Good for One and All:
Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs
We are very interested in the question of quality education for all students, and the new meanings and practices that are involved in the pursuit of a more cohesive classroom, based on respect and joint participation. Schools do make a difference so, as new and beginning teachers, there is a responsibility to become acquainted with what can become a reality in Victorian schools in relation to including students with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
The treatment of difference, as it relates to disability, is an area of ongoing contention and struggle in advanced liberal democracies. Australia is a leader in reformist policy, but inclusion of students with SEN in mainstream schools is an area of political contention, which constantly requires negotiation.
The case below plainly illustrates how the culture of schooling needs to change significantly before students such as Jane can be accepted. What is important here is the chasm between policy and practice and the problematic nature of policies and legislation used as tactics in defining and implementing models of inclusive education. This is not a new event; only a re-emergence of an old dilemma regarding what is the ‘appropriate’ site of education for those who are ‘different’ (Meadmore & O’Connor, 1997).
Jane’s case highlights a new and contradictory discontinuity where segregationist practices have been made more possible due to the benchmark decision made by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. While anti-discrimination legislation and social policies have been the key to some extent in bringing students with SEN back into regular classrooms from Special Educational Schools, tactics made possible by the same legal and social infrastructures can also be used to exclude students who are deemed to be unacceptable. The inclusion debate has been deflected so that disability rather than educational outcomes remains the focus. Jane’s case is a reminder that not a lot has changed in the way society views people with disabilities. Some groups, such as the Queensland Teachers’ Union believe that real inclusion is beyond the capacity of schools to provide for students like Jane (Meadmore & O’Connor, 1997).
Special Education: A Brief History
Before the Victorian Equal Opportunities Act 1958, students with disabilities were considered uneducable, and thus have only recently been recognised as needing an education. Since the passing of the Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992, students with educational needs can be part of inclusive education, not just of integration. Previously students with intellectual disabilities have been based in Special School settings, with some of the higher functioning students being integrated into mainstream schools on a part-time basis. With more support, many SEN students can now expect to be based at mainstream schools full-time, but not before the gaps in policy have been filled to cover all students.
Integration is the process of moving SEN students from more restrictive to less restrictive environments and hence enhancing the children’s participation and autonomy. Inclusion is something quite different; it involves these same SEN children attending a mainstream school and class on equal terms to the other students. Inclusive practices are the means by which inclusion is achieved and take into account, but are by no means limited to, the modification and adaptation of curriculum material, peer networking and individualised instruction. Inclusion is characterised by the design of schools, both physically and in the curriculum, to provide full education for all students who wish to attend. This mission to provide adequately for all students applies not only to Government schools, but also to independent and private schools. It is clear that inclusion might exist for certain students in a handful of schools, but it is not the usual policy or practice today in Australia.
The current trend is for education to be made accessible to all; regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, socio-economic status or ability. Caregivers of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are now encouraged to apply for funding and enrol their children in primary schools, rather than placing them in a segregated setting such as a special developmental school. While this is a positive step in the direction of inclusion, schools often do not have the resources or knowledge to support these students fully and outcomes can be less than perfect. Schools, educators, caregivers and students with SEN alike need to be empowered to ensure inclusion is a smooth and uncomplicated process.
Teachers today are expected to cater for the varying abilities and diverse learning needs of students. While many children start school well equipped with academic and social skills that will enable them to adjust to the demands placed on them, the abilities of other children are weaker and therefore they may experience problems in their school life. These students often have difficulties with speech and language, social interaction, following instructions, under-standing and responding to social cues, gross and fine motor skills, behaviour, maturity and personal hygiene (Ashman & Elkins, 2002). They are of great concern to their teachers and require Individual Education Plans (IEP) based on their specific needs.
What Is Inclusive Education?
‘Inclusive education’ is the term used to articulate the rights of students with disabilities, impairments and learning difficulties to participate in the full range of programs and services; and to use any facilities provided by the education system. Values of participation, access and equality are key characteristics of inclusive education. The aim of an inclusive policy is to reduce the number of referrals to special schools giving children with special educational needs the same opportunities to learn as children in mainstream and encouraging a united approach to education instead of separating children by their lack of ability.
What Educational Policies Are In Place For Dealing With Students With Special Needs?
The Meyer Report (Meyer & Massey, 2001) is a review of educational services for students with special educational needs. The findings are discussed in three main areas:
• Financial incentives that emphasise disability and dependence;
• Loss of state-wide consistency and expertise;
• Loss of commitment to inclusive education, innovative practice and strategic planning.
Anti-discrimination and social justice are parts of the inclusion process.
In 1994, the British Labour Party released a paper entitled, ‘Opening Doors to a Learning Society’. This paper was very critical of the current system, and maintains that an education system cannot be deemed successful if it fails most children.
Inclusion: The Advantages for All Students
With the current focus of education being the inclusion of students with a range of learning needs in mainstream classes, creating classes where students support and encourage each other can have widespread positive effects. Teachers can often be reluctant to promote co-operation if they believe that non-disabled students are unlikely to benefit. Positive effects on the behaviour and attitude of students with SEN and their non-disabled peers have been proven, with all students being more inclusive and more accepting of others. Benefits of co-operative learning include increased friendships and positive relationships between students with SEN and their non-disabled peers, improved achievement and increased motivation to learn are also gained by all students (Ashman and Elkins, 2002).
Strategies to Promote Co-Operative Learning
There are many strategies that promote co-operative learning and at the same time make inclusion possible. Many studies have shown how students with SEN benefit academically and socially from co-operative learning strategies.
