Table of contents > Chapter One: History, Definitions and Benefits of Inclusion 

In this chapter: 

  1. Inclusion BC and Inclusive Education
  2. What is Inclusive Education?
  3. History of Inclusive Education
  4. Who Benefits from Inclusive Education
  5. Where are we at today? 
  6. A Rights-Based Approach 
  7. Diversity, Intersectionality and Cultural Safety


Inclusion BC and Inclusive Education 

Inclusive education is the cornerstone of our work at Inclusion BC. We are committed to quality education for all students and work toward inclusion in the following ways:  

  • Bring public awareness to the benefits of inclusion and diversity in our schools. 
  • Provide one-to-one advocacy for parents/guardians and caregivers as they navigate the school system. 
  • Work at a systems level to advocate for effective policy and financial investment in supports for students and teachers. 
  • Provide training and education opportunities for educators and families. 

Inclusion BC is committed to ensuring that B.C. has strong publicly-funded schools, with educators and parents who are well-equipped to implement best practices in inclusive education and to work collaboratively to support quality learning for all students.” – Implementing Inclusive Education 

Visit our website to learn more: 

You can also connect with us on social media: 


What is Inclusive Education? 

Inclusion describes the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their education. The practice of inclusion is not necessarily synonymous with integration and goes beyond placement to include meaningful participation and the promotion of interaction with others.” 

reference to external resource iconB.C. Ministry of Education. (2016). Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines for Special Education Services 

Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school. 

Inclusive education is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms, programs and activities so that all students learn and participate together. 

Inclusive education involves much more than integration. True inclusion happens when a whole school embraces diversity and creates an environment where everyone belongs and is seen as a valuable member of the community. Inclusion means being a part of the school community, both in and out of class. It means having friends and feeling welcome. It’s the bridge to the future we want for our children. 

Inclusion is not about integrating students by housing them into (or out of) forced containers of classrooms and schools. Inclusive Education is about providing opportunities with supports for all students to have access to, and contribute to, an education rich in content and experience with their peers. Period.”  Shelley Moore 


reference to external resource iconResources: What is Inclusive Education?  


History of Inclusive Education 

Since Inclusion BC was founded in 1955, education has been one of our central issues. In the early 1950s, children with intellectual disabilities were entirely excluded from the public education system. 

In fact, medical and education experts advised many families to send their children to one of B.C.’s large residential institutions for people with intellectual disabilities. Those children often spent decades — even a lifetime — living in an institution, apart from family, friends, and community. 

The 1950s 

Change began when groups of parents came together with a different vision for their children. They knew their children were able to learn, and they knew the best place for them was in the community with their family, friends, and neighbours.  

Faced with segregated institutions as the only available option, they began to organize non-profit societies in communities throughout B.C. and to provide classes in church basements for their children. 

The local associations created by these pioneers for “special education” formed a provincial network that eventually grew into what is now the Inclusion BC Federation 

The B.C. government then passed legislation that provided funding for the local associations to run schools for students with disabilities. Funding for the programs was at the same rate as funding for public education — in 1956, $25.36 per month per child. 

In the 1950s, many changes improved education for children with intellectual disabilities.  

  • In 1956 the University of British Columbia held the first “special education” teacher training.  
  • In 1959, UBC became the first Canadian university to appoint a Professor of Special Education to train teachers of children with disabilities.  
  • The Public Schools Act was amended to permit school boards to take over the operation of classes for “moderately handicapped children.”  

In the following years, further changes to the BC School Act allowed separate classes in regular schools. 

During the 1970s and 80s, as we learned more about the untapped potential of people with intellectual disabilities, the push to close large institutions gained momentum.  

Government services began to focus on providing supports to children, youth, and families in their local communities. This included a much greater effort to develop supports in public schools for students with disabilities. 

By the mid-80s, the B.C. Ministry of Education developed policy and procedures for including children and youth with disabilities and additional support needs in regular classrooms. In 1989, Ministerial Order 150, the Special Needs Students Order, was added to the School Act. This order provides the legal basis for including students with disabilities in regular classrooms. 

In 1995, a Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines for special education provided an updated framework for inclusive education practice in B.C. 

The 2000s 

The 2000s were marked by budget shortfalls in the education system and an ongoing labour dispute between the BC Teachers Federation and the B.C. Ministry of Education.  

In 2002, Bills 27/28 removed class size and composition from teacher bargaining.  

In 2006, Bill 33 limited class size for Grades 4 to 12 to 30 students. It also limited class-composition to a maximum of 3 students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) per class.   

The Bill did not actually result in smaller classrooms but it did result in a harmful narrative that students with disabilities and additional support needs were a “problem” in the education system; a narrative that persists to this day. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Moore v. British Columbia that students are entitled to receive the accommodations they need for learning. The court declared that “special education is not a dispensable luxury.” The Supreme Court decision was a turning point in education across the country 

In November 2016, the right of teachers to negotiate class size and composition was restored in a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. Read Inclusion BC’s News Release here. 

Over the past two decades, many students and their families have been neglected by the school system or shut out of their local public schools. As a solution, many have had to turn to private, segregated learning institutions. Our schools are losing diversity and that is not good for our society if we consider that inclusive education sets the basis for an inclusive society. 

