04 SES 04 E, New Directions for Research on Inclusive Education: Exploring the field
This paper builds upon a paper presented at ECER 2017 that examined the topic through international (OECD, World Health Organisation and UNICEF), UK-wide and Scottish Government policy documents, reports, legislation and the results of (longitudinal) surveys (Phase 1). The paper was very positively received but, at that point, had not extended into the wider literature.
The initial analysis drew tentative conclusions suggesting that the equation of poverty with underachievement is an over-simplification which doesn’t explain differential outcomes or the mechanisms by which poverty impacts upon under achievement or the mediating role of children’s mental health and wellbeing in this process. Addressing the problem requires systemic change at the level of society, challenging deeply embedded inequalities, and a political solution that is inclusive of, but extends beyond, education policy. It also requires a recognition that ‘schools cannot go it alone’: there needs to be an holistic approach which builds the infra-structure around families and schools such that targeted support can be offered to specific groups of children with a specific focus upon meeting needs.
This paper (Phase 2) builds upon this earlier work, drawing insights from the wider literature, and examining the extent to which it re-inforces or contradicts the findings to emerge from the initial investigation and/or casts a new light on the problem which is outlined below.
The gap in attainment associated with socio-economic status is a global problem [1-5]. Significant attention has been devoted to it but much of this focus resides within a discourse and culture of performativity in which international league tables drive global policy [6, 7]. Within the United Kingdom, the London Challenge (and the associated City and National Challenges) was hailed as a potential solution to the problem with many positive outcomes deriving from it [8-12]. The Scottish Government based its policy upon this, investing an initial £100 million in the Scottish Attainment Challenge supported by the National Improvement Framework to support implementation. However, this paper argues that insufficient attention has been devoted to understanding the nature of the problem with children in poverty tending to be seen as one homogenous group to whom the same solutions can be applied.
Within the Scottish context, the disparity in attainment and exclusion statistics is stark for those who are identified as having Additional Support Needs (ASN); falling within the lowest Scottish Indices of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD); and for Looked After Children (LAC) in comparison to children who do not fall within these categories [13, 14]. The problem is at its most acute at the intersection of ASN (in particular, social, emotional and behavioural needs and LAC) and poverty [15, 16]. Whilst there is data that focuses upon the relationship between attainment and ASN and between attainment and poverty, there is little publicly available data which examines the intersection between attainment, ASN, poverty and children’s mental health and wellbeing.
There is a general consensus within the international literature upon the importance of high quality leadership in effecting systems change and driving improvement [1, 15-18] and, in the light of the above and, with the objective of casting light on the problem, this paper focuses upon addressing the following questions:
- What is the relationship between attainment, poverty and children’s mental health and wellbeing as far as it can be established?
- Where are the gaps in the data?
- How might the findings from this paper inform how the Scottish Government should direct its resources towards ‘closing the gap’?
- What are implications of the above for leadership at all levels of the system and for educational systems more broadly?
This is a theoretical rather than an empirical paper. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the field nor is it intended as a ‘state-of-the-art-review,’ although it draws on many very recently published reports, policies, academic papers and documentation. The work is ongoing, therefore I shall use the present tense. The paper is concerned with interrogating the relationship between poverty, attainment and children’s mental health and wellbeing in order to inform public policy in Scotland and beyond. In taking forward Phase 2, a systematic approach is being adopted in scoping and deciding upon the weighting to be given to individual sources, using a set of criteria: ➢ The relevance of the source in addressing the research questions ➢ The reliability of the source (principally peer-reviewed journals) ➢ The currency of the text (principally within the past five years) ➢ The provenance of the text (international/UK/Scottish). The wider literature is identified initially through the use of keywords (for example, poverty, attainment, ‘mental health’, wellbeing, ‘systems leadership’) and Boolean search terms using multiple operators on ERIC (for example, ‘poverty’ AND ‘attainment’); examination of websites such as that of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; scrutiny of archives of key journals over the past five years but, in the main, an iterative process is being used as the paper progresses, following up sources in papers, reports and reference lists. Thereafter the literature is classified under the themes of: ➢ The relationship between poverty and attainment ➢ The relationship between poverty and children’s mental health and wellbeing ➢ The relationship between children’s mental health and wellbeing and attainment ➢ The intersection between poverty, attainment and children’s mental health and wellbeing ➢ Systems leadership ➢ Policy. In analyzing the literature, relationships are sought between the themes to have emerged from the initial analysis (Phase 1) and those to emerge from the wider literature [Phase 2]. For example, ➢ Risk and Protective Factors impacting upon health inequalities ➢ Sense of belonging/liking of/connectedness to school ➢ Achievement Motivation ➢ Relationships with and support from teachers ➢ The role of schools in ameliorating the deleterious effects of poverty on children’s health and wellbeing ➢ Parental engagement. The findings to emerge from both analyses will be synthesized, compared and contrasted such that final conclusions can be drawn.
Initial analysis of the policy context [Phase 1] had indicated that there are significant gaps in the data which could potentially illuminate the relationship between attainment, poverty and children’s mental health and wellbeing and that there is a lack of awareness at government level (as reflected in Scottish Government policy) of the need to adopt a more nuanced and targeted approach towards addressing the attainment gap. The ongoing analysis of the wider literature [Phase 2] largely corroborates much of the findings to emerge from the initial (Phase 1) analysis. However, it highlights the restricted understandings of key concepts to be found in OECD documentation, such as equity, inclusion and attainment (for example, Schleicher 2014) , which is of concern given the increasing role of the OECD in driving global educational policy. A key emerging finding is that, whilst there is a literature which addresses the binary relationships explored within this paper to varying degrees, the literature which examines the intersection between the three elements is much scarcer and yet this is essential if the problem is to be understood in its full complexity, bringing an eco-biological perspective  to it. Key concepts, such as a child’s sense of belonging/connectedness to school lie within the intersection, indicating that these may be important aspects upon which to focus. The expected outcome of this paper is that, through addressing the research questions above, it will provide an informed commentary that may serve not only to inform policy at a national level but to illuminate issues at European and global levels. It will clarify where and in which respects further research needs to be undertaken to understand to a greater extent this difficult problem at an international and national level.
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