The Evolution of Inclusive Learning

Education is for everyone – regardless of race, religion, wealth or social standing, the right to an education is the cornerstone of every civilised society.

And while, unfortunately, not all education is created equal, the UK has a long and proud tradition of high standards in education. Teachers work exceptionally hard every day to make sure students are given the best chances to succeed both academically and socially.

What is inclusive learning?

Inclusive learning is an approach to learning that addresses the needs of students from all backgrounds by enabling participation and breaking down the barriers created by learning difficulties and physical or mental impairments to make sure students get the most from education.

This many-varied approach can involve anything from tailoring education to suit the needs of individuals and their different learning styles to adapting or replacing classroom seats with standing frames for pupils with neuromuscular conditions who may have physical therapy routines that involve assisted walking and standing.

Inclusive learning has not always been the norm, though. It has taken years of progressive change, both in legislation and attitudes, to propel this novel method into the mainstream.


Education pre-World War II

Until the latter part of the 18th Century, very few children in the UK regularly attended school. Only then did a series of new laws begin to shape what has since evolved into the modern education system.

The Education Act of 1880 made the schooling of all children between the ages of five and ten compulsory; in 1899, the leaving age was further increased to 12. The abolition of school fees in 1891 also went a long way towards making education universally inclusive.

Education for children with disabilities and learning difficulties was still a problem, though, and progress was gradual. In 1893, the first schools for the blind and deaf were established; similar schools for children with physical impairments followed in 1899.

1902 saw the implementation of a second Education Act, granting local authorities the right to devise their own plans for education to suit the needs of the region. These strategies relied heavily on the use of I.Q. tests to determine which children could attend ‘mainstream’ schools – a move which, again, marginalised those with disabilities and difficulties.

No significant changes in education followed until just before the end of World War II, when the 1944 Butler Act increased the school leaving age to 15, introducing, in the process, further measures marginalising those with learning difficulties.

Under the terms of the Butler Act, education would be segregated according to performance. High achievers would attend Grammar Schools, while average students would attend to Secondary Technical Schools. Everyone else would be relegated to Secondary Modern Schools.

The Act also stated that children suffering any ‘disability of the mind or body’ should be provided with alternative provisions – effectively isolating such students from mainstream education.


End of the century

The idea of inclusive learning never really took off until nearly a century after the original Education Act of 1880 when, in 1978, the Warnock Report stated that all students should be taught in mainstream education instead of in segregated schools.

In the decade that followed, the Education Act was reformed twice – first, in 1981, when the Statements of Special Educational Needs was introduced, requiring teachers to identify children in need of extra assistance. Local authorities then formally assessed the children before providing the school with additional resources.

The 1988 Education Reform Act then introduced the National Curriculum to ensure that every child was taught the same syllabus, regardless of their educational needs. It also gave parents more freedom to choose schools, making teachers more accountable for results.

The next big change came in the form of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act of 2001, which introduced three different levels of support that schools could offer students with special educational needs:

  • School Action: Teachers must adjust their teaching practices to accommodate the needs of the child/children with SEN. Teachers can seek the help of the schools’ SENCo.
  • School Action Plus: Schools still help the child/children, but can also seek help from outside professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, and psychologists.
  • Statement of SEN: Multi-professional assessments initiated by the school and the local authority.


2 of my favourite athletes may have been discriminated against years ago, fortunately, in the UK and America at least, attitudes and opportunities available to ‘disabled’ people have vastly improved over the last 100 years…

Aaron Aby – has cystic fibrosis 

Fortunately, advances in medicine and attitudes, have helped Aaron to become a Pro MMA fighter:


Nick Newell – has one hand, and yet is still an MMA champion


Away from Martial arts, there are many sports, such as cycling, whereby advances and developments in manufacturing and design, have allowed engineers to create specialised equipment enabling more and more people to get involved with their favourite sport.

Man, Athletic, Disability, Sport Wheelchair, Handicap

With the physical and psychological benefits of sport, coupled with online & offline communities allowing greater levels of social-interaction, sport can transform the lives of all types of people, for the better!




About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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