Inclusive education between light and shadow – the latest Bertelsmann study takes stock after ten years of inclusion
With its accession to the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities in 2009, Germany undertook to not exclude any child from attending schools providing general education.
The implementation was discussed both euphorically and critically in public. Time to take stock and venture an outlook:
The Bertelsmann study published in June 2020 provides no evidence to back up claims that society perceives inclusion as failed. It is true, however, that the growth of inclusion is only making sluggish headway.
Special schools remain: the number of pupils taught in schools for children with learning difficulties is constant nationwide but varies from one German state to another. The number of inclusive pupils is rising as more special educational needs are being identified. High-performing children tend to receive inclusive schooling, which depends on the need for support.
Assessments depend on personal experience
The majority of the population is in favour of inclusion, seeing it as promoting greater tolerance, greater social cohesion, and improved coexistence.
The opinion of parents is also good overall. Parents with experience of inclusion give a more positive assessment than those with no specific experience of it. The generally positive perception, however, depends on the nature of the special needs. Parents with experience of inclusion attest to a greater readiness for cooperation amongst teaching staff, better collaboration between parents and teachers, and a more positive relationship between teachers and pupils.
There are proven learning successes in inclusive lessons: more pupils pass the “Hauptschulabschluss” (basic secondary school qualification in Germany) in mainstream schools than those in special schools do. The alignment that inclusive pupils with special needs seek when learning amongst their peers with normal abilities has the effect of enhancing their performance. The motivation of some pupils with special needs, however, declines when faced with the performance of their classmates with unimpaired abilities.
Teaching staff are considerably more critical: all teachers want an additional colleague in inclusive lessons and the majority of them complain about inadequate know-how and missing equipment in schools. Teachers supervising inclusive classes are significantly more positive in their judgment than those without experience are.
According to the study, inclusion cannot be regarded as a failure – the general public and teachers have a mostly negative impression whereas the majority of parents and pupils with experience of inclusion are positive to very positive in their feedback.
Germany is still a long way from reaching its objective: the existing shortage of qualified staff, particularly qualified special-needs teachers, psychologists, and teachers in all areas outside Germany’s upper secondary-school (“Gymnasium”) system, will continue to escalate. Some federal states are making progress with inclusion whereas others are choosing to backpedal. The latest forecasts for the individual German states therefore give grounds to expect stagnation in the implementation of collective learning until 2030.