Students and teacher talking

Inclusive teaching is above all good teaching. Within inclusive settings, students who experience disability as well as those who don’t, have been found to receive higher-quality instruction that is better suited to individual needs.

This module examines what is inclusion and what it’s not; provides an introduction to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and differentiation, and gives parents, teachers and students the tools and framework to achieve inclusion in practice.

“Inclusive schooling is an educational movement. One that stresses interdependence and independence. Inclusive education views all students as capable, and values a true sense of community. Inclusive education supports civil rights and equity in the classroom”

Paula Kluth, “Is your school inclusive?”

Sky border





  • All children can learn and deserve to learn

  • Positive in Approach
  • Student Centred

  • Student voice is paramount 

  • Vision

  • Trial and error

  • School and home life are always intertwined





  • All children can learn and deserve to learn

  • Positive in Approach
  • Student-Centred

  • Student voice is paramount 

  • Vision

  • Trial and error

  • School and home life are always intertwined

Sky border

“There is no ‘other’ in inclusion. At its core, inclusion requires recognising and acting upon the realisation that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is only ‘us’, and thus an ‘us’ to which, in our diversities, we all belong. This understanding of our sharing humanity is fundamental to bringing about inclusive education”

(Cologon, 2019)

Let’s get it right from the start

As we plan to work through how we can best always include the student in our planning, we need to have a look again about the importance of a VISION, which we discussed in Module 2. The vision is the guide to how to include – if we do this, will it enable the vision or put the vision at risk.

“To be conscious and mindful to always act from a place of respect when conducting business with one another. To be clear with our vision for our daughter’s life, and to present this with high regard for her dignity and convey high expectations, bringing it back to her needs and perspectives. A willingness to be involved and contribute. Patience to appreciate that educators may not have a lived experience with disability perspectives”


Watch Al’s Story, a film documenting Al Graham’s inclusive education journey from Kindergarten to Year 12 at Turramurra High School in NSW (crafted by Citrine Pictures for Family Advocacy).

What is inclusion?

“Inclusion at school is about all kids being together in the same classes and schools. Not just for some lessons or subjects. With the support they need”

Mara Sapon-Shevin

Inclusion is:

  • A commitment to creating environments in which all children feel welcome, accepted and honoured for who they are
  • The belief that everyone benefits from knowing, interacting with, and learning from a wide range of other individuals
  • The understanding that we are ALL different – and ALL the same. We are all human beings that seek connections, affection, opportunities to learn and grow, and to belong. And we all have different strengths, challenges, and needs for support
  • The recognition that if we want to make a better world for everyone, we all need to learn to be comfortable, skilled and enthusiastic interacting with a wide range of people.

Inclusion is not:

  • A place
  • A service
  • Letting children with disabilities join typical children for particular activities

From All students learning together – Taking action on education, Family Advocacy


Inclusion in education is recognised as a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2012). Article 24 of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that education should be accessible “…without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity…within an inclusive education system at all levels….”.

Educational environments for students with disabilities range from a complete denial of formal educational settings to equal participation in all aspects of the education system. In the paper “A summary of the evidence on Inclusive Education” (2016), the authors described the educational experiences of students with disabilities using these four categories:

what is inclusion

      • All children attend their local neighbourhood school
      • Schools have a ‘zero-rejection’ policy when it comes to registering and teaching children in their local areas. All children are welcomed and valued.
      • All children learn in regular, heterogeneous classrooms with same-age peers
      • All children follow substantively similar programs of study, with curriculum that can be adapted and modified if needed. Modes of instruction are varied and responsive to the needs of all
      • All children contribute to regular school and classroom learning activities and events
      • All children are supported to make friends and to be socially successful with their peers
      • Adequate resources and staff training are provided within the school and region to support inclusion.

    More at:

    Inclusive School Practices Toolkit

    Alternative Teaching Methods (with inclusion checklist) – Family Advocacy

    Valued roles

    Being in valued roles makes it more likely that those good things of life are possible. However, being in a role is very different from simply having activities to participate in”

    (Sherwin, 2014)

    The world is full of experiences, opportunities and possibilities that, if they are properly tapped into, can mean that the person gets to enjoy life more richly and to fulfil their greater potential. However, if they cannot get to these experiences, then all of this will be lost. The means to get to these life-giving experiences and opportunities are valued social roles. Roles are the vehicle through which a person gets to be part of community life and enjoy what community life might offer. These roles can include, for example, friend, neighbour, club member, employee, sports fan, adventurer, athlete, relative, travel mate, colleague (Kendrick).

