Lessons from the Index for Inclusion; Developing learning and participation in early years and childcare

Illustration aus dem Buch "machtWorte!"


by Tony Booth and Siobhan O’Connor

In this article we describe the ‘Index for Inclusion’ and the changes that were introduced in the radically revised new edition. We consider its adaptation for early education settings and our plans to revise it in the light of the new version for schools. We consider its use in both settings and in preparing practitioners to work with young children.

What is the Index for Inclusion?

‘The Index for Inclusion; developing learning and participation in schools’ (Booth and Ainscow 2002, 2011) encourages a collaborative process of development involving practitioners, children, their families and the wider community. It contains indicators or aspirations for development, each one of which is supported by challenging questions. Together the indicators and questions provide a mass of starting points for exploring existing practice, and planning, implementing and evaluating change.

Development is considered along three dimensions: creating inclusive cultures, producing inclusive policies and evolving inclusive practices. Cultures are the key to sustaining development in non-coercive ways. In encouraging schools in England to take control of their own development the Index provides schools with a way of mitigating the more punitive approach to their development involving constant comparison with others and a national inspection system.

Inclusion in the Index

Inclusion in the Index is about increasing the participation of everyone, adults and children. Commonly inclusion is seen as about the mainstream participation of children with impairments and those categorised as having special educational needs. The special educational needs education view of educational difficulties sees them as arising from deficits in children. The Index proposes that educational difficulties are viewed as barriers to learning and participation that can arise in many aspects of education settings, for example, classroom language, in the nature of teaching and learning activities, in relationships between and amongst adults and children. It introduces the concept of resources to support learning and participation and argues that additional resources can be mobilised in staff, children, families and communities. It provides an inclusive definition of support as all activities which increase the capacity of schools to respond to the diversity of children and young people in ways that value them equally. Thus, professional development activities which help staff to build learning from children’s experience, is as much a form of support as a special teacher sitting next to a child.

Inclusion is a process of increasing participation for all in settings, system, communities and cultures. It involves creating settings and systems that respond to the diversity of children and adults in ways that value them equally. Our education systems are adept at creating hierarchies of value. Inclusion involves dismantling these hierarchies and putting into place alternative ways of being with each other. At the heart of the Index is the view that inclusion involves putting inclusive values into action. We cannot understand the meaning of educational development until we relate it to values. Inclusion always involves reducing exclusion. It is a commitment to particular values which accounts for a wish to overcome exclusion and promote participation. The centrality of values has become even clearer in the new edition.

Innovation in the new edition

The new edition of the Index built on the strengths of the previous version in prompting development, ideas gathered from dialogue about its use in the UK and elsewhere and further reflection and reading. The strength of the using questions each of which prompts links to be made between immediate action and a coherent, values driven philosophy of education was greatly supported by the approach to using the Index of the Montag Foundation in Köln by Barbara Brokamp and the experience of working with it at the University of Halle by Andreas Hinz and Ines Boban. The questions have been meticulously enhanced to add further challenge. In addition, the Index now contains an explicit and detailed framework of values for educational action as an invitation to others to develop their own schemes; it draws together principled approaches to the development of education to encourage a broad alliance for inclusive change with a particular emphasis on sustainability and the role of education in understanding, recognising and combating environmental deterioration; and an outline curriculum for teaching and learning activities consistent with inclusive values.

A framework of values

The idea that inclusion involves putting particular values into action can only be understood if those values are made explicit. Values are deep-seated beliefs which act as fundamental guides and prompts to action. They spur us forward, give us a sense of direction and define a destination. We cannot know that we are doing or have done the right thing without understanding the relationship between our actions and our values. For all actions affecting others are underpinned by values: every such action becomes a moral argument whether or not we are aware of it. So being clear about this relationship is the most practical step we can take in education.

The model values framework, set out in the Index, is concerned with: equality, rights, participation, community, respect for diversity, sustainability, non-violence, trust, compassion, honesty, courage, joy, love, hope/optimism and beauty. These are values headings and are themselves only understood as their detailed meanings are made clear. In exploring this detail it is possible to assess the extent of one’s agreement or disagreement with the framework. As they engage in values dialogues, practitioners develop their own frameworks.

Making alliances

The new edition of the Index has responded to the concern of practitioners that they are commonly overwhelmed by new programmes and initiatives. Each of these may be treated separately despite overlap or even contradiction between them and may be taken up for a short period until a funding stream dries up. The Index makes clear the connections between compatible programmes involving such issues as health and wellbeing, citizenship and global citizenship, non-violence, anti-discrimination, community development and environmental sustainability. This last concern features strongly in the new edition which is dedicated to the decade of biodiversity, 2011-2020. It responds to an imperative to make education contribute to efforts to halt global warming and other forms of environmental deterioration so that future generations have a viable, beautiful planet in which they can feel included. In making connections between a large number of separate initiatives the Index can considerable widen the communities of people concerned with implementing inclusive values.

