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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Oakleigh Welply

Welply, O. (2020). Inclusion across borders: young immigrants in France and England. FIRE, Forum for International Research in Education 6(1): 40-63.

Author(s) from Durham


Globalisation and migration have brought new challenges to education in the past decades, raising questions about how schools can promote inclusion within contexts of increased diversity (Vertovec and Wessendorf, 2009). The concept of inclusive education itself remains contested with different meanings across national contexts. This makes a comparative focus on inclusion particularly relevant to understanding different languages of inclusion and the ways in which these are articulated across national and institutional contexts.

This article examines these challenges to inclusive education through a comparative lens, by looking at the identity narratives of children from immigrant backgrounds in primary schools in France and England. Drawing on data from a cross-national ethnographic study which investigated the experiences of 10 and 11 year old children of immigrants in two primary schools (one in France and one in England), it investigates the way children negotiated linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious differences as part of their identities in school. It explores the interplay between the children’s representations of school as an institution (formal spaces), children’s collective narratives of ‘difference’ and ‘Otherness’ (social imaginary in informal spaces) and children’s individual forms of positioning (identity narratives).

This article shows how, despite contrasting approaches to inclusive education (“indifference to differences” in the French school and recognition of differences in the English school), children’s experiences of inclusion/ exclusion presented strong points of convergence across countries. It was less dependent on school approaches to inclusion than on children’s capacity to understand “contextual clues” (Gumperz and Roberts, 1990) and implicit expectations from teachers and school values. This holds implications for thinking about the mechanisms of inclusive education and their implementation across institutional contexts.