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Special Education vs. Inclusive Education: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 12, 2024
Special education is tailored instruction for students with disabilities, while inclusive education involves integrating all students, including those with special needs, into mainstream classrooms.

Key Differences

Special education specifically addresses the educational needs of students with disabilities, offering individualized learning plans. Inclusive education aims to integrate all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, into general education classrooms.
Special education often occurs in separate classrooms or special schools designed for students with specific needs. Inclusive education, however, takes place in regular educational settings, with students of all abilities learning together.
In special education, teaching methods and curricula are adapted to meet the unique needs of each student with a disability. In contrast, inclusive education modifies the general curriculum to accommodate all students, including those with disabilities, within the mainstream classroom.
The goal of special education is to provide personalized instruction to help students with disabilities achieve their potential. Inclusive education focuses on creating an accepting environment for all students, promoting diversity and equal opportunities for learning.
Special education is often governed by specific laws and policies that ensure rights and services for students with disabilities. Inclusive education, while also supported by legislation, emphasizes the broader principle of equal access to education for all students.

Comparison Chart

Focus Group

Students with disabilities
All students, including those with disabilities

Educational Setting

Separate classrooms/special schools
Mainstream classrooms

Teaching Methods

Individualized and adapted
Universal design for all students

Primary Goal

Meet specific educational needs
Promote diversity and inclusivity

Legal Framework

Specific disability education laws
Broader educational equality legislation

Special Education and Inclusive Education Definitions

Special Education

Special education caters to students with disabilities.
He received specialized attention in his special education class.

Inclusive Education

It promotes equality and diversity in learning.
Inclusive education values the contributions of each student.

Special Education

It involves tailored teaching strategies.
Special education programs often use assistive technologies.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education adapts teaching for all abilities.
Teachers in inclusive education use varied instructional strategies.

Special Education

Special education focuses on individual learning needs.
Her IEP is a key component of her special education.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education integrates all students in regular classrooms.
Our school's inclusive education policy welcomes diverse learners.

Special Education

It provides supportive educational environments.
The school's special education unit is equipped with sensory rooms.

Inclusive Education

It fosters a supportive and collaborative environment.
Inclusive education encourages peer support and interaction.

Special Education

Special education is guided by legal rights.
Laws mandate appropriate services in special education.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education seeks to eliminate educational barriers.
Accessibility is a priority in our inclusive education system.


What is inclusive education?

An educational approach that integrates students of all abilities in mainstream classrooms.

How do special and inclusive education differ in terms of setting?

Special education often occurs in specialized settings, while inclusive education takes place in general classrooms.

What are the benefits of special education?

It offers individualized support and tailored instruction to students with disabilities.

Can students in special education participate in inclusive education?

Yes, many special education students also participate in inclusive classroom settings.

Is special education legally mandated?

Yes, there are specific laws that provide for special education services.

What is special education?

Tailored instruction to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities.

Does inclusive education require special training for teachers?

Yes, teachers often need training to effectively teach in inclusive classrooms.

What are the benefits of inclusive education?

Promotes diversity, social inclusion, and equal opportunities for all students.

Can inclusive education benefit non-disabled students?

Yes, it fosters empathy, diversity awareness, and collaborative skills among all students.

How does inclusive education support students with disabilities?

Through accommodations and modifications to ensure full participation.

What role do special education teachers play?

They provide specialized instruction and support to students with disabilities.

How are learning materials adapted in special education?

Materials are customized to address the specific needs of each student with a disability.

How is the curriculum modified in inclusive education?

It's adapted to be accessible and meaningful for students with diverse learning needs.

Does inclusive education impact classroom dynamics?

Yes, it encourages a more cooperative and accepting classroom environment.

How is student progress evaluated in inclusive education?

Through differentiated assessments and collaborative evaluations.

Are there challenges to implementing inclusive education?

Yes, including resource allocation, teacher training, and adapting curricula.

Are parents involved in special education planning?

Yes, parents are key participants in developing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Can technology play a role in both special and inclusive education?

Yes, assistive and educational technologies are important in both approaches.

How is success measured in special education?

Through individual student progress and achievement of IEP goals.

What types of disabilities are served in special education?

A wide range, including learning, physical, sensory, and intellectual disabilities.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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