The issue of inclusion is high on the educational reform agenda in many countries. Set within the context of the United Nations organisations push for ‘Education for All’, the aim is to find ways of increasing the participation and learning of pupils who are vulnerable to marginalisation within existing educational arrangements (World Education Forum, 2000).
In the United States, inclusive education is generally thought of as an approach to serving children with disabilities within general education settings. Internationally, however, it is sometimes seen more broadly as a reform that supports and welcomes diversity among all learners (Ainscow, 1999). The research reported in this paper adopts this broadened formulation. It presumes that the aim of inclusive education is to eliminate social exclusion and that is a consequence of attitudes and responses to diversity in race, social class, ethnicity, religion, gender and ability (Vitello & Mithaug, 1998). Children with disabilities and others seen as having special educational needs are part of this agenda.
The paper focuses specifically on the implications of these developments for leadership roles in schools. In particular, it uses evidence from case studies of leadership practice in three countries to address the question, what types of leadership practice foster inclusion in schools? The paper provides a theoretical framework that throws light on what is involved in such practices and presents illustrative examples. The aim is to provide an analysis that will be of direct relevance to practitioners, whilst at the same time adding to theory.
The examples of leadership that are examined were found in schools in England, Portugal, and the United States that serve culturally and linguistically diverse groups of children, including significant numbers from low-income families. In each of the schools, children with disabilities and others categorised as having special educational needs are taught in general education classrooms alongside their peers.