What were the main aims of the initiative?

The Inclusive Education programme at the University of Edinburgh is a new post-graduate course for MSc, diploma or certificate level awards. The programme builds on research that explores how teachers’ pedagogy can enable inclusion and promote equitable educational outcomes. Courses explore the complex relationship between the rights based principles of inclusive education and the challenges of practice. Specialist pathways focussing on working with visually impaired, deaf or bilingual learners are also available. The programme is taken by full-time students, many of whom represent international interest in this field, and part-time students, many of whom are practising teachers.


The aim of the Inclusive Education programme is for students to learn about the development of inclusive education systems, and examine the international evidence base that informs current understandings of how and why inclusive education can and should be possible. The programme is designed to provide academic development at a postgraduate level for teachers, and other educationalists as well as those in related professions. The core content of the programme draws from the disciplines of education, sociology, disability and childhood studies to enhance knowledge and understanding of the issues related to inclusion.

The main programme aims are to:

  • develop and appropriately apply knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to inclusive education and the contexts in which it takes place.
  • reflect critically on the relationships between theory and practice and explore issues around the implementation of educational and social principles and ideals.
  • engage with, and where appropriate influence, policy issues and the practice of professionals in relation to the delivery of inclusive education.
  • develop extended skills in research and enquiry, including the use of literature, reviewing evidence, gathering, organising and evaluating data, responding to evidence and providing critical comment.

The programme is rooted in the concept of inclusive pedagogy, an approach to teaching and learning that supports teachers to respond to individual differences between learners but avoids the marginalisation that can occur when some children and young people are treated differently to others. As such, the educational aims of the programme are:

  • to equip students with critical knowledge of the current research evidence relating to the relationship between educational and social inclusion and learning outcomes;
  • to provide students with knowledge and critical awareness of how research evidence informs policy and practice in inclusive education;
  • to provide students with the research skills to investigate issues in the field of inclusive education;
  • to encourage students to consider the broader implications of inclusive education on local and global challenges;
  • to foster the development of independent learners with transferable intellectual and study skills who can make a socially responsible contribution within their chosen career path.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The MSc Inclusive Education at the University of Edinburgh can be undertaken as part of a Certificate or Diploma in Inclusive education. The courses that form the programme are also available to all Masters level students across the University. While it is anticipated that many students will be qualified teachers, this is not a pre-requisite. For example, some students come with scholarships from their government with an interest in policy development; some students wish to develop their professional expertise as part of career progression.

Part-time students on the programme who are also teaching in schools are given the opportunity to reflect on their own practice, as well as consider that of others. Full-time students on the programme are provided with the opportunity to study practice in a range of settings, as well as re-consider practice they may be familiar with in other contexts.


What issues/challenges does the example address?

Our approach to inclusive education is based on the concept of inclusive pedagogy, which locates the complexity and relational nature of the concept difference, often expressed in terms of ‘additional needs,’ within the broader discourse and foundation disciplines of education. It acknowledges differences between learners but seeks responses to those differences in ways that do not reproduce exclusion or marginalisation based on difference.

For example, as a core course on the programme, Inclusive Pedagogy builds on research (Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011; Florian & Linklater, 2010; Linklater, 2010; Florian & Spratt, 2013; Hart et al., 2004) that articulates and explores the implications of a distinctive theoretical stance:

  • the rejection of ability-based pedagogy, recognising the transformability of all children and young people’s capacity to learn;
  • attending to the individuality of everybody (rather than thinking about “most” and “some” learners);
  • the importance of re-imagining ways of working with other adults and learners in communities.

This principled pedagogical approach has the capacity to make a significant contribution to teachers’ professional development because of the ways that it supports teachers’ engagement in thinking about all children’s inclusion in opportunities to learn.

Particular attention is given to identifying how to critically engage with evidence of practice in ways that reveal how practice might inadvertently (as well as intentionally) stigmatise or marginalise diverse groups of young people. This knowledge and understanding provides the foundational knowledge of context necessary for the exploration of relevant practical and political pedagogical realities such as: the phenomena of the widening attainment gap; the correlation between poverty and underachievement; how schools identify and support children recognised as having additional support needs; the need for specialist expertise, and how to access it. Students on the course consider issues relevant to school curricula and assessment, as well as functional and strategic methods for inclusive pedagogy.

Through a range of taught workshops, self-study and reflection on professional practice (including visiting a range of settings) students:

  • Locate the practical pedagogical focus of the course within the wider global commitment to Education For All, and political interest in developing schooling as a means for educational and social justice.
  • Explore principles relevant to understanding teaching and learning that do not rely on determinist notions of ability, or conformity in terms of attainment.
  • Study practice in a range of educational settings and critically reflect on the possibilities to extend what is available to enhance opportunities for teaching and learning.



How was the Initiative implemented?

Commencing in September 2016, the Inclusive Education programme will explore the key issues of inclusive pedagogy alongside the key challenges for teachers and structures of schooling. The overall programme reflects:

  • a developing international interest in and commitment to the practical pedagogical challenges of the global commitment to Education for All;
  • political interest in developing education systems that enable such commitment to be met through mainstream provision that is inclusive of all learners;
  • the changing demographics of the population of schools meaning that teachers are required to respond to increasingly diverse needs of learners; and,
  • a perceived need to develop opportunities for these phenomena to be critically addressed as part of practitioners’ professional development.

