Children and young people re-visualising inclusion

This is a blog about photo-elicitation research conducted with children and young people in schools in England and their teachers in which we explore together the concept and practice of inclusion in a range of forms.

Children and young people re-visualising inclusion


  • Dr Clare Woolhouse, Edge Hill University
  • Mrs Virginia Kay, Edge Hill University
  • Professor Fiona Hallett, Edge Hill University

The intention of our VOICES_Ed project is to question the suggestion that inclusion as a concept and inclusive education as a practice can be clearly defined and fixed, or that its impact is uniform or neutral (Dunne et al. 2018). Inclusion is a word used within education to describe how individuals should be treated fairly and with equity so that everyone has access to opportunities. The idea that education should be inclusive has led those working in schools to try to change discriminatory practices or attitudes, making use of relevant legislation and revisiting curriculum choices (i.e. McCusker 2017; Rix 2020). However, there is a need to constantly rethink whether and how different forms of education and sites of learning can be considered inclusive and to revisit how we constitute inclusion as a concept and practice.

The ‘Visualising Opportunities: Inclusion for Children, Education and Society’ (VOICES_Ed) research began as a small scale study with children and young people in schools in North West England. The intention was to respond to a range of UK Government policies that have called for schools to enact principles of inclusion. The four researchers involved noted the difficulty of defining, and therefore understanding, educational inclusion as a concept and so wanted to explore with children how they understood and experienced inclusion in order to highlight the complexities presented by trying to enact ‘inclusive practice’ (Stockall, 2013).

Of central importance in the design of this study was the need to foreground the voices and concerns of children and young people who are often the subjects of inclusion, but all too infrequently not consulted on their experiences of this. To address this concern, rather than using conventional educational research methodologies, such as interviews, or observations, children and young people in four schools in North West England and the Isle of Man were given single-use cameras and asked to take pictures of inclusion or exclusion in their school setting. The photographers were asked to annotate the photographs, explaining why they had taken them. The photographs were then ‘artified’ to anonymise them and shared with children and young people and or their teachers in schools in the North West, in Birmingham, Poole and Bournemouth, and London.

The materials have also informed development sessions for a range of primary and secondary teacher trainees to seek their views. The sharing of the photographs followed a photo-elicitation method, in that all participants were invited to talk about the images; how they interpreted them, how they made them feel, and what sorts of images they might take. Thus the researchers sought to create a space for multiple voices, perspectives, and stories to emerge concerning the concept and practice of inclusion, and particularly for children and young people to be included within not just the creation of data, but in the interpretation and analysis of it (see Woolhouse, 2019 for a further discussion of this). To summarise this first phase of the research, an article was published which presented some of the artified photographs alongside responses from the children and young people, and from their teachers and the teacher trainees, which demonstrated the divergent and often contradictory views and experiences of educational inclusion and exclusion (Dunne et al. 2018).

This led into phase two of the study where we decided to share the images and comments we had gathered with the wider community through an art exhibition held at the Tate Liverpool in June 2018. The exhibition was deliberately designed to actively engage visitors of all ages within the community so that their ‘voices’, perspectives and experiences might be shared. Visitors were invited to write or draw their responses to the materials in the exhibition, they were invited to create self portraits to add to a ‘community wall of belonging’ or to create and display paper sculptures to share their wishes for a more inclusive society. The underpinning idea behind this was to display research data as art and generate further data by undertaking “research through art” (Coessens et al., 2009: 46). See Woolhouse et al. (2021) for a more detailed description of the event at the Tate.

Through the various sessions and activities involved in the VOICES_Ed research we have found that people create ‘anchors’ for their own views and experiences within the ratified photographs. Looking at the photos, discussing them, making written comments or creating pieces of art or sculpture in response to them provides space to share views, and to make connections where we can understand inclusion from another point of view. An example of this was when a visitor to the Tate exhibition saw an image of a young girl playing in the snow using a mobility walker, she shared the poignant comment:

 “This is me when I was a girl. I didn’t know what the world was like and how I would be treated as I got older. I don’t know whether it’s better to go to a special school until you build your confidence or go to a regular school so that you know what the world is like from the outset. I just don’t know”.

The contributions from everyone at the VOICES_ED workshops and the Tate exhibition have offered insight and contradictory ways of thinking about how individuals can be marginalised and discriminated against in our society and this is something we feel really needs to be addressed with those who will be affected by it in the future, namely our children and young people.

Accordingly, the materials gathered through phases one and two have now led into the formation of a broader project that is exploring issues and concerns raised by children such as mental health challenges and gender discrimination. To do so, a Photo-Voice Toolbox©  has been co-designed and co-created with children and young people, which includes photographs, key words and scenarios written by children about their experiences of exclusion and discrimination. A prototype was piloted with three schools in North West England in 2020 and the researchers are currently working on extending the reach of the work to at least 50 schools nationwide. The outcome of this work is also informing further development of policy and practice around inclusion via Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities in one of the largest training providers in the UK, based in North West England. 

The researchers would love to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in the project during 2021/22. Please email:


Coessens, K., Crispin, D. and Douglas, A. 2009. The artistic turn: a manifesto. Leuven University Press.

Dunne, L., Hallett, F., Kay, V. and Woolhouse, C. 2018. Spaces of inclusion: Investigating place, positioning and perspective within educational settings through photo-elicitation.  International Journal of Inclusive Education. 22 (1) pp. 21-37.

McCusker, G. 2017. A feminist teacher’s account of her attempts to achieve the goals of feminist pedagogy, Gender and Education, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 445–60

Rix, J. 2020. Our need for certainty in an uncertain world: the difference between special education and inclusion? British Journal of Special Education, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 283–307.

Stockall, N. 2013. “Photo-elicitation and visual semiotics: A unique methodology for studying inclusion for children with disabilities”.  International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17 (3): 310-328.

Woolhouse, C. 2019. Conducting photo methodologies with children: framing ethical concerns relating to representation, voice and data analysis when exploring educational inclusion with children. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. 42 (1) P.3-18.

Woolhouse, C. Hasting C. and Hallett, F. 2021. Perspectives on inclusion: Close encounters of the creative kind. International Journal of Art and Design Education. 40 (2) P. 420-435.

Links to other web pages:

Dunne, L., Hallett, F., Kay, V. and Woolhouse, C. 2017. Visualising Inclusion: Employing a photo-elicitation methodology to explore views of inclusive education, SAGE Research Methods Cases.  Part 2. This is an article that can be used with secondary aged or university students to discuss the concept and practice of education:

Woolhouse, C. 2019. What does inclusion mean to you?  Times Education Supplement, P30-32. Available at:

Woolhouse, C., Dunne, L., Hallett, F., and Kay, V. 2017. Perceptions of inclusion.  Inclusion Now. Published by Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), Spring 2017 (46):9-11.

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