ERG SES H 09, Inclusive Education
There is an increasing emphasis on the principle and practices of inclusive education in recent times demonstrated both by the fact that important international educational organisations propel this idea and by the fact that it has become a priority in educational agendas of governments at a global level (Slee, 2011). Europe is no exception to that, although there are differentiations in policy and practice between different countries (Emanuelsson et al. 2005). Existing literature reveals the key factors that can facilitate or hinder the fostering of inclusive practices, which include the development of positive attitudes; the supportive policies and leadership practices; the implementation of research based school and classroom processes; the adoption of flexible curricula and pedagogy; the involvement of the community; the reflection on educational practices; as well as necessary training and resources (Loreman, 2007).
In the different compilations of facilitating factors to inclusion, such as the above, a theme that appears to be systematically assigned a prominent role is school leadership. This appears reasonable when considering that inclusion is increasingly conceptualised as an educational reform (Liasidou & Svensson, 2012; Frederickson & Cline, 2009) and that there is strong evidence suggesting that leadership is key in supporting educational change (Gunter, 2012).
In this framework, the present study examines the role of headteachers of primary mainstream schools, who are key agents of leadership, in relation to the inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs. Although according to the theory of distributed leadership (Spillane et al., 2001) in a school there are both formal and non-formal leadership positions (MacBeath and Dempster, 2009) and thus many people in a school may be exercising leadership, the current study takes into consideration that leadership is not limited to headteachers, but focuses only on them. In addition, it is the application of the ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), which demonstrates that although only the direct environment of children would be expected to influence them and their inclusion, there are also other factors, such as headteachers’ leadership practices that play an important role. Consequently, when it comes to inclusion, even though, for example, teachers are straightforwardly involved with children and can indeed mould the conditions in a way that could create inclusive or non-inclusive environments, there are also other important individuals (in this case headteachers) and bidirectional relationships between individuals, which may be crucial in terms of this (Schmidt and Venet 2012).
Overall, this study intends to examine the junction of the fields of school leadership, from the perspective of headteachers, and inclusive education, from the perspective of students with Special Educational Needs, researching in depth inclusive practice in the Greek educational context, where there is lack of research in the field.
The particular research aims posed in the framework of this study, which are set in the context of public primary mainstream schools in Epirus, which is a region of Greece, include the examination of:
1. the practices of headteachers in terms of promoting inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs;
2. the challenges and opportunities that arise for headteachers in terms of promoting inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs;
3. the views of headteachers in terms of how they could overcome the challenges, take advantage of the opportunities, and further promote inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs, through their leadership role.
The current study adopted a mixed methods approach, which had on the one hand a sequential character, as it consisted of a series of three consecutive research stages, in which there was an alternation of qualitative and quantitative elements and on the other hand it had a concurrent character, given that within the research stages there was a parallel collection and/or analysis of both qualitative and quantitative elements, although in each stage there was a dominant status given to either qualitative or quantitative data (Biesta, 2012). Τhe study’s participants were headteachers of public primary mainstream schools in the district of Epirus the academic year 2013-2014, who had in their schools either an integration unit or a specialist teacher employed to support students with SEN. In detail, the first stage of the project consisted of individual semi-structured interviews with eight headteachers, accompanied by printed questionnaires, which collected data about the participants’ background. The sample in this stage was purposeful and included the top ranked, in terms of experience and qualifications headteachers, in the respective regional unit. Their involvement in the study was considered to generate rich data. The second stage of the project consisted of a survey which collected data through printed questionnaires that were distributed to all 92 eligible participants for this study. The questionnaire, which was constructed on the basis of the reviewed literature and the conclusions of the first stage’s interviews included both open-ended and closed-ended questions that addressed all the research aims of the study, while they also provided background information about the participants and their schools. This phase of the study offered the opportunity to collect information from more participants and to validate the data collected at the first stage. The third stage of the project consisted of further 19 individual semi-structured interviews with headteachers that volunteered to participate in this stage (convenient sample) and aimed to provide in-depth information on all the research aims. Information about the background of this stage’s participants was acquired through printed questionnaires. This stage facilitated the elaboration of the issues identified at the previous phases of the study.
The significance of this research project and by extension its rationale are based on two grounds: its contribution to a field where there is a gap of knowledge; and its timeliness. Specifically, the current study focuses on and contributes to a field that has not been extensively researched so far. Although equity and diversity with regard to leadership are increasingly gaining attention, educational leadership is only rarely examined in relation to particular areas of difference or it is peripheral and the same applies also in relation to the field of disability and SEN. In addition, it has been identified that there are only few empirical studies about headteachers and promotion of inclusive education, while most of these studies are limited to attitudinal surveys. At the same time, there has been identified a need for more research that will investigate this field in countries where similar studies have not been conducted before, given that such projects will provide valuable international and comparative perspectives. Greece is one of the contexts where research about school leadership and inclusive education is fractional. Therefore, the current study will open up the possibility for a contribution to the fostering of inclusion for students with SEN in Greece, but it will also be useful to other similar or dissimilar educational systems of other countries. Moreover, although the project focuses on students with SEN, the insight provided through the lenses of this field can be useful for other excluded students or groups of students.
Biesta, G. 2012. Mixed methods In: J. Arthur, M. Waring, R. Coe and V. Hedges, eds. Research methods and methodologies in education. London: SAGE Publications. Bronfenbrenner, U. 1979. The ecology of human development: experiments by nature and design New Ed. Harvard University Press. Emanuelsson, I., Haug, P. and Persson, B. 2005. Inclusive education in some Western European countries: different policy rhetorics and school realities In: D. Mitchell, ed. Contextualizing inclusive education: evaluating old and new international paradigms. Abingdon: Routledge. Frederickson, N. and Cline, T. 2009. Special educational needs, inclusion and diversity 2 edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Gunter, H. 2012. Leadership and the reform of education. Bristol: Policy. Liasidou, A. and Svensson, C. 2012. Theorizing educational change within the context of inclusion In: J. Cornwall and L. Graham-Matheson, eds. Leading on inclusion: dilemmas, debates and new perspectives. London: Routledge. Loreman, T. 2007. Seven pillars of support for inclusive education: moving from ‘why?’ to ‘how?’ International Journal of Whole Schooling. 3(2),pp.22–38. MacBeath, J. and Dempster, N. (eds.). 2009. Connecting leadership and learning: principles for practice. London: Routledge. Schmidt, S. and Venet, M. 2012. Principals facing inclusive schooling or integration. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation. 35(1),pp.217–238. Slee, R. 2011. The irregular school: exclusion, schooling and inclusive education. London: Routledge. Spillane, J., Halverson, R. and Diamond, J. 2001. Investigating school leadership practice: a distributed perspective. Educational Researcher. 30(3),pp.23–28.
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