sources, assessment policies and practice in three countries were analyzed to demonstrate how the framework enabled between-country and within-country analysis. The findings showed that in comparison to Ireland, the United States and England had highly developed system-based approaches to assessment that seek to “include all” (framework feature 1) and be “accessible and appropriate” (feature 2). Yet, the analyses suggested that a consequence of such assessment approaches is the narrowing of the curriculum around topics that are assessed (with literacy and mathematics being the most important areas). One conclusion was that there was evidence that these “include all” and “accessible and appropriate” assessment approaches may be at the expense of wider curriculum areas that have value for all students but often of particular value for those with SEN/disabilities (feature 3).

Douglas et al. (2016) discuss their findings in terms of this tension: Does accountability in the form of monitoring and reporting mechanisms for all students inevitably lead to narrowing of the curriculum and therefore threaten areas of particular value to students with SEND (feature 3: relevant areas of assessment)? They argue that in educational systems with a culture of accountability there may be a danger of neglecting the third feature of the inclusive assessment framework that would ensure that the full breadth and relevance of the curriculum is assessed. A consequence of such an omission could be a failure to assess and celebrate progress in relation to educational outcomes that are relevant to a diverse range of students.

These authors also ask about whether a lack of accountability would inevitably lead to the exclusion of students with SEN/disabilities from assessments (and therefore threaten features 1 and 2)? For example, classroom assessment in relation to assessment of broader areas of the curriculum, including disability-specific areas, is crucial. The greater flexibility associated with classroom assessment means that it can be tailored to the specific requirements of individuals or groups. Nevertheless, it is this flexibility and lack of accountability that may mean it does not take place consistently or systematically if there is no accountability. Here they are raising questions about the tension between equity–choice mentioned as an example of the autonomy–control dilemma above. With national accountability for assessing all pupils, there is a risk that those with SEN/disabilities do not have relevant areas and methods of assessment. Without national accountability for assessing all, some pupils, especially those with SEN/disability, might be left out of assessment arrangements. As in all relevant tensions in inclusive education, it is not a matter of either/or but a matter of balance. Douglas et al (2016) suggest that the English Every Child Matters (ECM) framework (HM Government, 2003), with its interest in assessment of broader outcomes for all children, including those with SEN/disabilities (be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; and achieve economic well-being), was an example of a more balanced and inclusive assessment framework that could address directly some of the discussed concerns about narrowness of assessment. Overall, these tensions in inclusive educational assessment are extensions of the curriculum dilemmas of difference and the equity–choice dilemma over accountability.

Theoretical and Value Considerations

This section will examine various philosophical perspectives to the hedgehog–fox distinction; the unity or plurality of values that bear on inclusive education. It starts with an examination of the the capability approach as a way of resolving tensions. It then revisits the hedgehox perspective and then the fox perspective.

Capability Approach: Resolving Tensions?

Terzi (2014) has recently argued that the questions of inclusive education be reframed in terms of the capability approach, specifically as capability equality, based on the ideas of Sen (2009). In doing so, she recognizes the issues associated with inclusive education, including some of those discussed above. She specifically refers to the above arguments that there are plural values associated with inclusive education (Norwich, 2013) and that this leads to tensions and dilemmas, on the one hand, and different practices, on the other. However, she proposes that the capability approach can provide a unitary framework with insights about the questions of inclusion. Though Terzi does not talk about hedgehog–fox perspectives, it is clear that she proposes the capability approach as a unitary hedgehog approach by contrast to the fox emphasis on tensions and dilemma arising from plural values.

Questions of justice in the capability approach are seen in terms of the equality of capabilities rather than of resources or utility/satisfaction. Capabilities represent genuine and effective opportunities for people to achieve valued functionings (functionings are actions and states that people want to achieve and engage in). Functionings represent what have been achieved, while capabilities represent the freedom to choose among valuable options. This element of freedom and agency in the concept of capability is seen as essential to well-being (Sen, 2009). Another central feature of the capability approach is that personal differences exist in how resources are used to achieve well-being; this conversion of resource differential involves the recognition of human differences that are taken into account in the capability approach. As Terzi (2014) argues, in putting human differences at the center of the capability approach, it is possible to reconceptualize disability in terms of capability limitations. In this way capability equality provides a framework that is sensitive to the demands for justice by people with disabilities and therefore for the education of children with disabilities and difficulties. As a normative framework, the capability approach not only justifies additional allocation to those with disabilities, it does so in terms of the central importance of well-being and agency.

