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Perspectives on special needs education

Interestingly enough, we can distinguish two completely different approaches to the question of perspectives on special needs education. On the one hand, we have those who think that the discussion is unnecessary and leads in the wrong direction. The important thing is to find ways to help students with problems. Why discuss different perspectives?

On the other hand, we have those who believe that the issue of perspective is absolutely central to the area. According to this approach, different perspectives provide completely different understandings of problems in school and how they can be handled

Those who advocate that the perspective issue is important are almost always critical of the group that believes that the perspective issue is more or less irrelevant. Furthermore, the former group believes that the latter also has a perspective, although it is often unspoken. The group's perspective is referred to in slightly different ways, for example as a shortcoming perspective, a compensatory perspective or as a categorical perspective.

Interestingly, these researchers do not have their own name for their perspective because they do not see the perspective issue as relevant. However, I would argue that they have a perspective, let's for simplicity's call it a compensatory perspective here.

The compensatory perspective is described by the researchers who discuss the perspective issue, often in opposition to some other perspective, often a relational perspective. The subtext is that the latter perspective is more developed than the former, although it is rarely stated correctly.

No one who has a compensatory perspective writes as far as I know about the perspective issue. This is quite logical because the starting point is usually that there is only one starting point, one's own, within the framework of which one studies the world as it is.

Personally, I believe that both of these approaches can contribute to the development of work with students in need of special support in school. Unfortunately, however, communication between the positions is lacking. This is not so strange because in both cases it is often difficult to see what you can learn from the other camp.

As an example of a lack of communication, I can mention that when I was once commissioned by the Swedish Research Council to arrange a conference with the country's professors in the field of special education, they failed with a more pronounced compensatory perspective. It may in itself have been a coincidence, but I could give more examples of similar phenomena.

My experience is that perspective meetings are demanding but rewarding. These meetings can force you to re-evaluate what you have taken for granted, which is always a process that challenges and takes time. When at one point I wanted to immerse myself within the framework of the compensatory perspective, I contacted some leading researchers with compensatory approaches and it gave me new insights. What became clear to me was not least the actual variation in students' conditions.

In any case, my starting point is that it is not possible to approach the area without having some form of perspective and that it is also important to be clear with which perspective is used and what legitimizes the chosen perspective. The perspectives differ mainly when it comes to defining what is problematic when problems arise in educational contexts.

Where is the problem located?

Several have thus argued that the perspectives differ with regard to where the problem is located. The starting point is then that special education is what could be called a "problem discourse", ie it is about problems that arise in the education system. I think almost everyone can share that starting point.

The problem can be attributed to various factors: the student, the student's social background, the way the class works, the teaching, the school leadership, the education policy, the discourses of professionals and society to name a few of the most common.

A dividing line can be said to go between those who focus on student factors and those who focus on environmental factors when problems arise in school. It feels like the former group is now starting to gain traction partly due to more general societal changes, such as an increased focus on the individual's performance in relation to pre-determined goals in school and the more general and new-age tendency to biologize identities in modern society.

How, then, can a compromise be reached between what appear to be fundamentally different views?

A dilemma perspective

My proposal for such a compromise is to see school difficulties as a dilemma. These dilemmas are basically about how differences should be handled within the framework of the education system. The dilemma means that you have to find a balance between goals that are desirable but also go against each other. The dilemma requires a balance to be achieved, but unlike problems, the dilemma cannot be solved.

An absolutely fundamental dilemma is about finding a balance between seeing difference as an asset (which is desirable) and giving students extra support (which is also desirable, but requires them to be singled out and valued negatively).

Unfortunately, the dilemma perspective is often misunderstood. I think the word "dilemma" struck because many feel that special education is a complex area. But what many people mean by the term "dilemma" is something that I would characterize as "problems", which thus differ from the dilemma in that they do not create a need for balance but rather a need for solutions.

The dilemma perspective is also based on the fact that it is seen as ethically problematic to point out children and students as deviant. I have met many people in the field of special education who do not see this as problematic at all and then one starts from a compensatory rather than a dilemma perspective.

In a more critical perspective on special education where the problem is placed in the environment, on the other hand, one misses, among other things, that any existing education system as we know them will value students because this is more or less inevitable. Such a critical perspective then easily becomes an advocacy of utopias which are difficult to realize.