Rethinking curricula

The major innovation in the new edition is the outlining of an inclusive curriculum as an alternative to traditional subjects. We do not think of curricula as only for schools but as ways of dividing up knowledge for all of us, so the suggestions are for people of all ages from kindergarten, through school and beyond. We recognise that the word curriculum may be understood differently in Germany. The formal curriculum content of teaching and learning activities may be referred to as ‘Bildungsinhalt’ and the process of selecting it – ‘Bildungsgehalt’ (Uljens 1997 p. 100). With some variations, curricula for schools are commonly divided under traditional subject headings involving: mathematics, language and literature, modern foreign languages, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, art, music, religion, design and technology, physical education, personal, health and social education.

However, traditional school curricula provide major barriers to learning for many children by separating knowledge from experience. Curricula, in the new proposals, are brought closer to experience outside education settings, avoid distinctions between academic and practical or vocational education, make evident the global interconnections between people and environments and link what children learn to human rights and active citizenship. Strong links can be made between the curriculum suggestions and Sen and Nussbaum’s ideas on ‘capabilities’ (Nussbaum, 2003, Sen 2005). The content of traditional subjects has has been incorporated under the heading: food; water; clothing; housing/building; mobility and transport; health and relationships; the earth, solar system and universe; the natural world; energy; communication and communication technology; literature/arts/music; work/activity; ethics, power and government, expressed in the following indicators:

  1. Children explore cycles of food production and consumption.
  2. Children investigate the importance to life of water.
  3. Children study clothing and the decoration of the body.
  4. Children find out about housing and the built environment.
  5. Children consider how and why people move around their locality and the world.
  6. Children learn about health and relationships.
  7. Children investigate the earth, the solar system and the universe.
  8. Children study life on earth.
  9. Children investigate sources of energy.
  10. Children learn about communication and technology.
  11. Children engage with and create literature, arts and music.
  12. Children learn about work and link it to the development of their interests.
  13. Children learn about ethics, power and government.

We are not expecting most schools to immediately adopt new curricula though some may make radical changes. More commonly schools can use the suggestions to enhance what they already do. However the arguments for bringing the experience of teaching and learning activities into the 21st century may gradually gather force. The curriculum proposals can provide new continuity in the way we think about activities in kindergarten, nurseries, schools and universities.

Developing and using an index for young children

The last English edition of the Index for Inclusion; developing play learning and participation in early years and childcare was produced in 2006 (Booth, Ainscow and Kingston 2006). This had an increased emphasis on play and included reference to working with children from birth onwards. It used the word ‘practitioners’ rather than teachers to reflect the range of people working within such settings. It also referred to the care of children in all out of school settings, irrespective of age, because of the way these were grouped administratively in England. However the innovations of the new Index for schools are all relevant to the early years version and we are planning a new edition in collaboration with practitioners in two English Counties.

Using index in England and other countries

The Index was written to strategically intervene in schools in England. We were cautious about its application in other countries of the UK with their variations in education systems and local cultures. However it was soon apparent that colleagues viewed the approach as broadly applicable beyond the UK and it has been translated into 39 languages and used in more than forty countries. It seems that its broad application stems from clarity of principles and the setting out of their detailed implications for action in all aspects of education settings. in staffrooms, playgrounds and classrooms; in relationships between and amongst adults and children; and relationships with families, communities and environments, locally and globally.

Use of the Index is extremely varied from being the key documents to shape whole setting development to providing a fresh examination of particular aspects of cultures, policies and practices. Use in English Schools was documented in 2005 (Rustemier and Booth 2005) and there have been publications about work with it in a number of other countries (Boban 2012, Carrington 2006, Carrington and Robinson, 2004, Duke 2009, Engelbrecht et al. 2006, Hinz 2012)

Reports of the use in early education settings

Use in early education settings was documented by Cathy Nutbrown and Peter Clough. A comment from one practitioner echoed a wider view of the way it gave settings a shared approach to development: ‘We’ve got a language now to discuss things within the school.’ Settings took up the invitation to move away from a special educational needs view of educational difficulties as voiced by another practitioner: ‘I’ve asked to be called the ‘Learning Support Co-ordinator’ now. It doesn’t really fit, being a SENCO [special educational needs co-ordinator] in an inclusive school’. Others reported on further benefits of the work:

‘I learned loads just reading through the folder – thinking about the questions posed under the different dimensions – there’s so much to think about – mind blowing! It’s a process that’s never actually finished but it feels very good. It is really about developing relationships – that’s what it’s about – valuing people enough to make relationships with them and then finding ways of working in that richness of diversity.’ (nursery school teacher).

