International Schools Moving Towards Inclusion

An increasing number of international English-medium K-12 schools are embracing the opportunities and challenges of inclusion says a recent survey conducted by ISC Research and Next Frontier Inclusion.

The survey was conducted this January and asked over 8,000 international schools about their approaches to inclusion and their provision for children with learning differences. Responses were collected from 584 schools of varying sizes, based in all regions of the world.

Today’s international schools market responds to the learning needs of children from both expatriate and local families, and provision for students with special learning needs is no longer an exception. As legislation supporting inclusion in schools is being implemented in such countries as the UK, US and Australia, so expatriate parents are expecting such provision from international schools. And local families, unable to access specialist support in their state schools, are increasingly turning to international schools for the solutions they need. It is as a result of these demands that a growing number of international schools are becoming more inclusive.

The results of the survey by ISC Research and Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) reflect this move towards inclusion. Although a third of the schools that responded classify themselves as selective (27% based on testing and previous school records and 6% as highly selective), the remaining schools consider themselves non-selective to varying degrees. 13% said they accept a managed number of students with mild learning differences and 28% said they accept a managed number of students with both mild and moderate learning differences. 9% said they accept a managed number of children with learning differences who include some with intensive needs. Often children with intensive needs follow a modified curriculum and may be placed in ‘a school within the school’, following an alternative pathway to graduation.

Integration within the mainstream classroom varies significantly. 35% of schools that participated in the survey said they follow an inclusive approach whenever they can; 25% said they use a learning specialist as a consultant and 10% said they use a learning specialist to co-plan, co-teach and co-assess alongside the mainstream teacher (known as a ‘push-in’ model). 44% said they use both push-in and pull-out (resource room) models. Only 5% of schools reported that the pull-out model was the main learning approach employed. However, NFI has found that there remains considerable confusion in international schools regarding the relative merits and weaknesses of different models of provision suggesting more understanding of appropriate provision needs to be developed.

What is evident from the survey is that most international schools are uncomfortable with an exclusionary attitude towards children with special learning needs. However, skilled staff are often lacking. Only 33% of the schools in the study said that staff working with students with learning differences are entirely qualified special educators. 21.5% said staff are mostly qualified, 39% said some are qualified, and 14% said they have no specialists to support children with learning differences.

Of particular note was the fact that 84% of the international schools that responded to the survey said they enrol children with special gifts and talents, but only 35% of the schools said they are satisfied with their provision for this group of students. “There is a disconnect here,” says Bill Powell, Director of NFI. “Many times, school leaders use finances as a reason to exclude children with special educational needs. They’ll say: ‘we don’t have the programme for you, so it would be wrong for us to take you into our school’. But on the flip side of this, some of these schools are accepting children with high academic gifts and talents, even though they admit they are not happy with the provision they provide. That’s a significant ethical consideration that this survey has highlighted.”

In response to this misalignment, NFI is putting together a task force to propose standards for meeting the needs of highly capable students in international schools.

Other conclusions from the survey suggest an attitudinal shift away from elitist and non-inclusionary language and policies although many schools indicate they are insecure about how to change. “There’s a greater willingness towards inclusion, but there’s also some scratching of heads about what to do, and a fear about getting it wrong,” says Ochan Powell, also a Director of NFI.

The survey is the first of its kind amongst international schools and ISC Research intends to track the market on an annual basis to identify trends as they develop. “Anecdotal evidence suggests the market is moving towards being more inclusive,” says Richard Gaskell, Director for International Schools at ISC Research. “This focused research will help us to provide the data that international schools need in order to know how the market is actually responding to the needs of all students.”

A full report of the survey is available here or from ISC Research.

ISC Research is part of The International School Consultancy (ISC) and has been the leading provider of data and market intelligence on the world’s international schools market for over 20 years.Next Frontier Inclusion is a non-profit membership organisation supporting international schools on their journeys to becoming increasingly inclusive of children with special education needs.