Inclusive Education

Promote an inclusive approach based on multi-tiered systems of support at all levels (centre-level, local, national) 

Key Points: Every school should address the diverse needs of all children with a positive approach, encompassing multiple developmental dimensions (e.g., cognitive, psychomotor, and socioemotional). This involves implementing a school-wide multi-tiered support system and shifting from a remedial to a preventive approach. Inclusive educational systems support all children regardless of abilities or backgrounds, promoting participation, fostering accessible learning environments, and providing the necessary resources for success. A multi-tiered support system promotes inclusive environments, organising supports equitably. This includes a universal level of support, addressing all children, a selective level of support to complement the previous, for a limited number of children, and an additional support level for children with significant and persistent difficulties requiring individualised intervention. This system can be legislated nationally, recommended by local policymakers, or implemented at the ECEC setting level.  

Programme–Wide Positive Behaviour Support (PW–PBS) adopts a multi-tiered support system framework to promote children’s socioemotional development, establish a positive culture, and create an inclusive environment. The pyramid model is a well-established example of PW–PBS in ECEC (please see our PBS–ECEC Key Resources). ECEC centres implementing PW–PBS establish assessment and data collection procedures focusing on children’s behaviour and socioemotional competencies to sustain data-driven decisions. They also promote collaborative partnerships between staff, families, and mental health professionals to address children’s developmental needs.                                  

Voices of professionals and educational stakeholders from PBS–ECEC

“Socioemotional learning is promoted when all children participate in the activities without exclusion, finding meaning and joy in participation. This is what we seek to achieve in our preschool” (S., Greece)

“The multi-tiered approach is very useful in guiding action” (L., Portugal)  

“In our preschool we follow an inclusive approach in which the activities are tailored to each child’s needs. Even in challenging cases, we have successfully integrated and involved all children to the best of their abilities” (A., Greece)

“I advocate for the integration of PBS into the broader educational system as a method for advancing positive behaviour and as a comprehensive approach” (M., Cyprus)   

“I would highlight the coherence between this model [PW–PBS] and the current framework of inclusive education in Portugal, which facilitates its implementation” (C., Portugal)

What can be done to make a difference?

Strategy: Promote an inclusive approach, based on a multi-tiered system, at ECEC centres Actions

  • Support ECEC centres in the organisation and implementation of a multi-tiered approach; the implementation depends on the ability to organise the available supports into a multi-tiered system, addressing several competencies and needs.
  • Provide ongoing professional development and training to all professionals in the ECEC centre to understand the meaning of an inclusive approach and the practical processes and procedures to implement it, involving experts/practitioners as trainers.
  • Favour a gradual implementation: start with small steps to allow a more manageable implementation of the multitiered support system. In this way, staff can avoid feeling overwhelmed and focus better on effectively integrating each tier. In addition, feedback can be incorporated into subsequent phases, leading to continuous improvements.
  • Establish a collaborative approach involving ECEC teams, families, specialists, mental health services, community agencies, and decision makers in the design and implementation of a multitiered support system.

Strategy: Develop and implement inclusive policies based on a multi-tiered approach


  • Ensure that policies are informed by research, best practices, and evidence-based strategies in early childhood education.
  • Implement a system for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to assess the effectiveness of inclusive policies and regularly update them to ensure that they remain effective.
  • Provide funding to support the implementation of multitiered systems across children´s educational trajectories.
  • Ensure that ECEC centres and school systems adapt the multi-tiered support system to their unique environments, ensuring that they fit within their existing structures and processes; for example, ECEC settings should have the opportunity to prioritise aspects that align with their specific needs and circumstances.
  • Understand that gradual, consistent, and in-depth implementation increases the likelihood of the multi-tiered system’s sustainability within the educational institution or system.
  • Involve school psychologists and other specialists working directly with ECEC teachers and other professionals towards equity.

What are the expected benefits and impact?

  1. Children are the most benefitted through the creation of positive contexts, where high-quality educational practices are implemented and support is available to address their needs. The potential positive outcomes stem from addressing social, behavioural, and emotional disparities among children by ensuring that all of them, regardless of their background, receive appropriate support.
  2. Creating a more positive school culture can lead to increased teacher satisfaction, improved children’s wellbeing, a more cohesive school community, and a more inclusive society.
  3. Multi-tiered support ensures that behavioural expectations are clear and consistent across the early years’ settings, promoting a positive and predictable environment.
  4. The whole ECEC centre benefits from a clear organisation of activities, tasks, and responsibilities in addressing developmental needs and challenging behaviours.
  5. The high-quality educational support provided to the universal tier tends to reduce the number of children requiring additional support.
  6. The pyramid model, guiding teams’ efforts and actions to address children’s needs, allows for better organisation and management of available resources. The integration of services allows for a more comprehensive approach that benefits children, professionals, and families. There is high potential for improved learning outcomes and a more supportive educational environment.
  7. The assessment and data-driven decision processes help monitor what is happening within ECEC centres and systems, their needs and difficulties, and their successes.

