The Salamanca Statement and subsequent international calls to action around inclusive education aim to meet Education for All goals and foster inclusive communities for learners within mainstream education. However, there are diverse interpretations of what inclusion means in practice that vary across local, national and international contexts. In developing inclusive pedagogies with teachers at the forefront of providing support, the use of labels to categorise particular groups of learners according to perceived learning needs can further marginalise them, affecting their sense of belonging in school and their academic and social identities. We present case studies drawn from two doctoral studies conducted in contextually and culturally different settings to understand learners’ experiences of marginalisation in education. The experiences of learners of English as an additional language transferring from primary to secondary school in England illustrate marginalised positioning assigned by teachers’ perceptions. The ability to ‘settle in’ to school of street-connected children transitioning (back) into education in Kenya is influenced by their interactions with peers, teachers and the wider community on and after the street. Findings emphasise the need for understanding experiences through shared narratives and dialogue, starting with learners’ experiences to develop pedagogies and foster inclusive communities within and beyond schools.