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Keywords:

  • special schools;
  • mainstream;
  • inclusion;
  • teachers;
  • attitudes;
  • identification;
  • participation;
  • placement;
  • curriculum;
  • governance

In this article, Brahm Norwich, Professor of Education at the University of Exeter, examines the roles that special schools can play within inclusive educational systems. He notes that the percentage of young people in special schools in England has remained broadly stable over a number of years, despite inclusive policy initiatives. Brahm Norwich suggests that policy makers and practitioners have found it hard to understand how a broad and shifting notion like inclusion should be operationalised, especially when valued positions, such as meeting individual needs and providing a sense of belonging and participation, can appear to generate such tensions and contradictions. Brahm Norwich summarises findings on teachers' attitudes towards this crucial ‘dilemma of difference’ from three countries and argues that it is time to develop more sophisticated ways of thinking about provision. Rather than insisting on locating ‘mainstream’ and ‘special’ at opposite ends of a one-dimensional placement continuum, Brahm Norwich puts forward a multi-dimensional model in which a number of attributes can be considered when analysing provision. The ‘flexible interacting continua’ provided in this model concern identification, participation, placement, curriculum and teaching and governance and Brahm Norwich shows how schools, whether mainstream or special, need to strive towards commonality in terms of all five dimensions rather than simply in terms of placement. Policy makers as well as staff in both mainstream and special schools will be interested in exploring the implications of these ideas.