Enacting the international vision of inclusive education: a UK-PMLD case study
Simmons, B (2020) ‘Enacting the international vision of inclusive education: a UK-PMLD case study.’ In: Downes, G and Simon, C.A, eds. Sociology of education. Routledge, Abingdon. (Forthcoming)
AbstractThis chapter explores the inclusive education debate as it relates to children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). It illuminates a fundamental tension between international policy which promotes inclusive education as a human right (UN, 2006), and the challenge of including learners with profound intellectual impairments in the current neoliberal education system (Tomlinson, 2017). This tension is examined through two interpretations of disability found in the field of Disability Studies: the medical model and the social model (Goodley 2011). A medical model interpretation holds that children with PMLD are excluded from the mainstream because they lack the intellectual ability to learn at the same pace as other children. A social model interpretation holds that children with PMLD are excluded because mainstream education has not been designed with the needs of children with PMLD in mind, resulting in a range of barriers that prevent children with PMLD from meaningful participation. Proponents of the social model of disability call for a radical reform of the education system to reflect the diverse needs of all learners, including children with PMLD (Baglieri and Shapiro, 2017; Greenstein 2016). According to international policy, one of the key outcomes of inclusive education is social cohesion (UNESCO, 2002) defined in this chapter in terms of a sense of belonging, shared identity, and social cooperation (Fonseca et al., 2019; Simmons 2020). If inclusive education is to be realised for children with PMLD, then any radical reform of the education system must begin with an understanding of how schools can foster social cohesion amongst pupils. This chapter presents research evidence that illuminates the possible conditions of social cohesion, which include specialist staff who perform a dual role of supporting the emerging communication skills of children with PMLD, whilst also providing mainstream school peers with expert knowledge about how each child with PMLD uniquely communicates. The findings also suggest that children benefit from protected time and space to experiment with communication strategies, play together, develop friendships, and share roles and responsibilities. The chapter concludes by suggesting that if inclusion is to be actualised for children with PMLD, then we need to move beyond narrow concepts of inclusion as assimilation into a neoliberal education system, and begin to reimagine inclusive education as a process of enacting the conditions that can lead to social belonging.