Chapter 11


Towards Inclusive Classrooms

by Damien Bushby

  This book has surveyed some of the areas which are vital to an understanding of who is included and excluded in schools - around access and success.

          Chapter one introduced Labaree’s (1997) goals of Democratic Equality, Social Efficiency and Social Mobility. The Adelaide Declaration (MCEETYA, 1999), which is an Australian attempt to satisfy the tension between these three goals, is used as a reference point throughout this book as it epitomizes the interaction between education policy, schools and society.

            The meaning of educational success and the various barriers to educational access interact to produce a range of outcomes. We have elaborated on the meaning of obtaining a successful outcome, and highlighted the structural mechanisms that assist private school students to achieve greater apparent success than do students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Ideas of ‘democratic equality’ may have increased educational access, while pressures for greater ‘social efficiency’ have increased the educational and qualification requirements for obtaining professional employment; consequently ‘social mobility’ goals are usually more accessible to the children of the elite, who are more easily able (due to their economic and social capital) to overcome the various barriers to higher educational access. Inclusion into tertiary education needs to be tempered by inclusion into the community; applied and academic skills need to be balanced.

            Sexuality is a part of every person and its recognition and influence cannot be divorced from the curriculum. We indicated here how language and subject content may be adapted to include all sexual expressions. The development and implementation of inclusive sexuality policies in order to minimize the problems experienced by non-heterosexual students and teachers must be considered, to address the problem of sexual bullying as well as the absence of related policies and guidelines in this area. Sexuality education relates to identity and behaviour, not just sexual activity.

            Teenage pregnancy has a direct influence on educational inclusion and outcomes for many young women in schools, and issues of class and various school policies affect this. These sexuality issues are brought together around a discussion of sexuality policies, as a response to the exclusively heterosexual focus of the curriculum.

            The historical development of multiculturalism in Australia involves the language, culture and faith of migrants and their children, and this enables us all to reflect on our attitudes and positions towards inclusion of multicultural perspectives in our classrooms, and to work together to develop and implement constructive multicultural school policies. Beyond language, culture and faith, we also focus on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, and the need to accommodate their special needs in our teaching. Policies must reflect the diversities of language, culture, faith and experience in every classroom. This includes our response to the continuing educational situation of Indigenous Australians, and the need for policies to promote teacher training that would enable inclusion of Indigenous history and culture into the mainstream curriculum.

            Issues of disabilities and giftedness affect a range of educational outcomes. Special educational settings and integration approaches are argued to have less benefit for a student with a disability and for the class as a whole than an inclusive education, which considers every student an equal member of the class. For gifted students to achieve their potential and to minimize their emotional and behavioural problems, engaging and challenging individual education programs need to be implemented.

            Options in the area of the middle years in school include structural and curriculum issues that require interschool and government consideration, but also the need for the individual teacher to apply a relevant, engaging and challenging context to the curriculum content. The social and physiological changes that are characteristic of middle years students exacerbate the general problem of discipline that every teacher must master. We examined how most school disciplinary problems follow an adult punitive approach, which is high on control and low on nurturing. More effective systems are restorative, being high in both control and nurturing. These systems consider discipline as a curriculum issue through which applied skills are taught.

            The curriculum needs to account for socioeconomic, cultural, language, faith, migrant, indigenous, ability, physiological, social, relevance, individual interest, discipline and many other factors. The balance of academic and applied skills is defined within each course’s curriculum. In Victoria, the Curriculum Standards Framework (CSF)1  aims to provide access to the three pathways to university, further education and full-time employment. In Years 11 and 12, the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)2 , Vocational Education Training (VET)3  courses and the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL)4  expand on these three pathways respectively: VCE teaches mostly academic skills, VET teaches a balance of academic and applied skills, and VCAL teaches mostly applied skills.

The Curriculum as a Mechanism of Inclusion and Exclusion

This however is only descriptive and lacks explanation. What are the mechanisms within the curriculum in each of these areas that result in inclusion or exclusion? The curriculum itself is heterogeneous. It contains not only defined knowledge and skills in each Key Learning Area, but also a “hidden curriculum” that is the consequence of both the official curricula (CSF, Study Designs, etc.) and the application of this through school policy and classroom practice. This “hidden curriculum” is the totality of the educational practices that are not defined within the official curriculum but are also the result of the school’s pedagogy and overall approach (eg respect, teacher rapport, school structures etc). In the 1970s, the variety of courses that had developed to meet student needs, such as the Higher School Certificate (HSC) Group 1 and Group 2 subjects, the Schools Year 12 and Tertiary Entrance Certificate (STC), the Tertiary Orientation Program (TOP) and the Technical Year 12 (T12) Certificate, made credentialing standardization difficult. After the 1984 Blackburn Report5 , aspects of the academic HSC and the more applied courses were amalgamated into a more inclusive VCE. However this changed over time and the current VCE is the result of many restructures of the initial VCE allegedly to meet difficulties in its assessment6 . The areas that have been progressively pruned make the VCE more like the old HSC, and many of these now reappear as the applied subject areas, represented by VET and VCAL. 