    SRV as a resource for seeking and shaping the good life – Michael Kendrick

    SRV as a resource for seeking and shaping the good life – Michael Kendrick

    Valued roles are the key to the good things of life for everyone. When we have work, community, civic, relationship and recreational roles we have opportunity to meet people, develop our skills and project a positive image of ourselves with others. Extra effort must be made to assist people with disability into valued roles, so they too can reap the wonderful benefits.

    Valued Roles – Resourcing Inclusive Communities

    Valued Roles – Resourcing Inclusive Communities

    Potential roles of interest to the student are an important aspect of defining their goals rather than having goals simply for the sake of completing a plan. Some examples of goal areas include:

    • Building skills – building coordination skills so that the person can be a soccer player and part of a team
    • Developing a new role – for someone who loves to play the drums, the role could be drummer in the school band
    • Enhancing a skill – for someone who loves to draw, not only participating in the art class but also contributing to a mural or other piece of collective art for the school environment
    • Roles such as ‘school play cast member’ offers many different roles within that role. Actor, stage hand, lighting controller, costume maker, announcer, promotions officer and so on.

    Teasing the roles out gives us the opportunity to think which role would best suit the student’s interests and capacities.

    Valued Roles in the classroom can look like, but are not limited to:

    • Class leader
    • Toilet buddy
    • Prayer leader
    • Class assembly organiser
    • Reader allocator
    • Playtime leader
    • Reward system receiver/allocator
    • Library monitor
    • Gardener
    • Bus/Train rider
    • School open day participant
    • Peer support officer
    • Environmental officer
    • School Representative
    • Council Member            
    • Canteen lunch collector
    • Office supporter
    • Flag raiser/bell ringer
    • Sports player
    • Drama/dance club member
    • Indigenous student leader
    • School captain
    • Prefect
    • Camp leader
    • Kinder/new student buddy
    • School choir member
    • Band member
    • Audio/visual expert

    Just attending the same classes does not enhance social status but those assigned socially-desirable school and classroom roles does have a higher sense of social acceptance. They were found to have reinforced confidence and increased social capital (Mpofu, 2003 cited in Foreman & Arthur-Kelly, 2017).

    Read more at Building Belonging in the School Community – Community Resource Unit

    Understanding the importance of the Incidental curriculum

    We often focus on the ‘intentional’ curriculum, such as the lessons and learning outcomes, as the most important part of a student’s educational experience. However, there is a lot more going on in the regular school environment which allows that ‘child culture’ to flourish. This is the “hidden” or ‘incidental’ curriculum: the experiences, relationships, activities, events, even mistakes that are constantly happening on the side, completely undirected by the teacher. Incidental learning takes place within and outside the classroom, through facing new situations, interacting with peers (not just academically but also socially), trial and error, and by simply ‘doing’ things.

    If you ask yourself “what do I remember about high school”, your memories are more likely to be about the friends and social aspects of your school life, than the algebra or periodic table. Students with disability who attend segregated settings often miss out on the incidental curriculum.


    When inclusion is seen as a disability issue and not as a whole-of-school issue, inclusive education becomes a code for ‘special education’ and as such can work against inclusive practice….and an expanded view of inclusive education allows it to be seen as a human rights issue, with marginalised and excluded groups being discriminated against and denied what is readily available to others in the mainstream (The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), 2013:9). You can read more at ARACY’s Inclusive Education for students with disability.

    Why inclusion?

    Decades of research demonstrates that inclusive education has benefits for the academic, communication, positive behavioural and social development of students labelled with ‘severe’ and ‘multiple disabilities’. Genuinely inclusive education allows students to build and develop friendships that they might not have considered or encountered otherwise. Research outlines that students who experience disability who are educated in ‘mainstream’ settings demonstrate better academic and vocational outcomes. Within inclusive settings, students who do and do not experience disability have been found to receive higher-quality instruction that is better suited to individual needs. Further, the education of teachers to be equipped and prepared to teach all students – in a fully inclusive manner – is essential to inclusive education (Taken from Cologon, 2019).

    • Collaboration of school staff who plan for student successes through whole class, small group, and individual models and objectives.
    • Increased acceptance of differences and diversity for staff, students, families, and communities.
    • Improvements in academics with high expectations for ALL students.
    • Excellent teaching strategies, resources, accommodations, inclusive interventions, and supports benefit ALL students.
    • Opportunities for peers to cooperatively complete assignments.
    • Higher motivation for students to succeed, wanting to fit in with their peers.
    • Maximization of communication skills.
    • Social and emotional benefits with peers as role models to develop character education.