The dilemma perspective in my interpretation is closer to a critical than a compensatory perspective but tries to address some of the shortcomings in a more critical perspective. At the same time, it is very important to take into account insights gained within the framework of more compensatory approaches.

Since I do not claim in my interpretation of a dilemma perspective that there is a right way to look at how education systems should handle the dilemma, the question of who should decide the perspective becomes important. This is an issue that has hardly received attention within either the compensatory perspective or the critical / relational perspective. Therefore, I have seen it as important to raise the issue of democracy in relation to special education. The question of who should decide the perspective thus becomes at least as important as which perspective professionals should work from.

A quest to communicate clearer….

In various contexts, I have strived to communicate clearer about what I mean by a dilemma perspective. Now I have also had the time and opportunity to work on my book Perspective on special needs education, which has just been published in a third edition (see reference below).

In this new edition, I have thus tried to become even clearer, not least with regard to the description of the dilemma perspective. For example, I have built on and developed examples used in previous blogs in order to concretize the consequences that different perspectives, including the dilemma perspective, have for everyday work.

Although my book is about theoretical perspectives on special education, I thus believe that they have clear implications for everyday work. I have also included study questions in each chapter which are intended to help the reader go into the different perspectives in depth.

The new edition also has a new cover that I am very fond of. The cover is designed by Karl Stefan Andersson. On the cover is the German artist Adam Macke's painting "Segelboot am morgen", which is intended to inspire a journey among different perspectives on special education.

 

Nilholm, Claes. (2020) Perspektiv på specialpedagogik. Lund: Studentlitteratur. (3rd edition)

Which teaching method is the best?

The question in the title is intentionally a bit provocative. Active teachers usually work with several different methods / working methods and many researchers believe that the search for a sacred method-Grail is fruitless.

This does not lead us to relativism. On the contrary, a number of working methods in school have been eliminated because studies have shown that they have not kept their promises, for example the idea that gross-motor training facilitates early reading and writing learning. Furthermore, different working methods have varying support in research. There are thus good reasons to delve into research on methods / working methods.

This is exactly what we did in the research project "Research on teaching - a mapping and analysis of research landscapes" (see link below). More specifically, as part of the project, we have mapped and analyzed the research overviews of teaching methods / working methods that have been highly cited in the Web of Science database.

Since the research on pedagogical methods / working methods is extremely extensive, we chose to analyze research overviews and not original studies. We call our own mapping and analysis an overview, i e an overview of research overviews.

The 75 overviews we have analyzed represent a number of different methods / working methods, from those associated with progressive pedagogy, over those that deal with the importance of different artifacts in teaching to more cognitively oriented research. A lot of the studies are meta-analyzes which provide numerical measures of the effectiveness of specific working methods.

In this blog, I want to discuss the question in the title and with the help of an analysis we have done show why it is so difficult to answer. But first something about how the analysis was carried out.

To map and analyze a research landscape

The approach, SMART (Systematic Mapping and Analysis of Research Topographies), used in the project is based on an interest in what researchers in a particular field focus on (see references and links below about SMART). This differs from the points of departure for the “what works” research which characterizes the evidence movement and which seeks answers to what is effective in achieving a certain purpose (usually but not always some form of knowledge achievement).

Based on the assumption that research that is highly cited is seen as important by the research community, systematic mapping and analyzes of such “high-impact” research are carried out. As mentioned, the research on teaching is extremely extensive and therefore we did not start from original research but from research overviews in our analysis.

The 75 most cited research overviews on methods / working methods in Web of Science over a 40-year period were thus mapped and analyzed. The empirical analysis carried out by Associate Professor Åsa Hirsh at the University of Gothenburg (see reference and link to the article where the overview is reported below) focused on the problems identified by the article authors themselves regarding what conclusions could be drawn about the teaching methods / working methods that were in focus for their reviews.

It should be pointed out that this analytical approach is very unusual when compiling research. Usually, through the compilation of research, guidelines are sought for how teaching should be set up and thus the fous is on what is effective. Interestingly enough, we came to that question as well but via detours after having started at a completely different point.

Three problems identified in the research reviews

Through a very careful analysis of the research overviews (see summary in article), Åsa found three recurring challenges which were identified by many article authors.

