25 SES 14, Children's Rights and Inclusive Education
This paper reports on an action research project that aims to:
- Explore the school experiences of secondary students who receive learning support in two secondary schools
- Support teachers in one secondary school to respond to students’ perspectives in order to enhance students’ presence, participation and learning;
- Contribute to a rights-based understanding of inclusive education that shifts thinking from ‘special needs’ to children’s and young people’s rights.
The project is contextualised within the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s policy for inclusive school development (Ministry of Education, 2010) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which guide schools to develop as inclusive communities and to contribute to an inclusive society.
Internationally, a range of approaches have been used for students who may need additional support for their learning and social experiences at secondary schools. From individualised supports provided within ordinary classes, through to part- or full-time learning in segregated classrooms or separate ‘special’ schools, such supports have traditionally relied on labels that can impose unwanted identities, marginalizing students from their peers through separate ‘specialist’ practices based on assumptions of incapability (MacArthur & Rutherford, 2016). Thomas (2013) has highlighted “the damage done to students’ sense of worth and identity where they see themselves, through major differences between themselves and their peers, conspicuously excluded from the expectations, the activities, the resources, the worlds of those peers” (p.480). When support is typically “individualised and specialized” (Rix et al., 2013, p. 385), teachers’ confidence to teach a diverse student group may be undermined, and schools can risk legitimising some teachers’ beliefs that they are not trained to work with ‘special needs’ (Devecchi, Dettori, Doveston, Sedgwick, & Jament, 2012).
Students’ perspectives on the support they receive, where and how they receive it, are rarely explored in international research, yet how students feel about these matters are central when it comes to developing equitable teaching and learning environments and enhancing student learning. Interviews with students were conducted as the first step in an action research approach where researchers and teachers now work within a community of practice to develop teaching approaches that are responsive to students’ perspectives and preferences. Understandings within the community of practice are informed by:
- Children’s rights, as enshrined in articles 2 (non-discrimination), 3 (best interests of the child), 12 (participation),and 28 (right to education) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
- Lundy’s (2007) model of participation which emphasizes that children and young people’s participation rights require space (the opportunity to express a view); voice (facilitation to express their views); audience (he view must be listened to); and influence ( the view must be acted upon as appropriate)
- The Index for Inclusion (Booth & Ainscow, 2016)
- A critical theoretical framework grounded in childhood studies (James & Prout, 1997); and disabled children’s childhood studies (Curran & Runswick-Cole, 2014) which positions children and young people as constituting multiple voices; as capable and as having agency; and as constituting the starting place and heart of education and inquiry.
Inclusive pedagogies (Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011); Learning without Limits (Hart & Drummond, 2014) and Universal Design for Learning (Rose et al., 2014) assume diversity in the classroom and are explored within the community of practice as ‘rights’ rather than ‘needs’ based approaches to teaching and learning.
The paper presents students’ initial perspectives on learning support; the views and experiences of teachers as they engage with students' perspectives in the community of practice and as they plan and make changes to their practice; and students' views on these changes.
Children’s and young people’s participation rights (Article 12, UNCRC) extend to research. The emphasis in childhood studies on children as competent social actors with voice and agency acknowledges children’s unique points of view. Children are able to understand and act on the world and can make a difference to relationships, decisions, and problem solving, and adults should therefore “…be interested in and sensitive to their views, opinions and feelings, and make an effort to listen to them, ask for their views and act in ways that provide a supportive context for their learning and development” (Smith, 2016, p. 17). With attention given to relationship building and rapport (including full explanations of the purpose of research and their place in it), an informal, conversational context, careful questioning and communication preferences, children and young people with learning challenges and disabilities can be active participants in research processes (Kelly, 2007). In the present study care was taken to ensure that young people gave informed consent, that they understood their rights, the nature and aim of the research and their participation in it. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted initially with students and teachers, based on indicators of inclusive practice in the Index for Inclusion (Booth & Ainscow, 2016) . Interviews considered students’ classroom experiences, what happened when they found learning difficult; their preferences were for learning support; what they found difficult in class and any supports they received from learning support teachers or a learning support centre. Teachers discussed their experience with a diverse student group; their approach to providing learning support to students who experienced learning and social challenges; and their collaborative work with other support teachers and teacher aides. At the time of writing this abstract, an action research cycle (Mills, 2003) is being initiated in one secondary school to examine student perspectives on learning support in the classroom and to plan, implement and evaluate responsive, inclusive approaches to teaching and learning as determined by the community of practice. Data collection includes recordings of discussions within the community of practice and semi-structured interviews based on indicators from the Index for Inclusion with students and teachers during the implementation phase of the action research cycle. Opportunities are provided at stages within the action research cycle for students to be informed about the project's progress, and to include their views and feedback on changes to teaching practice.