Building on the strong foundations of particular professional specialisms at Moray House School of Education, the programme is taught by staff who are actively researching many aspects of inclusive education. The team has experience of working and researching in ordinary classrooms with a very wide range of learners, and of evaluating the impact on pupil and staff attitudes. They have also worked with a range of technological and educational resources and approaches.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

Although there are different pathways through the programme, the majority of students choose from a wide range of courses to develop their understanding and critique of inclusive pedagogy. Depending on the routes and courses taken by students, outcomes will vary. Each course specifies the expected outcomes.

On completion of the course, Inclusive Pedagogy students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate and work with a critical understanding of the key theories, concepts, principles and practices relevant to inclusive pedagogy.
  2. Apply critical analysis, evaluation and synthesis to issues that reflect the complexity of pedagogical practice, developing a capacity to make original and creative responses that are also well-justified and informed judgments.
  3. Undertake critical evaluations of numerical data reflecting the use of data to evaluate, inform and justify the development of school policies in relation to inclusive education.
  4. Demonstrate initiative and make an identifiable change to the development of new thinking in relation to inclusive pedagogic practice. This may include working in ways that recognise specialist practitioners, use a range of resources, and manage complex ethical and professional issues.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

This is a new course commencing in October 2016. It will be evaluated in line with the requirements of the University of Edinburgh programme review process.

In addition, it is anticipated that the course will serve as an important site for our on-going programme of research that will further our understanding of how to prepare teachers for inclusive education with a particular emphasis on the development of pedagogical practices intended to mitigate educational inequalities and understand how teachers develop and enact professional agency. Current projects included in this programme of research include:

1. Teacher Education for the Changing Demographics of Schooling: policy, practice and research (Lani Florian and Nataša Pantić )

This ESRC seminar series critically examines why so many teachers feel unprepared for the diversity challenges of today’s schools and considers the role that teacher education might play in addressing this problem.

2. Achievement and inclusion in schools

Lani Florian, Kristine Black-Hawkins, and Martyn Rouse

This project replicates and updates earlier research (2007) that involved case studies of primary and secondary schools to explore whether high levels of inclusion were compatible with high levels of achievement. Results show how combining the two is not only possible but essential if all children are to have the opportunity to participate fully in education.

3. Inclusive pedagogy: reducing inequalities by reimagining education for all

Holly Linklater and Lani Florian

The main focus of this study is to explore the potential of an inclusive pedagogical approach as an intervention, based on research findings from previous studies and evaluate the process of implementation to inform the design of future research.


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

Consultation with the General Teaching Council for Scotland has been undertaken to ensure that the course is developed in ways that support and promote the standards for professional development of all teachers.

The MSc Inclusive Education, and the course Inclusive Pedagogy are aligned with the Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC) Framework for Inclusion ( This Framework links the values and beliefs, knowledge and understanding and skills and abilities to promote inclusive education to the teaching standards established by the General Teaching Council Scotland. The Framework provides a useful guide to course development and enhances opportunities for teacher education and continuing professional development in building capacity to work in ways that are inclusive of all learners.

Our on-going research programme complements and informs the teaching of courses that are part of the programme.


What are the main learning points?

  • The inclusive pedagogical approach empowers students and teachers to recognise that they do have the necessary knowledge and skills to support all learners.
  • It is important to understand how radical a call for inclusive pedagogy can be; high levels of courage, determination and imagination can be demanded in developing and justifying inclusive pedagogical opportunities for learning.
  • Enactment of an inclusive pedagogical stance requires that students and teachers replace “fixed ability/ bell-curve” thinking with a principled approach to pedagogy that recognises the open-ended capacity of teachers and learners to change and develop over time.
  • Rather than offering a ‘how to’ guide to inclusion, courses should provide students with a means of interrogating practice within contexts in order to develop an inclusive pedagogy that responds to the individuality of all of the learners.
  • The principles for inclusive pedagogical practice can be constructed in ways that interact and align with the standards for professional practice.


Are there further information about supporting materials?


Florian, L (2015) Inclusive Pedagogy

Inaugural Lecture for Bell Chair of Education; Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh


Florian & Black-Hawkins (2011) Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy, British Educational Research Journal, 37 (5) 813-828

Florian, L. & Linklater, H. (2010) Preparing teachers for inclusive education: using inclusive pedagogy to enhance teaching and learning for all Cambridge Journal of Education 40 (4) 369-386

Florian, L. & Spratt, J. (2013) Enacting inclusion: a framework for interrogating inclusive practice European Journal of Special Needs Education 28(2) 119-135

Hart, S., Dixon, A., Drummond, M.J. & McIntyre, D. (2004) Learning without Limits Buckinghamshire: Open University Press

Linklater, H. (2010) Making children count: an autoethnographic exploration of pedagogy PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen, Scotland.


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Send a message

Dr Holly Linklater

Lecturer in Inclusive Pedagogy. Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh

Inclusive Pedagogy Course organiser

Additional/alternative contact for further information:

Rachel O’Neill

Programme Director MSc Inclusive Education

Susan Scott

programme administrator

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