The first problem concerned the presence of moderating factors. Moderating factors are those that can be said to qualify conclusions about the use of working methods. Does it work differently for different teaching content? For different ages? For students at different levels? About 40 such moderating factors were identified in the analysis, which together give rise to an almost infinite amount of possible combinations.

The second problem that many article writers identified was that the approach required competent teachers in order to be realized. This can be said to be something of a paradox as it is perhaps above all less competent / experienced teachers who need clearer guidelines in the form of specific working methods.

The third problem, which is linked to the two previous ones and which was identified in several of the articles, is the well-known “research-practice gap”, i e the difficulty of transferring “findings” from research to school reality.

Interestingly enough, these problems tended to be recurring throughout the 40-year period. It was thus not the case that the research community had found a solution to the problems, even though there are suggestions on how they should be solved. Interestingly, the responsibility for the gap was often left to the research rather than to the teachers. The research was judged to be not enough didactic and too little carried out under natural conditions.

Conclusions

We found that there were actually two fundamentally different ways for us to relate to the outcome of the analysis. On the one hand, a more critical way that demonstrated the difficulty of drawing conclusions from the research due to the recurring problems. Maybe another type of research is needed in order to develop teaching?

On the other hand, it was possible to relate to the outcome of the overview in a way that was more focused on how the identified problems could be handled in different ways. This was the path that we for different reasons decided to follow in the article. In such a perspective, the problems can be seen as a result of a contradiction between the striving to find more general conclusions and the need for context-bound decisions that active teachers need to make.

In other words, while research strives to comment on the outcome of a way of working /a method on a more general level ("what works"), the use of a way of working/a method in school involves questions of "what works" for whom, for what knowledge content, under what circumstances, etc.

One solution to this problem that we discuss in the article is that research must become even clearer in terms of the circumstances in which a teaching method works. This means that the contexts in which studies are conducted must be described carefully. To reconnect to the question in the blog's title, we could expect a method / way of working to work differently under different circumstances.

In this way, there is an opportunity for those who want to use research results to be able to better see which aspects of the research context are transferable to the context in which the results are to be applied and which are not. Then it may be more possible to determine which aspects of a teaching method that are transferable to one's own situation.

A problem that we do not discuss in the overview but which becomes clear when analyzing research on teaching methods is that the outcome of working methods / methods is seldom analyzed in relation to a broad mission for the school involving more than knowledge transfer, e.g. social and democratic goal. Thus there is every reason to be very careful in drawing implications from the research on teaching methods to classroom teaching.

 

Link to the home-page of the research project:

https://www.edu.uu.se/research/education/specialneeds/smart/

 

Book in which the approach (SMART) used in the study described above is described in detail:

Nilholm, Claes. (2017) SMART – ett sätt att genomföra forskningsöversikter. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

/SMART – a way to conduct research reviews/

This article provides a (condensed) description in English of the approach:

Román, H., Sundberg, D., Hirsh, Å,. Forsberg, E. och Nilholm, C. (2021) "Mapping and analysing reviews of research on teaching, 1980-2018, in Web of Science: An overview of a second-order research topography". Review and Education. (ännu endast som web-publicering: https://bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rev3.3258)

 

The article described in this blog:

Hirsh, Å., Nilholm, C., Roman, H., Forsberg, E. och Sundberg, D. (2020) Review of teaching methods - which fundamental issues are idenfied? Published on-line.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20004508.2020.1839232

 

What interventions for preschool childen with autism have evidence?

For a long time, children with autism were not considered worth investing in, which changed when studies began to emerge in the early 1980s which showed that exercise can significantly improve development. There is a consensus that it is important to have a lot of training and structured learning for younger children with autism, but there are divided opinions about which interventions give the best results.

In this blog, I will first report on a recently published meta-analysis of Sandbank et al (see reference below) that focuses on the issue in the title of the blog. A meta-analysis provides numerical values ​​for how effective different efforts are.

So which initiatives are supported in the research according to Sandbank et al? And can we trust their conclusions? Let's start with the first question.

A meta-analysis of interventions for children with autism

In the article, the authors distinguish between seven different interventions for children with autism (0-8 years) and I briefly reproduce here their description of the seven interventions.

Behavioral interventions (1) are the interventions that were first used systematically with children with autism. This type of intervention is usually summarized as ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy and is the intervention that is most common in the American context. There are rigorous training programs developed at universities and colleges in how to work with behavioral interventions.

