ISEC 2005

Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
International Special Education Conference
Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity?

1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland

about the conference

Developing Inclusive School Cultures in Denmark

Kirsten Baltzer & Susan Tetler
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The Danish University of Education

For decades, we have accepted the idea in Denmark that our regular schools should include all learners – regardless of the type and degree of their disability. However, in practice, many children still experience feelings of loneliness, exclusion and inferiority.

The question of whether there are limits to inclusion is therefore becoming ever more pressing – and if there are limits, where they should be set. Ultimately, the answer depends on how the schools themselves understand their role. Do they perceive their task as one of allowing pupils with disabilities to be included in a group with an already established system of beliefs, values and norms to which they must adjust? Or, rather, do they see their role as creating a school culture that welcomes all pupils?

If the former understanding dominates, the success of the inclusive efforts will largely depend on the disabled child’s adaptability to the more or less standardised norms, while the including learning community avoids responsibility. This means that the type and degree of a child’s disability will ultimately set the limit. This strategy of inclusion can be defined as a “normalise the child” approach.

If, however, the latter understanding dominates, it will be the degree of flexibility and comprehensiveness of the school that sets the limit of successful inclusion. The point of departure is that each child belongs to its local learning community and, therefore, the efforts are about creating a culture that avoids exclusion from that community. The responsibility lies with all of us – and requires a rethinking of the structure of the school: the curriculum, working methods, organisation, in-service training, etc. This strategy of inclusion can be defined as a “create flexible schools” approach.

It is essential that we are aware of the kind of understanding on which we base our attitude to inclusion, because the strategies and methods we correspondingly apply will be aimed at doing different things. Using the former approach, we will typically try to adjust the children with disabilities whom we intend to include in our schools in order to make them fit in as far as possible. If using the latter approach, however, we will try to organise our schools in a way that is tailored to the needs of the children; make them involved as active participants on their own terms.

Which approach dominates in Denmark?

Studies of efforts towards inclusion in Denmark show that we intend to implement the “create flexible schools” strategy. We agree on the idea that all learners – regardless of type and degree of disability ­– should be given access to our regular schools. However, it is the “normalise the child” approach that characterises our efforts in practice. Our pedagogical solutions have been individually oriented, while the school, as a system, has generally speaking remained unchanged (Tetler, 2000).

A typical solution has been to allocate remedial instruction to an “included” pupil and to delegate to a support teacher the responsibility of planning and carrying out an individualised programme for that pupil. This results in a curriculum that is often taught parallel to that of the rest of the class, as research has shown (Jensen, 1989). The problem is, however, that a parallel programme of this nature (and with close back-up from a support teacher) risks isolating the “included” pupil, because other pupils and teachers in the class are deprived of responsibility for the activities taking place in the classroom. And the child, who needs above all to interact with its peers – which is precisely why it was included in the local school to begin with – becomes gradually excluded from the learning community, as Braadland has shown (1997). This method of implementing the idea of inclusion, which mistakes inclusion for individualised training, only seems to result in new forms of segregation, now within the framework of the regular school.

The inclusive practice becomes problematic when this pattern of teaching and learning is predominant. Arguably, pupils with disabilities are physically present in the learning community, but a question mark must be placed against the learning outcomes that these children achieve. Even if something new is taking place, in a certain sense, in inclusive classrooms, most teachers still act on the basis of the same fundamental assumptions that have characterised both mainstream education and special education up to now. These assumptions are so embedded in the cultural processes of the school that they are perceived as self-evident truths rather than assumptions that can be changed.

 Indicators of changed understandings of the approach

These experiences are becoming ever more evident as the Danish Folkeskole is evaluated in international comparative studies on implementation of the strategies on Education for All (EFA), including The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action. However, even if inclusive education as a concept is not mentioned in legal texts, the Danish legislation sets no legal barriers for implementation.

