04 SES 04 A, Transdisciplinary Perspectives On Inclusive Education Advances In Higher Education
In March of 2018 Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). A fundamental aspect within this convention is the development of a respectful, inclusive education for people with disabilities among their non-disabled peers. Ireland, while late to the notion of inclusive education is working towards, and has legislated for (EPSEN Act, 2004), a concept of inclusion in education. The question of who needs special education has come to the fore. Based on United Nations figures Ireland has a population of 4, 829, 054 (January, 2019) of which it is estimated that 1.55% of the school age population have autism (NCSE, 2018). Research figures from Banks & McCoy (2017) suggest that Ireland has established 1000 autism specific classrooms to support the concept of inclusion and the educational needs of children and young people with autism as set out in the EPSEN Act (2004) and the UN CRPD. How these classrooms function within the ‘mainstream’ education system is a cause for concern. Thomas & Loxley (2007) have long argued that ‘regimes’, ‘systems’ and ‘power’ manufacture ‘difference’ and segregation is established rather than respect for diversity. Slee (2013) also asks ‘how can we make inclusive education happen when exclusion is a political predisposition?’ This is echoed by Banks and McCoy (2017) as they indicate that there is little research to provide a rationale for the development and establishment of these classrooms, and the justification in continuing to establish these ‘special setting’ is not conducive to good inclusion practice.
Historically, the concept of inclusion is grounded in a rights-based philosophy and requires that the government look beyond access, placement and attendance in mainstream education. Research is limited on the quality of provision and the actual lived experiences of learners with autism in our mainstream schools. A political accountability culture is argued to have disenfranchised the teaching profession from critical reflection on their own work and ‘disengaged schools from their local communities’ (Ainscow, Booth and Dyson, 2006, p.296). This gap in national research reflects and makes critical the gap in social policy for inclusion, reflecting on current actions, provisions and concept development. Factors needing continuous research focus include; the justification for special education classes, quality of access, quality of curriculum, quality of social and emotional engagement and the quality of learning experiences. Ravet (2011) posits there exists inconsistency and ‘contradictory perspectives’ of inclusion and this reinforces the gaps in teacher professional knowledge and practice. This paper explores the concepts and actions for the inclusion and education of pupils with autism in mainstream primary schools in Ireland. In particular it gives voice to teachers, pupils, their families and schools. It examines the role of special education classes as a means to inclusion and engagement for learners with autism, and how the system of the school acknowledges accountability in practice for embracing diversity. Lastly, it examines how the educational needs of the pupil with autism is addressed via pedagogic decisions and curricula.
The literature review in this project raised an important sub-question and related the topic of inclusion directly to literacy learning. The question sought to explore how inclusion influences how literacy is constructed in schools and at home for learners with autism. A sociocultural perspective supports the theory that children think, learn and develop through an interplay between the social and cultural relationship experienced by the pupil in context with his/her environment. This theoretical framework offered opportunities for the researcher to seize associations and connections between the learner and their social world. An important element within the theoretical framework of sociocultural theory is the importance of learning within a ‘community’. Burton, Brundrett and Jones (2014) assert that observations are the natural tool for data collection in the teaching profession. The theoretical underpinning of a naturalistic approach using narrative forms is a sociocultural position. The data for this paper emerges from a broader qualitative study on the literacy practices of children (n=34) with autism in the Republic of Ireland. A collective case study using naturalistic observations (n=63) was employed to explore how the practice of inclusion supported the development of literacy skills and practices among this pupil cohort. The observations supported an interpretivist paradigm in that it allowed for the capturing of data relating to inclusion in an unstructured natural manner over the course of the school day. The International Association of Evaluation of Educational Achievements (IEA) Child and Adult Observation Schedules (HighScope Educational Research Foundation and International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievements, 2007) were adapted to allow the researcher to frame a more structured schedule to the naturalistic observations from school to school and classroom to classroom. The observations within this project held the rights and welfare of the child to the fore. A voice-centred relational model was used to capture the opinions and perspectives of parents (n=21) and teachers (n=11) inviting ‘private’ voices into a public domain. Gilligan (2014) and Noddings (2013) both assert that when participants are asked their opinion and encouraged to explore their own interpretations they don’t just provide an answer, they bring a sense of identity and culture to the conversation. The data corpus was broken down into three clear data sets and thematically analysed.
Findings demonstrate that the concepts of inclusion for children with autism present exclusionary practices that sets this cohort of learners in a ‘vulnerable’ position among their peers. While answering the ‘rights-based’ need to enable children with autism to access education in mainstream environments has been very successful, it is also evidenced that segregation remains a significant issue for a significant proportion of the pupils involved in this research. The findings indicate clearly that the structure of the classrooms and positioning of clusters of classrooms happens before the enrolment of the pupils and therefore set in motion a persistent negative expectation for problematic behaviours associated with autism traits. Classroom observations have evidenced the daily learning experiences of children with autism, and have documented how the needs of learners with autism is not articulated in the design structures of these classrooms. Imrie and Kumar (1998, p. 363) propose that this type of placement is ‘perpetuating the concept’ that ‘being different’ aligns with being ‘unable’ and therefore requires a differently built environment. A more extensive review is required of the barriers created by the architecture of classroom structures to the ethos and ideology of inclusion in practice. If we continue in the practice of setting up ‘autism classrooms’ with limited movement and participation across school communities we run the risk of developing what Imrie and Kumar (1998) termed ‘apartheid by design’ and as a result maintain a barrier to learning, social interaction and inclusion. Observations of classroom practices have evidenced restricted experiences and an argument is made that this reflects a hierarchical need to make the learner compliant to perform tasks with little reference to learner strengths or needs. The findings enhance Slee’s (2006) argument that inclusion can only be achieved when we acknowledge that exclusion exists within our own pre-dispositions.
Ainscow, M., Booth, T., & Dyson, A. (2006). Inclusion and the Standards Agenda: Negotiating policy pressures in England. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(July-September), 295-308. Armstrong, D., Armstrong, A. C., & Spandagou, I. (2011). Inclusion: by choice or by chance? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(1), 29-39. Banks, J., McCoy, S., Frawley, D., Kingston, G., Shevlin, M., & Smyth, F. (2016). Special Classes in Irish Schools Phase 2: A Qualitative Study (24). Retrieved from Trim http://www.ncse.ie/ Banks, J. & McCoy, S. (2017) An Irish Solution...? Questioning the Expansion of Special Classes in an Era of Inclusive Education. The Economic and Social Review 48 (4) 441-461 Burton, N., Brundrett, M., & Jones, M. (2014). Doing Your Education Research. London: Sage. Gilligan, C. (2014). Moral Injury and Ethic of Care: Reframing the Conversation and Differences. Journal of Social Philosophy, 45(1), 89-106. Government of Ireland. (2004b). The Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN). Ireland: Stationery Office. Imrie, R., & Kumar, M. (1998). Focusing on Disability and Access in the Built Environment. Disability and Society, 13(3), 357-374. Noddings, N. (2013). Moral Education. In N. Noddings (Ed.), Caring: A relational approach to ethics and moral education. California: Calfornia press. Ravet, J. (2011). Inclusive/exclusive? Contraditory perspectives on autism and inclusion: the case for an integrative position. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(6), 667-682. Slee, R. (2006). Limits to and Possibilities for Educational Reform. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(2-3), 109-119. Thomas, G., & Loxley, A. (2007). Deconstructing Special Education and Constructing Inclusion. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education, Open University Press.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
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Network 4. Inclusive Education
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