Some of these strategies include:
• Peer tutoring;
• Interpersonal and
• Small group skills.
When considering a co-operative classroom, teachers must think about:
¸ Group size and composition, group tasks, struc-turing of interaction in groups, peer tutoring, cognitive apprenticeships and process-based instructions.
Developing a Plan
To bring your school closer to making inclusion a reality, here are a few suggestions on how to make it happen (Krajewski & Krajewski, 2000).
• Form a team – gather the best resources you have and the staff that want to see the inclusion of SEN students in your school.
• Initiate planning – set up a timeline of what can be achieved, approach the principal and school board to get them involved and on side.
• Take a holistic approach – inclusion can be across the entire school, not just in one or two classes. Also, students can be involved in the whole curriculum, not just in special subjects.
• Talk to parents – they know what they want for their children and will support your efforts all the way when they see benefits for their children. However, keep in mind that many parents are used to a lot of talk, without much action, so be prepared for a less than enthusiastic initial response.
• Consult & incorporate experts – these professionals can help avoid certain pitfalls and will help your school attain various goals sooner and with a greater level of insight.
• Be positive – offering inclusive education to students and their families can help enrich the lives of some who may not be afforded many opportunities otherwise. Inclusion can be a great experience for the whole student body and teachers and should be approached with this in mind.
What Should Principals Know About Special Education?
Patterson et al (2000) ask the question, ‘are principals prepared to manage special education dilemmas?’ As first year teachers it can be daunting to imagine implementing programs for students with special needs, so it may prove helpful to investigate what support you can expect from administration. Here is a brief outline of what Principals are expected to know and lobby for (Patterson et al, 2000).
¸ Principals must have a basic knowledge of special education services, laws, regulations, court cases and funding;
¸ Principals must understand regional and state policies and their implications for the entire school;
¸ Principals must understand district norms regarding support and guidance of policy implementation;
¸ Principals must participate in ongoing education regarding changes and trends in the field of special education, particularly the multiple definitions of inclusion;
¸ Principals must participate in ongoing education regarding leadership philosophy and strategies that facilitate both school-based management and inclusive practices;
¸ If principals are to assume greater responsibility for special educational programs in their school, district administrators responsible for special education must support them by providing more direct communication and dissemination of accurate and current information.
As a teacher, when you have a student with SEN in your class, the greatest change in the way you teach will be the need for you to become part of an IEP team. Instead of working on your own, you will become an active member of a network of experts, with you being the expert on classroom education. All team members will assist each other by taking on roles that are supportive, caring, facilitative, informative, provide direct assistance and identify specific paths of action.
If continued progress towards inclusion is to be made, several issues must first be addressed by educators, such as: the modification of the curriculum to include the needs of students with a disability; the development of positive attitudes to disability; the role of school integration policies and the possibility of having classroom teachers assume major responsibility for the education of students with special needs. It is critical that we as teachers think optimistically and recognise that these students all have capabilities and it is these capabilities that are the origin of learning. With the idea of social justice in mind, participation in education should not involve discrimination against females, males, ethnic minorities, indigenous groups and those with SEN. This has made integration and inclusion issues of equity.
Another attribute of inclusion is the assimilation into the curriculum of knowledge and values, which are pertinent to each of these groups of students. If all students have informed attitudes and actions, instead of the stereotypes derived from ignorance, a short-term benefit of inclusion should be an adult community that is less likely to discriminate against those with disabilities and thus see equity in including people with disabilities in employment and community living. Much work is needed to fully develop the concept of inclusive education and there is the potential for the concept of inclusive curriculum to be lost, if inclusion becomes merely a synonym for integration or mainstreaming.
A democratic society should provide a system of education for all, based on equity, participation and non-discrimination. This necessitates an alternative vision; one that seeks to learn from the past and begin with renewed vigour, that journey of hope for the future. We are not suggesting that they have adequately dealt with all the questions that relate to the education of students with special educational needs and their peers. It could even be said that we hold views that may be considered contradictory on some level, or have doubts over some of these complex issues. The debate surrounding issues that relate to quality education for all students is ongoing, and is far from having reached a satisfactory conclusion.
Ashman, A. and Elkins, J. (2002). Educating Children with Diverse Abilities. Prentice Hall, NSW.
Board of Studies (2000). Curriculum and Standards Framework II. Board of Studies, Carlton, Victoria, Australia at www.vcaa.vic.edu.au
British Labour Party (1994). Opening Doors to a Learning Society. UK
Inclusion.com (2002). www.inclusion.com [Accessed 8th September 2002].
Krajewski, B and Krajewski, L. (2000). “Inclusion Planning Strategies: Equalizing Opportunities for Cognitively Disabled Students”. NASSP Bulletin, February, pp. 48 – 53.
Meadmore, D and O’Connor, P. (1997). “Benchmarking Disability”. Inclusive Education, 1997, Volume 1, No. 2, pp163-174.
Meyer, L. and Massey, (2001). Better Services, Better Outcomes in Victorian Schools: a Review of Educational Services for Students with Special Educational Needs (Including Students with Learning Difficulties, Disabilities and Impairments). Published by the Office of School Education, Department of Education, Employment and Training, Victoria.
Patterson, J., Marshall, C. and Bowling, D (2000). “Are Principals Prepared To Mange Special Education Dilemmas?” NASSP Bulletin, February, pp. 9 – 20.
Sofweb (2000). www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/disabil/about.htm [Accessed8th September 2002].
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