04 SES 16 D, Individualising Educational Interventions for Marginalised and at Risk Students
The research explores the school context to bring out an issue that involves and worries a lot of teachers: the students that “can’t take it” if alone and, therefore, often go towards a formative failure, as well as early school leaving (OECD, 2012). It is a global educational emergency because the reduction of early school leaving is one of the objectives that the whole European community still faces today (European Agency, 2012) (European Commission, EACEA, Eurydice, Cedefop, 2014) (European Commission, 2015).
These are students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) that cannot be framed on the horizon of physical or learning disabilities. This kind of SEN can be traced back to non-specific disorders, to a threshold cognitive function, to a socioeconomic, language, cultural deficit; more often, there is no clear-cut psychological and/or medical diagnosis since the difficulties met by these children and kids do not correspond to the symptoms/signs of diagnostic handbook (Ianes, Cramerotti, 2003). They present extremely different characteristics, but they are joined by a situation of fragility that heavily affects the quality of their life and school experiences, which are characterized by a tiring and frustrating school daily life for all the people involved. Students with this kind of problem in functioning, in the region Trentino Alto Adige (Italy) – where the research took place – are inserted in a specific category of SEN – i.e. C category, while A category included students with physical disabilities and B category students with learning difficulties. C category is generally considered a “grey area” because of a diversity of visions and operations from school to school to find an effective answer to the needs of these students.
To cope with this issue, researchers stressed the need to read the phenomenon within the World Health Organization ICF (International Classification of Functioning) model. This lens helped in realistically interpreting the dysfunctional behaviour of kids and children, whose needs can be traced to a vast range of motivations, either relative to the subject or external to it. Furthermore, the ICF conceptual structure suggested the researchers refer to the global subject functioning, that is to how “the functioning of a person needs to be read and understood in a global, systemic and complex fashion, from different perspectives, in an interconnected and reciprocally causal way” (Ianes, 2006). The concurrent promulgation of the Directive of the Provincial Executive n.432/2016 on the topic of fragility in the developmental age, giving specific attention to mental health and, in the perspective of prevention, to the numerous psychiatric and neurological pathologies, plus the psychological disorders that have a development age onset, induced the research team to include in its project as well the territorial services that, on several fronts directly or indirectly collaborate with the educational institutions to contribute to the students’ life plans.
The questions that led to the start of the research were the following: who are the students included in category C or who still live in a situation of fragility, so the school should activate special attention? What are the criteria to include students in this category? What kind projects do the schools implement to meet the educational needs of these students? What kind of need school recognize? What kind of support school need to respond more effectively to the students’ needs? Therefore, the research project aimed at identifying useful elements to outline an interpretative framework on the educational fragilities of disadvantaged students and the school contexts where they study and live, as well as formulating suggestions for any changes in school policies and training activities for teachers.
Given the need to investigate the phenomenon in the context where it is experienced, the project – which was planned jointly with IPRASE and the Department of Knowledge of the Autonomous Province of Trento – was developed within the ecological paradigm. A service perspective, an emergent research design, and a highly participative procedure have thus been adopted. This perspective has been considered very similar to the one proposed by the research-education approach. The research design has been structured around two parallel paths: the school track and the territorial services which play around students with educational fragilities. The school track involved 105 schools of every order and degree, from primary to high school, including vocational training centres. A “qual-QUAN-qual” mixed-methods sequential research design (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003) has been implemented as it was necessary to introduce both an explorative, as well as an explicative phase (Creswell, 2014). Due to the complexity and the unclear definition of the phenomenon, it was necessary to activate a qualitative, explorative survey firstly, through semi-structured interviews with schools’ key informants. Subsequently, in order to acquire elements of understanding of the phenomenon related to the entire school system, it was necessary to use a questionnaire, as instrument for data gathering. Finally, to understand the results of the quantitative survey it was considered necessary to conduct explanatory semi-structured interviews. The territorial services track involved 62 key informants working in territorial institutions (residential educational services, non-residential educational services, child neuropsychiatry and territorial psychology, social politics service, Social Welfare Officer of the Juvenile Court). This research path was aimed at understanding how these students and school are seen by other social actors who often intervene with multiple competencies in the life of these children and, frequently, also relate to the school context. To this aim, a parallel, convergent research design was planned, using a single qualitative methodology (Creswell, Plano Clark, 2011) for data collection and analysis. It allowed researchers to work in parallel with different kind of professionals to obtain complementary information. As instruments, key informants were required firstly to co-construct a conceptual map around the topic “students with fragilities”, then to fill in a SWOT analysis aimed at identifying strengths and weaknesses inside schools, as well as opportunities and threats outside schools.
As the first result, the analysis of the cases of the students with fragilities identified by the teachers involved in the project led to identifying behaviours objectively perceived, which were then grouped into six categories of educational fragilities. These elements of fragility must be considered as characteristics of the students that teachers must take into consideration to take care of them and to allow them to achieve the educational success. A second result, three tools that can be used by schools – at the level of the institute or of single groups of teachers working on specific situations, as well as by inter-professional groups – were created. They are meant to help professionals at identifying students with educational fragilities, at planning, monitoring and evaluating educational projects that are aimed at these students; at carrying out an analysis of the educational network in the perspective of the students’ project of life. From the local services track, further development trajectories oriented at a better promotion and inclusion of the children and kids with educational fragilities have been identified. They particularly stress the need for implementation or enhancement of effective networking processes between educational agencies and territorial institutions involved in taking charge of the students with fragilities. The network turned out to be indeed the ideal operational structure to strengthen both didactic strategies, of improved inclusiveness, helping the co-planning of training pathways by educational and territorial institutions and training pathways geared towards professionals involved in the network. All these actions contribute to a better focus on the global life plan for children and kids with educational fragilities and on the answers to their needs. These results have, in the last instance, contributed to the drafting of suggestions in terms of school policies and training activities for teachers.
European Commission (2015), Education & Training 2020. Schools policy. A whole school approach to tackling early school leaving – Policy messages. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/policy/strategic-framework/expert-groups/documents/early-leaving-policy_en.pdf. European Commission, EACEA, Eurydice, Cedefop (2014), Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures. Eurydice and Cedefop Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi:10.2797/30376. European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2016), Early School Leaving and Learners with Disabilities and/or Special Educational Needs. A Review of the Research Evidence Focusing on Europe. Retrieved from https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/Early%20School%20Leaving%20Literature%20Review.pdf. OECD (2012), Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264130852-en Ianes D. e Cramerotti S. (2003), Gli alunni con Bisogni Educativi Speciali: dal Piano educativo individualizzato al Progetto di vita, in «L'integrazione scolastica e sociale», vol. 2, n. 4, pp 395-409. Ianes D. (2006), La speciale normalità. Strategie di integrazione e inclusione per le disabilità e i Bisogni Educativi Speciali, Erikson, Trento. Tashakkori, A., Teddlie, C. (2003). Handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Creswell, J.W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage. Creswell, J.W., Plano Clark, V.L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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