    Read more at: Towards inclusive education: A necessary process of transformation – CYDA

    ‘I feel that it is very important that I go to school with my friends and brother. I was allowed to learn the same things as other kids and show them that I was intelligent. I also got my HSC. I think all kids should learn together’


    Gina, a parent quoted in All Students Learning Together said: “Social skills come from an immersion in the regular class. He sees his peers modelling behaviour. Mac is an only child so it is important for him to see kids doing all kinds of things – the good and the bad. I don’t mind if he sees kids fighting. He needs to see and learn. If he only saw positive things he would not be getting the full flow of life. He needs full immersion in everyday ordinary life. Now he has a cracker of an angry face and I think that is terrific. We have talked about how and when to use the face appropriately.”

    Inclusion in Education is about peers with and without disabilities coming together side-by-side in a grade-level classroom to achieve academic, social, communication, and functional skills. It occurs when communities of learners of the same age are educated together within natural school settings.

    Click on the plus sign to see some of the things that inclusion creates

    • A positive school culture
    • Agreed values
    • A standard of quality
    • Establishes a link between teaching content and teaching values
    • Pastoral care and discipline
    • Individual conferencing
    • Individual Plans

    (Taken from Young, M. A Principal’s Perspective about inclusive education presentation to Family Advocacy)

    Read more at Insights of a Primary Principal – Margaret Young

    “At Ashfield Public School our motto is ‘Every Child – Every Opportunity’. This means that for children with disability they have the same expectations for success and achievement as they work towards the same outcomes as other students in their grade”

    Damien Moran, Principal

    How do we include all students?

    On 26 August 2016 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted General Comment (No.4) on the right to inclusive education, clarifying the obligations of ratifying countries (including Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada) under Article 24 (Inclusive Education) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In doing so, the Committee recommended that:

    “… [Governments] apply the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach. UDL is a set of principles, providing teachers and other staff with a structure to create adaptable learning environments and develop instruction to meet the diverse needs of all learners. It recognizes that each student learns in a unique manner and involves developing flexible ways to learn:

    • creating an engaging classroom environment;
    • maintaining high expectations for all students, while allowing multiple ways to meet expectations;
    • empowering teachers to think differently about their own teaching; and
    • focusing on educational outcomes for all, including those with disabilities.

    Curricula must be conceived, designed and applied to meet and adjust to the requirements of every student, and providing appropriate educational responses. Standardised assessments must be replaced by multiple forms of assessments and recognition of individual progress towards broad goals that provide alternative routes for learning.” [para 25]

    (From All Means All, Inclusion toolkit for educators)


    How do we include the student – Access Symposium

    Is your school inclusive? – Paula Kluth

    “To move to an inclusive and proactive approach, education must begin from the point of recognising that learning variability is the norm, rather than the exception”

    Greg Alchin

    Practically Speaking: Is reasonable adjustment a deficit ideology – Greg Alchin

    Practically Speaking: Is reasonable adjustment a deficit ideology – Greg Alchin

    Inclusion in Practice

    Download and read Resources 1 to 4 below, listing what is inclusion and what is not inclusion within the classroom. Can you think of some more examples?

    Using these documents and the examples that you thought of, list down instances of inclusion in the classroom and the school environment using the table in Resource 5.

    Remember inclusive practices cannot be achieved in isolation. Who else in the school community can support you to achieve inclusion?

    Inclusion IS

    Inclusion is NOT

    Student voice: What is inclusion?

    Student voice: What is NOT inclusion?

    Inclusion in Practice

    Inclusion IS

    Inclusion is NOT

    Student voice: What is inclusion?

    Student voice: What is NOT inclusion?

    Inclusion in Practice

    Universal design for learning

    “The goal of UDL is to remove barriers and address problems of a one-size-fits-all approach in order to provide equal access to learning, not just access to information… UDL is a flexible and responsive strengths-based approach to teaching, enabling high expectations matched with genuine learning opportunities for all students”

    (Cited in Graham, 2020)

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is based upon an idea that was originally applied in architecture – that it is more efficient and effective for a building to be “universally designed” from the outset so that it can used by all people, to the greatest extent possible – rather than the building being designed for the “average” user, and subsequently adjusted or modified in design to cater for other users.

