04 SES 12 E, School Transition as an Inclusive Process: Barriers and enablers
The realisation of an inclusive education system is observable to varying degrees in different countries across Europe (Biermann & Powell 2014). For example, whilst Italy or the northern states (e.g. Sweden) are leading regions when it comes to achieving inclusion, Germany lags behind in the practical implementation of inclusion, despite the topic having become a central theme in the public and research discourse (Arnesen & Lundahl 2006; Brugger 2016; Werning 2014). Germany continues to have a highly differentiated special school system designed for children with various support needs, but it should be noted that is in the context of pro-inclusion legislation under mounting public pressure (Meijer 2010). Specialist educational disciplines, such as dedicated provision for educational and practical services for learners with visual and hearing impairments, can be justified by the need of the target group for an adapted learning environment and special education through sign language, Braille or other specialist materials. However, programmes to support learning and socio-emotional development are confronted with the dilemma that addressing learning disabilities and handling or preventing behavioural difficulties lies within the core competences of the mainstream school system.
In total, the proportion of children diagnosed with special needs in Germany is 6.8%. Of this group 2.1% attend inclusive schooling, while 4.7% are educated separately in special schools (Klemm 2015). To date, there are numerous empirical studies on children with learning difficulties, who make up the largest group of pupils with special educational needs in Germany (38.8%) (Klemm 2015). These studies show positive effects from inclusive schooling when it comes to children’s educational attainment (Bos et al. 2010, Kocay et al. 2014). The proportion of pupils diagnosed with special needs regarding their emotional and social development lies at 15.2% in Germany and – after those with learning difficulties and mental development (16%) – this makes up the third largest category of pupils with special needs. Among pupils with special needs regarding their social and emotional development 50,2% were educated “exclusively”, i.e. in special schools (Klemm 2015). Legislation foresees that the possibility of return to mainstream schooling be evaluated regularly and carried out where appropriate (KMK 2000). In practice the overwhelming majority of children enrolled into the special school system will remain there until they reach school-leaving age. Quantitative studies show that an inclusive schooling of children with the special needs named above tends be positive to their academic performance, their social behaviour and their self-concept when compared with exclusive education in special schools for socio-emotional development, but the effects on social integration have shown problematic results (Ellinger & Stein 2012).
Since the 1960s the construction of social roles has been a subject of discussion in the context of symbolic interactionism (Mead 1978, Krappmann 1969). The focus here is on the problem of stigmatisation of deviant behaviour. From a sociological perspective, the question arises how far the special school as an institution compensates for inequality and, in so doing, has an integrative effect at societal level. Or, whether such schools produce undesirable counter-effects in the form of limiting perceptions of self and others. This research is, therefore, focused on the educational trajectories of children with diagnosed special needs regarding their emotional and social development that have led them to attend special schools. In this context, the research examines the effects of special school attendance on the subjectification processes of children. The study focuses on processes of exclusion with the aim of identifying structures and conditions that inhibit the implementation of inclusion. On this basis strategies and recommendation can be developed that will help remove the barriers to participation faced by this group.
Using biographical, focused individual interviews 16 pupils aged 8-12 from four different special schools for socio-emotional development were interviewed. In these focused, biographical interviews with children the following themes were raised: • experience in mainstream schools (e.g. friendships, teacher-pupil relationships, experience of stigmatisation) • experience of forthcoming transitions • comparison of mainstream and special schools (e.g. pupil interaction, teacher-pupil relationships, teaching) • experience of stigmatisation – in and outside of school – in the context of special school attendance. In addition, the classroom teachers (N=16) at special schools were interviewed regarding the development of the individual pupils. In the course of these guided interviews the following topics were covered, among others: • description of the development of pupils from enrolment up to the present day • pupils’ perspectives • rationale for attending a special school (tension between support and selection) • co-operation with the mainstream education system. The interviews are evaluated using documentary method which, in this case, centre on the ability of pupils and teachers to navigate and interpret the transition to a special school. On the basis of Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, the documentary method presents a reconstructive process that allows access to the impactful and embodied knowledge of the actors (Bohnsack et al. 2013). In accordance with these documentary methods the orientation framework is explained following the formulating interpretation in the context of the reflective interpretation, in which a practical “generative template or generative formula” can be derived, based on sequential reconstructions of narrative and discourse processes (Bohnsack et al. 2013). The aim is to delineate the contrasts in the orientation frameworks of pupils and teachers. In accordance with the forthcoming sense-genetic typification, central orientation figures will be defined and abstracted on the basis of elaborated experiences of transition and case comparison. One type is characterised through internal homogeneity in the presence of simultaneous external heterogeneity to other cases. The cross-case commonality – the tertium comparationis – upon which this comparison is constructed is the experienced transition from mainstream school to a special school with a particular focus on stigmatisation processes.
Initial results from the pupil interviews reveal a varied picture of their experiences of transition. The pupils demonstrate that they often inhabit the role of “outsider” within mainstream schools. A lack of positive relationships to their peers and a problematic relationship to teachers characterise the experience of this group of pupils and are described as extremely challenging. In hindsight, the pupils find their behaviour in mainstream schools (disturbance of teaching, physical confrontation with classmates) somewhat problematic, but perceive that little or nothing could have changed things at the time. For some children, the prospect of having to attend a special school was used over a long period of time as a threat of last resort, if they did not change their behaviour in mainstream school. As a consequence, the final decision to transfer them into a special school was experienced as a sign of failure and a punishment. After initial fear and/or uncertainty, some of the children interviewed described the transition as a relief in many respects when compared to their expectations. The different level of interaction between teachers and pupils, the significantly reduced expectations placed upon their performance and the different teaching structures are described positively by the children. Nevertheless, the connotations associated with belonging to a special school were shame-laden. In the context of their experience of stigmatisation, which had already begun in mainstream education, these children formulate – in some cases very strongly – their desire to leave this type of school as soon as possible. In closing, it must be noted that the evaluation of pupils’ interviews is not yet complete. A sense-genetic typification is still to be undertaken, the results of which will be presented at the conference. Similarly, the initial results of the reconstruction of teacher interviews are also anticipated.
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