Will mainstreaming and inclusion into mainstream classes lead to better outcomes post-school?

All students should have access to a range of program options that will be appropriately challenging and help them to develop the skills, attitudes, and experience needed to be successful post-school.

Key Takeaway: All students should have access to a range of program options that will be appropriately challenging and help them to develop the skills, attitudes, and experience needed to be successful post-school. For some students, such as those with moderate to severe learning difficulties, this would include access to vocational preparation and work experience—highlighting the importance and continued need for dedicated special education programs in schools. —Ayla Reau 

Garry Hornby from the University of Plymouth’s Institute of Education examines which type of educational setting and programs have the best outcomes post-school for students with learning and/or behavior differences. To do so, Hornby conducted a comparative analysis of his findings from three long-term follow-up studies of students with special needs over a period of 30 years.

Generally, most countries follow some of these types of educational settings for children with special needs:

  1. “being educated in a mainstream classroom with support from a teacher’s aide; 
  2. being educated in a mainstream classroom with an additional support teacher;
  3. being educated in a special class within a mainstream school; 
  4. being educated in a segregated special school, including one attached to a mainstream school.”

Hornby was interested in the levels of inclusion achieved in their communities post-school for students who had been in special education (pull-out dedicated special education programs) and/or inclusive education interventions (full inclusion into mainstream programs). He followed three sets of students over his study period (30 years): 

  • A special education class for young people with moderate learning differences (MLD) within a mainstream secondary school in New Zealand.
  • 29 students with MLD transferred from a special education school into mainstream programs in the North of England. 
  • And students from a residential special school for children with emotional or behavioural difficulties (EBD) in New Zealand.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the education provided in these different settings, Hornby needed evidence from all stakeholders involved. 

  • Parents: Hornby concludes that parents are neither overwhelmingly for nor against the practice of inclusion into mainstream education. 
  • Teachers: When looking at “teachers’ attitudes toward inclusion and their views regarding the extent to which they can effectively provide for children with learning or behavioural difficulties in their classes,” Hornby concludes that many teachers have a critical view of inclusion and advocate for the necessity for special education expertise and teacher training in this area. 
  • Students: Hornby found that students who had attended a residential special school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties were overwhelmingly positive about their experiences. However, students who started their education in a special education program/school and then enrolled in a mainstream school were consistently negative about their experiences.

Overall, his findings suggest that students who completed their education in a special education setting, as opposed to a mainstream school, yielded better outcomes post-school. The success could be attributed to the vocational curriculum and work experience offered to students in special education settings/programs in the years leading to their transitioning out of school. “This suggests that a policy of full inclusion, with the closure of special classes and special schools, will result in less community inclusion post-school for young people with moderate to severe levels of learning or behavioural difficulties.” 

Ultimately, “effective specialized instruction, vocational curricula and work experience, as part of a planned transition from school to post-school life, are of greater importance for optimizing outcomes for young people with moderate to severe levels of learning or behavioral difficulties than simply being included in mainstream secondary schools that are attempting to be as inclusive as possible.”

Hornby does recognize that his finding derived from three studies that were small in scale. They were conducted without the use of control or comparison groups and, to some extent, relied on the interpretations of the author himself. It is important to note that the findings should be viewed tentatively and more studies should be conducted before definitive conclusions are made.  

Summarized Article:

Hornby, G. Are Inclusive Education or Special Education Programs More Likely to Result in Inclusion Post-School? Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, 304. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11060304 

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

Research author Garry Hornby, Ph.D., contributed to the final version of this article.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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