Two recent studies carried out in the frame of the project shed light on how inclusion is perceived and practiced in schools in the South East European region. Both studies – the quantitative baseline survey and participatory action research – indicated several issues related to inclusion. According to the survey the two essential preconditions for inclusion in schools were the inclusive teaching practice and the atmosphere within the school.
LSE Enterprise, the consulting arm of the London School of Economics, ran the survey in the 49 pilot schools participating in the project. The survey captured the nature, extent and level of awareness on inclusive education measuring an overall score of the “index of inclusion”. Across all the pilot schools, on a 1 to 5 scale, this score was just above the average.
Interestingly, teachers and principals perceived their school as more inclusive than students and parents did. Lack of a shared understanding of inclusion among parents, teachers, students and local community was also found by the research led in the same schools by the Network of Education Policy Centres. Many participants stated in fact that conversations in the focus groups helped them gain a clearer understanding of inclusion. Teachers in particular emphasized a lack of skills and the need for further capacity building to provide learning support to the specific needs of children. Both studies also showed that there is a lack of communication among school staff, students, parents and local community.
According to the survey, the type of school is linked to the level of inclusion: both primary schools and vocational secondary schools tend to have more inclusive teaching practices than gymnasia. Nevertheless about one third of gymnasia and one fifth of VET schools have neither an inclusive school atmosphere nor inclusive teaching practices and policies. The participatory action research on the other hand found "a certain culture of marginality" of vocational secondary schools, being perceived as “second class” schools which do not provide quality education.
The two studies provided a wealth of data on which further project activities will be based. The main findings and recommendations provided evidence-based suggestions to the regional PolicyNet on where to focus in order to change the schools’ culture, practices and policies. The differences in perceptions and variances in the inclusive practices will be considered and properly addressed during the school projects and support for teacher professional development. Close to the end of the project LSE Enterprise will undertake the same quantitative study to measure the impact on inclusion of the project activities and to determine whether and how the perception of inclusion in education across the region has altered.