Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) usually attend a SEN school or attend mainstream education. Those who are included in a mainstream school setting often experience negative attitudes or behaviour from some teachers. Many assume SEN usually refers to students with autism, BESD (behavioural, emotional and social difficulty), visual or hearing impairments. However, S E N as described in the Code of Practice refers to pupils who have a significant difficulty in learning when compared to the majority of pupils of their age or who have a disability which prevents them from making full use of the general educational facilities which are provided.
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Children with SEN who do attend mainstream schools may be in a mainstream class all day, others may be withdrawn from the class for a period of the day and some may rarely meet their typically developing peers e.g. locational inclusion whereby they go to the same campus but are still confined to their own special unit. . Sinclair Taylor (1995) investigated pupils with SEN who experienced this type of “inclusion.” He found that the children knew they were different and that they knew they were being treated differently. Negative approaches and attitudes people have towards others’ differences can then result in negative behaviour such as prejudice and discrimination within society. This then exhibits itself as a significant hindrance to education and learning. Can inclusion conquer this negative thought, or at least attempt to?
The relationship and attitude of teachers towards children with a disability and their inclusion into mainstream schools was investigated by El-Ashry (2009). The study found a negative attitude from the teachers towards these children. However, teachers that reported a relationship with one of the children with a disability spoke more favourably of that child’s inclusion along with the inclusion of others with a disability. Obviously not all teachers’ attitudes towards the inclusion of those with SEN is negative, however from reading it has emerged that many teachers do hold a negative attitude towards children with SEN. This is a very disturbing thought. Parents of typically developing children often have the worry of bullying from classmates. Therefore it seems even more disgraceful for children with SEN, who would rely on those in charge more so than their peers, to be subject to negative attitudes as expresses by some teachers. If this area was investigated further it may give insight into the possibility of the children with SEN picking up on the teachers’ attitude towards them. This attitude could be negative or positive.
Some teachers expressed a fear that if children with SEN were incorporated into their classroom of typically developing children, that the typically developing children would be disrupted. However research by Kalmabouka et al (2007) found there to be no unfavourable effects for the initial students when SEN children were included in the school. Some question whether or not a child with SEN might not be better off in a setting specifically built for their needs. It must be noted that in certain circumstances where a child has severe SEN, that be indeed be the case and inclusion is simply not plausible. However it is cruel to think that a child who, for example, needs a wheelchair, may not be able to attend a mainstream school and receive the chance to experience what their typically developing peers experience due to a mobility “problem”.
In order to achieve successful inclusion within a school teachers would need to receive quality training and have sufficient resources. If a teacher believes inclusion can be achieved without too much “hassle” it may well be that their attitudes towards individual children and the topic of inclusion may grow to be positive (if they were not already so). In a study carried out by Leatherman and Niemeyer (2005) it was established that when teachers encouraged interactions among children with and without SEN, or other disabilities, a positive environment for inclusion was created. When teachers assisted the children’s participation in the activities they also encouraged the development of good relations among the children and succeeded in creating an accepting environment in the classroom.
Therefore just as teachers would need to be prepared for inclusion to happen, the already existing students of the classroom must also be prepared. Several studies examined the effect of programs preparing typically developing pupils for the inclusion of pupils with autism. Lord and Hopkins (1986) taught typically developing pupils that they could interact with pupils with autism and noted that the interactions with these pupils who had undergone preparation and practice were of higher quality (eye contact, response etc.) than the interactions with pupils who received no preparation. Odom and Strain (1984) found that pupils who had undergone appropriate preparation influenced the social ability and functioning of the children with autism in a positive manner.
The proposed intervention aims to significantly reduce negative attitudes and behaviours if not eliminate them. If teachers have a more positive attitude towards children with SEN in their class it makes inclusion more plausible and effective. The child should be at the heart of inclusion and when they feel included and welcomed this will ultimately benefit their education and the social experience that accompanies it.
The capability approach (Nussbaum & Sen 1993 cited by Reindal 2010) provides an understanding of “difference” that is individual and relational. Reindal (2009) suggested that “by adapting the view of difference into a specific variable to be measured provides the opportunity to consider any supplementary needs without delving into individual models, which in turn makes it easier to recognize unfair or unjust practices”. This approach also allows a view of inclusion as an ethical concept whereby the purpose is to adapt for each pupil as it puts the pupil at the centre of the educational enterprise. However, it does not imply a “wholly agent-relative education, because the issue of ‘reason to value’ is consistent with an account of human flourishing and the exercise of freedom”-(Reindal 2010.) It is for that reason that Hinchliffe (2007) views the capability approach as valid reasoning in providing a theoretical framework in favour of inclusion without impairing core educational values.
