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Blog post Part of special issue: Spotlight on SEND: Curriculum design and practice

The National Framework for Inclusion: Supporting inclusive practices in Scotland

Kirsten Darling-McQuistan, Lecturer  at University of Aberdeen

Supporting student teachers and teachers to enact inclusive approaches in Scottish schools is a significant part of the Scottish Universities Inclusion Group’s (SUIG) work. SUIG is a collaborative group of teacher educators working in universities across Scotland, and at present, SUIG members are developing the third iteration of the National Framework for Inclusion (NFI). 

But, what is the role for such a framework in Scotland? Why is it needed? And what ways might a singular framework support student teachers and teachers to include learners in diverse classroom communities? 

Before responding to these questions, it is important to highlight some of the features of the legal and policy landscape in Scotland that are significant in conversations around inclusion. The following legislation and policy guidelines are particularly relevant: 

  • The Standards in Scotland School Act (2000) – this Act reflects the international drive to ensure that schools accommodate all children. 
  • The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (amended 2009 and 2016) – this Act replaced the term ‘special educational needs’ with ‘additional support needs’ (ASN). ASN is a broader term, which not only includes children and young people with physical or learning difficulties, but also children whose educational progress is limited by their social circumstances. 
  • ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ (GIRFEC) – GIRFEC has been described as a ‘landmark children’s policy framework’. It was developed to improve children’s wellbeing via early intervention, universal service provision and multi-agency working. 

On paper, this landscape appears to create a conducive context for an inclusive education system and national curriculum. It could be argued that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (the national curricular framework in Scotland), aligns well with this legal and policy landscape. Indeed, the inclusive, flexible and ambitious vision that drove the inception of CfE has been widely celebrated, including by the OECD (2021), which states: ‘CfE’s vision to achieve excellence for all students … continues to be an inspiring example.’ On the other hand, CfE has been widely critiqued for being confused and confusing, including by Priestley and Humes (2010) who describe it as a ‘mixed-up’ curriculum that lacks the coherent structure needed to ‘live-up’ to this progressive vision. It is therefore unsurprising that evidence collected via several recent independent reviews into Scottish education, suggests that the enactment of CfE, and interrelated policies and legislation, has been challenging, particularly in relation to core tenants of social justice and inclusion.  

As research suggests, teachers are critical to enacting inclusive approaches in practice, but they need ongoing, meaningful and timely support. To this end, the first iteration of the NFI was developed in 2009. As detailed by Barrett et al. (2015, p. 182): 

‘The [NFI] was designed to support teachers at all stages in their careers to make decisions about how to enact contemporary understandings of inclusion … posited on values.’ 

This values-based approach, which reflects contemporary research into inclusive practices (see for example Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011), has continued to inform the collaborative work behind the most recent third iteration of the NFI. In line with core principles and values, the NFI appreciates the complexity of practice; the importance of context; and the competence of teachers. To this end, it prompts contextually appropriate critical reflection, contemplation and action through a series of questions linked to the Professional Standards for Teachers (GTCS, 2021). 

As a brief illustrative example, one element of the teaching standards asks that our student teachers have ‘knowledge and understanding of pedagogical and learning theories’ (GTCS, 2021). The NFI prompts further critical reflection by asking: ‘What pedagogical theories and practices do I rely on? In what ways do these theories and practices promote or hinder inclusive approaches?’ By asking questions, rather than providing answers, it is anticipated that the responses to these questions will look different in every setting, thus ensuring the NFI can be used as a meaningful tool to offer support to teachers across diverse contexts and classroom settings. 


Barrett, L., Beaton, M., Head, G., McAuliffe, L., Moscardini, L., Spratt, J., & Sutherland, M. (2015). Developing inclusive practice in Scotland: The National Framework for Inclusion. Pastoral Care in Education, 33(3), 180–187.  

Florian, L., & Black-Hawkins, K. (2011). Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 813–828.   

General Teaching Council for Scotland [GTCS]. (2021). Professional standards for teachers.   

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2021). Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the future, implementing education policies.  

Priestley, M., & Humes, W. (2010). The development of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Amnesia and déjà vu. Oxford Review of Education, 36(3), 345–361.