Development-related interventions (2) are partly in opposition to the more behavior-oriented interventions and are based on constructivist principles such as a view of the child as active. Vygotsky's theories have also influenced these methods, such as the idea that children develop in interaction with more knowledgeable people.

Naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions (3) are described as a mixture of (1) and (2) while TEACHH (4) is a program that contains carefully planned activities and structured environments, recurring routines and a high degree of visual support. Sensory-oriented interventions (5) are based on the idea that basic sensory functions need to be stimulated in order for children with autism to eventually develop more advanced functions.

Efforts built around relationships with animals (6) usually involve riding, which is assumed to lead to positive effects such as increased sensory stimulation and increased motivation. Efforts with technological aids (7), finally, involve technical aids such as computers, video, computer games and robots, which are expected to stimulate a positive development.

A "Public significance statement" reproduced in the article (p 2) summarizes the overall outcome of the meta-analysis:

“This comprehensive meta-analysis of interventions for young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggests that naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions and developmental intervention approaches have amassed enough quality evidence to be considered promising for supporting children with ASD in achieving a range of developmental outcomes. Behavioral intervention approaches also show evidence of effectiveness, but methodological rigor remains a pressing concern in this area of research. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of TEACHH, sensory-based interventions, animal-assisted interventions, and interventions mediated solely through technology at this time.”

The meta-analysis puts the development-related interventions in a positive light, but we can be absolutely convinced that the last word has not been said in this discussion (see below). It is also the case that development-related interventions so far have mainly been shown to have a positive impact on communicative skills, while naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions and behavioral interventions have been investigated for and shown to have a positive effect on a wider range of skills.

Gathering evidence - the importance of choices made

It is easy to perceive evidence as an almost thing-like entity that that can be extracted from research. Many people want answers to questions such as "Is there evidence for the intervention / method X" but unfortunately it is seldom possible to give a simple answer. There are different ways of making research reviews and the choices we make have consequences for the conclusions we will end up with.

One choice that Sandbank and others make, which has enormous consequences for the conclusions drawn, is that they completely opt out of research with so-called single-case designs, that is studies with only a few participants. They believe that such studies are not strict enough to be used in a meta-analysis. Furthermore, it should also be pointed out that studies with qualitative approaches have also been excluded.

Other choices they have made that also have consequences for their conclusions concern how studies are searched for in databases, the weight of different studies, the significance given to what the control group has done, what significance should be given how long an effort lasts and so on.

An additional choice with absolutely decisive consequences leaves Sandbank and others partly to the reader. That choice is about whether the conclusions of the meta-analysis should be based on all included studies (note that studies with single-case design have already been excluded) or only on those that live up to high methodological requirements.

When studies with a lower degree of methodological strictness are included, the behavioral interventions turn out to be significantly better than when only those who live up to high methodological requirements (randomized group designs where participants are randomly distributed among the intervention and control groups) are included. If, on the other hand, we set the methodological requirements for methodolgy very high, all studies will lapse!

Compiling evidence - the importance of the question being asked

What evidence is found has further to a large extent also to do with how the question about evidence is posed. In the analysis referred to here, the question is which interventions are effective for children with autism. This means that the special nature in the form of the medical diagnosis has been taken as a starting point for the overview.

We can also think of other ways to ask the question: What interventions are effective for children with autism who go to a regular group of children? What working methods are generally fruitful for developing communication and social interaction for all children? Which working methods are fruitful for the children who have problems with communication and social interaction? We can also more closely, so to speak, nail down the specialty: What interventions are effective for children with autism who also have an intellectual disability? Each question requires different types of evidence to be answered.

It is important to note that some research reviews only include research conducted in integrated environments (see examples of such reviews below).

Other choices, other conclusions - an example

At the time of writing, I get hold of a fresh research overview on evidence for interventions in autism by Steinbrenner and others (see link below) who use a completely different methodology than Sandbank and others. They also cover a longer development period (0-22 years). I argued above that the choices made when conducting research reviews are of great importance.

Since Steinbrenner and others make different choices than Sandhurst and others, it is illustrative to compare the consequences this has. The differences I want to highlight here are that Steinbrenner and others choose a) to approve of studies with single-case design b) not to calculate effect sizes and c) to identify and name interventions in a different way.