In 2000 the Danish Parliament passed a law on extensive special needs education, which was the final step in the decentralisation of special needs education. The change was followed by a comprehensive development programme – the KVIS Programme - to raise awareness amongst local politicians, administrators and practitioners of their new responsibility towards children in extensive special educational needs. This programme focused on quality provision for these children and on the development of inclusive schools. A mid-term evaluation report (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2003) reveals that the latter objective was not reached, and as a consequence a whole school approach on inclusive education became the focus of the programme for the remaining period.

In 2003 a group of experts related to the KVIS Programme prepared a book “Inclusive Schooling – from Idea to Action” (Danish title: Skolens rummelighed – fra idé til handling), and it seems thatthis publication has been positively received in the schools. In the same year a psychological pedagogical journal disseminated two issues that focused on changing paradigms of special needs education and developing new roles for the school psychologists in the emerging inclusive schools (Psykologisk Pædagogisk Rådgivning, no. 2 and 6, 2003). This is important, because this journal serves as a mouthpiece for and addresses the educational psychological services, which is one of the necessary support systems for implementation of the strategic part of the Salamanca ideas: The framework for action.   

The third remarkable publication of the year 2003 was the Danish version of  Index for Inclusion (in Danish: Inkluderingshåndbogen) that directly addresses schools and offers a strategy for the development of inclusive school cultures as well as instruments for the self-evalu ation of their implementation.

Finally, a clue that the idea of inclusion is taken for granted as the main principle for “The Folkeskole” is given by Lars Qvortrup (Qvortrup, 2004, p. 174ff), who is a frontline researcher in develop ing a theory fit for understanding the emerging societal phenomenon the knowing society. He states that there are many interpretations of the concept inclusion (in Danish: rummelighed), and that the idea of “The Folkeskole” [ literally “The school for the people ”] covers them all. As a consequence inclusion has different interpretations depending on the contexts in which it is mentioned. All these different interpretations are equally important e.g. cognitive inclusion , referring to multiple intelligences or learning styles, social inclusion , referring to the school as the place for establishing equality among social groups, and inclusive perspectives on ethnicity, gender, handicap, disability and impairment, politics, etc. as mentioned in the Education for All vision. Qvortrup (ibid.) adds an interpretation that he finds especially important for preparing children for life in the knowing society. Societal institutions have to stimulate the child to develop role competencies. The child has many different roles, for example, as a family child, as a school child or pupil, as a child in a sports club, and as a child in leisure time arrangements. Function ing in these roles puts pressure on the child to cope with the different types of communication and action potentialities set by these arrangements (Qvortrup, 2004; Rasmussen, 2003).   The strength of the movement is that inclusive education has become an integral part of the discourse of mandatory schooling. However, in reality, inclusive education has become a blurred concept. The interpretations are never-ending as they are part of a complex understanding of schooling (Qvortrup, 2004). Each and every school has to partake in the discussions to create and maintain an understanding of their school and the consequences for running and developing this specific school.

While international reports put indirect pressure on schools to develop a new approach, the la tter part of the KVIS Programme puts more direct pressure on the individual school to move in the direction of inclusive strategies. An even stronger pressure arises from a major revision of the municipality and county structure. This revision is in the pipeline, and due to the revision many changes will take place starting in January 2007. The counties (and the County Special School System) will be abolished. Instead, the municipalities , acting as authorities and funders , will have to take the full responsibility for all types of special needs education, and initiatives to prepare the individual schools are already being taken in some of the existing large municipalities.

We see these incidents as indicators of a new development phase, as the publications focus on whole school approaches, including taking action, setting objectives, and evaluating them. They also point to necessary changes in the support systems for teachers and schools. In addition, schools and school administrations have access to instruments such as Index for Inclusion, designed for implementation of a new approach.


The question is however, if and how schools are prepared to cope with the kind s of conflicts and tendencies that schools in market-oriented societies fac e when they are expected to handle pupil diversity and at the same time meet demand s to achieve national standards from the ministry of education.

Tensions and dilemmas in the field of inclusive education

While observing classroom activities and interviewing teachers, pupils and parents in our research projects, we realised that conflicts and tensions were “eternal” in the sense that they seemed inherent to the very idea of inclusion. Thus the critical point is our understanding of these kinds of conflict. Do we understand them as real contradictions, as dichotomies that defy productive synthesis? Or do we understand them as competing perspectives that can be a powerful tool for reflection and action, as Dianne Ferguson (2000) puts it?

