The importance of Inclusive Education

Designed to be undertaken part-time while in full-time employment, the Inclusive Education subject specialisation is for education professionals wanting to become more effective teachers. It’s ideal for those working in learning support roles, as well as allied professionals working in increasingly diverse education settings.

Senior Lecturer Dr Jude MacArthur and Associate Dean Equity and Diversity, Professor Missy Morton

Associate Dean Equity and Diversity, Professor Missy Morton and Senior Lecturer Dr Jude MacArthur are passionate about Inclusive Education and its role in postgraduate teacher education.

For Professor Morton, disability has always been a part of her and her family’s life, but she didn’t fully appreciate how this lived experience shaped her views of difference (and disability in particular), until she first worked at two of the large institutions for disabled children and young people (Cherry Farm Hospital in Dunedin and the Mangere Psychopaedic Hospital).

“It made me wonder how it was that some disabled children were able to stay with their families, and for other families this didn’t seem to be an option. It also made me wonder why it was some children did not get access to any education at all.”

As part of her masters studies at the University of Otago, Professor Morton helped established two schools for children who were then at Cherry Farm Hospital. The first school was called the School Preparation Project, followed by the Model Education for students with Severe Handicaps (MESH).

“Later I worked for IHC and then CCS Disability Action, supporting families, children, and young people to access early childhood education and school, and family supports. I was very fortunate to then do my PhD in Special Education at Syracuse University in New York,” explained Morton.

“When I returned to New Zealand it was first as a Lecturer in Inclusive Education and Feminist Issues in Education at the University of Canterbury (UC). I finished at UC as Professor and Head of School of Educational Studies and Leadership in 2017, when I moved to the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland as Professor of Disability Studies and Inclusive Education.”

Dr MacArthur also has personal experience, growing up in Dunedin with a cousin who was born with complex disabilities. In his short 17 years of life, he never attended school because the law excluded him from a state funded education.

“He instead attended an IHC ‘preschool’ - it always puzzled me that a child and young person so loved and valued by his family and rural community was rejected by our education system,” she expressed.

While studying for an Honours degree in Education at the University of Otago, Dr MacArthur was lucky to have lecturers who spoke passionately about social justice and fairness in education, and about the idea that disability was a marker for exclusion and oppression.

I became interested in stories about schools in Aotearoa and internationally that resisted such exclusion and wondered what it was that made those schools so determined to welcome and include the disabled children in their local community.

Dr MacArthur

After completing her degree, Dr MacArthur trained as a primary teacher, her first class of eight-year-olds included a very small 11-year-old who had moved between several schools. There was no additional support, and so MacArthur learned to be creative. The experience strengthened her interest in inclusive education, and she eventually went on to teach at the University of Otago in this field.

“While there I did my PhD at MESH where Missy had also been a teacher, looking at relational approaches to teaching and learning for disabled teenagers who had lived their entire lives in an institution and had never been to school.”

An early focus for Professor Morton was getting any kind of education for children and young people who had been institutionalised.

“I was fortunate to meet many teachers and principals in rural areas who were very committed to providing a good education and a warm welcome to all children and families who lived locally. It made me realise what could be possible.”

When she did her PhD work in Syracuse, she also worked alongside early childhood, primary and secondary teachers who included children with very significant and complex challenges in their classrooms. These were teachers, and schools, with an equally strong commitment to working closely with families and communities.

“These experiences took place before we had an Education Act (1989) in New Zealand that legally required schools to enrol all students including students with significant disabilities. This helped me understand that enabling legislation is important, but in itself it’s not enough to guarantee actual enrolment, participation and belonging for all students and families.”

One of the most rewarding things about studying Inclusive Education is the variety of elements to explore.

“We can talk about a system as inclusive: What are the legislative and resourcing conditions in place, for example. We can consider inclusive practices: what and how are physical and attitudinal barriers recognised and removed, even avoided all together, so that everyone is invited in, so everyone’s participation is sustained and sustainable?

“We can investigate inclusive pedagogies: what approaches to teaching and learning, curriculum and assessment are being used (and evaluated as we go)? We can also explore how people can collaborate - students, families and whanau, teachers and other professionals – to share knowledge and understandings so that all children and young people belong and learn well at school.”

The ideal Inclusive Education student, according to Morton and MacArthur, is any teacher!

“In fact, all teachers need to be committed to teaching all students, and to understand what is needed to ensure every child and young person is welcome and taught well in their local school. Every child has the right to education, and teachers have a responsibility to teach all children.”