The choice to include studies with single-case studies has the consequence that the number of studies increases enormously, as this is historically the most common study design in the field. It is also used, as I understand it, almost exclusively by researchers with behavioral analytic starting points, and many of these studies also provide support for such initiatives.

The choice not to analyze effect sizes makes it difficult to compare the effect of the interventions, so to speak. To simplify a little bit, we can say that Sandbank and others analyze, just like John Hattie, who jumps the highest, while Steinbrenner and others examine who gets above a certain height.

Steinbrenner and others thus find a very large number of interventions that come over this bar (28) or which they believe have the potential to do so in the future (12). As this research expands rapidly, we can expect even more efforts that, according to this decision logic, have evidence.

The choice of how interventions are defined and named is also of great importance. The number of interventions identified and the terms used are different from those in Sandbank's and others' analysis.

Steinbrenner and others distinguish interventions involving behavioral analysis techniques (to the number clearly dominant involving e.g. modeling, singe-trial learning, behavioral momentum intervention) over more psychologically oriented interventions (for example social skills training, self-management) to more pedagogically oriented working methods (music-mediated interventions, direct teaching). Translating these interventions into the seven interventions that Sandbank and others identify is certainly not an easy task.

It is also worth noting that many of the interventions mentioned in the two reviews probably work for all children. However, the interventions are discussed more or less decoupled from this question and from the question of how the pedagogical environment in the preschool as a whole is shaped. Of course, the lack of mapping and description of the environment also makes it more difficult to see how the mainly American research becomes relevant for e.g. Swedish preschool environments.

A final word

My ambition in this blog has been quite modest, namely to present a research overview and at the same time illustrate and discuss choices made when evidence is compiled and the consequences such choices can have.

From an inclusion perspective, it is of course important that the activities in the preschool maintain a high quality with a learning environment that is adapted based on the fact that children have different prerequisites for participating. It is therefore very problematic if the discussion about interventions for children with autism in preschool is conducted alongside discussions about how the environment in general should be designed and the interventions that benefit all children.

No matter how well the general environment is designed, however, we can expect that some children still need targeted support, which must also sometimes be given outside what happens in the regular child / student group. Many children with autism pose great challenges for educators in preschool and it is of course good to know the research that tries to map interventions that help children reach the goals of preschool education. Ultimately, it is always important to map the situation of the individual child. It is of course important to map both strengths and difficulties and to try to understand the child's behavior based on the complex context in which the child is involved.

 

Sandbank M, Bottema-Beutel K, Crowley S, Cassidy M, Dunham K, Feldman JI, Crank J, Albarran SA, Raj S, Mahbub P och, Woynaroski, TG. (2020) Project AIM: Autism intervention meta-analysis for studies of young children. Psychological Bulletin, 146 (1), 1-29.

Examples of overview articles where integration / inclusion is taken as a starting point for the overview

Gunning, C., Breatnach, O., Holloway, J. McTiernan, A. and Malone, B. (2019) A systematic review of peer-mediated interventions for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder in inclusive settings. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (6), 40–62.

Meindl, J., Delgado, D. and Casey, L. (2020) Increasing engagement in students with autism in inclusion classrooms. Children and Youth Services Review.

Link to blog about the importance of the control group:

Link to systematic research overview by Steinbrenner et al:

https://ncaep.fpg.unc.edu/sites/ncaep.fpg.unc.edu/files/imce/documents/EBP%20Report%202020.pdf

(in the review there is also a link to a material that deals with how the evidence-based efforts can be used in practice)

Has inclusion gone too far? - the Swedish experience

Sweden has taken a move away from the international trend in special needs which is preoccupied with how more inclusive learning environments can be created. Instead the Swedish system seems to be heading towards more segregated educational solutions.

The issue of inclusive education has a long history by now but it seems important to scrutinize the main arguments for and against inclusion as well as the empirical evidence bearing on this issue when inclusion becomes challenged as in the case of Sweden.

Two positions on inclusive education

On the one hand, we have those who believe that placement in ordinary classes is a matter of democracy and rights. On the other hand, we have those who advocate placement in ordinary classes if it is proven to be more effective.

