Last Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2019

Evidence of the link between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion - a review of the literature 2018

What is this?

​​​​This literature review examines the link between inclusive education and the social inclusion of people with disabilities. According to the review, there is evidence to suggest that there is a link between inclusive education and social inclusion in the areas of education, employment and living in the community. At the same time, the review suggests that attending segregated settings minimises the opportunities for social inclusion both in the short term (while children with disabilities are at school) and the long term (after graduation from secondary education).

Who is this for?

​This review will be of interest to policy-makers who are committed to developing evidence-based education policies. It will also be of interest to people with disabilities and their families, practitioners, and researchers.

About this research

​How was the research carried out?

​The search of the literature collected peer-reviewed papers in English from different countries, which:

  • are relevant to the link between inclusive education and social inclusion, with a focus on children/adults with disabilities
  • provide research evidence covering all or part of the learner life period (i.e. while they are in early childhood, primary, secondary and/or higher education settings
  • ​provide research evidence covering the period after graduation (i.e. education, employment and living in the community).

The peer-reviewed papers were collected initially through searches in databases (mainly Scopus and EBSCOhost) using keywords. A snowballing approach gathered further papers with over 200 papers identified in total. These papers, from 1990 onwards were from a variety of countries. All documents were read and coded for their references on inclusive education and social inclusion. Three thematic areas were identified: education, employment and living in the community.

What are the strengths of the research methodology?​

Systematic reviews provide a comprehensive picture of the research literature in a particular area, usually based on the results of many studies in different settings. They bring together a wide range of research literature in one report, ideally offering an overview of key findings and/or evidence gaps.

What is the context for this research?

This literature review was carried out on behalf of The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (the Agency). The Agency is an independent organisation which acts as a platform for collaboration for the ministries of education in the 31 member countries. It focuses on improving all learners’ achievement at all levels of inclusive lifelong learning. In order to enhance learners’ life chances and opportunities for actively participating in society. It aims to provide member countries and stakeholders at the European level with evidence-based information and guidance on implementing inclusive education systems. Following the country representatives’ suggestions in a survey by the Agency in 2015, a project was launched of which the main outcome was this literature review document. It aims to support member countries to think critically around issues related to inclusive education, such as its potential to influence social inclusion.

What were the findings?​

Education​

Research indicates that:

  • Inclusive education increases the opportunities for peer interactions and for close friendships between learners with and without disabilities.
  • For social interactions and friendships to take place in inclusive settings, due consideration needs to be given to several elements that promote learners’ participation (i.e. access, collaboration, recognition and acceptance).
  • Learners with disabilities educated in inclusive settings may perform academically and socially better than learners educated in segregated settings.
  • ​Attending and receiving support within inclusive education settings increases the likelihood of enrolling in higher education.

Employment

Research indicates that:

  • Attending an inclusive education setting is one of the factors that increase the likelihood of people with disabilities being employed.
  • The nature of the curriculum can either limit or increase opportunities for young people with disabilities to be employed.
  • High-quality transition programmes provided in secondary school may increase the likelihood of people with disabilities being employed.
  • ​Being educated in an inclusive education setting can influence the type of employment (e.g. supported employment, open employment and self-employment) of people with disabilities.

Living in the community

Research indicates that:

  • Education and social welfare policies are two interlinked factors in achieving independent living.
  • Youngsters with disabilities attending inclusive education settings are more likely to be financially independent shortly after graduating from secondary education.
  • Youngsters with disabilities attending segregated settings are less likely to have friendships and social networks in their adult life.
  • ​Being educated in an inclusive setting is one of the factors that increase the opportunities for participation in leisure activities, while being educated in a segregated setting acts as a barrier to participation.​

Improvement questions​

The review recommends that policy makers consider the following questions:

  • How can policy best support the transitions from one system to another, and from one life period to another in order to maintain or increase opportunities for social inclusion?
  • How can policy support and prolong the positive impact of inclusive education after formal education ends?
  • How can separate specialist provision be to re-designed in order to support learning in inclusive education settings?

About the author(s)

European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, 2018. Evidence of the Link Between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion: A Review of the Literature. (S. Symeonidou, ed.). Odense, Denmark.

This review was commissioned by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education.

Disclaime​r

This research was not commissioned by Education Scotland and the findings, recommendations and conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of Education Scotland.

Full reference

European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, 2018. Evidence of the Link Between Inclusive Education and Social Inclusion: A Review of the Literature. (S. Symeonidou, ed.). Odense, Denmark.​