04 SES 06 C, Inequality
The inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream classrooms is a central issue in many European educational contexts. It is believed that their education in mainstream school environments helps unlock their potential and brings social benefits for both children with and without disabilities (Nakken and Pijl, 2002). The term SEN is nowadays broadly conceptualised to encompass students with disabilities as well as those with languages other than the dominant language spoken within the country (Ashman, 2002).
While interest in inclusion has resulted in changing educational policies, research evaluating inclusive practices suggests that practitioners find it difficult to implement those policies (Vislie, 2003). This seems to be due to the fact that several factors affect the success of inclusive education. Among these is the attitude of parents towards the inclusion of pupils with SEN in mainstream classrooms (e.g., Rose, 2001). Schools find it difficult to implement inclusion if they are not supported by all parents (ibid). Furthermore, parents have an indirect effect on the social experiences of students with SEN in regular classrooms. For instance, parental attitudes influence the attitude of their children thereby shaping social relationships between typically developing children and those with SEN (de Boer et al., 2012).
Theory: The Matthew Effect
The broader definition of SEN suggests that majority of children identified with SEN come from disadvantaged backgrounds (Riddell et al., 2010). Since inclusive provision occurs within a child’s community, the support and attitude of community members such as parents can have significant implications for the successful inclusion of children with SEN. The limited available evidence on parental attitudes suggests that those from high to average socio-economic (SES) backgrounds tend to be more favourable towards inclusion than parents from a low SES background (e.g., Balboni & Padrabissi, 2000).
This phenomenon is akin to the so-called ‘Matthew Effect’, which proposes that advantages and disadvantages tend to be self-amplifying (Merton, 1988). Therefore, the communities with disadvantaged backgrounds, including the parents, may not be particularly supportive of the inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools. The above shows a potential for multiple disadvantages for children with SEN who come from poorer backgrounds. It is important to emphasise that not all studies observe significant attitudinal differences towards SEN between parents with high and low incomes (Stoiber et al., 1998). However, the potential for the existence of such phenomenon has significant implications for the implementation of SEN policies in poorer communities and the future educational prospects for those children. The current study, therefore, aims to explore the extent to which social disadvantage influences parental attitudes towards inclusion. It will also discuss the policy and practical implications of findings.
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