Many thus believe that it is a democratic and human right for students in different types of difficulties / with disabilities to be allowed to participate in the ordinary school environment. Throughout history, people with disabilities have been more marginalized than perhaps any other group in society and have been relegated to institutions and special solutions on the side.

This marginalization has been criticized on ethical and political grounds. The Norwegian researcher Peder Haug (1998) has perhaps most thoughfully developed these arguments in relation to the development of the school in the welfare state. Haug, like the European Commission presently, see inclusion almost as a prerequisite for building a democratic society. Students should not be singled out and expelled but be part of a community in school that prepares for active participation in a democratic society.

Many further argue that other students learn from the fact that students in difficulty are present in the classroom by becoming more alert to and tolerant of the fact individuals are different. It is further argued that teachers can learn a lot from working with students in different types of difficulties provided that they receive the right support and help.

The efficiency position fits well with the philosophy of New Public Management and its economic metaphors where educational achievement is the main currency in which the school is evaluated. The arguments for inclusion are based on the idea that students in difficulties / with disabilities going to regular classes will be stimulated by the other students thus raising their educational achievement. Correspondingly, it is believed that special educational groups and resource schools set too low requirements and dilute curricula.

Arguments against students in difficulties/with disabilities going to regular classes

These arguments have often been based on the premise that segregated educational solutions are for the pupils’ own good. In this way pupil in difficulties/with disabilities must be saved from the prejudices of society and also have an educational situation tailored to their specific needs. Small and quiet environments with persons specially trained to take care of / teach these students are deemed to be beneficial for them.

These students’ needs will thus be met by creating adapted special environments. These special environments also provide opportunities to meet other students in the same situation and to make friends.

It is further often claimed that placement in a small group is time-limited, a way to prepare students to be able to function in the regular class.

In the school context, the argument has sometimes been that pupils in difficulties/with disabilities create problems for the other students, even though it (so far) has been difficult to express such an opinion in public in Sweden. Such arguments are most often used when it comes to students who disturb the order in the school.

An additional argument for segregated educational solutions is that it has proved difficult to create environments that is genuinely inclusive in ordinary classrooms.

What about research?

The main conclusion from research is that placing pupils in difficulties in regular classes does not seem to affect their performance negatively. However, it should be pointed out that this field of research faces several methodological challenges so one should be very cautious when drawing conclusions. Research further shows that teachers and parents are generally not entirely positive to inclusion, but their attitudes are often not related to the nature of the environment in which the pupil is placed (see below which factors are usually pointed out as essential for creating an inclusive environment). It is thus difficult to draw any major conclusions from these studies of attitudes.

It should be pointed out that the research I have invoked here has largely been conducted on the basis of the efficiency position. Many who advocate the placement of students in difficulty in regular classes believe that it is not an empirical question whether such a placement is good or not since participation in regular education is a fundamental democratic right. An analogy can clarify: We do not mean that it is an empirical question whether the public's voting rights are good, but it is something we value as such.

Conclusions

It sounds strange when the politicians who have been responsible for the development of the Swedish school system in recent years claim that "inclusion" has gone too far, when it is a fact that the Swedish educational system has become increasingly segregated. From being seen by many as an international forerunner, not least in terms of equivalence, the Swedish system has become increasingly divided. This applies both when we look at educational performance and when we look at who end up in the same schools and classrooms. Housing segregation and school choice are important factors behind this development.

However, it is not this segregation that is meant by the statement that “inclusion has gone too far” but the question of where students with disabilities / in other types of difficulties should get their education. It is obvious to many that the Swedish school system has not succeed in creating the necessary environments for many of these students, even if we must not forget that some good educators have succeed well in integrating students with difficulties in ordinary classrooms.

It is, according to most, a lot of factors that must be at hand for a placement in a regular class to succeed for pupils in need of special support / with a disability: visions, adapted teaching and assessment, acceptance, support, resources, well-developed leadership and a working collaboration student health-special educator / special teacher-teacher to name the most important factors. If all these factors are present and it still does not seem to work with a placement in a regular class for a pupil, naturally other educational solutions such as a smaller group should be considered.

It is the case that these environments have been not been at hand for many pupils in the Swedish school system. Thus, the need to segregate is probably more a sign of the lack of system difficulties rather than the occurrence of pupils who are, almost by nature, impossible to include. It becomes cynical to say that inclusion has gone too far if the problem is that teachers and students do not get the support they need.

