A critical realist model of inclusive education for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities

Xiao Qu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Despite the clear global inclusion agenda, gaps remain in the translation of the philosophical acceptance of inclusive education into effective teaching practices. Regarding children with special educational needs and/or disabilities, support for segregated schools hinged on the positivist, medical model of disability still challenges inclusive education that is driven by the interpretivist, social and rights-based models. The debates that are for or against inclusion usually take these two polarised paradigms, which need to be openly addressed if disagreements are to be resolved. This theoretical discussion paper applies the framework of critical realist stratified ontology to offer new insights and clarity to understanding special and inclusive education. The analysis suggests three-dimensional critical realist models of disability and inclusive education. The aim is to seek theoretical groundings to bridge the paradigm division between the medical and the social models. This may help to make sense of the contradictions and inconsistencies in views and practices regarding educational exclusion and inclusion. The conclusion contends that the medical and the social model perspectives can find philosophical common ground, and that different fields of professionals can and need to work inclusively together towards different depths of children’s best interests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1008-1022
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Issue number10
Early online date6 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • special schools
  • stratefied ontology
  • medical model
  • social model
  • interpretivism
  • positivism


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