For Terzi (2014) there are two key implications of this approach to inclusive education. The first is that it provides a framework that clarifies the relationship between education and a just society; a democratic society owes all its children an effective opportunity to achieve educational functionings. The second is that in focusing on the well-being of children and the quality of education opportunities, it suggests that the location of provision (ordinary or separate placements) is less central to decision than the equalizing of capabilities. These implications provide, according to Terzi (2014), insights into the nature of inclusive education.

Though we would not dispute these strengths of the capability approach, there is some doubt that the approach can address some of the tensions and dilemmas in inclusive education, as discussed in the first and second main sections of this article. Sen (2003) recognizes that the capability approach, as he proposes it, is incomplete in not determining a specific list of human functionings. This is a deliberate incompleteness because Sen recognizes that there is not one way of specifying these functionings, a process that needs to be done through democratic deliberations. Sen also argues that it is possible to agree on the general usability of the capability framework but disagree about the relative weights given to different value-objects. This general perspective suggests that the capability approach, as such, will only go so far in addressing the tensions and dilemmas in inclusive education. This questions Terzi’s suggestions that “capability equality may help go beyond tensions of difference and commonality” (2014, p. 489). This position repeats an earlier argument when Terzi (2005) advocated the capability approach as an approach that goes beyond and helps resolve the dilemmas of differences (as discussed above).

Her argument is based on the capability approach’s recognition of difference as central to it as a normative framework that aims for justice and equality. The argument is that the capability approach offers a positive basis for identifying difference and justifying differential resource allocation. This, she argues, helps to avoid negative labeling associated with disability and SEN. However, Norwich (2008) questioned whether this resolves specific dilemmas of difference experienced in education, such as those concerned with identification, curriculum design, and placement in separate settings. It is one matter to see the identification of difference as justifying differential allocations in theory in the capability approach; it is another to see it as dealing with the experienced significance of differential allocation of resources in practice.

Along a similar kind of argument, Pogge (2004) has questioned the way that the capability approach evaluates individual differences in justifying additional resources to some people, such as people with disabilities. Though he does not refer to the dilemmas of difference specifically, his argument relates to Terzi’s position. Pogge distinguishes between “horizontal” inequalities, like hair color, that have no additional resourcing implications, and “vertical” inequalities, like disability, that do. Pogge’s position is that by evaluating differences as resource-worthy, the capability approach can lead to stigmatizing people who are less well endowed than others. So, Pogge’s position is to favor a “resourcist” approach that does not consider personal characteristics as relevant to moral concerns. In this resourcist approach, unlike a capability approach, the focus is on equal resourcing as a way of avoiding the risk of stigmatizing disabled people. For Terzi (2010), the effect of this move is to be insensitive to individual requirements. She suggests that Pogge’s position avoids vertical inequalities by seeing disadvantage as socially determined or irrelevant. From her perspective the resourcist position cannot work out whether social arrangements are disadvantageous to a disabled person without reference to her or his functioning, and such functioning cannot be considered to be fully socially determined. In support of her argument, Terzi draws attention to those differences in functioning that cannot be addressed by environmental changes, for example, when a visually impaired person cannot read social and non-verbal cues in social interaction (note that some differences in functioning can be addressed by environmental changes). She also suggests that Pogge’s analysis resembles a social model that refuses to recognize any connection between impairment, disability, and disadvantage.

However, in opting for evaluating disabilities in terms of capability limitations, Terzi’s position is at best only recognizing limitations can be justified by the capability normative framework as positive and enabling. But not having a good reason for stigmatizing in terms of capability thinking does not imply that there will be no stigmatizing in practice. This brings the argument back to the point made earlier that the practical experiences of recognizing impairment differences may be done in enabling or stigmatizing ways, so bringing out the basis for dilemmas of difference and a distinction between resolving dilemmas of difference in theory and practice.