A hypothesis that seems to have some support is that the free choice of school means that students with disabilities risk being seen as a burden and are being excluded by schools and / or other parents / students. That free school choice also meant to opt out of others was one of several aspects that were not given the necessary consideration when introducing free school choice in the Swedish school system.

The fact that some independent schools also focus on students in need of special support (e g students with NPF) can also increase the proportion of segregated solutions in the Swedish system. From the democracy perspective on inclusion advocated by, for example, Haug and the European Commission, this whole development is of course very worrying.

The focus in the Swedish school system is on goal fulfillment (knowledge goals). The idea that students in different types of difficulties will find it easier to achieve the knowledge goals in smaller groups is however something that is not supported by the research as discussed above. It could be argued that placement in smaller groups means that responsible politicians do not have to address more general problems in the Swedish school system.

It is a little bit frightening that the Swedish school system is becoming increasingly divided based on categories such as class, ethnicity and functionality. To a large extent, we have regained what the Swedish educational professor Tomas Englund so aptly called "the paradise lost", that is, parts of the bourgeoisie's dream of a return to the old parallel school system. The lifeline that many Swedish school politicians seem to stick to is that if more students reach the knowledge goals, then the crisis identified is over. Although I am the first to emphasize the importance of basic knowledge, there are two major problems with that attitude.

Firstly, there is a lack of a more basic analysis of knowledge and its role in schooling and, secondly, there is a risk of missing other basic goals such as increasing the pupils desire to learn, to educate for democracy, the development of virtues as responsibility, personal development (which is a value many teachers highlight), promotion of community and last but not least the promotion of health.

It is lastly important to point out the almost non-existent trust in the political governance that seem to exist among Swedish teachers. It is frightening that about only one in ten teachers has confidence in school politicians.

 

Inclusion in a dilemma perspective

It is of course possible to have different opinions about exactly how the idea of ​​inclusion appears from a dilemma perspective. Here I will start from my own interpretation of what a dilemma perspective means in relation to the issue of inclusion. My interpretation has emerged from a book chapter "Theorizing special education - time to move on?" by Alan Dyson and his collaborators (see reference below).

The dilemma perspective is founded on the fact that educational systems have to deal with certain basic dilemmas, which means that the systems must find a balance rather than reaching an endpoint where all contradictions end. Such a fundamental dilemma concerns whether certain students should be categorized as deficient in various respects or whether all students should be treated as unique individuals.

What Dyson et al meant was that the movement for inclusive schools and classrooms tended to ignore the contradictions and dilemmas that all education systems have to deal with. It was not the case that Dyson and his collaborators were opposed to schools and classrooms developing in an inclusive direction, but they criticized theorists who postulated in advance what characterizes an inclusive school more or less without taking into account fundamental dilemmas and contradictions.

In this way, there was something almost imperious in the idea of ​​inclusion. It was already decided in advance what inclusion meant and also in part how inclusion should be implemented. In some of these visions, it was imagined that all students would meet as individuals in a community without derogatory categorizations and special solutions. All actually existing schools and classrooms could only deviate in a negative direction from this ideal image.

Dyson et al further argued that there are several legitimate perspectives regarding how society should shape education and provide support for students in different types of difficulties. Representatives of the inclusion movement should thus not have a monopoly on how education should be configured.

From the realization that there are several legitimate perspectives on schooling, the step is not far to ask who should decide which perspective to choose. My own conclusion had been that this is a question for democracy. I have argued that the question of democracy is overriding the question of how education should be shaped. The question of who should decide over the education system is thus more fundamental than what form it should take. But who then decides on education in our democracy? In order to approach this issue, the Swedish educational system will be used as an illustration.

Education within Swedish democracy

In the Swedish society, there is a relatively clear division of power with regard to the issue that ended the previous paragraph. Elected politicians determine overall goals for the school system which are expressed in laws and regulations such as the school law and the curriculum. School authorities, teachers, principals and others have to work within the framework of these objectives. Students and parents are also given certain opportunities to influence what happens within the school.

The role of research is to critically examine the school system but also to facilitate that the democratically decided objectives of the system can be realized. Researchers have different opinions about which of these objectives that are most important.

