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Are International Schools Becoming More Inclusive?

By Anne Keeling, ISC Research
Are International Schools Becoming More Inclusive?

A new free report published by ISC Research and Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) describes inclusion practices and trends within the world’s international schools market.

A total of 207 international schools from 69 countries were surveyed earlier this year, just before the coronavirus impacted education around the world. The results, therefore, do not show the effect of the pandemic and distance learning on children with special educational needs. Instead, the report sheds light on how the international schools market has been adapting to the needs of all children over the past four years, since the first such research was conducted in 2016.

The new report suggests that students with learning needs are present in many international schools today, with over 80 percent of international schools having a high incidence of learners within one or more of the following categories: high functioning autism spectrum disorder; ADHD and/or executive functioning issues; disabilities of speech, language, or communication; and disabilities of reading, writing, or numeracy.

Ochan Kusuma-Powell of NFI, who led the research analysis, said that regardless of a school’s admissions policies, students with learning needs will surface in all schools.

“Schools have a responsibility to support their learning,” Ochan Kusuma-Powell said. “It is not surprising that international schools are developing programs of support.”

Of the schools that participated in the research, learning support programs are an established part of 67 percent of them. An additional 26 percent of international schools consider themselves to be at the beginning of the journey towards inclusion, actively developing programs of support and wanting to learn more.

Since the last inclusion report, conducted by ISC Research and NFI in 2017, there has been an increase of 15.5 percent in the number of international schools with an EAL (English as an additional language) program. A growing number of schools (an increase of 11 percent since 2017) report that students who require both EAL and learning support are served through the SEN (special educational needs) program.

There has also been an increase of over 6 percent since 2017 (from 53.8 percent to 60 percent) in the number of schools recognizing students with mental health and emotional conditions that require intervention. This percentage may increase in the wake of COVID-19 said Ochan Kusuma-Powell.

“Our world has changed because of the pandemic and it would be futile to try and return to pre-COVID days,” she stated. “An ongoing commitment to inclusion requires us to develop a new understanding of the world we live in and how we learn together.”  

One question in the study asked international schools to identify and prioritize the support and professional learning services they would find of most value. It suggests there is most demand for professional learning in inclusive instructive pedagogy, as well as a need for appropriate training for learning support assistants.

Sixty-two percent of schools said they would like their staff to participate in seminars or workshops led by inclusion professionals to improve their skills and knowledge. In the report, Ochan Kusuma-Powell offers advice to schools regarding professional development: “For some educators, this will involve a level of technical learning, whereas for others, it may be more complex. It would be a mistake to think one round of professional learning in the area of inclusive instructional pedagogy would be sufficient for all learners,” she said.

As part of her conclusions in the report, Ochan Kusuma-Powell urges the global international school community to work together to develop a common language with common meaning and understanding of terms used in the area of special needs education.

“Because the use of language is often context-dependent,” she warned. “Educators from one part of the world may find that language used in one setting means something different in another.”

The Inclusion in International Schools Report 2020 is free of charge and accessible to all international schools, and organizations supporting international schools at

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05/23/2023 - Val
I just loved your article, I teach my students about Inclusion at school and in the society all time long,. I would like to know if it would be possible to share with me the iclusion chart above so I could present it in the classroom.