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A systematic review of whole class, subject-based pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs

Sheehy, Kieron, Rix, Jonathan, Collins, Janet, Hall, Kathy, Nind, Melanie and Wearmouth, Janice (2009) A systematic review of whole class, subject-based pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs , London, UK Research Evidence in Education Library. London: Eppi-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 84pp. (1701).

Record type: Monograph (Project Report)


Schools across the world have responded to international and national initiatives designed to further the development of inclusive education. In England, there is a statutory requirement for all schools to provide effective learning opportunities for all pupils (QCA, 2000) and children with special educational needs (SEN) are positioned as having a right to be within mainstream classrooms accessing an appropriate curriculum (SENDA, 2001). Previous reviews which have sought to identify classroom practices that support the inclusion of children with SEN have been technically non-systematic and hence a need for a systematic review within this area has been identified (Nind et al., 2004; Rix et al., 2006).

This systematic literature review is the last in a series of three.
The overall review question for this three-year programme of systematic reviews is as follows:
What pedagogical approaches can effectively include children with special educational needs in mainstream classrooms?
The overall review question was identified by the Review Team and agreed with advisory groups, who represented the intended audience for the review: those involved in initial teacher training and classroom teachers. This question guided the interrogation of research databases in each year.

The in-depth review question for the third year of the programme asks the following:
What is the nature of whole class, subject-based pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special education needs?

Initial screening
The initial search was carried out using a variety of keyword terms, drawn from the educational terminology of different countries, and from the British Education Thesaurus. Various electronic databases, citation indexes and internet sites were searched. All identified studies were imported into EndNote bibliographic software, and then into the EPPI-Centre systems. The same keywords and databases were used across the three years of the review programme: 2004 (review published in 2004), 2005 (review published in 2006) and 2006 (review published in 2009). The studies were screened by two independent screeners, with a sample being assessed by the EPPI-Centre link person for quality-assurance. This screening examined titles and abstracts against eight agreed inclusion/exclusion criteria, which defined the subsequent scope of the review. The studies had to focus on pupils aged 7-14, with special educational needs, in mainstream classrooms. They had to include pedagogical approaches, offer indications of pupil outcomes, and be empirical (in that they involved the collection of data). They also had to be written in English and published after 1994. The cut-off date for the third review was 31 March 2006.

Following the initial screening, copies of the selected papers were sought and given a more detailed reading, with the exclusion/inclusion criteria being re-applied. This second reading also involved two independent screeners, with quality assurance provided by the EPPI-Centre link person. The papers that passed through this process were then keyworded using two sets of keywords. The first set used the EPPI-Centre (2003) Keywording Strategy (version 9.7), while the second set used a review-specific strategy. This second set of keywords was expanded during each year of the review by the research team to reflect the focus of that year’s question. The keywording was carried out by pairs of reviewers working independently and then moderating their findings. This process was again sampled for quality-assurance purposes by the EPPI-Centre link person. The keywording process created a ‘descriptive map’ of the studies, which gave an overview of the studies and details of their aims, methodologies, interventions, theoretical orientations and outcomes.

The in-depth review
Drawing on the identified needs of the users and discussions across the three reviews, it was decided that the focus of the third year’s in-depth question should be the nature of whole class, subject-based pedagogies. This has relevance to mainstream classroom teachers who are compelled to deliver identified curriculum subjects and to accommodate a diverse range of learners. The in-depth review question for the third year of the programme asks: ‘What is the nature of whole class, subject-based pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special education needs?’.
As in 2004 (published in 2004) and 2005 (published in 2006), this review (2009) did not focus on programmatic interactions, nor on studies that merely described classroom practices, without some form of evaluation or exploration of the variables within the setting. These priorities were transposed into new exclusion / inclusion criteria and applied to studies within the descriptive map. Given the interlinked nature of the three years of the review, these new criteria were added to those from previous years.

Data extraction
The studies identified for the in-depth review were now closely assessed by two independent reviewers. Data- extraction was carried out using generic EPPI-Centre guidelines and the review-specific guidelines created by the course team. Any differences between the two reviewers were discussed and moderated. A central component of the two sets of data was the assessment of the quality of studies and weight of evidence supplied by their findings. The reviewers assessed the relative weight of evidence in relation to the soundness of the studies; the appropriateness of research design and analysis relative to the review questions; and the relevance of the study’s focus the review’s questions. A judgment of the overall weight of evidence was arrived at through the combination of weightings identified in relation to quality of execution, appropriateness of design, and relevance of focus. The assessments of the reviewers were used by the main authors to frame the synthesis of the studies, and the subsequent conclusions and recommendations. A structured narrative was created, based on the emerging central themes and used to address the question of the nature of whole class, subject-specific pedagogies which are effective for children with special educational needs in mainstream classes.

