Free schools, inclusion and social capital of children with special educational needs and disabilities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Inclusion has been a key concern for researchers exploring the impact of free schools in England since their introduction in 2010. However, discussions of inclusion have mostly centred on structural issues of social justice and equality, more specifically whether free schools are located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, whether schools operate fair and inclusive admission policies, and whether parents and children of disadvantaged backgrounds are equally able to access the schools. Not much has been written about what actually happens at the schools in terms of more micro-level day-to-day practices and interactions. This chapter reports on a project carried out at a secondary free school in 2016–2018, using qualitative and ethnographic methods to examine the views and experiences of teachers, school staff, parents and children, particularly in relation to inclusion and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). With reference to social capital theory, the chapter discusses the extent to which the school was able to use its free school status and particular ‘freedoms’ to foster inclusive practice and strategies. The chapter critically considers the free school programme in relation to the inclusion of SEND students, but also explores the possibility that mainstream schools may draw on experiences developed within free schools to strengthen inclusive practices and strategies. The chapter furthermore outlines the main challenges experienced by staff in developing an inclusive school and reflects on some of the difficulties of fostering inclusion within an increasingly competitive and performance based educational system.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInside the English Education Lab
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Qualitative and Ethnographic Perspectives on the Academies Experiment
EditorsChristy Kulz, Kirsty Morrin, Ruth McGinity
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781526145390, 9781526172839, 9781526145406
ISBN (Print)9781526145383
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Manchester University Press 2022.


  • Inclusion
  • free schools
  • England
  • social capital
  • special educational needs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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