New ISOTIS report: Children’s views on inclusion at school

Children’s perspectives are essential to understand their lives from their unique viewpoint. Tackling children poverty and social exclusion and improving their well-being involves promoting children’s participation in decision-making in areas that affect them.

In a recent study, the ISOTIS team listened to children’s perspectives on inclusion and well-being at school and at identifying facilitating positive elements at school within cultural, religious and linguistic differences. Our team explored what children identified as quality indicators of school inclusiveness, and their suggestions to make school more welcoming and inclusive. Furthermore, this study explored a form of education through democracy, examining how a supportive democratic learning environment can be created.

Click here to read the technical report on the conduction of this study. It was edited by Giulia Pastori, Valentina Pagani and Alice Sophie Sarcinelli (University of Milano-Bicocca).

Participants were children in pre- and primary school settings and informal after-school contexts in areas characterized by high cultural diversity and social inequalities in seven European countries: the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, and Poland. Around 300 children in 14 different contexts participated.

This study was designed to complement the interviews aimed at parents, conducted in the scope of the project, to enable better understanding of experiences, perceptions and opinions of young children from native-born low income families, and families with ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds regarding inclusion and well-being at school.

The goal was to allow children to express their perspectives about:
● what they thought about differences (at cultural, somatic, linguistic, socio-economic status);
● their social and cultural identity and their school context in terms of inclusion;
● what they identified as quality indicators of school inclusiveness;
● what they proposed to make their school more welcoming and inclusive.

The final objectives of the study were to:
● explore if/how the school supported inclusion, acknowledging and valuing diversity;
● understand what elements contributed to children’s well-being at school;
● explore children’s views on their (cultural) identity;
● elicit children’s proposals to make their school (more) inclusive;
● implement some proposals;
● offer a critical analysis of the methodological issues related to accessing children’s viewpoints, especially regarding sensitive issues such as inclusion.

Different activities were carried out to elicit children’s views. For instance, to collect the perspectives of 9-10 years old children on what makes them feel good and what does not make them feel good at school, children were given yellow suns and grey clouds cut from cardboard where they could wrote or drew. Suns were for elements that made them feel good and that they thought would give us an understanding of what are the nicest things about their school in their opinion. Clouds were for elements that did not make them feel good in their school contexts.

To collect the views from younger children, between 3-6 years old, one of the options foresaw involving children in a circle-time discussion about how to welcome new children that would start preschool the following year. This circle-time could be introduced by saying, for instance: Next year new children will start preschool. These new children won't know their new teachers, their classmates and the spaces at your school. How can we help them to feel comfortable with us?

Overall, this study intended to provide new perspectives and valuable ideas to inform policymakers, as well as a critical reflection and suggestions on methodological and ethical aspects of doing research with and for children, to enhance inclusive environments through children’s active participation and to empower children in their roles as democratic citizens.

Results about this study will be available shortly. Stay tuned!