An inclusive school

Broad political agreement prevails in Norway that compulsory school should take place in an inclusive school. Most school managers and teachers are loyal to this principle.

Teacher. Photo: Morten Brun.

In educational practice, however, circumstances do arise where some people question whether the school system is actually inclusive for all pupils.

Many schools find themselves facing challenges which raise the issue of separating some pupils into special groups which cut across ordinary classes and sets.

Most Norwegian primary and secondary schools do not have separate groups for pupils with problem behaviour. But the challenges which underlie such measures are found in all schools.

Immediate and long-term benefits

Hopes of securing immediate gains could prompt a school to develop and retain a practice which excludes some pupils, and which prevents positive development for both pupils and the school’s learning environment.

When conflicts have built up over time, the pressure to remove certain pupils from the classroom can become intense even though its effect as a general strategy remains uncertain. 

The greatest benefit for pupils who run the risk of being excluded would actually be obtained in many cases by improving ordinary teaching practice, both immediately and in the long term.

Schools which have or are planning to establish special groups must undertake a thorough analysis of the position for themselves and for these pupils. Staff, head teacher and school owner must be involved in this work.

Small-group teaching is a collective term for organising activities which are pursued either within the school or outside its premises.

These provide all or part of the pupil’s education. A distinction is commonly made between internal, external and stand-alone measures.

Their aim is to give the pupils better-tailored teaching with greater motivation and more experiences of mastering assignments. But an educational practice of this kind poses many challenges:

  • pupils risk becoming socially marginalised, with unfortunate consequences for their social and educational development (Bakke 2011)
  • grouping the most challenging pupils together is a risky strategy, since their mutual negative influence and learning could exceed the planned positive gains (Visser et al 2010, Dishion et al 1999)
  • establishing special measures could act as a brake on efforts to develop the school’s learning environment – it may be difficult to shift attention from pupils’ negative behaviour to the general need for development in the school.

What being inclusive means

The issue of whether all pupils are included is naturally not confined to organisational questions – whether some pupils are placed in special groups.

Being included is about participating in the school’s learning community together with all the other pupils.

This means that each pupil experiences a sense of social belonging and community with others of their own age, while teaching is tailored to ability and need so that the pupil learns and develops both as a person and educationally (Salamanca Statement). 

From an inclusion perspective, special emphasis must be given to strengthening the school’s capacity to accommodate and provide a community for pupils with different learning behaviour.

This is a matter of developing an institution where employees and pupils develop and use competence, and where respect for diversity, individuality and different cultures prevails.

To increase inclusion, the school must work constantly to counter the various exclusion mechanisms which can be found within it.

A precondition is that the school must see differences and diversity as a value and a strength. The concept of “normality” must be replaced with that of difference. For something to be normal, something else must be abnormal (Eriksen & Breivik 2006).

Attention must be concentrated on the quality of the learning environment and the measures identified by research for creating better learning by all pupils.

The system perspective must be applied to understand the challenges experienced by the school and to be able to implement measures related to these. 

Individual functioning and mastery are closely related to the conditions and expectations which prevail in the school environment. Such an understanding helps to ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to take part.


Text: Hanne Jahnsen and Svein Nergaard
English translation: Rolf E Gooderham