Exploring School-Level Determinants of Social Inclusion in the Education System the Case of Primary and Secondary Education in the Western Balkans
The importance of these questions is twofold. First, it is established in the literature that cognitive and emotional gaps that appear early on in individuals’ lives are likely to persist throughout the lifecycle. It is therefore crucial to understand patterns of social exclusion in the school system to inform policy-making and promote an inclusive school system. Second, this issue gains even greater policy relevance to those countries, such as the Western Balkan countries, with divides across a range of dimensions (e.g. ethnical, linguistic or religious dimensions) and where education has been assigned an important role in building peaceful and democratic societies.
Drawing on the sociology of education, we first build an index of inclusion for each of the 49 schools. In doing so, we move beyond narrow conceptions of inclusiveness (e.g. the rights of ethnic minorities; special education needs; etc.) and we employ an encompassing definition of social inclusion built around the four dimensions that compose our index: (1) entry into school; (2) experience at school; (3) teaching and practice approaches; and (4) community engagement. We then run a principal component analysis to understand how these different dimensions interact. We find that dimensions 1, 3, and 4 cluster together in a single principal component that reflects inclusive teaching practices, inclusive entry policies and community engagement. These dimensions seem to reflect the teachers’ ability or skills in promoting inclusive education. The second principal component corresponds to dimension 2. It reflects the students’ view of inclusion and the various elements of the atmosphere within the school that are experienced by students.
Preliminary findings reveal noteworthy differences between school types. First, primary schools tend to have a more inclusive school atmosphere than secondary schools. Second, both primary schools and vocational schools tend to have more inclusive teaching practices than gymnasia. Third, about one third of gymnasia and one fifth of vocational schools have neither an inclusive school atmosphere nor inclusive teaching practices and policies. Finally, additional analysis based on a regression model to explain variation in the factor scores across schools revealed that smaller schools tend to have a more inclusive school atmosphere than larger schools.