Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education

supporting inclusion, challenging exclusion

Breaking down the barriers: the Index for Inclusion

This article was first printed in Education Journal in March 2000. It describes the Index for Inclusion: developing learning and participation in schools. The DfEE has funded the distribution of the Index to every school and LEA in England.


Authors: Tony Booth, Professor of Education, Centre for Educational Research, Canterbury Christ Church University College t.j.booth@canterbury.ac.uk. Mel Ainscow, Professor of Education, Centre for Educational Needs, University of Manchester.


The Index is a set of materials to support schools in a process of inclusive school development, drawing on the views of staff, governors, school students, parents/carers and other community members. It is concerned with improving educational attainments through inclusive practice and thus provides an attempt to redress a balance in those schools which have concentrated on raising student attainment at the expense of the development of a supportive school community for staff and students.

The process of working with the Index is itself designed to contribute to the inclusive development of schools. It encourages staff to share and build on their existing knowledge about what impedes learning and participation. It assists them in a detailed examination of the possibilities for increasing learning and participation in all aspects of their school for all their students. It is not seen as an additional initiative for schools but as a systematic way of engaging in school development planning, setting priorities for change, implementing developments and reviewing progress.

It has been produced over a three-year period, by a team of teachers, parents, governors, researchers and a representative of disability groups, with wide experience of attempts to develop more inclusive ways of working. An initial version was piloted in six primary and secondary schools in 1997-8, funded by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education. These schools found that the approach helped to raise awareness of inclusion and enabled them to focus on issues for development that might otherwise have been overlooked. Drawing on this experience, a second version of the Index was produced. It was evaluated in a detailed programme of action research, funded by the Teacher Training Agency, in 17 schools in four Local Education Authorities during the school year 1998-99. The work in these schools was used to generate the ideas and materials provided in the final version. This has been financially supported by the DfEE, including the free distribution to all primary, secondary and special schools and LEAs in England.

The view of inclusion

The view of inclusion in the Index is a broad one. It is concerned with minimising all barriers to learning and participation, whoever experiences them and wherever they are located within the cultures, policies and practices of a school. There is an emphasis on mobilising under-used resources within staff, students, governors, parents and other members of the school's communities. The diversity of students is stressed as a rich resource for supporting teaching and learning.

The Index process

The Index process involves five phases which after the initial phase necessary for the first year of its use, replicate the phases of the school development planning year. In the first phase the members of an 'Index co-ordinating group' inform themselves and the rest of the staff about the Index concepts and materials and take responsibility for gathering together knowledge about the school from all members of the school's communities. In phase 2, the materials are used as a basis for building on existing knowledge about the school in a detailed examination of the school, and priorities for development are negotiated. In phase 3 the school development plan is revised in the light of the new priorities. In phase 4 the co-ordinating group support the implementation of agreed changes and the staff development activities necessary to support them and the whole process is reviewed in phase 5 with the aim of improving it in subsequent years.

The Index materials

The materials guide the exploration of the school along three interconnected dimensions: 'creating inclusive cultures', 'producing inclusive policies' and 'evolving inclusive practices'. They cover all aspects of school life, from collaboration and values, to induction and learning support policies, to classroom practices and resource planning. The dimensions have been chosen to direct thinking about school change and represent relatively distinct areas of school activity. In the past, too little attention has been given to the potential of school cultures to support or undermine developments in teaching and learning. It is through inclusive school cultures chat those changes in policies and practices, achieved by a school community, can be sustained and passed on to new staff and students.

However, sustainable development depends on change occurring in all the dimensions.

The materials contain a branching tree structure allowing progressively more detailed examination of all aspects of the school. Each section contains up to twelve indicators and the meaning of each indicator is clarified by a series of questions. The 45 indicators are statements of inclusive aspiration against which existing arrangements in a school can be compared in order to set priorities for development. The detailed questions ensure that the materials can challenge the thinking in any school, whatever its current state of development. The dimensions, sections, indicators and questions provide a progressively more detailed map to guide the exploration of the current position of a school and to plot future possibilities.

The Index in practice

People will wish to use the materials in a variety of ways, although the materials are written with the assumption that individual schools will initiate the Index process. In some areas, groups of schools will work in collaboration with each other and with LEA advisory staff. Our experience of working the schools in the pilot phase and the positive reactions we have received to our latest version not only from the DfEE but from the many teachers with which we have worked, gives us confidence that schools who wish to do so can use the Index to support their own efforts in making significant improvements to the lives of staff and students in schools.

You can order the Index using our resources page.

Page last updated: Monday 05 August 2013

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