‘As I worked through it, it all made sense – cultures, policies and practices – really obvious but it had to be laid out for us ....It’s been a lot of work but getting the children involved and the parents was really good – made a difference to the way we think about things now – I think. I would say that we’re – most of us – at the point where we ‘think’ inclusion now – first.’ (Learning support co-ordinator for 3-10 year olds)

We are very aware of the limited nature of the documentation and evaluation of the use of the Index in early years settings. This will be corrected by projects to implement and evaluate work with new editions of the Index in two English counties starting in 2013.

The preparation of early childhood practitioners

A rather different use has been made of ideas in the new edition of the Index in a course in Childhood Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University entitled: ‘Values into Action: a principled approach to the development of early childhood care and education’. (CCCU, 2012). This course builds on two other courses: ‘Anti-Discriminatory Policy and Practice’ and ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. Students are supported to critically develop their knowledge and understanding of approaches to early childhood care and education based around inclusive values and a participatory democratic framework for early childhood services.

The module engages students in continuous and collaborative dialogue about values. Dialogues explore the meaning of values in the Index and the extent to which a values framework is shared by all students. They are supported through activities adapted from those in the Index:

Activity 1: Choose one value listed in our values-framework, consider the barriers that may limit our potential to put this value into action. How may we overcome these barriers?

Activity 2: Consider a time when you have felt valued and devalued, included and excluded. Reflect on how these experiences made you feel and how they may have contributed towards the values you hold and your developing professional identities.

The following extract records students’ evaluation of the module:

‘I had never really thought about my own beliefs and values, I didn’t think that my values were important; it was listening to others and finding out what they believe that has taught me they do count and are important especially when thinking about putting values into action.’

‘We do all have different beliefs and values which can influence how we work with anti-discriminatory practice and promote valuing difference and the participation of groups within society. The group has been very inclusive and we have all had the chance to discuss our views...’ (O’Connor, 2012)

Students were encouraged to recognise broad alliances for the inclusive transformation of early years’ education by linking ideas on inclusion with other principled interventions. For example the course linked inclusion to the anti-bias work promoted by kindergartens by Kinderwelten in Berlin (Derman-Sparks and Olsen Edwards 2010) and the philosophy of early childhood services established in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia, described by Moss (2011, p 2) as ‘a collective democratic venture’. Democracy is given a similar super-ordinate meaning here to inclusion in the Index: ‘a way of thinking, being and acting, of relating and living together…a relational ethic that can and should pervade all aspects of everyday life’ (Moss 2011, p. 42).

Students are offered a link between ‘values into action’ and Heidegger’s idea of ‘transformation of the self’ (Dall’Alba 2009, p. 43) in understanding what it means to become a practitioner. In recognising the moral and political nature of their work they can connect personal and political action.

Concluding remark

The development of the new editions of the Index has benefitted greatly from the international network of colleagues established by its use around the world. Its wide adoption in Germany has been a particularly strong influence. Between us we are constructing a common language for developing education through dialogue around a common text through which we recognise our different circumstances and the connections between ourselves and with others locally and globally.


  • Boban, I, 2012 Der Index for Inclusion im Uberlick, in Reich, R. Ed. Inklusion und Bildungsgerechtigkeit, Weinheim und Basel, Beltz.
  • Booth, T. and Ainscow, M. (2011) Index for Inclusion: developing learning and participation in schools. Bristol: CSIE.
  • Booth, T., Ainscow, M. and Kingston, D. (2006) Index for Inclusion: Developing Learning, Participation and Play in Early Years and Childcare, 2nd Ed. Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.
  • Carrington, S. (2006). System models to support inclusive education practices: Engaging Queensland students and teachers in school review and development using the Index for Inclusion, American Education Research Association‐Symposium 26.
  • Carrington, S., & Robinson, R. (2004). A case study of inclusive school development: A journey of learning. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 8, 141-153.
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  • Nussbaum, M. (2003) Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and social justice, Feminist Economic, 9 (2–3), 33–59.
  • Nutbrown, C. and Clough, P. (2006) Inclusion in the early years, London, Sage.
  • O’Connor, S. (2012) Module Evaluations: Anti-Discriminatory Policy and Practice 2008-2012, Canterbury, Canterbury Christ Church University.
  • Rustemier, S. & Booth., T. (2005). Learning about the Index in use ‐ a study of the use of the Index for Inclusion in schools and LEAs in England. Bristol: CSIE.
  • McDonald V. and Olley.D (2002), Aspiring to inclusion, A handbook for councils and other organisations, adapted from Booth T. and Ainscow, M. Index for Inclusion, Ipswich/Bristol, Suffolk County Council/Centre for Studies on Inclusion in Education.
  • Sen, A. (2005), Human Rights and Capabilities, Journal of Human Development, 6(2): 151–66.


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Professor Tony Booth, Research Fellow, Cambridge University, has taught and researched inclusion and exclusion for thirty years. Siobhan O’Connor directs courses on inclusion/ sociology of childhood at Canterbury Christ Church University.