Inclusion loses its rosy tint

3rd October 2008 at 01:00
Emma Seith reports from the annual conference of the Association of Scottish Educational Psychologists

Probationers become significantly less enthusiastic about inclusion after their first year in teaching and take a similar view to colleagues who have been in the job for decades, a recent study has found.

When teachers were fresh out of college, educational psychologist Chris Boyle found, their ideals were more "rose tinted"; then "reality kicks in". After one year, there was no difference between the way a new teacher perceived inclusion and a teacher who had been in the profession for 30 years, he said.

Mr Boyle's study, which involved 391 teachers, deputes and heads in 19 South Lanarkshire schools, also found female teachers were more positive about inclusion than their male counterparts, and heads and deputes looked on inclusion more favourably than unpromoted staff and department heads.

But the more positive attitude of the senior management team did not rub off on their staff. Mr Boyle questioned whether heads and deputes were more inclusive or if they were just "toeing the party line".

However, teachers were not as negative about inclusive education as was often portrayed, said Mr Boyle, and their attitudes towards the policy improved if they had received training in special education.

Even basic training, attending a module or a course for half a day, he found, made teachers more inclusive, but 68 per cent had received no additional training in the area since graduation.

To make any policy work, teachers had to be on side and consulted. This, he said, was where inclusion was failing.

He said it was "reassuring but not surprising" that the most inclusive department in schools was support for learning. However, attitudes towards the policy were no different between teachers who knew someone with special educational needs and those who did not.

The attitude of staff in non-practical and practical subjects, such as music and art, where class sizes are smaller, was also on a par.

Teachers were asked to rate, on a sliding scale from one to six, the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with questions such as "students with additional support needs should be educated in mainstream school" and "including children with additional support needs in class can adversely affect the learning environment of the class".

The average rating for the questions was 3.5, causing Mr Boyle to conclude teachers were neither passionately for nor against inclusion.

In a follow-up study, which explored attitudes further with 43 teachers, the vast majority said the way to make inclusion work was to have specialist units attached to mainstream schools with a high level of access available for children to mix socially and academically.

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