Is there an ambivalence towards Inclusive Education?

Educational leaders are pivotal in the perpetuation and evolving of Inclusive Education.  They act as central conduits between the community, parents, teachers and students. Therefore their concepts of Inclusive educational frameworks and practices can be a determining factor in the success of schools practicing inclusion as opposed to ones that simply titles themselves as inclusive and in fact adopt an integration approach. 

A recent article presented in the International Journal of Inclusive Education, Making schools inclusive? Educational leaders' views on how to work with children in need of special support (2013),  sought to examine why children with special educational needs have problems in schools, how school and pre-school leaders should help children in need of support and also what role the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) should have in this work.

The results of the study suggested that a child centred deficit continues to exist when schools are faced with problems.  In order of  responses ranked, the study outlined that when students had difficulties they were caused by (1) students deficincies, (2) the goals of the school were too difficult for these children, (3) the school was poorly prepared to handle the difference.  Surprising was the two reasons educational leaders stated were most uncommon for student presenting with difficulties were (1) some groups/ classes just function poorly and (2) teachers have insufficient skills.  This is interesting as many studies that advocate elements of successful practices to promote inclusion state that professional development is a determining factor (Slee, R. 2001, Pearce, M. 2009).  Perhaps this study is suggestive of a mismatch between the perceptions of educational leaders and academics towards the reasons for difficulties that arise in inclusive education.

In reviewing the research on school leaders attitudes towards inclusive education the work of Rihels (2000) was drawn upon to frame the literature review.  Rihels made destinction between leadership studies in inclusive research through titling research as having three main perspectives. The first being a normative perspectives that critiques how educational leaders foster inclusive education. They are often based on single case studies with limited empirical data and demonstrate how leaders are active agents and advocates for successful inclusive education. Within studies that take on an empirical perspective, studies examine educational administrative discourses from a number of vantage points (p.97). Empirical studies are often comprehensive and systematic.  Lastly is the critical perspective.  Critical perspectives suggest that discursive practices are consequential and formed by larger social structures and processes.  Studies that take on this perspective examine leaders who concentrate on basic inequities and question the practices within the schools that they lead.  Whilst most research on inclusive educational leadership incorporates more than one perspective (normative, empirical or critical) most have one predominant perspective.

Whilst most Educational leaders are positive towards inclusion, findings also show that there are elements of ambivalence and uncertainty towards diversity. I can somewhat relate to this feeling working within a setting that whilst promoting inclusion places it second to the maintaining institutional and administrative norms.  For example it is the role of the Special Education Coordinator and the Learning Support Team to ensure students are included as opposed to this being the responsibility of all members of the school community.

This is coupled with some confusion from educational leaders as to how you define inclusion and which students are considered in need of special educational support.  The sad reality of many support frameworks is that support is allocated to 'funded' students under a medical deficit model.  By taking on a label of a student in need they become the responsibility of the learning support teacher.  From personal observation I see this occasionally evident in classrooms where a teaching aide is present.  The classroom teacher will focus on the class and will shy away from a student receiving support from a teaching aide.  To improve practice I have my aides work with any student requiring assistance providing space for the student and teacher to interact.

How educational leaders employ special educational leaders is also evidence of the diverse perceptions towards inclusion.  Leaders who see the role of the SENCO as administrators directly responsible for the integration of students with additional needs often seek to maintain the current frameworks present in the school. Whilst leaders who view the SENCO as an advisor empowering teachers often seek to change the culture within a school. This further supports a claim for at least one experienced trained special educational coordinator within schools to lead inclusion.

So to develop discussion, are these views shared by your education leaders. Is there an ambivalence towards inclusive education?

  1. Gunilla Lindqvist, Claes Nilholm (2013) Making schools inclusive? Educational leaders' views on how to work with children in need of special support. International Journal of Inclusive Education
Vol. 17, Iss. 1