    If we try to design a building so that it is accessible to the elderly and people with disability, then we achieve a design that is accessible to most, if not all. It will include ramps and elevators, extra space in bathrooms to allow wheelchair transfer, broader doorways for wheelchair access, lever door handles, hand support rails in showers etc. The building may look much the same as any other – but its design caters for the most marginalized – and therefore for all.

    In education, teachers know all too well that all students are different and that they learn differently – this fact is recognised by the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, which underlies the Universal Design for Learning framework.

    Some students love to write, some hate reading, some need to visualize key concepts, some have no trouble coping with the regular classroom, whilst others feel anxious with the noise and unpredictability of the classroom or struggle to stay still at a desk. It is not surprising that with such individual variation much of the teacher’s time is involved with “managing” the class rather than teaching – with trying to “engage” students that are not readily engaged by a lesson that is designed for and pitched to the “middle”.

    In Universal Design for Learning these individual differences between students are acknowledged and class processes are developed from the outset to remove or minimize all barriers to learning (i.e. physical, cognitive, intellectual and organizational barriers) and to cater for the wide range in individual difference. A universally designed curriculum is designed to meet the needs of all students in the class, thereby avoiding or minimising the need to subsequently differentiate the lesson for individual students.

    (From All Means All, Inclusion toolkit for educators)


    These processes of universal design have widespread benefits and considerably reduce the need for changes to be made for individuals. Therefore, this avoids the issues of limiting or preventing access and participation until such changes can be made, and reduces the time needed for individual changes. Within education, a universal approach is used for the whole class, but it is not a one size fits all concept. It is an approach that removes the barriers to access and participation. A universal approach in education facilitates accessibility, participation and inclusion with fewer individual adjustments needed. It is through this planning and designing of the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and environments, that allow for the accessibility to learning for the full diversity of all students (adapted from Graham, 2020).

    Further reading:

    UDL and differentiation – Inclusive Education Planning

    UDL – Including ALL students in the same curriculum – Starting with Julius

    The UDL Guidelines – CAST

    Universal Design as Critical Design – Centre for Universal Design Australia

    A differentiation approach

    “Development must include academic, social, physical, and communication considerations for our students, we must always consider the physical and social spaces”


    Differentiation can sometimes be referred to as differentiated instruction, and involves proactively planning varied approaches to what and how students learn, in order to be inclusive of student diversity. When undertaking this approach to accessible learning, content, process, product, environment and affect are ‘differentiated’ according to where students are currently at with their learning, and recognises the factors that motivate students, including their individual preferences for learning (Adapted from Graham, 2020 Inclusive Education for the 21st Century).

    Differentiation is an approach that encourages teachers to respond to relevant difference among individuals while maintaining high expectations for all. It needs to be used together with effective evidence-based teaching methods to minimise learning failure.

    (From Teaching Methods: Differentiated instruction)


    “Inclusive education is characterised by a positive stance towards diversity and difference. Diversity of strengths and learner vulnerability are key to engaging with students”

    Deakin University, 2018


    Prior to any conversations it’s good to have thought about what we want to talk about!

    Let’s think about what we think inclusion is for our student, and how we are doing this, or can do this better. We recall and keep in mind the VISION as we make decisions about how to include our student.

    Click on the plus sign to read the “Inclusion in Action” section below and watch the video clip.


    Making inclusion work means considering carefully these three things:

    School climate – There are five key parts of welcoming school communities:

    1. Inclusion of all students; no one has to “earn” their way into the community
    2. An atmosphere in which differences are valued and addressed openly
    3. A classroom marked by cooperation rather than competition
    4. A place that values the integrity of each person, that is, each person is valued in their wholeness with multiple identities
    5. A setting which offers not just physical safety, but also emotional and relational safety for all its members; they can feel secure in their belonging

    school climate

    (From All Students Learning Together, page 14)

    what we teach – curriculum – Inclusive education requires the recognition that every student can be meaningfully involved in the curriculum, but that there will be different points of entry into that content and different levels of engagement.

    how we teach – curriculum – in order for inclusion to be effective, teachers must recognise that all students learn in different ways, and that providing multiple ways for students to engage with the curriculum enriches learning for all.

    This video clip produced by Down Syndrome Queensland (DSQ) in collaboration with students from the Griffith Film School and Pullenvale State School, highlights the difference between integration, perceived inclusion and true inclusion in a classroom environment.


    Please click on the icon that applies to you to see the content

    How to include me

    How do you like to be included in what is happening in your class, where you feel safe, comfortable and working with peers?

    What do you need to make it easier to complete the activities that are happening in class?

