Comparative review between inclusion in Sweden and England
This assignment is going to carry out a comparative review of inclusion policy and practice between England and Sweden. Comparative education has become very significant with countries trying to compete with others in an increasingly globalised world. According to Kelly et al (1982), comparative education draws upon multiple disciplines. It encourages critical questioning of education systems with no judgement or bias whilst fostering an awareness of economical and political factors. It is not just an academic exercise, but can in fact assist in the improvement of education.
Definitions and understandings of what is meant by inclusion differ considerably from country to country. In 1994, the Salamanca Statement was a significant document in the struggle to abolish segregated education which denies children with disabilities the right to be part of mainstream schooling. It was clearly defined in the Salamanca Statement and Framework plan for action on Special Needs Education that:
Schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children. In the context of this Framework, the term "special educational needs" refers to all those children and youth whose needs arise from disabilities or learning difficulties. Schools have to find ways of successfully educating all children (Salamanca 1994).
These documents present a strong case for inclusion and have placed inclusive education on the agenda of national governments. Despite the Salamanca Statement being published, there is still no uniform policy or definition for inclusion or special needs. The European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (EADSNE 2003; 2000) and internationally (OECD 2000; OECD 2005) have attempted to compare definitions across countries, to discuss policy differences and to gather comparable statistics. They have found comparisons difficult, as the definitions vary even within nations (the UK being an example of this) as well as considerable variation across countries. Evans (2003) notes that ‘special educational needs’ is limited in some countries to students with disabilities, while in others the category extends to social disadvantage, those with minority ethnic backgrounds and/or gifted children. Comparisons are further complicated by different definitions of particular categories within ‘special educational needs’, and the number of categories used to gather statistical data. As a response, the OECD reports required agreement across countries to re-allocate their national categories into three types: A includes those students whose disability clearly arises from organic impairment B refers to those students who have learning difficulties that may well be acquired for example through unsatisfactory experiences in and out of school and C to those who have difficulties because of social disadvantage. However, this is criticized by Florian and colleagues (2006) who state that this classification is one-dimensional and that there is a presumption that children can only be categorized in one group.
In addition to categorizing types of SEN, the EADSNE also classifies countries into three types of approach towards inclusion based on countries’ policies. Historically Sweden followed a one track approach where policies and practices include almost all pupils within mainstream education. It is now however following a multi track approach like England, using a range of approaches to ensure inclusion in maintained, with a variety of services between mainstream and SEN. The third approach is the two track approach where children with SEN are placed in special schools and do not follow the mainstream curriculum. Sweden has strong similarities with the English system, in terms of placing the majority of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools. However, it only collects data in relation to children in special settings, demonstrating a degree of opposition towards social categorization.
In England the definition of inclusion is problematic with the government having no clear policy and interpretations of the concept significantly diverse. In a study carried out in 2003, some schools understood inclusion being related specifically to children identified as having special educational needs (DfEE 1997; DfEE 1998; DfES 2001). Others such as Ofsted (2000), identified it as provision for all children who had previously under-achieved in the education system, a version of inclusive education related directly to the government's wider 'social inclusion' agenda concerned with ensuring that all social groups are involved in the opportunities and activities of 'mainstream' society (Blunkett, 1999a; Blunkett, 1999b; Blunkett, 2000). Whilst the term inclusion is often used as a blanket term by many schools to describe programs for meeting the needs of students with disabilities at the heart of them all is the belief that every student with disabilities has the right to be educated in the general classroom with his or her non-disabled peers (Ofsted 2004). In contrast, Sweden’s basic principle is that education shall be free-of-charge, of high quality and available to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, social status or geographic location.
Sweden is a medium size country located in Europe with approximately 9.5 million people. In addition to the ethnic Swedish majority, approximately five percent of the population is made up of immigrants (mainly Finns), alongside the smaller minorities of Sami people, for whom separate educational provision is available. The country is divided into 25 counties, each containing numerous municipalities. In education and other policy matters, legal frameworks are established by the central government, with central agencies jointly responsible for their administration. Over the last 30 years decentralisation and the freedom of choice of schools has been a prominent characteristic of the Swedish state and its mode of educational governance in particular (Lundahl, 2002).
In comparison England’s population is five times greater than Sweden with more than 50 million people living mainly in built-up areas. The population is very diverse particularly in London, and the 2001 census showed that more than 10 percent of people were from minority ethnic background. In some London boroughs, more than 50 percent of the population is from a minority ethnic background and in some schools more than 50 languages may be spoken.
Sweden today has a mixed economy combining its successful combination of extensive welfare benefits and high-technology capitalism. Sweden’s success has been assisted by several factors including avoiding involvement in the 20th century’s many wars and the country’s long history of entrepreneurialism. It has positioned highly in international rankings of competitiveness, innovation and standard of living. The country’s post-war economic success was challenged in the 1990s by high unemployment and in 2000-2002 by a downturn in the global economy, however there has since been an economic upturn (CIA, 2006). Universal free education has played a key role in Sweden’s post-war social policy (Persson, 2006: 3).
Over the last 25 years, the Swedish education system has undergone a series of political and structural reforms that have progressively undermined the traditionally strong regulatory role of the central state, emphasizing instead local decision-making, competition, and individual choice. These reforms arose partly from political pressures, including the political dominance of rightwing parties during the 1990s, which promoted a neo-liberal market-based agenda in education. This was followed by a return towards the end of the decade to more centralized controls in an attempt to secure greater social inclusion and equality of experience across what had become a much decentralized system. Indeed, over the course of a few years Sweden went from having one of the most centralized to one of the most decentralized education systems in the Western world (OECD, 1998, cited in Lundahl, 2002). This decade also saw a small but steady increase in the number of pupils attending special schools, rising to just over 50% of all pupils with SEN.