“All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal in front of the law, without distinction of personal and social conditions. It's a task of the Republic to remove obstacles of economic and social order, which, by effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country.”
This is Article 3 of the Italian Constitution, and in its respect the concept of school inclusion is born.
What is school inclusion?
Inclusion: the act, the making of inclusion, i.e. to include, to comprehend in a series, in a whole.
This is how the Treccani defines this term which, associated with the adjective "scholastic", is intended to represent the involvement of all male and female students within the class group, involving them and valuing the individuality of each one.
School integration and inclusion: two concepts compared.
We often tend to consider the terms integration and inclusion as synonymous, when in fact they have two meanings with different nuances especially in the field of school education.
School integration aims to make pupils with disabilities feel part of a group, reducing differences, within a space that is often unfitting for them.
School inclusion, on the other hand, wants all pupils to be valued in their diversity, which becomes a strength to enrich who and what surrounds them, in an environment that changes according to their needs.
What’s Italy doing?
One of the most recent examples of action in favour of school inclusion in Italy is the Lombardy Region's Call for Proposals open to municipalities in the region that may apply for grants to implement services and activities dedicated to students with disabilities in secondary schools and Vocational Education and Training Pathways in the 2022/2023 school year.
The funds to be allocated will be used to strengthen ordinary/ordinary transport services and specialised educational assistance, acting specifically on requests submitted by individual municipalities.
We at Enel Cuore have also supported initiatives in this field, such as the Call for Proposals for School Inclusion, which in 2017 saw the start of funding for 15 projects dedicated to pupils with special educational needs.
The pathway to inclusion in Europe
When talking about school inclusion, we have to start from the idea that inclusion is a process that concerns every single community, school or reality. It's a path that is never finished as it must change and advance in relation to the needs of the students, their diversity and abilities, creating a dedicated and sustainable schedule over time.
Today, in almost all European countries, the "multidirectional model" is in force, giving a choice between ordinary classes or special schools; already since 2004, in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, inclusion takes place in all schools at all levels, without distinction, providing specific facilities only for severe cases of disability requiring extremely special attention.
France also follows us in this direction following the passing of the 2005 Law on the Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Schools, Universities and the Workplace. In Norway, Finland and Sweden, the multi-directional model remains, but fewer and fewer parents choose the path of special classes, preferring inclusion in common classes attended by students of all kinds.
The lowest levels of inclusion, only 20%, remain in Eastern European countries today; a different situation in the UK where 50% of pupils with difficulties attend mainstream classes, leaving only people with sensory disabilities in special institutions.
We can therefore deduce that Europe is partly united on the will to include, but divided in many countries on the variation of institutions according to the disabilities of the various students: for full inclusion there is still a long way to go, but we can be optimistic about the Italian situation.
History and stages of school inclusion in Italy
To arrive at the current concept of school inclusion, we must start with a historical-normative excursus, passing through debates, decrees and laws that focus on the value of diversity as an opportunity for growth for all:
- 1977: approval of Law No. 517 establishing the right to instruction and education for all persons with disabilities, because "the exercise of this right cannot be prevented by learning difficulties or other difficulties resulting from disabilities related to the handicap";
- 1992: Law No. 104 was created, the first law dealing with the protection of differently abled persons with the aim of promoting their social and educational inclusion;
- 2009: Guidelines that provide the basis for using the International Classification of Functioning (ICF) are drafted as a model for classifying disability. This document establishes two fundamental concepts: the acceptance of diversity seen as a source of enrichment and the importance of paying attention to the needs of everyone, with or without disabilities;
- 2010: the "New regulations on specific learning disorders (SLDs) in the school environment" of Law no. 170 are introduced, making the innovative school approach more concrete thanks to new tools and methodologies that allow each student to have a customised and functional educational pathway;
- 2012: the Ministry of Education issues the Ministerial Directive "Intervention tools for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SENs) and territorial organisation for school inclusion" in which it recognises the possibility that a pupil may have special needs even in the absence of diagnosed SLDs: a big step to support students with cultural or family difficulties;
- 2017-2019: the Inclusion Decree, drafted in 2017 and amended in 2019, comes out with the new Individualised Educational Plans (IEPs) under which the various class councils are required to create a specific educational plan for each pupil with disabilities.
Working Groups for School Inclusion
It is in order to implement the above-mentioned IEPs that the School Inclusion Working Groups were created, institutional bodies that aim to support schools, teachers and students.
In order of importance we find the RIWGs, TIGs, IWGs and OWGs.
The former operate at a regional level and, in addition to providing support to schools in the drafting of Education Plans, they also supervise the Territorial Inclusion Groups, the latter mentioned above. These are composed by teachers who are experts in inclusive teaching methodologies and whose task is to support the schools in the use of the multiple means available and to carry out additional tasks of coordination and consultation for the various local educational institutions.
The Inclusion Working Groups (IWGs), on the other hand, represent the institutes at each educational institution and are composed of curricular teachers, support teachers and, if necessary, the school's health personnel (the Italian ATA) who have the task of defining their own Inclusion Plan.
Finally, the Operational Working Groups (OWGs) are the narrowest categorisation that includes the parents of the pupil, or their guardian, and the professional figures mentioned above who, together, must verify the success of the inclusion process with the quantification of support measures.
Examples of school inclusion and special education projects
From theory to practice, every law and body mentioned above has been created to provide concrete services for students with difficulties and disabilities.
It's for them that many of the projects we have supported and still support originate, such as the call for projects "School inclusion of students with special educational needs (SENs)" or "A spasso con le dita", together with the Federazione Nazionale delle Istituzioni pro Ciechi Onlus for the inclusion of blind or visually impaired children.
A new way of doing education is also at the basis of Fare Scuola, the project that, through renewed learning and social spaces, offers students the opportunity to learn with creativity and involvement, and of Base Camp, the territorial educational garrisons to counter school inequalities and strengthen relations within educating communities.
Another example is the Intercultural Workshops of SOS Villaggi dei Bambini Onlus, set up to combat school drop-out and dispersion in the province of Crotone: they are based on an innovative educational model through "social theatre" that offers the most disadvantaged pupils the tools (material and psychological) to make the most of their potential.
This is part of our contribution to promoting an inclusive culture and making school inclusion an increasingly widespread reality.