Integration vs inclusion

Earlier this week, when I came back to school, one of the first things I heard was the phrase, “She hasn’t integrated yet.” This was about one of my EAL students. This term, “integration” seems to be used in place of – instead – “inclusion”. With disastrous consequences for the students. If you just extend these two phrases to use a preposition, you will see where the problem lies. Compare “integration INTO” with “included BY”.

Essentially, much like The Alliance for Inclusive Education states (, integration is not inclusion. Integration is the expectation that pre-existing structures can remain mostly unaltered and the individual in question needs to fit in with those structures. Where, however, there is a commitment to removing barriers to participation by the mainstream, that’s where inclusion actually happens.

Which means that a lot of the time, in the real world, it doesn’t happen. In my recent MEd research, most teachers I interviewed used the term “integration” whenever talking about the process of adjustment that EAL learners needed to make. So rather than consider them on a par with other learners, entitled to the same type of education, othering was taking place, at least on a subconscious level. Schools too often make only minimal adjustments to EAL learners. The integration of first languages, something more than a tokenistic “multicultural food” event, drawing on the cultural background, knowledge and experiences whilst teaching those learners (increasing their cultural capital – Bourdieu, anyone?) and moving EAL towards the mainstream by not marginalising learners, increasing KAL (Knowledge About Language) amongst the staff… now, this would be inclusion. Inclusion would also be ensuring EAL-community representation on parent council, particularly in areas where bilingual communities are significant. Sadly, these things happen rather rarely. Rather, what happens is focusing on the deficiencies (precisely the opposite of inclusion and removing barriers ideology) and putting additional barriers (e.g. banning students – or not giving perfect clarity on – using their first language – despite extensive evidence and research into L1 literacy being beneficial for L2!) and too often putting new to English students on the infamous 4b (KS2) -based targets; unachievable ones, that is. Insisting on summative reading/spelling assessment on the first day – similarly as non-inclusive, particularly when you start saying that they underachieve based on the levels assume for your average English children. I find EAL learners make far more rapid progress and usually over-achieve.

Inclusivity = flexibility. If your school is bogged down by its system and “others” your learners, such as EAL or SEN, then at best you try to integrate, but you do not include. Integration alienates and creates barriers between EAL and non-EAL learners. Inclusion builds bridges.

I like bridges.

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