According to Minow (1985), there are no simple solutions to the pedagogical dilemmas that teachers face in inclusive settings, but a heightened awareness of the dialectic processes enables teachers to find new and better ways of living with them. Critical questions to ask, therefore, include how we can support teachers in complex inclusive settings to help them cope with this kind of dilemma, how we can analyse situations of dilemma, and how we can gain experience and suggest appropriate pedagogical strategies that will bring dilemmas constructively into play.

At least five pedagogical dilemmas can be identified with which teachers felt confronted when they tried to create inclusive classrooms, and the solutions they often chose in order to deal with them (Tetler, 2005):

Considering the individual vs. considering the classroom community

The first – and basic – dilemma of “considering the individual vs. considering the classroom community” is about meeting each child’s special needs and paying regard to the classroom community. In principle, this dilemma can be worked out in two ways, which are largely determined by the teachers’ attitudes to diversity. If the teachers perceive diversity as a largely negative resource that creates conflicting interests and thus has a harmful effect on the community, they will typically try to adapt pupils with disabilities to fit in with the rest of the community. However, if they perceive diversity as an essential contribution to the potentiality of the learning community, teachers will be more inclined to organise schools in such a way as to meet each child’s special educational needs and interests.

The strategy used to deal with this basic dilemma will also determine who is responsible for successful inclusion: the child with a disability or the learning community? Are the limits set by the individual’s ability to adapt to the standardised norms or by the school’s ability to create a flexible organisation that values diversity?

Special educators vs. general educators

Similarly, the second dilemma of “special educators vs. general educators” derives from the diversity of pupils, though more indirectly. When pupils with disabilities are part of the learning community, they are assigned additional resources, often in the form of the simultaneous presence of a regular teacher and a special teacher. This gives rise to another dilemma about how to organise the teachers’ pedagogical work.

Dividing the responsibility so that the regular teacher takes care of the regular pupils while the special teacher is delegated the task of planning and carrying out an individualised programme for pupils with disabilities, seems to produce new forms of segregation, but within the framework of the local school. In these classrooms we see a teaching pattern of parallel activities that often isolates pupils with disabilities. Also, this pattern may give rise to problems of cooperation, because the special teacher has to subordinate her/his work to that of the regular teacher.

Working as a team with a shared responsibility for all the learners in the classroom, in planning, in teaching and in cooperation with the parents, seems to facilitate the creation of a more inclusive atmosphere. The special educational qualifications are not superfluous but become part of the joint qualifications of the team. Moreover, this pattern provides an opening for the pupils to support each other in “natural” ways. However, this kind of intimate collaboration requires a number of basic discussions to enable the adoption of a joint pedagogical approach.

Valuing diversity vs. striving towards a standards-based curriculum

Education in Denmark is based on the comprehensive school system, in line with the principles of our democratic society. Therefore, the school system is under an obligation to offer a meeting place for pupils from various settings and to provide optimum conditions for them to grow and develop, despite their diversity. This plurality of ideas and values represented in the school makes it necessary for teachers and pupils not only to learn to deal with diversity but also to respect each other’s diversity, if sustainable solutions are to be worked out. Our Education Acts and decrees on special education promote the principle of differentiation of teaching and learning to ensure each pupil’s learning outcomes, as this principle acknowledges children’s diverse learning approaches and expressions of learning. At the same time, however, we see an increased striving towards standard-based norms in order to raise academic excellence in our schools. As a result, the Danish Ministry Education, for example, is planning to develop distinct objectives for each school subject and to publish the results on the Internet.

In consequence, there is a third dilemma of whether, how and to what degree pupils with disabilities should be adapted to basic standards of the curriculum. Teachers seem to be keen to differentiate the curriculum, time and teaching techniques in a way that keeps the community in focus when it comes to practical subjects, arts subjects and interdisciplinary project work. In these cases, they seem more courageous about going beyond the boundaries of tradition in order to embrace all the pupils’ individual and joint interests, needs, experiences and potentials. In academic subjects, on the other hand, their teaching is mainly standards based, and if some pupils are unable to achieve the required standards, they are removed to other settings, such as resource centres.

