As a teacher working from within a special school, how can I work more closely with mainstream colleagues to develop inclusive practices? The very question itself is problematic, even paradoxical - and is packed with educational, political and personal tensions and dilemmas. What is inclusion? How can segregated special schools promote an inclusive educational system? Do my professional practices of working from within a special school contradict my professional and personal commitment to the ideals and values of inclusion?
In this chapter I shall draw on a small action research project to explore some ideas which are sometimes ignored in debates on inclusion and its possible meanings and interpretations. There is a multitude of different, and often contradictory, notions of what constitutes 'inclusion', resulting in confusion and uncertainty about how to interpret inclusive values in terms of our everyday practice. It might seem that this is particularly the case in the context of special schools which, by their very nature, are 'excluding' in that they are separate from the ordinary education settings which most children and young people attend. On the other hand, the education system itself has become increasingly selective and hierarchical and the effects of this are felt within and between schools, and - more broadly - within communities. My starting point, then, is that processes of exclusion and inclusion take place in many ways and at many levels, and that struggles over values and opportunities based on principles of equal participation occur in all kinds of educational settings, including special schools. It is from this perspective that I have begun to explore some of the issues which arose out of my research.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education and Disability Equality in Education views the continuation of segregated special schools as contravening human rights and states that 'Real inclusion cannot happen in a special school' (Mason et al., 2003), highlighting a 'fundamental misconception' of what inclusion is. In complete contrast to this view the New Labour government sees special schools at 'the forefront of the wider education agenda' (DfES, 2003) and emphasises the need to recognise and value their 'unique contribution' within an 'overarching framework of inclusion'.