What is inclusive education?

Inclusive education is about students of all abilities, backgrounds and identities learning and growing together. Read more about the positives, negatives and practicalities here. 

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Define inclusive education for me

Inclusive education is a philosophy and practice that values and supports all members of every school community, so that they can fully participate, learn, develop and succeed within the school culture.

The goal is to create school environments that are safe and inclusive for students with disabilities and additional needs. 

Factors and identities that inclusive education takes into consideration include physical, cognitive and learning disabilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, cultural background, English comprehension, experiences with trauma, plus other social and economic factors.

In Victoria, there is targeted effort in improving schools to be inclusive of students with disabilities, as well as those with autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia. 

That means all schools must make reasonable adjustments so that students with disabilities are welcome alongside students who don’t. This could mean having teacher aides for students who need it, using assistive technologies like screen readers, installing accessible ramps, modifying the curriculum and ensuring teachers are trained to teach in diverse classrooms (that could be you!).

It's important to stress that parents can also send their children to specialist schools where every student has additional needs—the key here is the availability of choice and what’s right for each individual child. 

Additionally, some students with disabilities benefit from attending both a mainstream school and specialist school (dual enrolment).

What are the benefits of inclusive education?

For some (not all!) students with disabilities, being in a mainstream school that practises inclusive education can lead to better academic and vocational outcomes, create experiences of not just receiving help but also giving it, and allow access to a wider range of activities, leading to enhanced development and feeling of belonging. 

Beyond that, inclusive education in mainstream schools can also truly normalise disability—all students benefit from greater social development and the chance to make friendships with those they may not have considered or encountered otherwise. 

Children without disabilities also develop a greater awareness to others’ needs and the value of diversity. Inclusive education helps dismantle discrimination and ableist practices. In short, it makes differences less different.  

What are the challenges of implementing inclusive education?

Many mainstream schools were built before the advent of inclusive education. Some adjustments can now be made, but realistically, it’s difficult to resource each and every school to an unwavering standard. If a student needs substantial adjustments, they may be better served in specialist schools where there is more support readily available.

By default, specialist schools practise inclusive teaching. Every student differs in their strengths, as well as their disability, but they all learn together.

Victoria has begun building and opening supported inclusion schools—these are mainstream schools created to support larger numbers of students with disabilities (in comparison to typical mainstream schools). However, it will be years before this type of school becomes commonplace.

More importantly, inclusive education within mainstream settings is not for every child with a disability. Some may feel inadequate next to classmates without disabilities. This lowers their self-esteem and makes it hard for them to concentrate on learning.

According to Dianne Wright, campus principal of Emerson School, a specialist school in Dandenong, “Successful people feel good about themselves, they don’t fear failure. But if you’re a kid at the bottom of the pile, there’s a lot of anger and frustration. They know they can learn, but not at the pace of a mainstream school.”

In an ideal world, mainstream schools would proactively improve their ability to include students with disabilities, with specialist schools existing alongside for those who thrive better in them.

Studying inclusive teaching at uni

For the most direct way of becoming a teacher focused on those with additional needs, read on!

Enrol in a 4-year degree, such as this Bachelor of Special and Inclusive Education with University of New England, where you’ll learn how to bring out the best in students both online and at in-person placements.

As part of your inclusive education uni course, you’ll:

If you already have a bachelor degree (whether in teaching or another field), consider enrolling in a specialist 2-year masters degree to further your knowledge on inclusive and specialist education. Flinders University and Torrens University offer these options through Open Universities Australia.  

Not sure if you can sustain the work-family-study juggle? Give it a shot with a 6- or 12-month graduate certificate or graduate diploma. Find yourself enjoying the topic? Use the subjects you’ve completed successfully to continue working towards a full masters! 

Alternatively, do a short course taster on inclusive practices in education or take one of these single subjects to see if the field is really for you.

One last thing! You’ll notice that ‘specialised education’, ‘specialist education’ and ‘inclusive education’ are used together or interchangeably in course titles—all courses qualify you to teach in both mainstream and specialist schools.


Dive deeper into the different specialist and inclusive education courses you can study online through Open Universities Australia.


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