            Private schools, which continue to maintain an academic focus, gain good student ENTER scores as they exclude the applied areas from their middle years curriculum, focus on a mainly high socio-economic status and homogenous student body, and seek to use the best teachers and technology. Information in this book shows that these students are more successful than their low socioeconomic state school counterparts, when success is defined in terms of ENTER score achievements.

            The values and assumptions that define success originate from a variety of groups. This in turn results in each group influencing the curriculum that will form the next generation of learners. This influence not only affects the subject matter, but also the pedagogy and assessment.

            The overarching school environment and the teaching methods implemented in particular schools combine with the orientation of subject matter to aid students in learning the specific knowledge and skills that will be assessed. Philosophies which concentrate on development of the whole person become secondary to the achievement of academic excellence in private schools; a successful student is defined as one who demonstrates excellence in academic assessment. This means that only outcomes defined in assessment criteria are considered valuable and all else is effectively excluded.

            The curriculum cannot be value free.  Choices are made based on those values, or else everything would be taught and assessed. As time is limited the curriculum is restricted to that which is considered valuable, and some aspects are considered more valuable than others. These aspects include values, content and approaches, and privilege some groups over others. Subsequently academic success in VCE is considered more important than achievement in VET, which is considered more important than achievement in VCAL. This hierarchy of curricula outcomes privileges private school students while excluding the needs and concerns of many migrants, indigenous and the poor, who are frequently streamed into courses that cannot lead to tertiary studies.

            There are three ways in which the curriculum includes or excludes students. The first is that of representation of inclusive or exclusive images. Personal and parental ideas of success will determine the level of academic study deemed worthwhile and hence the particular course chosen by the student. The second way is that of inclusion or exclusion of all students’ experiences. A relevant curriculum incorporates not only the cultural and linguistic diversity of students, but also all experiences that promote student engagement7 . The third way is that of active discrimination. Exclusion of students with a disability from mainstream school, streaming students into VCAL, and requiring full class attendance of teenage mothers for example, are curriculum mechanisms that exclude students from achieving their full potential.

            In each section of this book the writers have suggested that within the context of broader policies and practices, such as the CSF and teachers’ Duty of Care, beginning teachers need to be aware of, guided by, and critically examine school policies, classroom practices and their personal attitudes. Regular informed reflection on classroom practice will enable teachers to change their pedagogy and create a more inclusive classroom.


Blackburn, J., (chair). (1985). Ministerial Review of Post Compulsory Schooling. Victorian Government Printer.

Board of Studies (2000). Curriculum and Standards Framework II. Board of Studies, Carlton, Victoria, Australia at  [Accessed 8th November 2002].

Board of Studies (2000a). Curriculum and Standards Framework II. Board of Studies, Carlton, Victoria, Australia at  [Accessed 8th November 2002].

Board of Studies (2000b). Curriculum and Standards Framework II. Board of Studies, Carlton, Victoria, Australia at  [Accessed 8th November 2002].

Board of Studies (2000c). Curriculum and Standards Framework II. Board of Studies, Carlton, Victoria, Australia at  [Accessed 8th November 2002].

Farrell, L. (1994). Making Grades. At:  [Accessed 8th November 2002]

Labaree, D.F. (1997). “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals”. American Educational Research Journal, 34, 1: pp. 39-81.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), (1999). The Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, Curriculum Corporation at  [Accessed 8th November 2002.

Salenda, S., J. (2001). Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Effective and Reflective Practices, 4th  Edition. Merill Prentice Hall: Columbus, Ohio.


1 Board of Studies, 2000.

2 ibid., 2000a.

3 ibid., 2000b.

4 ibid., 2000c.

5 Blackburn, 1985.

6 Farrell, 1994.

7 “Ludi and Martin’s (1995) self-determination: The Road to Personal Freedom curriculum is designed for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It includes units and communication, self-understanding, rights, responsibility and self-advocacy.” (Salenda, 2001, p 223).