The Social Model of Disability also provides framework for inclusion. With this model the child is made to feel valued and that they will be taken care of. The appropriate resources can be made available to the schools and the teachers receive what they need to play their part. The model suggests that this enables diversity to be welcomed and therefore will promote a change in society for the better. Strengthening this Model, it’s suggested that for inclusion to be successful the teachers’ attitudes and their readiness to welcoming the children with SEN and to involve them in their class community are extremely important. The students with SEN must feel accepted. This can be seen from work carried out by Avramidis & Norwich, 2002 ( Sharma, Forlin, Loreman & Earle, 2006). Others have shown that when a teacher has a positive attitude towards inclusion the instructional strategies that are used benefit everyone in that class. (Bender, Vail & Scott, 1995; Brophy & Good, 1991). Such teachers are also able to influence encouraging attitudes in the typically developing students on towards their fellow peers with SEN ( Norwicki & Sandieson, 2002).
There would need to be funding for the intervention to work, therefore applying to the correct bodies from Government and The Education and Library Board would be carried out in advance of the intervention.
A Questionnaire measuring teachers’ attitudes towards children with SEN and their inclusion in mainstream schools.
An Interaction Scale used to rate the level of interaction between the participant, and the other groups of participants.
Principals of selected schools in the Belfast area would be contacted and asked to encourage or nominate willing participant teachers. Out of this bank of participants, 40 would be chosen at random and split into three groups.
Group A- 10 teachers who teach/have taught children with SEN in a mainstream school setting,
Group B- 10 teachers who have had no experience. (These would be the participants who would be taking part in the entire intervention.)
Group C- This will be the control group of 20 teachers, 10 who teach/taught those with SEN and 10 who haven’t. These participants wouldn’t be taking part in the intervention but would fill out the questionnaires at the same times as the other participants.
The other participants include the principals of the chosen mainstream schools that practice inclusion, the teachers of the school (teachers of the SEN children and selection of classroom teachers,) the children with SEN, their peers and the parents of both. However the responses of these participants are not measured.
Each participant in Group A would fill out an anonymous questionnaire to capture their personal feelings towards inclusion, It would then be returned to a researcher either by hand or by post. Participants would then as individuals, attend a mainstream school which demonstrates the practice of inclusion of children with SEN. On the first day, the participant would watch the child in the classroom environment and other locations where the social functioning of the child can be observed closely. At the end of the school day the participant would then get to meet the principal, those children with SEN and their parents and a random selection of their typically developing peers and their parents. The teacher can ask questions and interact freely whilst a researcher would observe and rate them on a scale of interaction. (See materials). The reasoning behind this activity is to enable the teachers to learn firsthand how others in a successful setting of inclusion feel. Observation scan provide insight into teacher’s body language etc while they interact with the children with SEN.
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This is repeated for each participant from groups A and B. A week after the last participant’s observation, there would then be a final awareness day. This could be held in any mainstream school settings on a non teaching day. An educational psychologist, among other educational specialists, would give a talk to the child, its siblings, parents, teachers giving a brief outline on what SEN is etc. Finally, every participant in groups A, B and C would then fill in a final questionnaire aimed at finding out how their views had changed as a result of the intervention. The results would then be analysed.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention the questionnaires will be scrupulously examined along with the Interaction scores of each participant. Some of the questions on the final questionnaire will actually ask the participant to evaluate and rate the experience to see if it affected a change of attitude. The data would be valid due to the anonymity factor. Responses from the various groups, colour coded to avoid confusion , will remain anonymous to give a geuine response . The process whereby the participant actually observes the children with SEN can be repeated as many times as funding, time and the willingness of all involved will permit. This in turn can enable, after future research and planning, the possibility for more children to be included in mainstream schools and teachers being more positive about them being there. The desired outcome would be to observe an increase in the positive attitudes towards the children with SEN and their inclusion into mainstream school.
The current intervention would be aimed firstly at primary schools, starting as a small scale study due to time and funding. If successful, following further investigations, the intervention could be applied to secondary schools and hopefully on a more universal scale. Participation in the scheme would allows those involved to gain a recognised certificate of an enhanced level of training (an arrangement previously agreed by the ELB etc.) which would add to their qualifications.
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