Across the three years of the review programme, 3,462 papers were identified for potential inclusion, of which 2,982 were screened on the basis of their titles or abstracts (following the removal of duplicates). The most common exclusion criteria which studies met at this stage were as follows: not concerned with pedagogical approaches (32%) and not being an empirical study (24.6%). In the 2006 review, 170 abstracts and titles were initially screened and 86 failed to meet the inclusion criteria. The full articles were requested for those that met the inclusion criteria, or where more information was needed. These articles were combined with an additional 44 papers which were not obtained in the 2004 and 2005 review years (Nind et al., 2004; Rix et al., 2006). The 120 papers which formed this combined group (eight were not obtained) were assessed. Consequently, 25 studies were added to the systematic map, giving a total of 134 studies (68 studies from 2004, 41 studies from 2005, and 25 studies from 2006).

The 134 studies within the systematic map were distributed among pairs of reviewers within the team for keywording. They were keyworded using two keywording databases, both supplied and run by the EPPI-Centre. Of the 134 studies, 68 had been keyworded previously in 2004 and 41 keyworded previously in 2005. The majority (88.46 %) of the studies were identified through electronic databases, originated in the United States of America, and were researcher-manipulated evaluations (78%). The focus of 85% of the studies in the systematic map involved teaching and learning, while the most common teaching approach within the studies was the adaption of instruction (78%) and peer group interactive (44%). The forms of interactions identified in the studies showed an emphasis on verbal (83%) and written interactions (59%).

Of the 134 studies, 11 met the criteria to pass into the in-depth review. Each of these 11 studies was carried out in the schools within the United States of America, and nine were within primary schools or their equivalent. In terms of curriculum area, five concerned literacy-first language, two focused on history, two on social studies and one each on mathematics and science.

Synthesis and findings
Synthesis of these studies led to the identification of the following five emerging themes:
• pedagogic community
• social engagement being intrinsic to the pedagogy
• flexible modes of representing activities
• progressive scaffolding of classroom activities
• the authenticity of classroom activities

The results of the synthesis in relation to this question can be summarised as follows.
This pedagogy is mediated by a teacher who is part of a ‘teacher community’, either within the school or, more often, from outside the school. The teacher’s pedagogical practice is supported by this community with a shared model of how children learn. Therefore the teacher has an understanding not only of how to teach a curriculum subject but also of why they are doing so. The pedagogy gives importance to the social engagement of learners and includes activities in which social interaction is seen as the means through which student knowledge is developed. The learning activities within this pedagogy use different modalities, making the subject knowledge accessible to a diverse range of learners. Further, the development of learners’ understanding occurs through the planned scaffolding of the subject’s cognitive and social content. In doing this, the teacher uses activities which the learner finds meaningful.

The scope of this systematic literature review inevitably has limitations. No material before 1994 was included and teaching approaches used to include pupils in the early years or post-14 were not considered. A further limitation is the national context of the studies assembled for the in-depth review – reflecting the systematic map.

All the in-depth studies were US-based with none originating in the UK, thus having obvious difficulties for generalising to the situation in this or other countries. A more serious limitation concerns the strength of the evidence base overall. Only four studies were judged to have a high weight of evidence overall in relation to the in-depth review question and the limited number of participants within the various studies renders generalisability across large populations problematic. Within these limitations, the review findings, in terms of the themes identified, have strong surface validity and this suggests relevance for the intended audience in guiding and supporting the development of inclusive classroom practice. The review highlights the importance that teachers, early in their career, connect with a pedagogic community within which they can reflect upon and develop inclusive whole class teaching.

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More information

Published date: February 2009
Additional Information: Third of three systematic reviews in a series funded by TDA and located on the REEL website
Keywords: systematic review, pedagogy, inclusion, special educaitonal needs


Local EPrints ID: 65964
DOI: 1701
PURE UUID: 172dfe43-b719-46f2-8eaf-7acc27d44b90
ORCID for Melanie Nind: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 16 Apr 2009
Last modified: 19 Jul 2017 00:28

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Author: Kieron Sheehy
Author: Jonathan Rix
Author: Janet Collins
Author: Kathy Hall
Author: Melanie Nind ORCID iD
Author: Janice Wearmouth

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