What is inclusion?


Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 5 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.

‘Educational inclusion is about equal opportunities for all pupils, whatever their age, gender, ethnicity, attainment and background. It pays particular attention to the provision made for, and the achievement of, different groups of pupils within a school. An educationally inclusive school is one in which the teaching and learning, achievements, attitudes and well-being of every young person matters. Effective schools are educationally inclusive schools. This shows, not only in their performance, but also in their ethos and their willingness to offer new opportunities to pupils who may have experienced previous difficulties. This does not mean treating all pupils in the same way. Rather it involves taking account of pupils’ varied life experiences and needs.’

Evaluating Educational Inclusion: OfSTED (2000)

The principle of inclusion in music education is that all children and young people should have access to a high quality music education which helps them develop their musical understanding and skills to the best of their ability. At first consideration this may seem like just ensuring equality of opportunity by giving everyone the same chance to participate. Particularly when we consider the concept of ‘talent,’ which leads us to the idea that some people are just ‘better’ at music than others. If some people are always going to do better than others, why not just give them all the same experience and allow them to participate at their own level? Isn’t that inclusion?

Should music education really be geared towards only a few people doing well and the rest just ‘having a go?’ If we have a group of pupils who are never going to achieve Grade 6 on the violin, is it ok to let them scrape away at the back of the class for the benefit of those who will go on to string-playing greatness? Or further still, is it ok for them to sit and listen, and for us to claim that as an active benefit of the lesson, because they can’t physically manipulate the instrument? Is that inclusive? After all, everyone is in the same room, participating in the same lesson?

There is a clear distinction between ‘accessibility’ and ‘inclusion.’ Accessibility is concerned with parity of access, ensuring everyone who wants to can participate. Think free music workshops, and non-auditioned community choirs. Inclusion on the other hand is about taking the next step, not only making our activities accessible, but also tailoring them to the participants so that everyone is able to engage meaningfully.

We are not going to let pupils languish at the back of a violin class because they’re not ‘talented’. We’re going to find them a musical activity that they can excel in. We’re not going to expect pupils with physical disabilities sit and listen to their able-bodied peers, we’re going to find a way that they can join in with practical music-making.

Our music sessions, in whatever context, should be geared towards helping all our pupils achieve to the best of their ability, and in a context that is relevant to them. This means making necessary adaptations to our approach, our curriculum, and our attitude, to ensure that every child is included. That is inclusion.