Hedgehog Perspective Restated

We have veered toward a fox or plural value perspective in this article, partly in response to questionable attempts to unify educational values and principles in underdeveloped inclusive terms. It is also a response to the fairly unquestioned, idealized, and pervasive ways in which inclusion language is used in theory, policy, and practice. However, even those who veer toward a fox perspective see that tensions and dilemmas need to be resolved and that these resolutions tend to combine elements of different principles. This resolving tendency expresses an integrating aim that seeks some coherent and unified perspective, even if it is not a final and absolute one. In this respect the fox perspective reveals a hedgehog inclination. Dworkin’s view of justice veers toward a hedgehog perspective: when we “reinterpret our concepts to resolve our dilemmas … the direction of our thought is towards unity, not fragmentation” (2011, p. 199). Dworkin articulates an elaborate case for his hedgehog perspective by assuming that value judgments are not based on either emotional preferences or moral facts but on arguments that integrate convictions into a consistent and coherent web of values.

Dworkin gives an example of how this reflective equilibrium can be achieved by showing that liberty can be viewed as consistent with equality rather than as an inconsistent principle. Liberty does not mean, Dworkin argues, unconstrained freedom, e.g., to murder. This means that what is valued is a constrained liberty. He then argues that one such constraint is equality, the entitlement to be treated with equal respect and concern. This leads to the conclusion that liberty should not violate equality values. However, this kind of reasoning is too easy and tends to ignore the complexity in how concepts are understood in practice. It does not address questions about what are legitimate constraints on liberty, nor does it address how equality is understood in more detail than equal respect.

The Fox Perspective Response

Explaining away inconsistencies in theory, as Dworkin does in the case of liberty and equality, is attractive and easy to do. This perspective is countered by Minow and Singer (2010), who contend that there are two errors in Dworkin’s unitary view. The first is that that he ignores both the costs of this kind of consistency and the advantages of justifications, which are based on recognizing plural values. The second is that he assumes that truth is undermined if an argument results in plural values that cannot be reconciled by reasoned argument. As they argue, “justification based on the recognition of plural values is not only possible, but better accords with the truth of the human condition” (Minow & Singer, 2010, p. 103). These authors recognize that it is simplistic to assume that liberty and equality are necessarily in conflict, but consider Dworkin to be wrong in assuming that justification is best done by “reconciling conflict all the way down” (Minow & Singer, 2010, p. 104; their italics). They assert this position because they recognize that “it may actually be true that our values conflict” (p. 104). For these authors, supressing a value conflict matters for two reasons. First, to pretend that values cohere when in a specific context it is not possible to say why one value takes priority over another is subverting rather than understanding the truth. Second, there is a risk that those who have found a resolution, the answer, can adopt an overly confident, insular, and rigid stance. They may sometimes feel free to impose their views on others. For Minow and Singer, “[t]he honesty of pluralism embraces the truth of conflicting values and cultivates a tolerance and engagement with others that alternative approaches are less likely to promote” (2010, p. 106).

Minow and Singer are lawyers, and their perspectives toward the value unity-plurality issue are framed in terms of how legal cases come to be resolved. In their 2010 paper they refer to a well-known U.S. case used in law classes, Blamey v. Brown, about whether a tavern is liable for deaths or injuries caused by drunk drivers who become intoxicated by drinking alcohol there (when the tavern is under the jurisdiction of one state’s laws and the death/injury done in another state). Minow (1990), in an earlier work about dilemmas of difference, examines a historic U.S. Supreme Court case, Rowley v. Board of Education, about Amy, a girl with profound hearing impairment. Her parents contested her individualized educational plan, believing that Amy should have a qualified sign-language interpreter in all her classes. For cases like these, we can represent the difference between Dworkin’s unitary stance and the plural values stance as about the significance and implications of the final judgment about who is responsible or right. For the unitary stance, the final judgment is the “right answer,” but for the plural stance, the process of the case is hard. When it is hard it means that there are legitimate arguments on both sides: “then it would be false to deny the legitimate interests on the losing side” (Minow & Singer, 2010, p. 111). These authors support their argument by showing that when a legal judgment is made, this does not deny a conflict in underlying values or policies. They refer to the common use of balancing of values and principles and the use of trade-offs.