What practices show the way forward?

Inclusion involves the whole school

The leadership team from a ECEC setting organised all the support needed, using an inclusive multitiered systems approach, for a child with autism spectrum disorder attending one of its classrooms. The child participated in all classroom activities, in which she had the opportunity to learn new skills and interact with peers. These activities involved everyday activities such as play, storytelling, and painting, as well as those related specifically to socioemotional learning and the implementation of PW– PBS (e.g., training a new skill such as controlling the tone of voice and using sign language to convey ideas among children and adults). Because some PW–PBS practices include the use of visual information (pictures, gestures, drawings, signs, objects/toys), this also contributes to the child feeling secure and included in the daily life of the ECEC setting, a practice that benefits all children. In addition, a very careful preparation of the routines and transitions within the group of children was helpful in handling any anxiety or frustration that could arise. All professionals in the ECEC setting received training or were briefed on the best ways to include the child in the ECEC setting routines. Additionally, one adult constantly monitored the behaviour of the child and provided the cues needed to guide the child´s participation in the activities. Everyone in the classroom (both teachers and children) already knew the signs that indicated when the child was feeling anxious or frustrated, and they had strategies to help her cope with her feelings in those moments (e.g., play with her favourite toy). The child received additional support from specialised professionals, which also guided the intervention of teachers and auxiliary staff in the ECEC setting, as well as parents at home. The flow of information between the family and school was very effective and was based on trust. These systems put in place were managed by the pedagogical director, who made sure that they complemented each other and that the whole school was working for the inclusive education of the child, as well as her peers.  

 Policies towards inclusion

The construction of an inclusive educational system implies the organisation of equitable supports. Several countries have been applying, nationally or regionally, the general principles of the multi-tiered systems of support (e.g., United States of America, Canada, Finland, and others). In 2018, the Portuguese government mandated the implementation of multi-tiered systems of supports in all public schools. A formal mandate to implement such practices in all schools with adequate support and funding favours the construction of educational systems that effectively answer the needs of all children. In the absence of a formal mandate to incorporate such multi-tiered systems, educational centres should consider the organisation of the available supports in a multi-tiered format. In the case of ECEC settings, the PW–PBS approach is of particular importance, due to the centrality of the Pyramid Model and equity in the promotion of children´s socioemotional development. 

Supporting evidence and resources

Key Resources

Needs assessment in four countries 

Krousorati, K., Grammatikopoulos, V., Agathokleous, A., Michaelidou, V., Szproch, A., O’Brien, M., Barros, S., Araújo, S., Santos, M., & Sousa, M. (2023). PBS–ECEC transnational consolidated report: Research findings for developing the guide on Positive Behaviour Support in early childhood

education and care.   

A Guide for using PW-PBS in ECEC

Krousorati, K., Grammatikopoulos, V., Agathokleous, A., Michaelidou, V., Szproch, A., O’Brien, M., Araújo, S., Santos, M., Sousa, M., & Barros, S. (2023). PBS–ECEC guide on Positive Behaviour Support in early childhood and care in European countries.  

PBS-ECEC online modules

PBS–ECEC Consortium (n.d.). Implementing Positive Behaviour Support in early childhood education and care [MOOC].

Impact assessment study & recommendations

Szproch, A., O’Brien, M., Araújo, A., Santos, M., Oliveira, V., Barros, S., Otero-Mayer, A., Michaelidou, V., Agathokleous, A., Krousorati, K., & Grammatikopoulos, V. (2023). Report of the PBS–ECEC impact assessment study and practice recommendations. Result 3: Transnational Report.

Additional Resources

Boavida, T. (2019, February 20). Moving on from special education… The Portuguese new legislation on inclusive education. Early Years Blog.

Choi, J. H., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2020). Reshaping educational systems to realize the promise of inclusive education. Forum for International Research in Education, 6(1), 8-23.   

Michael, D., Goutas, T., Tsigilis, N., Michaelidou, V., Gregoriadis, A., Charalambous, V., & Vrasidas, C. (2023). Effects of the universal Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on collective teacher efficacy. Psychology in the Schools, 60, 3188–3205.     

Sailor, W., McCart, A. B., & Choi, J. H. (2018). Reconceptualizing inclusive education through multitiered system of support. Inclusion, 6(1), 3-18.      

Silva, I. L., Lourdes, L. M., & Rosa, M. M. (2016.)  Orientações Curriculares para a Educação PréEscolar. [Curricular Guidelines for Preschool Education] Ministério da Educação/Direção-Geral da Educação (DGE).