John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

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Diversity and inclusion

When we consider the nature of social justice, Rawls’ principles lead us to two fundamental assertions. Firstly, being inviolable social justice cannot be diluted, diminished or denied – either there is social justice or there is not. Equally there is recognition and respect for diversity and appropriate inclusion – or there is not. Secondly the principle applies to all dimensions of a person’s life. An individual may or may not become involved in the legal system and if they do then they will have the protection of the rule of law. However, social justice applies to every aspect of daily life, not just the special or extraordinary circumstance. Social justice moves us from the theoretical or ideal into the practical – the right to vote has to be paralleled by the right to associate, debate etc.

However one issue needs to be addressed explicitly at the outset of any discussion about social justice in the context of diversity. This is the point is that the a priori for every discussion has to be the fundamental dignity and value of every human being in their own right. There cannot be ‘degrees’ of humanity; there can be no caveats or conditions that might be used to qualify the essential identity and integrity of each person. Human dignity has to be understood in terms of being human without any artificial constructs or idealized models. Human dignity is not compromised by states of consciousness, relative wealth or perceived social status.

There are no comparative criteria that can be scientifically, legitimately or morally used to classify human beings as the basis for discriminatory treatment. Thus gender, ethnicity, disability, relative measures of intelligence, varying degrees of athleticism, different artistic abilities, linguistic usages and social and cultural norms have to be regarded as descriptions of difference – not as the basis for discrimination whether personal or institutional. This point is fundamental to any discussion of recognising and respecting diversity and working to secure inclusion – difference is the norm acknowledging diversity is the basis for strategies to secure inclusion based in equality and equity.It would be wrong to take this approach for granted, it is very much a product of culture and the prevailing moral hegemony:

The high quality and performance of Finland’s educational system cannot be divorced from the clarity, characteristics of, and broad consensus about the country’s broader social vision . . . There is compelling clarity about and commitment to inclusive, equitable and innovative social values beyond as well as within the educational system. (Pont et al 2008 p80)

The social consensus in Finland means that the Teachers’ Union can promote a code of professional ethics that includes the following statements:

  • The worth of a human being must be respected regardless of …gender, age, religion, origins, opinions or skills
  • In relations between the teacher and the group, or the individual learner… justice must prevail.
  • The point of departure for all social relations is respect for the freedom that is intrinsic to a human being’s worth.
  • The teacher accepts the learner and strives to consider him or her as a unique individual.
  • Justice encompasses equality, the avoidance of discrimination and favouritism, and the opportunity to be heard…

The moral consensus in Finland serves as the basis of a wide range of social, educational and policy ‘taken-for-granted’ assumptions. This cannot be replicated in other systems; it is a product of history, culture and national identity. For diversity to be truly embedded in an education system there has to be a number of fundamental choices made not the least of which is what is to be the overarching core purpose of the education system. Every education system has a dominant purpose – the Scandinavian countries tend to focus on well-being and social justice, the English system on performance. Of course most systems are a blend of these elements but one will tend to dominate and that gives schooling its distinctive nature. Equally schools will tend to identify with particular outcomes.


Figure 2 The purpose of education

At the level of the school it is a primary function of leadership to articulate and secure engagement with the core purpose.


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