Internationally universal themes emerged out of the interviews with students. Friendships with peers, getting on well with teachers, and taking subjects that students felt they were “good at” were highlighted as important. When learning was difficult, students valued the teacher who responded quickly and took time to explain. Several students mentioned that working in groups was advantageous as their peers understood them and could scaffold their learning (unlike teachers who changed every year). Students’ pointed to a number of barriers to the expression of their rights at school, with one student feeling that school was no longer “my place”. They emphasised the need for learning to be relevant and meaningful, and asked for clear explanations in the face of impenetrable information that restricted understanding. While they acknowledged the “other 30 students in the room”, and the pressure on teachers to “get through the content”, it was common for students to wait endlessly for teacher support. Insufficient explanations resulted in many students asking questions, grumpy teachers, and students being told, “Just go and do it”. Some were afraid to ask questions. “Doing nothing” was the norm for some, others felt they understood “less than half” or “failed all my tests”. Being unable to access help in a timely manner led to a sense of disengagement and hopelessness. Bullying was often mentioned as a barrier to learning, with students asking for “respect” and more effective teacher intervention. These themes are currently being explored within the community of practice with a view to exploring inclusive pedagogies and expanding teachers’ use of a wider range of teaching strategies, such as Universal Design for Learning. Data from the action research phase of the research, including interviews with students and teachers, and discussions within the community of practice will be included in the conference paper.
Booth, T. & Ainscow, M. (2016) The Index for Inclusion: Developing learning and participation in schools. Bristol:CSIE. Curran, T. & Runswick-Cole, K. (2014) ‘Disabled children’s childhood studies: a distinct approach?’ Disability & Society, 29,10, 1617–1630. Devecchi, C., Dettori, F., Doveston, M., Sedgwick, P., & Jament, J. (2012). Inclusive classrooms in Italy and England: The role of support teachers and teaching assistants. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 27(2), 171–184. Elwood, J. & Lundy, L. (2010). Revisioning assessment through a children’s rights approach: implications for policy, process and practice. Research Papers in Education, 25(3), 335-353. Florian, L. & Black-Hawkins, K. (2011). Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5),813–828. Hart, S. & Drummond, M.J. (2014). Learning Without Limits: Constructing a pedagogy free from determinist beliefs about ability. In L. Florian, ed. The Sage Handbook of Special Education. London: Sage Publications, pp.439–458. James, A. & Prout, A. (1997). Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. London, UK: Falmer Press. Kelly, B. (2007) Methodological Issues for Qualitative Research with Learning Disabled Children, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 10, (1), 21-35. Lundy, L. (2007). ‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6),927–942. Mills, G. (2014). Action Research: A guide for the teacher-researcher. 5th Edition. New York: Pearson MacArthur, J. & Rutherford, G. (2016). Success for ALL? Re-envisioning New Zealand Schools and Classrooms as Places Where 'Rights' Replace 'Special'. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies.157-174. Ministry of Education. (2010). Success for all. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.nz/resource/ennz/49SCES_EVI_00DBSCH_INQ_9975_1_A147433/8a9fb77778f8192ba495fa74edd5b1bebafd57b0 Rix, J., Sheehy, K., Fletcher-Campbell, F., Crisp, M., & Harper, A. (2013). Exploring provision for children identified with special educational needs: An international review of policy and practice. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(4), 375–391. Rose, D. H., Gravel, J. W., & Gordon, D. T. (2014). Universal Design for Learning. In L. Florian (Ed.), The Sage handbook of special education (pp. 475–489). London: Sage. Runswick-Cole, K., & Hodge, N. (2009). Needs or rights? A challenge to the discourse of special education. British Journal of Special Education, 36(4), 198–203 Smith, A. (2016). Children’s Rights: Towards social justice. New York: Momentum Press. Thomas, G. (2013). A review of thinking and research about inclusive education policy, with suggestions for a new kind of inclusive thinking. British Educational Research Journal, 39(3), 473–490.
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