Inclusive Special Education: A Summary

This blog is a summary of some of the key points in Garry Hornby’s 2015 article ‘Inclusive Special Education: Development of a new theory for the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities’.

I have not included everything and I urge you to read the article yourself using the link above.

The article resonated with me as a sensible alternative to the ‘full inclusion’ narrative which I have come to see as problematic. I wrote about it briefly here:

What is Inclusive Special Education?

  • Inclusive Special Education comprises a synthesis of the philosophy and values of inclusive education with the strategies and interventions used in special education.
  • Its focus is on effectively including as many children as possible in mainstream schools, along with the availability of a continuum of placement options between mainstream and special schools.
  • Its goal is to provide the best possible instruction for all children with SEND, in the most appropriate setting, throughout all stages of a child’s education, with the aim of achieving the highest possible level of inclusion in the community post-school.


Inclusive Special Education

The article discusses the need for a theory of inclusive special education that combines aspects of special education and inclusive education to effectively educate children with SEND in both special and mainstream.

Special education is characterised by individual assessment and planning, specialised and intensive instruction, and research-based practices, while inclusive education emphasizes acceptance, collaboration, diversity, and valuing education in mainstream classrooms.

Special education and inclusive education are currently viewed as opposing approaches, causing confusion for professionals and parents in the field.

The proposed theory of inclusive special education aims to integrate the philosophies and practices of both approaches to provide effective education for all children with SEND.


There is confusion between human rights and moral rights regarding the education of children with SEND.

Although children with SEND have a human right to be educated alongside mainstream peers, it may not be the best or most appropriate option for all.

Children with SEND also have a right to an appropriate education that meets their specific needs.

The right to an appropriate education must be prioritised over the right to be educated alongside mainstream peers.

Inclusive special education aims to provide an appropriate education for children with SEND that meets their specific needs, which may or may not include full inclusion in mainstream classrooms.


The term “peers” in inclusive education is sometimes misunderstood.

For some children with SEND, being educated alongside peers who have similar interests and abilities may be more important than being with peers of the same age.

Inclusive special education emphasizes the importance of a sense of belonging and being included in a learning community, whether children with SEND are educated in special classes, resource rooms, special schools or mainstream classrooms.


Confusion exists around entitlement and appropriateness of curricula for children with SEND

National curricula with their associated national assessments emphasize academic achievement more than other aspects of the curriculum

Children with moderate and severe learning difficulties struggle to keep up with the national curriculum and become disaffected with school

Inclusive special education prioritizes access to appropriate curricula for children with SEND that balance an academic/developmental curriculum with a functional curriculum that addresses their specific needs.


Inclusive education can sometimes be preferred over special education as it avoids practices like identification of SEND and IEPs, which can lead to labelling and stigmatisation of children with special needs.

However, the avoidance of identification and labelling does not prevent stigmatisation, and it may hinder their ability to receive the necessary education and support.

The “dilemma of difference” refers to the challenge of balancing the risk of negative labelling and the need for appropriate support for children with SEND.

Inclusive special education considers the identification of SEND and the use of IEPs as essential components to provide effective education and facilitate inclusion in the community.


Many educators are influenced by the idea of full inclusion, but the reality in schools is that many teachers do not feel able or willing to implement this scenario.

Insufficient input on teaching children with SEND in initial teacher education courses and limited in-service training on SEND is available to teachers.

Inclusive special education acknowledges the current reality in mainstream schools and highlights the need for effective and ongoing training and support for mainstream class teachers.

With increased levels of training and support, a greater proportion of mainstream classroom teachers will become more confident and competent to teach children with a wide range of SEND.

Means and Ends

Full inclusion is often seen as a means to an end, which is to include children with SEND in the community they live in, rather than being an end in itself.

Warnock suggests that inclusion in the community after leaving school should be the most important end educators should be seeking.

Segregated placement may be the best means to the end of inclusion in the community for some children with SEND, whereas inclusion in mainstream schools which does not fully meet their special needs may be counterproductive.

Inclusive special education recognises that inclusion in the community after leaving school is the most important end that educators should be seeking, and for some children with SEND, placement in resource rooms, special classes or special schools may be the best means to achieve this.


There is confusion about the most satisfactory funding model for children with SEND.

The cost of providing support services to children with SEND in mainstream schools vs. special schools is unclear.

Special provision for a small number of children with SEND may be more costly in the short term but less so than the later consequences of not making suitable provision.

Inclusive special education aims to provide funding for all children with SEND to ensure their optimal development, regardless of where the provision is provided.