Improving Inclusion Through School Leadership
This post builds on the input of 30 school leaders during an SLTChat educational discussion. It also references two papers (see references section)
Inclusive education has become a global priority, with countries worldwide seeking to provide quality education for all students regardless of ability, disability, language, culture, gender, or background. While policies emphasise inclusion and equity, putting these ideals into practice requires committed leadership at the school level. As the key decision-makers guiding school culture and operations, principals play a crucial role in turning inclusion from vision into reality.
Inclusive Culture: Leading by Example
For inclusion to truly take root in a school, the principal must fully embrace its philosophy and principles. Their leadership sets the tone, signalling to staff, students and the community that inclusion is integral to the school’s values. Principals lead by example – modelling inclusive mindsets and practices, challenging bias, reshaping school culture to celebrate diversity, and giving voice to marginalised groups. This visible demonstration of commitment is the foundation on which other inclusive policies and programs can be built.
Teachers are on the frontlines of inclusion, directly shaping students’ educational experiences. Principals have a duty to support teachers through ongoing professional development focused on inclusive pedagogies, differentiated instruction – or adaptive teaching, and meeting diverse learning needs. By building teacher capacity, principals empower the entire school staff to create classrooms where all students can thrive. Allowing time for collaborative planning and providing coaching help teachers continuously improve their inclusive practices. The school SENCO can have a huge influence on how effective inclusion is in schools.
Engaging the School Community
Inclusion cannot happen through principals and teachers alone. Principals must actively engage the entire school community – students, families, support staff – as partners in building an inclusive culture. Creating opportunities for community members to share perspectives and needs, participate in decisions, resolve conflicts and celebrate diversity fosters shared responsibility for inclusion. Developing strong home-school partnerships and connections with community resources strengthens the school’s capacity to support each student.
Allocating Resources Strategically
While realising inclusion takes more than just vision, principals must strategically direct resources – people, time, space, technology – to support it. Ensuring the school is physically accessible, providing assistive technologies, hiring specialised staff, allowing flexible scheduling and grouping, and designing multiple means of engagement in learning are key. Adapting organisational structures to facilitate collaboration among staff and access for families also builds school capacity for inclusion.
Assessing and Improving
Data-informed evaluation enables principals to continuously improve inclusive policies and practices. Principals must regularly assess the school’s climate, analyse student outcomes and needs, audit classroom practices, examine achievement gaps or exclusions, and identify priorities and next steps. Tracking progress through targets and benchmarks, coupled with deep engagement with the school community, provides crucial insights for strengthening inclusion efforts. While leading inclusive schools poses challenges, principals committed to equity and social justice can transform educational opportunities for all students. By embracing inclusion as a guiding philosophy, developing people, and intentionally designing organisational culture and systems, principals can unlock the potential in every child.
References and Further Reading On School Leadership and Inclusion
Neves C, Almeida AP, Ferreira M. Headteachers and Inclusion: Setting the Tone for an Inclusive School. Education Sciences. 2023; 13(2):129. Accessed Online
Khaleel, Nida & Alhosani, Mohamed & Duyar, Ibrahim. (2021). The Role of School Principals in Promoting Inclusive Schools: A Teachers’ Perspective. Frontiers in Education. 6. 10.3389/feduc.2021.603241. Accessed Online