Research

Teacher Agency for Inclusion and Social Justice

A distinctive approach to teaching and learning that supports the participation and achievements of diverse groups of students in classrooms and schools.

team4change

Research clusters

Pedagogy, Learning and Curriculum

Equality, Social Justice and Inclusion

Research expert

Professor Lani Florian

Dr Holly Linklater

Dr Nataša Pantić

What was the problem? 

Approaches to teaching and learning that perpetuate the idea that “most” students learn well and “some” require “extra support” encourage the view that some students are less able, or are extra work for teachers. Treating differences between students as problems creates barriers that can interfere with some students’ learning and participation.

Dissatisfaction with student performance and poor outcomes for specific groups such as students living in poverty, or those who may have additional needs, raise important questions about the role that teachers and schools can play in reducing educational inequalities. 

What did we do?

A programme of research addressed three questions:

  • How can classroom teachers be supported to raise achievement of diverse student groups?
  • How can teachers work collaboratively with others to create conditions for the learning and participation of all students?
  • How can new teachers be prepared to accept responsibility for and promote the learning and achievement of all students?

The researchers undertook studies of the craft knowledge of experienced teachers committed to supporting the participation and achievements of diverse groups of students within mainstream schools and classrooms. Seminars on teacher education focused on the need to prepare new teachers for the changing demographic of schooling. Participatory, collaborative research developed and tested tools that can be used to collect evidence on how inclusive pedagogies and teacher agency can help mitigate educational inequality.

One study examined how teachers and schools can develop and enact strategies to raise the achievement of all their children, whilst safeguarding the inclusion of those who are vulnerable to exclusion and other forms of marginalization. A series of case studies considered how values and beliefs within a school’s culture shape the teaching and learning that takes place. Subsequent research focused on how teachers in inclusive classrooms have been able to achieve good academic attainment results for everyone.

The researchers offered training and professional development events for practitioners, which introduced the inclusive pedagogical approach and supports the development of practice.

What happened next? 

The research findings have influenced local, national, and international projects on inclusive education. These include:

  • The research is cited in UNESCO’s “Policy Guidelines on Inclusion and Equity in Education” (forthcoming).
  • The Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC) Framework for Inclusion, which links the approach to the standards for teacher education and career long professional learning.
  • The Council of Europe project “Regional Support for Inclusive Education in South East Europe” (2014-2015), translated into seven languages.

In 2013 and 2015, the Dutch Ministry of Education supported study visits to Edinburgh to learn about ways in which new teachers are prepared for the demands of inclusive education. These visits helped shape the Ministry’s response to the Inclusive Education Act (2014).

In 2015, the researchers (in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Cambridge) delivered a “Learning Without Limits” workshop to Bergen Kommune school in Norway (school report: here).

The team has developed a set of research of tools that include:

  • A framework for evidencing inclusive pedagogy (IPAA), most recently included in teacher education courses in Australia.
  • A classroom observation tool (Spratt & Florian) adopted by selected Open Society Foundation’s inclusive education programmes.
  • A reflection document for the senior management team of an English primary school, which enabled them to write a job description for a new member of staff responsible (in part) for overseeing the support of children with special educational needs.

The research strongly informs the MSc programme in Inclusive Education, the core course, Inclusive Pedagogy, and the option course, Teachers as Agents of Change. This programme is promoted on the Inclusive Education in Action website, part of the UNESCO knowledge-base on inclusive teaching and learning, which seeks to empower teachers and learners as well as providing open access materials for policy makers and stakeholders. 

Your points/questions were very much at the centre of our conversations. We read them out at the start and used them as a checklist at the end. We still have much to iron out but lovely to have the conversation involving the needs of all.

English school

We are very pleased you all had the possibility to give us this wonderful and well prepared afternoon… we [will] keep this a main issue in the staff and in our work with the students.

Norwegian school

Related study programme

Inclusive Education (MSc)