04 SES 04 D, Overcoming the Challenges of School/Life Transition For Students With Intellectual Disability
There has been a growing focus on the importance of effective transition programs for students moving between primary and secondary school (Strnadová and Cumming 2016). In New South Wales (NSW), Australia, where this study was conducted, there is a policy requirement for schools to develop appropriate transition programs for students with and without disabilities moving between settings (NSW DET 2006). However, there is no legislation requiring education authorities to provide Individual Transition Plans for students with intellectual disability (O’Neil, Strnadová, and Cumming 2016).
Despite progress in this area, education authorities and school administrators acknowledge that there remain opportunities for improvement in the transition of students with disability to secondary school. Parents also state that, in many cases, their expectations surrounding transition are not being met (Jindal-Snape et al. 2006).
This study seeks to determine successful transition strategies of students with intellectual disability, from the perspective of the students that experience it. There are currently only a small number of studies that include the perspective of students.
This research is underpinned by the theoretical construct of ‘Student Voice’. A growing body of research highlights the positive and powerful outcomes of providing students with the opportunity to be meaningfully consulted about their experiences of learning and teaching (Demetriou and Wilson 2010). Student Voice also recognises the rights of all children to express a view in decisions that affect them, as enunciated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations 1989).
Since the 1980s there has been a concerted effort both internationally and within European countries to address the lower rates of access to mainstream education by students with disabilities compared to their peers. Policies and procedures have been developed to support the access, transfer and progression of people with disabilities through all phases of education. Since 2001, European states and disabled people's organisations have been important actors in the process of drafting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNO, 2006). The UNCRPD (UNO, 2006) asserts the rights of students with disabilities to access all levels of education as expressed in Education (Article 24). However in both Australia and Europe the Transition of Students from Primary to Secondary School has been relatively neglected.
The call for stronger student voice is also supported by Kohler’s taxonomy of transition intervention services (Kohler and Field 2003). The five substantive factors included in this taxonomy are student-focused planning (which includes student voice), student development, interagency and interdisciplinary planning, family involvement, and program structure (Strnadová and Cumming. 2016). This research is also theoretically informed by the Ecological Development Model proposed by Bronfenbrenner (2005). The design of the study drew on the “person-context interrelatedness” (Tudge, et al. 2009, 199) of Bronfenbrenner’s systems and their context for the child with a learning disability. The study then sought to understand the participants’ interactions with the microsystem (teachers), the mesosystem (support staff), the exosystem (teacher education), the macrosystem (education policies), and the chronosystem (the transition from primary to secondary schooling).
The specific purpose of this study was to provide insight into how ten students with mild to moderate intellectual disability experienced the transition process from mainstream primary schools to secondary schools. The following research question guided the study.
1 How do students with intellectual disability experience the transition to an inclusive secondary school?
2 What are the major issues that students with intellectual disability experience during the transition process?
3. What are the factors that students with intellectual disability perceive contribute to their successful transition from primary school to secondary school?
Participants were ten students from four primary schools, who transitioned to three high schools and a K-12 special school. The criteria for selection of participants included: students who had a diagnosed intellectual disability; students in their final year of primary school and students who had indicated an intention to attend a high school in the region. Of the ten students involved in the study six were boys and four were girls, with four of the students diagnosed with a moderate intellectual disability and six of the students diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability. Phase One of the data collection process involved observation and semi-structured interviews with the ten students as they completed second semester of year six, just prior to their transition to high school. There were two formal observations in each classroom, each of one-hour duration. Observations were also carried out in playgrounds, and during interactions with parents. Students then took part in a semi-structured interview, towards the end of year six. Interview questions and information sheets were modified to make them accessible to students by simplifying language and using visuals where required. Interviews during this phase lasted between 20 and 40 minutes, depending upon the interest and capacity of the students. Phase Two involved observation of students in their new high school environments, and a second semi-structured interview. Interviews during this phase were of a similar length to those in Phase One. With minor modifications to allow for the changed context, interview questions were kept the same for each phase of the study. Data analysis was commenced early in the research and strategies for data collection were able to be adjusted to respond to emerging ideas and to strengthen interpretations and findings. Triangulation, member checks, persistent observation and progressive subjectivity were used as means of maintaining the integrity of the data. Triangulation was used to support and strengthen interpretations and conclusions in the study (Kervin et al. 2006). Using observations, case notes and transcripts from interviews, convergence of data to support the research findings was demonstrated.
Phase One Findings Establishing student perceptions of primary school formed an important component of Phase One of the study, providing a baseline from which to assess the transition experience. Overall, students were positive about primary school, and described being happy there. Eight out of ten students described positive experiences of primary school and enjoying grade six; conversely one student expressed that he was glad to leave due to issues with bullying. For students, their relationships with teachers were a strong positive feature of their primary school experience. Friendships were another aspect of primary school about which students felt positive. Most students (8/10) felt confident that they would stay in touch with their old friends, or make new friends, when they moved to high school. Most students (8/10) also felt comfortable about making new friends. For some students, the opportunity to make new friends was something they were looking forward to at high school. Each of the students involved in the study took part in a transition program while at primary school. The programs offered by the four high schools were all different, offering a range of experiences. Regardless of the specific program offered, all students felt that the transition program was helpful, and that they felt more comfortable about their new schools as a result. Phase Two Findings Overall, students were positive about their new high school environments. They discussed new friends, the variety of subjects available, the opportunity to work with a number of different teachers and their greater independence as highlights. Homework was an area of concern for the majority of students (7/10), and for all of the students in mainstream high schools. This concern was expressed despite special education coordinators scheduling homework tasks. In conclusion, the study highlights the value of giving these students a voice.
Atkins, L. and S. Wallace. 2012. Qualitative Research in Education. London: Sage. Bronfenbrenner, U., ed. 2005. Making Human Beings Human: Bio-ecological Perspectives on Human Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Demetriou, H. and E. Wilson. 2010. “Children Should be Seen and Heard: The Power of Student Voice in Sustaining New Teachers.” Improving Schools 13 (1): 54–69. Jindal-Snape D., W. Douglas, K. Topping, C. Kerr, and E. Smith. 2006. “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Primary-secondary Transition.” International Journal of Special Education 21 (2): 18-31. Kervin, L., W. Vialle, J. Herrington and T. Okely. 2006. Research for Educators. Melbourne: Cengage Learning. Kohler, P. D., and S. Field 2003.”Transition-focused education: Foundation for the future.” The Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 174-183. NSW Department of Education and Training. 2006. Our Middle Year Learners – Engaged, Resilient, Successful. An Education Strategy for Years 5–9 in NSW 2006–2009. Sydney: NSW DET. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/detresources/Our_Middle_Years_gANxIHEeuA.pdf O’Neill, S.C., Strnadová, I., & Cumming, T. 2016. Evidence – based transition planning practices for secondary students with disabilities: What has Australia signed up for? The Australasian Journal of Special Education, 40(1), 39-58. Strnadová, I. and T. Cumming. 2016. Lifespan Transitions and Disability: A Holistic Perspective. London: Routledge Tudge, J. R. H., Mokrova, I., Hatfield, B. E., & Karnik, R. B. (2009). “Uses and misuses of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of human development.” Journal of Family Theory & Review 1: 198-210. United Nations. 1989. United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child. United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 44/25), 1989. London, England: UNICEF. UNO, 2006 Google Scholar UNO Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and Optional Protocol UN, New York (2006)
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