Meanwhile, the network of advocates and champions for inclusive education has grown stronger. From innovative research and progressive approaches in education to growing awareness about inclusive education as a right of students with disabilities.  

See also: Where are we today? 


reference to external resource iconResources: History of Inclusive Education 


Who Benefits from Inclusive Education? 

All students benefit from inclusive education. Research has dispelled the notion that typical students “lose out” when students with disabilities and additional support needs are included in regular classrooms. Rather, the research shows that all students do better both academically and socially when inclusive policies and teaching practices are followed.  

Students with disabilities and additional support needs who have been educated in inclusive settings have significantly better life outcomes than students without this opportunity. They enjoy a better quality of life that includes: 

  • better social connections,  
  • increased community involvement, and  
  • greater earning potential. 

“It’s been hard advocating for my child in the public school system. There have been times when I wanted to give up and thought about specialized schools. But I know how beneficial it is for my child to be included at his public school and these positives have outweighed the negatives.” – Parent

Inclusion is important because we need diversity. We need each other. We need communities of varying ability, culture, experience, knowledge and language. This symbiosis is important for inclusion to work and be sustained. It is critical, and not just for students with special needs. It is critical for every one of us.” – Shelley Moore


reference to external resource iconResources: Who Benefits from Inclusive Education? 

Where are we today? 

Much has changed since the 1950s. Most students in B.C. are now educated in regular classes, in their neighbourhood schools. However, not all school districts throughout the province interpret student rights and inclusive education the same way.  

Parents/guardians continue to face challenges as they seek educational opportunities for their children. Although legislation supports inclusion in schools, many students with disabilities and additional support needs continue to be excluded. 

Over the years many families have turned to private (or sometimes publicly funded) segregated options when they have been unable to secure the supports their child needs in their neighbourhood school. It is a failure on the part of our education system that so many children (with and without disabilities) will not experience the benefits of an inclusive, publicly funded education. 

Most teachers are supportive of inclusion, but some have a difficult time implementing it in large classrooms with a lack of resources and insufficient professional development opportunities. While lack of resources is not the sole factor, it is a significant driver of exclusion and the result is that schools are denying children their right to access public education. 

Since children with intellectual disabilities first began attending school in the 1950’s, parents/guardians have been advocating for their child’s right to an education. Over the years, that advocacy has evolved from the right to an education, to the right to a quality, inclusive education on an equal basis as others. The introduction of important legislation, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has been key to this advocacy evolution. Canada adopted the Convention in 2010 and adopted its Optional Protocol in 2018. Article 24 of the Convention talks specifically about the right to inclusive education. 

Though challenges remain, opportunities for students with disabilities and additional support needs continue to expand. 

B.C.’s new curriculum is a potential game-changer, with a new, modernized way of teaching to diversity. Traditional integration models require extensive supports and resources for any student whose needs don’t fit, because standard lessons and outcomes present a systemic barrier for students with additional support needs.  

The new curriculum removes this barrier, providing entry points to the curriculum for all students regardless of their ability. It is grounded on the premise of self-regulated learning and lifelong learning offering options for all children to engage in learning. 

The Ministry of Education is currently reviewing its Special Education Services: Manual of Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines. Inclusion BC participated in the consultation process that informed the updates. The Ministry of Education will also be releasing parent resources that will be added to this toolkit once published.  


A Rights Based Approach 

Inclusion BC uses a human rights-based approach to advocate for and promote Education for All. It is rooted in respect for international human rights law, with the goal of every child having access to a quality education, “without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity” (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 24).  


The right to an inclusive education is enshrined in the B.C. School Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

reference to other chapter iconSee also, Policies and Legislation (coming soon). 

A rights-based approach anchoring provincial, national and international frameworks, this toolkit will help you understand and exercise your rights as a parent/guardian and the rights of your child. 

The elements of a Human Rights Based Approach include:  

  • Participation and Inclusion 
  • Accountability and transparency 
  • Non-discrimination and equality 
  • Empowerment 
  • Linkage to rights
  • Sustainability 


Diversity, Intersectionality and Cultural Safety 

Intersectionality is a metaphor for understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and create obstacles that often are not understood within conventional ways of thinking” – Kimberlé Crenshaw 

Looking at inclusive education through an intersectional lens helps schools see the factors that lead to exclusion and discriminatory processes and understand how systems are keeping people oppressed. For an education system to meet the needs of all learners, it is essential to recognize the intersections between characteristics such as disability, health, race, class, gender, language ability and gender identity. 

Our systems, our classrooms, our societies are embedded with structures of privilege, power, and bias that we’re often not even aware of. When we think about the potential of intersectionality, we can start to learn from and with each other in ways that move us away from dominant or single ways of knowing and being. Instead, we can move towards welcoming different perspectives, different ideas, through open ended practices, but also empowering kids to identify privilege and power and generate solutions to how we can work more equitably.” – Leyton Schnellert 

The realization of the right to an education often relies on the realization of other human rights, such as the right to cultural identity and the right to protection from discrimination. 

An inclusive school has a culture of listening and learning about the unique experiences of identity. As these experiences are dynamic and always changing, we are always learning. 

the text of my lived experience surrounded by arrows pointing toward it in the centre. The arrows read; sex, age, race, ability, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, income culture, language, education, and geography.


reference to external resource iconResources: Diversity, Intersectionality and Cultural Safety 


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