    RESOURCE 6: How to include me

    “It should never be an ‘us and them’ but always part of a team with a common goal. As a parent I think you have to be very clear as to where you are heading, why you are doing what you are doing, what you need to do to achieve a good life after school, and who you need to bring into your child’s life to make it happen”


    Using the “Inclusion is” and “Inclusion is not” documents, the “Inclusion in Practice” document, and the student vision pre-work from Module 2, think about how you might have seen inclusion in practice in previous classrooms or other settings. Take the time to mind map a checklist of words and phrases to describe – gestures, images, anything to create the best possible environment, culture and circumstances for your child’s learning and growth. Remember the use of photographs and videos of your child can also be useful to explain inclusive practices.

    How can inclusion in the classroom support this vision? What changes do we need to make to ensure inclusion of our child in their school classroom?

    inclusion in Practice – Parent

    The visibility of learning from a student’s perspective needs to be known by teachers so that they can have a better understanding of what learning looks and feels like for the students (Hattie, 2008:116). Student voice enables educators to learn from our students about their experience of school and to build a shared understanding. This shared understanding can assist to build and develop strong student-teacher partnerships (Hattie, 2008).

    Research has shown that one of the barriers for educators, was their belief in a lack of specialist knowledge and skills to teach to the diversity of children with disability in a mainstream classroom. However, we are reminded that the first principle of an inclusive education is to identify and address the barriers to participation of ALL learners, including those with disability. Inclusive teaching is above all good teaching. Research indicates that teaching strategies such as peer tutoring, co-operative learning and differentiated instruction not only improve the achievement of students with disability but have a positive impact on the learning of all students (taken from Graham, 2019; Personalised learning, inclusion and equity).

    What does your ideal inclusive classroom look like?

    Using the “Inclusion is” and “Inclusion is not” documents, the “Inclusion in Practice” document, and the student vision pre-work from Module 2, take the time to mind map a checklist of words and phrases to describe – gestures, images, anything to create the best possible environment, culture and circumstances for student learning and growth. Remember the use of photographs and videos of your student can also be useful to explain inclusive practices.

    How can inclusion in the classroom support this vision? What changes do we need to make to ensure inclusion of our student in our classroom?

    Inclusion in Practice – Teacher


    Let’s make inclusion happen

    “We are aiming for an agreed understanding of what is, and what is not inclusion for our student, to promote discussion, and agreed expectations and strategies”



    Inclusion is often mistaken for well-meaning efforts that fall short and actually exclude our students, putting the educational success and life-long VISION of our students at risk at best and at worst, adversely impacting on their well-being, their concept of self as a learner, and their value as a person with something to contribute.

    Special, other or isolated efforts with our students, passes this message onto them that they are special, in a lesser way; they are “other” and don’t’ belong, and that they are to miss out on, or are not entitled to the same opportunities that their peers experience.

    TIP: This inclusion process will provide the best learning space for ALL learners.


    Share – Student, Parent and Teacher “what is inclusion” and “what is not inclusion” checklists, and inclusion in practice documents.


    Consider – Where there are similarities, and if they are not happening, how we can make them happen? Where there are differences, discuss how to come to an agreed understanding to make them happen? Who else might be needed from our school community to make this happen?


    Impact – How might this information now be noted and integrated into how our student is understood, taught and valued.


    “Being optimistic that not every school is the same and not every teacher is the same. A mind shift from being optimistic that is, things were tried in the past and didn’t work, does not mean that they should not be re-explored. It’s all about finding the right balance, to form a connection with the student first, as the learning will soon follow”


    In practice our parents and teachers note that Inclusion equals flexibility. The ability to allow trial and error to be built into the classroom practice. We are aiming for starting a discussion on what strategies we will use to include our student.


    Share – Student’s responses on how to be included. Parent and Teacher mind maps of inclusion in the classroom. Identify and discuss shortcomings or what might not be working well.


    Consider – If and how these are being used. What additional resources or changes to current practice may be required.


    Impact – How might this information now be noted and integrated into how our student is understood, taught and valued.

    Conversation Guide – How to include the student

    Conversation Guide – How to include the student


    Let’s share something positive to start with – on the topic of something we have discovered about our student or more generally.

    What has been discussed, decided upon?

    Has the student been consulted before, during or regards to the outcome?

    What needs to be followed up, who will do this, by when and how will we know it’s been done. Is there a review required?

    Who else is it important to share this information with? How will we do this? Who will do this? (Consider other staff, replacement teachers, peers).

    Now go back to your “Conversation Guide” document and complete the “actions” section.