Schools: Key role in meeting Europe’s social inclusion objectives

In today’s knowledge society, education can serve as a powerful means of achieving the key objective of the Lisbon Strategy for Europe to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”1 However, at present, many schools in Europe are excluding citizens from educational and social benefits that should be available to all.

The five-year research project INCLUD-ED (Strategies for Inclusion and Social Cohesion in Europe from Education), which started in 2006, identifies ways that schools can contribute to social inclusion. Research institutes in fourteen EU Member States study compulsory educational provision at pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels, including vocational and special education programmes within regular schools. In particular, they focus on five vulnerable groups at risk of social exclusion - women, young people, migrants, cultural groups and people with disabilities.

The project’s main objective is to analyse educational strategies that contribute to social cohesion and those that lead to social exclusion. The research includes a review of educational actions that successfully reduce school failure and social exclusion; an analysis of educational systems and recent reforms in twenty-six EU Member States2, and an examination of the data on educational outcomes provided by international datasets such as PISA3, TIMSS, and PIRLS4.

The project examines the interaction between educational systems, agents and policies; analyses the effect of streaming according to ability; studies the linkage between educational exclusion and employment, housing, health and political participation; analyses the overlap between educational policy and other areas of social policy, and identifies strategies which overcome social exclusion and build social cohesion in Europe. It also studies communities involved in learning projects which have achieved the integration of social and educational interventions that promote social inclusion and empowerment.

The project emphasises that family participation is vital and that training relatives to be involved in their children's learning is key to increasing school success and social inclusion.

The researchers found that educational practices that are oriented towards inclusion lead to greater academic achievement among students from vulnerable groups than those based on segregation or discrimination. They claim that as successful health policy is based on findings from the scientific community, educational policy which is based on scientific research findings significantly increases the achievement of all students.

They recommend five main types of inclusive policies that can contribute to overcoming educational inequalities:

  • Mixed ability classrooms with reallocation of resources - students are distributed in small heterogeneous groups in classrooms to enable the interaction of different levels of learning, cultures, languages etc. At the same time, existing human resources within the school and community enter the classroom in collaboration with the teaching staff, allowing for vulnerable groups to remain in the mainstream classroom and increasing everyone’s learning.
  • Inclusive split classes – sometimes an additional teacher is provided for instrumental subjects, usually grouping students according to ability. This practice, however, involves different teachers being in charge of individual groups of students but does not involve any kind of ability grouping.
  • Extending learning time or the provision of extra activities – as for example in Greece, Cyprus and Denmark, where students from underprivileged groups may stay at school longer to catch up with their classmates; or in France, where the open school system teaches young people in need of extra tuition on non-school days throughout the school year.
  • Individualised curriculum – this is where teaching methods - but not the contents - are adapted to facilitate an individual student’s learning without decreasing the level of the curriculum being taught.
  • Inclusive choice - where students can indicate their preferences in selecting subjects but where this does not lead to a reduction in further educational and social opportunities.

The project recommends that schools create the conditions that encourage increased participation of families and communities in learning activities, curriculum development and evaluation, and school decision-making. Participation and training of families from vulnerable groups, such as migrants, cultural minorities, and of students with disabilities should be particularly encouraged as it directly impacts on their children’s academic success. Schools need to involve female relatives or community members, to overcome gender inequalities, in activities such as interactive classroom groups, after-hours sessions or tutored libraries.

Evidence from schools where these community-based education programmes have been implemented, such as in a disadvantaged neighbourhood near Barcelona, shows that improved educational performance is not linked to the ethnic composition of the class but rather to implementing best practices and evidence-based methods.


1 In 2010, an updated strategy - the Europe 2020 Strategy – was launched.

2 The study does not include the case of Bulgaria.

3 PISA - Programme for International Student Assessment. See:,3417,en_32252351_32235907_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

4 TIMSS - Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and PIRLS - Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. See:

INCLUD-ED – Strategies for Inclusion and Social Cohesion in Europe from Education (duration: 1/11/2006 - 31/10/2011) is an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 - Citizens and governance in the knowledge-based society.


Contact: Oriol Rios,