This balancing of values is also a central feature of educational decision-making, the existence of which implies that in education there are also plural values that have to be taken into account (Brighouse, Ladd, Loeb, & Swift, 2016). These authors have articulated a three-part framework for education policy decision-making, based on educational goods (knowledge, skills, dispositions, and attitudes), which are seen to be underpinned by a basic value of human flourishing or well-being. These authors assume that though there is no consensus theory of flourishing, there is a widespread agreement on some elements. In the first part, they propose the following values as relevant to defining educational goods: economic productivity, personal autonomy, democratic competence, health personal relationships, treating others as equals, and personal fulfilment. These values need to be weighed and compared with each other to arrive at a theory of flourishing to define relevant educational goods. In the second part their framework includes distributive values across a society. Here they propose three such values: an adequacy of educational goods, equality of educational goods and a distribution of educational goods that most benefits those with the worst prospects for flourishing. In the third part they identify several independent values that also make a contribution to flourishing in addition to educational goods: childhood goals (e.g., quality of life), parents’ interests, respect for democratic processes (e.g., having some control of their lives and choices), freedom of residence and occupation, and other goods.

As Brighouse et al. (2016) explain in setting out the framework, in each part and between the parts, these values can come into conflict and there need to be trade-offs. In doing so, they suggest that values are often in tension and that careful consideration of these tensions can lead to improved policy decisions. They recognize that “policymakers are sometimes reluctant to discuss trade-offs because they want to avoid talking about negative aspects of policy choices” (Brighouse et al., 2016, p. 4). But, as we have illustrated above, it is not just policymakers but also theorists who adopt or enact a unitary position about values.

Concluding Points

In this article we have further examined the arguments about tensions and dilemmas in inclusive education. This has been done by (1) rehearsing background arguments and positions, discussed in two recent empirical studies about the tensions in social inclusion in educational settings and inclusive assessment, and (2) examining the continuing debates about values in inclusive education and education from an educational philosophy perspective, connecting this to ongoing debates in political and legal philosophy.

In starting with the earlier argument that a unitary/hedgehog approach to educational values has led to underdeveloped notions of inclusive education (Norwich, 2013), we have also examined other unitary values approaches. Terzi’s (2014) use of Sen’s capability approach was discussed as providing a useful unitary framework for connecting educational to wider social and political values and placing the basic values of well-being and agency as central to questions of inclusive education. But, as an incomplete theory of justice, it has not been shown to resolve dilemmas of difference in practice. Dworkin’s hedgehog view of justice in terms of reinterpreting concepts to resolve dilemmas in the direction of unity might be considered as another unitary approach to inclusive education, even though nobody has attempted such a reinterpretation. However, we have argued, following Minow and Singer (2010), that Dworkin ignores both the costs of seeking consistency and the advantages of justifications based on recognizing plural values.

What the above unitary hedgehog approaches have in common is that they are philosophical ideas about constructing coherent concepts, values, and principles. They differ from perspectives arising from law and education, which involve both theory and practical elements. The plural fox approach to values has been shown to be relevant to both of these field, which are connected through their focus on values in relation to policy and practices.

It is clear from this article—which contains some summaries of empirical studies that have illustrated tensions and dilemmas in decision-making in the inclusive education field—that there is much scope for further studies. These studies could examine and illustrate where and whether there are tensions and explore the nature of these tensions and how dilemmas, when experienced, are addressed. There is scope for this to be done in diverse cultural and national contexts and in cross-cultural studies, as illustrated in the two studies summarized in the article.

The significance of the plural approach to values and the resolution of tensions that arise from this plurality can be seen in both theoretical and practical terms. In theoretical terms, as Minow and Singer (2010) conclude about hard legal cases, “unfairness is inevitable; no result will be completely fair. The appropriate result acknowledges the unfairness that happens no matter how the case is decided” (p. 111). Similarly, Norwich (2013) concluded by quoting Zigmond and Baker (1996), who suggested that though inclusive education is good, “full inclusion might be too much of a good thing” (p. 33). This implies that there are other values to consider in deciding on the educational goods relevant to children with disabilities. This links with the Brighouse et al.’s (2016) educational framework for decision-makers, which sets out the key values involved in decision-making. It also relates to the practical significance of this focus on the plurality of values and the resolutions of value tensions. The reluctance of policymakers to discuss and be open about trade-offs is understandable, as there are hard choices in education, as in the law, and there are political pressures to obscure trade-offs in education. There is a crucial positive policy implication from this argument—that good policymaking requires transparency about plural values and how they relate to and affect decision-making. This is a challenge to how democracies work and has a major effect on education and inclusive education. These are the crucial implications of the ideas discussed in this article for policymaking and politics.


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