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History of the Development of the Policy on Inclusive Education

Education White Paper 1 on Education and Training (1995) committed the Government of National Unity to a unified education and training system which is “committed to equal access, non-discrimination and redress”. It also made provision for a National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training to make policy recommendations to government on the inclusion of learners with special needs in education and training within a single equitable system.

The South African Schools Act (Act 84 of 1996) embodies the obligations of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996) by stating that public schools must admit learners and serve their educational requirements without unfairly discriminating in any way; in determining the placement of a learner with special education needs, the Head of Department and principal must take into account the rights and wishes of the parents and of such learners and uphold the principle of “what is in the best interest of the child” in any decision making. The Act further states that “where reasonably practicable”, the State must provide education for learners with special education needs at ordinary public schools and provide relevant educational support services for such learners and take all reasonable measures to ensure that the physical facilities at public schools are accessible to disabled persons.  

The Commission for Special Needs in Education and Training and the National Committee on Education Support Services were appointed by President Nelson Mandela in October 1996. Through a wide-reaching consultative process which covered all corners of the country, a joint report was developed and presented to the Minister of Education in November 1997.


The Report was published by the Department of Education in 1998 under the title:

Quality Education For All: Overcoming Barriers to Learning and Development (1998):

Download the complete NCSNET report from the website of the Department of Basic Education

Chapter 1: The Process
Chapter 2: Barriers to Learning and Development
Chapter 3: The Current Situation
Chapter 4: Framework for the Future
Chapter 5: Curriculum, Institutional Development and Assessment
Chapter 6: Utilisation and Development of Human Resources
Chapter 7: Governance and Funding
Chapter 8: Summary of Implications for All Bands of Education and for Legislation
Chapter 9: Strategic Implementation Plan; Impressions of the Closing Conference of the NCSNET, September 1997

Read more about the historical development of the policy on the website of the Western Cape Department of Education

The DANIDA and SCOPE Projects (2000 - 2003)

Between 2000 and 2003 the Danish and Finnish Governments respectively funded two large scale Inclusive Education Pilot projects which paved the way for the implementation of the National Policy which was only finalised in 2001. The DANIDA project was conducted in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and North West Provinces and the SCOPE project in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga. Many of the inclusive schools established during this pilot are still leading the way in inclusive education in their respective provinces. The reports on these projects (a first of their kind in Africa) as well as the innovative training materials can be downloaded from:

Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System (2001)

Education White Paper 6 was gazetted (Govt Gazette No 22524 of 27 July 2001) and outlines government’s strategy to transform the current education system to make it more efficient, more equitable and more just, recognizing the right of all learners to attend their local neighbourhood school and to receive the necessary support. The policy embodies the principles of article 24 of the Convention as it sees inclusive education as a means through which our society can be transformed to promote tolerance and respect for diversity and the human rights of all people, specifically those with disabilities who have been and are still being marginalized and excluded.

The First Stage of Implementing Inclusive Education in South Africa (2001 - 2009)

When Education White Paper 6 was published in 2001, an implementation strategy for the short, medium and long term implementation was outlined.
The first stage of implementation of the policy set out a number of clear objectives and key strategic levers. The detail of the first stage implementation plan are set out in the Management Plan for the Transition to an Inclusive Education System (2005) The White Paper 6 delineates six strategic levers for the profound systemic change that has to take place in the first stage of implementation: 
  • Strategy 1: Introduction of the inclusion model and targeting to early identification of learners with barriers and intervention in the Foundation and Intermediate Phase.
  • Strategy 2: Mobilisation of the large number of disabled and other vulnerable out-of-school youth.
  • Strategy 3: Phased conversion of 30 primary schools into Full-service Schools.
  • Strategy 4: Establishing district-based support teams.
  • Strategy 5: Qualitative improvement of special schools and their conversion to resource centres with strong linkages to district-based support teams.
  • Strategy 6: Engaging in advocacy and development of educators and all other stakeholders to understand the new approach and the programmes.

The Report on Implementing Inclusive Education in South Africa was presented to the Department of Education by the contracted Project Manager in 2008. The report outlines the achievements in each of the main areas of implementation as well as challenges encountered. Recommendations are made for taking the programme to scale.

Overview Report was presented to the Heads of Education Committee in 2009 summarising the main findings of the field test and making recommendations to provinces for further implementation.

Based on the research conducted during the Field Test revised implementation guidelines were developed:

Guidelines for Quality Education and Support in Special Schools and Special School Resource Centres (2008) provides standards and indicators to ensure that all special schools will be improved to become centres of excellence. The Guidelines further provide indicators for monitoring quality of service delivery. These Guidelines emerged from the findings of the comprehensive Audit on Special Education Provision (2004) and aims at guiding special schools to comply with the obligations that are outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
The National Strategy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (2008) provides a framework for funding and resourcing and inclusive education system. It shows how the system can move away from organising support around category of disability and rather looks at level and nature of support needed. The main aim is to bring support to the learner, rather than taking the learner to where the support is. It also guides the role functions of teachers and officials within an inclusive support system.

Guidelines for Inclusive Teaching and Learning (2009) have been developed to inform the Curriculum Implementation Review which is currently underway in South Africa, with regard to curriculum differentiation.

Guidelines for Full-Service / Inclusive Schools (2010) will guide administrators, school principals, teachers and communities on how to change all schools to become inclusive.

In 2007 the National Treasury recognized the Expansion of Inclusive Education as a national priority and made substantial funding available for taking the policy to scale at provincial level. The funding was allocated on the basis of the Interim Funding Principles for an Inclusive Education System (2007)
On 1 April 2010 the Department of Education was divided into two departments, the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education and Training. Both Departments have responsibilities towards the implementation of inclusion. The Department of Basic Education reconfirmed its commitment by setting targets for increasing the numbers of schools which effectively implement the inclusive education policy and have access to centres which offer specialist services (Goals 26 of the Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025)
Since 2010, the Department of Basic Education has beendeveloping norms for resourcing inclusive education based on the findings of the field test.
This process commenced with the finalisation and promulgation of the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support in December 2014. u     

International Developments

Policy development in South Africa was a response to the international imperatives of the Education For All movement and the Salamanca Statement and Framework of Action.  

In 1994 the Government of Spain in collaboration with UNESCO organised a landmark conference in Salamanca, Spain to determine the future for Special Needs Education. The Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice and Framework for Action was adopted by 92 countries. which was informed by the principle of inclusion, by recognising the need to work towrads 'schools for all" - institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning and respond to individual needs. As such they can ensure access to education for all and also contribute to school effectiveness. The South African Policy on Inclusive Education is also seen as crucial for achieving social cohesion and quality education for all.

Convention on the Rights of persons with Disabilities (2006) which has been ratified by the South African Government in 2007, gives new impetus to the implementation of the policy. Over the next few years, the implementation of especially Article 24 on Education, will be a critical driver of all developments in the sector. The First Country Report on Education was submitted in 2010 as part of the comprehensive country report for SA, outlining progress made and challenges still being faced.

Internationally, there is consensus that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without recognising the central role of inclusive education to address the needs of all vulnerable groups in society.

World Education Forum, Incheon Declaration (2015) Sustainable Development Goals -  Education 2030: Towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all

Article 7. Inclusion and equity in and through education is the cornerstone of a transformative education agenda, and we therefore commit to addressing all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes. No education target should be considered met unless met by all. We therefore commit to making the necessary changes in education policies and focusing our efforts on the most disadvantaged, especially those with disabilities, to ensure that no one is left behind.