The academic vs. the social dimension of schools

The fourth dilemma is about the balance between the academic and social dimensions of schools. We know that children’s participation develops social, cultural and communicative skills, and different points of view may facilitate this development. Age peers become significant partners in these processes, and teachers play a similarly important role in creating opportunities for social relations. A tension, however, arises when schools are also put under great pressure to focus on basic skills, as is the case with Danish schools at the moment due to the international comparative studies in reading, math and science skills. Consequently, teachers argue that they do not have time for social activities in their classes, such as field trips, camping holidays, school parties and so on.

They seem, therefore, to mistake activities that involve “being together” for collaborative activities. While “being together” is perceived as a social activity without a well-defined goal – and therefore as less binding or committing, collaboration always involves a goal that one tries to achieve through various activities (Hansen, Rabøl et al., 1992). Thus, collaborative work is seen as the framework for both the pupils’ learning and social outcomes. Instead of seeing the academic and social dimensions as separate areas of school life, the challenge is to integrate them in order to facilitate the development of caring and reciprocal relations as well as academic skills.

Being like others vs. being different

The dilemma of “being like others vs. being different” seems to make teachers reflect on how to give pupils with disabilities the best possible conditions for developing their “self”. Like other pupils, children with disabilities need to have relationships with people like themselves, with whom they can have a private conversation without fear of losing face, and who intuitively understand because they have similar experiences (Gustavsson, 1997). The problem of how to accomplish this in an inclusive setting, however, gives rise to a further dilemma for the professionals involved, due to a lack of opportunities in the local schools of mutual mirroring for pupils with different kinds of disabilities. Therefore, schools should undertake to offer children with disabilities various learning arenas. Week-long courses, field trips and interactive media could, for example, provide opportunities for connecting with other children with similar problems.

Admittedly, there are some positive aspects to belonging to two worlds, but there is also an inherent possibility that the individual will have to relate to dilemmas about who s/he is or should be. For teachers, the challenge is to develop acceptance and recognition that all pupils in the class are mutually connected in spite of their diversity. Out of consideration for their development, however, children also need to have relations with peers with different and therefore challenging perspectives, as research shows that young people with disabilities are often deprived of a chance to influence their own living conditions (Høgsbro et al., 1999; Ringsmose & Buch-Hansen, 2004). Therefore, they need the opportunity to be involved in and committed to their own learning processes, even if they find it difficult to express their intentions verbally or to advance their case in other ways.

It takes great creativity, perseverance and empathy for teachers to identify the pupils’ wishes and transform them into a sustainable practice. In particular, it requires reflections on how to find a balance between such incompatible processes as support and challenges for each child, help and independence, protection and autonomy, and security and elements of risk, with a view to encouraging active participation (Tetler, 2002) In this way schools may become more aware of each pupil’s process of self-development to counter a social career in which the individual has internalised dependence, passiveness and resignation.

Synthesis: The nature of inclusion

Inclusion is about attitudes and joint responsibility. The school system cannot cope with the task of implementing inclusion on its own, but the very fact that the school system is becoming the only area in society where almost everybody – regardless of their social background, ethnic origin or individual qualifications – meets for any length of time, gives it a particular responsibility.

In order to perceive the above-mentioned pedagogical dilemmas as competing perspectives rather than incompatible possibilities, teachers must be conscious of the inconsistent tendencies in their practice – not only of their expectations of consensus. This kind of dilemma does not require an either/or choice. Although the dilemma is characterised as an impossible choice, it also has the potential to open up new possibilities and become an incentive for learning and personal development. So what really matters is that we attempt to allow both perspectives, which calls for different solutions in different situations. Ultimately, dilemmas challenge teachers to find ways of incorporating the tension with a view of developing sustainable both/and strategies.