The Three Educational Goals

Historically there have been three main goals that have influenced education in varying degrees  As these goals compete there is a rise in the minimum expected educational outcomes, a rise in taxpayer expenditure to achieve these outcomes, and a proportional reduction in the value of education credentials as the market increases expectations in line with employment stratification.

The Adelaide Declaration generally represents the democratic and egalitarian goal of democratic equality, where education is a public good, producing citizens through equal access, equal treatment and citizenship training. At the other end of the spectrum is the liberal (liberty, markets and choice) and meritocratic (equal opportunities, not equal outcomes) goal of social mobility, where education is a private good for personal consumption producing winners (of good jobs) through educational stratification (of institutes, courses and grades). The third goal is the ‘vocationalism’ and market economy goal of social efficiency, where education is a public good in service to the private sector producing workers through educational stratification and unequal outcomes. The democratic equality,social efficiency and social mobility goals which represent the ideals of the citizens, taxpayers and employers, and educational consumers respectively are always in flux as their supporters infrequently hold one goal exclusively. Dominance of the democratic equality, social efficiency or social mobility goals may produce citizens who respectively are undifferentially broadly skilled, inflexibly vocationally educated, or flexibly over-credentialed and poorly educated (Labree,1997).

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Dilworth School

The Dilworth School is an example of democratic equality overcoming negative circumstances that traditionally excludes students from realizing their potential.

“We could heed the message from a single school, Dilworth School in New Zealand. The primary aim of the school is to provide an all-round education for as many secondary aged boys as possible. All students come from families in ‘straitened circumstances’ and the goal is to ensure that they become ‘good and useful citizens’. Dilworth School caters for boys from Year 5 to 13. The school is full boarding with 194 students in the junior school and 340 in the senior school. Entry is by special application that meets the board’s criteria. Students are fully funded to a level that is equivalent of an independent boarding school in Victoria. The school has had remarkable success. Despite coming from poor backgrounds and having a marginal primary education, Dilworth students become influential and contributing members of the community. Their success rates are equal to the best school in New Zealand. Among the graduates are a former Governor General (Sir David Beattie) and a former Prime Minister (Michael Moore). We have many politicians in Australia who argue that the level of funding does not seem to make a difference. At Dilworth it has.”

Tony Townsend, Issues, The AEU News August 22 2002

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The Curriculum

“A curriculum embodies the aspirations a community holds for the next generation of learners. When these aspirations are specified as expected outcomes the education standards are transparent for learners, teachers and parents.” (CSF II Preface)

In Victoria the curriculum from the Preparatory Year to Year 10 is guided by the CSF II (Curriculum and Standards Framework II) and by the Study Design for Year 11 and Year 12. The implementation of these policy documents is undertaken by each school, which must incorporate many other government and community requirements. The many restrictions placed on delivering these expected curriculum outcomes produces an educational system that is inclusive in its availability of minimal levels of educational opportunities but exclusive through the subsequent unequal distribution of educational outcomes. Apart from influencing the curriculum of government schools parents may chose a non-government school with a curriculum that coincides with their own educational priorities for their children. The curriculum of non-government schools usually prioritise the more prestigious subjects (eg maths & science) and de-value the humanities as this curriculum mix is a successful mechanism for producing higher ENTER scores. This implies that parents who hold less value in education results in a defacto inclusion of their children along the “non-academic” pathway. Considering the limitation of university places, there must be an exclusion of those deemed to have less knowledge and skills to succeed in higher education. The Adelaide Declaration is a utopian ideal that fails to be realised in an environment of increasing community aspirations and finite resources.

CSF II Introduction

“The Curriculum and Standards Framework (CSF) describes what students should know and be able to do in eight key areas of learning at regular intervals from the Preparatory year to Year 10. It provides sufficient detail for schools and the community to be clear about the major elements of the curriculum and the standards expected of successful learners. At the same time each school works out the best way to organise its own teaching and learning program, taking into account government policies and the school community’s priorities, resources and expertise.” (CSF II Introduction)

CSF II Science Rationale

“Learning science and its methods of investigation encourages students to develop curiosity and a spirit of enquiry and helps them to be open-minded and to value objectivity. Students are encouraged to adopt critical perspectives, to recognise the limitations of science and to respect and share responsibility for the local and global environment.” (CSF II Science Rationale)

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