Beyond Salamanca: Addressing barriers to realise Inclusive Education as a Human Right under international law

Twenty-five years ago, UNESCO’s (1994) Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education broke new ground by providing a framework for inclusive education. The Statement was extremely successful in raising awareness of the concept of inclusion internationally. However, and despite much effort, tangible indicators suggest this awareness has failed to translate into material progress. Not surprisingly, there has been a great deal of research investigating barriers to inclusive education over the last two and a half decades. The knowledge and attitudes of educators (Urton, Wilbert & Hennemann, 2014), allocation of support funding (Vaz et al., 2015), suitability of inclusion for particular students (Stanforth & Rose, 2018), and the appropriation of inclusive education discourse by special education (Slee, 2018) have all received attention. One potential barrier to the realisation of inclusive education may be the low level of awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which came into force in 2008 and has since been ratified by 177 countries. The CRPD is the first legally binding instrument to articulate the right to an inclusive education through Article 24: The Right to Education. Noting the lack of progress towards and misunderstanding relating to inclusive education, the UN Committee published General Comment No. 4 (United Nations, 2016) close to a decade after adopting the CRPD. At 24 pages, the General Comment is the most comprehensive and authoritative international instrument explaining the human right to inclusive education. The CRPD surpasses the Salamanca Statement by explicitly defining inclusive education, as well as the processes and practices necessary to ensure its progressive realisation by State Parties. Arguably, successful realisation of the right to inclusive education also requires scholars in the field to embrace the CRPD and embed its principles in their work; yet it seems the Salamanca Statement is still perceived as more significant (Ainscow, Slee, & Best, 2019). To consider the uptake of the CRPD and General Comment No. 4, relative to the Salamanca Statement in education research, we conducted a scoping review of literature published since 1994 to 2019. In this paper, we look at how each document has been used in the literature over time and what impact the CRPD and General Comment have had on education scholarship since 2006. We conclude with strategies to help improve knowledge of the CRPD/GC and discuss how these documents can be used to progress inclusive education.