Index for Inclusion   as a tool for local communities in coping with pedagogical dilemmas

The Index for Inclusion is prepared as a tool for individual school development, and may not be directly fit for the political and administrative level in the municipalities to support or guide their work on setting up local rules and guidelines and to disseminate knowledge and give inspiration to development of inclusive school cultures. The local visions for school development are integrated in the local political school history and local parties have the right to accommodate the ideas and strategies for inclusive schooling to this history as well as to immediate needs for development and provision. As editors of the Danish Index for Inclusion we face this problem at meetings with local development agents. They find the material very inspiring and useful, but they also find it really challenging to integrate it in the processes mentioned above.  

As our starting assumption is that these pedagogical dilemmas are reflected in all the indicators, our task is to examine the ways in which Index for Inclusion can support teachers in being aware of and coping with them. We will so to speak use the dilemmas as categories for analysis and give examples of them in the following.

Patterns of development models in four municipalities striving for inclusive education

At the present, we are involved in four municipalities who want to inspire the local schools to implement the ideas and strategies of inclusive education into everyday school practices. The four municipalities are all in the initial phases, they all know about the Index for Inclusion and want us to share or develop ideas on how to use it.

Greve Municipality – a suburb of Copenhagen

The local education authority (LEA ) has prepared a short pamphlet for the schools, in which a new procedure for the provision of special needs education is presented. It is a new strategy for problem solving, in line with the principles for collaboration between teachers from the index. The pamphlet also introduces a method to cope with children with behavioural, social and emotional problems.

The Municipality plans to invite a researcher as a critical friend to evaluate the new procedures for problem solving and provision. The dilemmas mentioned above could serve as guides for the selection of criteria and revision of the instruments to accommodate these needs. Especially the dilemmas: “ considering the individual vs. considering the classroom activity” and “ special educators vs. general educators”.

Ringsted Municipality – a provincial town – one hour’s drive from Copenhagen

The municipality experiences migration from Copenhagen and plans to meet the new inhabitants’ expectations of comprehensive and quality welfare services. To meet these demands the LEA has initiated an innovation programme with the name Pampaedia. The creation of modern school buildings and the involving of parents and pupils in setting up visions for the individual schools are important objectives. But development of inclusive school cultures is also part of the Pampaedia project. As a consequence of these demands and visions, Ringsted Pedagogical Psychological Service has redefined its role as a network for supporting school development. The school system in this municipality is totally decentralised, and therefore the network will give inspiration and support to local school development projects. The network has a strategy for inspiring schools to engage in developing inclusive schools.  

A study group with representatives from schools, LEA and the Pedagogical Psychological Service centre are studying the inclusive education ideas and strategies of the index. The study group is planning to prepare a guide for the local schools and to arrange thematic discussions on inclusive education. An important part of the work is to set up benchmarks for evaluating the progress of development towards inclusive schooling.   In addition, the study group wants to work together with researchers and other practitioners within the field. Parental and pupil involvement arrangements have been conducted in the school year 2004-05. If the planning tasks are completed in time, the inclusive school development inspiration material and description of support possibilities will be disseminated to the schools in Summer 2005, and hopefully some schools will engage in development project s already in the school year 2005-200 6.

One school has already invited us to introduce the IE ideas and the handbook and make suggestions on how to accommodate the new strategies to the development plans already in process.   This first contact to LEA and one local school may continue in the upcoming academic year. The introductory arrangement revealed that at least some of the dilemmas mentioned above were mentioned in the group- and plenary discussions: considering the individual vs. considering the classroom community, valuing diversity vs. striving towards a standards-based curriculum, and the academic dimension of schools vs. the social dimension of schools.

Silkeborg Municipality – a provincial town in Jutland

The project has been initiated, starting from a questionnaire of teachers’ experiences of inclusive schooling in the local schools in Silkeborg. Subsequently, a compilation of the schools’ replies has been made, divided into the three main areas included in the questionnaire: school cultures, school strategies and school practice. On that the basis of this statement of affairs, the 17 local schools are supposed to work with the announced political efforts towards inclusive schooling within four main areas:

An inclusive school culture is characterised by a secure, tolerant, co-operating and stimulating community, in which everyone is valued, and in which shared values are created. Inclusive strategies in Silkeborg Municipality are aimed at ensuring that the principle of inclusion is the very core of school development, and that education and leisure time are organised on the basis of a principle of diversity. Practice is aimed at ensuring that inclusive cultures and strategies of the school have consequences for everyday school practice.

