ERG SES H 09, Inclusive Education
The assignment for the Swedish school is just like in other European countries basically inclusive and all pupils should be given support to develop as far as possible. In accordance with for example the Salamanca Declaration (UNESCO, 1994) students who risk failing the knowledge requirements will be supported in an inclusive environment together with others, primarily within the group they normally belong to. 'A school for all' is not an official term, but a summary of the directives that exist in adapting the school's activities, taking into account all pupils' different conditions and needs.
In the ongoing study, conducted in the framework of a doctoral thesis at the Department of Education at Umeå University in Sweden, the interest is directed towards the special education group and what happens when pupils in need of special support are placed in a group other than the one they normally belong to. The investigation takes place in Sweden, but the outcomes should also be interesting in a broader European context: questions and issues related to inclusion and exclusion are not limited to country boarders. The purpose of the dissertation is to study how the assignment of a school for all is negotiated when students in need of special support move from their regular teaching group to a special education group, which according to the Education Act 3 Chap. 11§ only can be done when there are special reasons. This paper focuses on one part of the planned work: a study of action plans.The questions for the dissertation are:
1. What are the processes of the schools’ work with special support that lead to the principals’ decisions to place students in need of special support in special education groups?
2. How do the students themselves talk about being in a special education group?
The focus of the study is social constructions of special needs and arrangements made to meet them rather than individual shortcomings. The intention is not to create a generalizable study but trough relevant examples interpret and engender understanding of in what ways the special education group affects school at both an organizational and an individual level.
The study draws on a socio-cultural perspective as described by Säljö (2000, 2005) and Wertsch (1991, 1998). This means that language is considered the most important collective tool for understanding and interpreting the world outside. The special education group is seen as a discursive practice, and a discourse analytical approach will be used in analyzing the data collected. Like Asp-Onsjö (2006), the term discourse is used to denote different ways of thinking and speaking. Language is seen as a collective tool in which each opinion is unique and at the same time dependent on the context in which it belongs.
Data collection started 2017 and will be completed during spring 2018. As a first step, I collected 48 action plans from four Swedish municipalities. The action plans were anonymized when collected. Only gender, grade and municipality were known by the researcher. The action plans in the study belonged to students in secondary school, grade seven to nine, and included 41 boys and seven girls. The action plans were studied to investigate how difficulties and measures were described for students in special education groups. Students from different kinds of municipalities were selected for the study. The selection was made with reference to the division made by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL, 2016). Although action plans are public actions, collecting them proved to be difficult. Since it is the principal on each school who decides what kind of special support a student in need should get, it is not easy to gain information about the number of students placed in special education groups. There are no aggregated statistics and many principals – and Deans above them - actually refused to share the documents. The assumption for this project is that action plans and more specific the linguistic formulations used in them are central to the process that leads to placement in special education groups. The documents collected in this study will be analyzed in order to find discursive patterns and continuities but also tensions and contradictions. In what way are difficulties, needs of support and arrangements described? In order to create a deeper understanding of the process leading to locate students in special education groups, group interviews with school staff that have been part of the action plans are also planned for the dissertation. Based on the action plans, a number of cases describing fictive students will be formulated. The intention is to shift focus from individual students to more general issues and reasoning. The planned study also intends to create knowledge about the pupils' own experiences of special education groups. Being able to access their stories and descriptions as a researcher requires careful and well-balanced approaches. They will therefore be offered to participate in the best-suited way: through telephone interview with or without image, interview with physical meeting or by recording a video journal. The entire study has been tested in accordance with current ethics legislation.
Previous research has shown that the reasons to place students in special education groups often are related to concentration difficulties, learning problems and social interaction problems - thus, the same things that make students in more general terms in need of additional adjustments and special support. The preliminary results of the study concerning action plans show that concentration difficulties is a common reason for placement in special education groups as well as problems with social relationships and high school absenteeism. Previous studies show that medical diagnoses, not least neuropsychiatric ones, are common for students placed in special education groups and that special educations groups not seldom are even organized exclusively for students with diagnoses, for example are there special so called ADHD-groups. The students in this study are placed in special education groups without the kind of criteria that a diagnosis is. How are their difficulties, needs and support described? The preliminary results show that standard formulations are used and that the special education groups are expected to make adjustments regarding both form and content of teaching, but also to provide social training. In the material investigated there are examples of how the special education group is supposed to solve obviously contradictory problems. For example might a student be considered having great difficulties with changes of any kind and should therefore as far as possible avoid such – but the student is at the same time considered in need of a whole new environment including new teachers, teaching methods and peers to be able to complete school. For students with high school absenteeism, the special teaching group is seen as a bridge making it possible to come back to school again.
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