PublicationsSystematic reviewsPromoting participationPromoting participation - policy-maker
A systematic review of the effectiveness of school-level actions for promoting participation by all students: policy-maker perspective

This review of research has the potential to be a timely stimulus to all professionals responsible for shaping and implementing Local Education Authority (LEA) policy in collaboration with school leaders.

The review firstly draws attention to the need to clarify our thinking parameters about inclusive education, a topic which has been much debated at international, national and local levels, and which probably remains a priority in the Education Development Plans of LEAs. The focus of the review helps to move us forward from espousing the values and rights advocacy of more inclusive approaches to thinking more carefully about nurturing, sustaining and evaluating appropriate actions which address agreed priorities.

Secondly, the report focuses on six studies which all centre on what schools can do to promote the very best outcomes for the whole diversity of their student populations. This in itself highlights the all-embracing nature of inclusivity, the emphasis changing from the focus on groups of pupils with particular needs and their presence in mainstream schools, to the meaningful participation of all young people in every aspect of school life.

Thirdly, it is interesting that the rigorous criteria used in the review only allowed six research papers to be taken forward to in-depth review. This suggests that the limited body of quality evidence about the relationship between school action and the participation of all students needs to be considerably developed, not only by academic researchers, but also by LEAs. It prompts us to question with how much certainty we know about the actual impact on sustainable outcomes of 'inclusion' initiatives undertaken by LEAs, schools and associated services.

The review also raises some important emerging issues. For example, a strong hypothesis is made that schools characterised by a participating inclusive culture tend to promote enhanced student participation. This has implications for the training and selection of school leaders in relation to promoting a fundamental inclusive culture, and enabling all adult and student stakeholders to reach a consensus about how best to participate.

There are also professional development implications for school staff and governors, particularly in relation to refining and extending skills of school self-evaluation. Therefore, specific training needs to be strategically planned which will enable teachers to undertake systematic and manageable investigation of aspects of school organisation and classroom practice related in positive ways to learning outcomes.

In conclusion, the review has the capacity to make a helpful contribution to assisting LEAs in the task of developing a better consensus about student diversity. It should also help with the planning of focused opportunities capable of developing the confidence and skills of LEA and school personnel and geared to reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of whole-school actions designed to improve the performance of all pupils.

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