Even if the initiative is top-down, it is up to each school to decide which aspects of everyday school life should be the objects of efforts of inclusion. Thus, the starting point for the choice of theme is real life as it is experienced by each school.

A selected local reference group is supposed to ensure that work on inclusion takes place at each school, that the objective of inclusion is well known, and that experiences and knowledge are communicated to every school. In addition to this, a selected group of co-ordinators (1-2 staff members from each school) is supposed to meet regularly, sharing ideas and inspiring each other.

So far, the reports from the 17 local schools show broadness in the understanding of inclusion, the need for development initiatives, and which spheres of school life are being taken as points of departure.

Even if the schools do not express pedagogical dilemmas, they are implicitly present in the reasons for the efforts proposed by the schools. For example, teamwork with a shared responsibility for the whole class is centrally located in some of the school projects, while other school projects are more focused on developing pedagogical strategies to avoid exclusion.

Bornholm Municipality – an island far from Copenhagen

Bornholm is an island that previously consisted of seven small municipalities. Now they are united in one municipality. A working group was quickly set up to examine the field of special education thoroughly with a view to making good use of the resources applied and of the increasing flexibility and inclusion in schools. This group was commissioned to inspire projects of development that increase the co-operation between regular classes and special classes and that increase the integration of pupils in regular classes.

Inclusion in this understanding presupposes a focus on innovation strategies aimed at the regular learning environments to make them more inclusive and flexible. In this way, inclusion is seen as a general educational matter – and responsibility. Specifically, it means that the three schools with special classes have to step up the co-operation between special classes and regular classes.

The three schools have decided to use Index for Inclusion as their point of departure. The project course therefore follows the five phases suggested in the index: 1) discussions, 2) school culture analysis, 3) decisions regarding the implementation strategies, 4) implementation and 5) evaluation.

In a SWOT analysis, it becomes clear that the field of inclusive education is considered to be broad and conflict-ridden. The very fact that the political demand for inclusion is analysed in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and possibilities and threats indicates a challenge with no simple solutions.


If efforts to wards inclusive education are to succeed, pedagogical reflections are required on how conflicts and inconsistencies appear in everyday school practice and how they can be deal t with consciously. We believe that working with the development of inclusive school cultures within a dilemma perspective can strengthen pedagogical reflections and enable teachers to bring them into play constructively. Implicit ly or explicit ly we have met these dilemmas in introductory activities in Danish municipalities, and examples from four of them as described above reveal that support is needed to cope with the dilemmas. The four municipalities have set up different strategies to inspire and support schools. None of the municipalities can directly force a specific understanding of inclusion on schools. What they can do is to inspire and push schools to reflect on what problems or dilemmas are most important to focus on in the process of inclusive school development. Inherent in these processes is the need for the LEAs and local support systems e.g. the Pedagogical Psychological Service , to accommodate to a new role focusing on giving support to development.

The dilemma perspectives are mirrored differently in the perspectives of a LEA and a school. At LEA level the role is to raise awareness, inspire and push as well as to provide professional and technical support. To do this it is necessary to establish a comprehensive knowledge base. The index may not a valuable tool for achieving that , but an understanding of the views and perspectives presented in the handbook is a necessary precondition for doing so.

At school level things look different. The parties responsible for the local school development will be able to accommodate the index to the school development plan by selecting tools based on the dilemmas they face. The local parties will have the ownership of the development and be able to maintain an overview over the process when using the dilemmas as criteria for selection. Our hypothesis is that taking the dilemma perspective as presented in this article will keep schools in line with the visions and strategies presented in the Salamanca Statement without losing the leader ship , and ownership of and responsibility towards their own development.   


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