04 SES 01 B, Fostering Inclusive Education in School Through Organisational Change
Paper/Pecha Kucha Session
This paper is concerned with inclusive educational provision for pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, while acknowledging that issues of inclusion or exclusion can arise for a variety of potentially marginalised groups and also acknowledging the intersectionality of special educational needs with membership of other marginalised groups, such as minority culture status. This paper is specifically concerned with the organisation of inclusive educational provision for pupils with disabilities. It reports the core findings of a study that was informed by the Organisational Psychology paradigm. A combined action research, case study methodology was employed, involving four second-level schools in the Republic of Ireland. The aim of the study was to explore, with school personnel, the issues, opportunities and challenges involved in developing more inclusive policies and practices in schools. A conceptual model of inclusion was developed which identified, inter alia, core processes that are essential for the development of inclusive schools, and the engagement of school personnel in these process is essential if the public education system is to become more inclusive.
The outcomes reported here emerge from an attempt to apply the organisational paradigm to the development of more inclusive practices in four second-level schools. This process was informed by seminal literature on systems thinking and organisational development. In relation to the findings of the study, the structures for organising SEN provision within the participating schools were generally ill-defined and varied considerably between schools, often characterised by less than optimal co-ordination and poor levels of communication, especially between subject teachers and special education personnel. The level of expertise available in terms of teaching students with disabilities and special educational needs in mixed-ability settings gave some cause for concern, resulting in calls for a critical review of initial and in-career teacher education. The teachers were unwilling to embrace full inclusion in the sense of dispensing with specialist provision such as special classes or special schools. The determinants of teacher attitudes at the classroom level were generally related to student variables, such as the nature of the disability or special needs, with low functioning and behaviourally challenging students regarded as posing particular challenges to the inclusive ideal.
The participants in this study emphasised the need for greater consultation around the issue of inclusion. The overall impression was that the trend towards increased inclusion was occurring in a manner characterised by insufficient consultation and planning. The perceived consequence of this development was that school personnel were reacting to this trend rather than regarding themselves as potential agents and architects of the significant change that inevitably arises from such development. There was no reference to, or desire for, engagement in collaborative problem-solving or evaluative enquiry around the challenges of inclusion.
One of the aims of this study was to introduce school personnel to the concept of schools as learning organisations, especially around the issue of inclusive education and, in the process, develop a conceptual model of an inclusive school. The aim was to work closely, at whole-school level, in a case study, action research approach, with personnel from four second-level schools in the Republic of Ireland, to explore the issues, opportunities and challenges involved in the inclusion of students with disabilities and special educational needs in second-level mainstream education. The schools varied in relation to school size, geographical location, pupil gender and community socio-economic status. There was a total pupil population of 2,290 pupils within the four schools and a total of 180 teachers, 140 of whom completed questionnaires, giving a response rate of 77.78%. Interviews were conducted with the principals of the four schools and with the persons responsible for the co-ordination of special educational needs. Furthermore, a total of 42 teachers participated in focus group interviews. Full ethical approval for the study was granted by the university in which the author was employed.
The conclusion from this study is that the Organisational Psychology paradigm, located at the ideological interface between Psychology and Sociology, is well placed to inform the organisation and development of inclusive schools, a development that is essential in order to make public education more accessible to, and more effective for, learners identified as presenting with disabilities and special educational needs. There are certain processes that are core to this paradigm and that are essential for the development of inclusive schools. These processes include Consultation, Communication, Co-ordination, Collaboration and Collaborative Enquiry and these processes must be facilitated within schools and school personnel must be encouraged and enabled to engage in these processes, with a view to developing schools as learning organisations around the issue of inclusion, if the public education system is to become more inclusive.
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