Politicians are accountable to the citizens in elections. In a democracy, it is important that citizens have knowledge to be able to assess how well politicians carry out their work. In this way, it also becomes important how different activities are described in the media.

Thus the democratic system in itself distributes power regarding who is to decide what as concerns schooling. Thus, even if a person, such as myself, is affirmative of the idea of inclusion, I believe we should to take the power distribution in the democratic society as our point of departure when deciding what school system to develop.

Inclusion and dilemmas

From a dilemma perspective, it thus becomes important to take the purpose decided for the school seriously, while at the same time it becomes legitimate to criticize the school system for not achieving the objectives that are decided upon in the democratic process. Since the Swedish school law and the curriculum prescribes a more inclusive system than is to be found in practice it is legitimate to critize the system from a democratic standpoint.

It is important to again emphasize that a dilemma perspective is based on the fact that one cannot ignore basic dilemmas in the education system. On the one hand, it is desirable that students are treated as individuals and that differences between students are viewed as natural variation. It is also desirable to avoid segregated learning environments. On the other hand, students need to be categorized, among other things so that support needs can be identified, and sometimes support may need to be given outside the work in the regular classroom.

The recognition of such dilemmas means that from a dilemma perspective it is not seen as possible to achieve the almost utopian state prescribed by certain inclusion theorists.

My own attitude is that we should mainly see students as individuals, the difference between students as differences and promote participation. However, it is a utopia that we could get there and all known education systems use categorizations (for example to make it clear who should have extra support), shortcomings (because there are requirements for what is to be achieved) and also in some ways use compensatory solutions.

To sum up. There are two aspects in a dilemma perspective that have significant consequences for the issue of inclusion. First, the recognition of different legitimate viewpoints within the dilemma perspective means that the question of power becomes absolutely central. Second, the identification of fundamental dilemmas implies a skepticism that a utopian inclusive state can be created. Of course, the latter does not mean that school systems can be more or less inclusive, but it seems wiser to try to take steps in the right direction than to be seduced by a goal that is more or less unrealistic.

 

Clark, C., Dyson, A. & Millward, A. 1998: Theorising: special education. Time to move on? I C. Clark, A. Dyson & A. Millward (red): Theorising special educa-tion. London: Routledge.

Special needs and intersectionality

For quite some time now, the concept of intersectionality has been on the rise. Intersectionality means that different identity belongings such as gender, class, entities, sexual orientation, functionality, etc. interact. It is possible to see society as being made up of different power structures that are built up by opposites, dichotomies, where one category is considered superior to the other.

The Swedish researcher Yvonne Hirdman's theory of the gender system is an example of an analysis of such a power system, where the man is superior to the woman and thus constitutes the norm. The point in an intersectionality perspective is that the power structures interact.

It is easy to see the theory of intersectionality as a project for the academic left. The expression power structure seem to indicate this. But I think it is quite possible to also see it as a liberal project, it is about releasing individuals from limiting structures. Anyway, when I lecture on these issues, I usually point out the great progress that has been made during my lifetime concerning these things (although, of course, it is a long way to go and that some signs of the time are really worrying).

Individuals and groups that have been marginalized now have better opportunities to realize their life projects. Special education is closely associated with a power structure that is based on functionality and the dichotomy "able-bodied / disabled". Let's take a closer look at this dichotomy.

Functionality

There is no given boarder between what is considered body-functional and a disability. There are a number of disability groups with a long history such as developmental disability, visual impairment / blindness, deafness / hearing loss and various types of motor functional impairments. In recent years, a number of new disabilities have become increasingly frequent, such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.

Common to the disabilities is that they are associated with bodily dysfunctions according to the usual explanatory models. It is difficult to determine how many people have any form of disability today, but there are many. There is, of course, a risk of posing different intersectional categories to each other, but I would, however, like to say that disabled people may have been the most marginalized group throughout history.

The marginalization does not only concern placement in clinics and institutions, but also in our world of ideas and in our language. For example, our language is almost packed with expressions derived from designations of disabled people that have come to be used in degrading descriptions ("idiot", “cripple”). Prejudices are so great and many that we cannot seem to avoid them totally.

Disability also differs from most other intersectional categories in that disability not only leads to discrimination, but also to a positive redistribution of resources in order for people with disabilities to have the same life conditions as everyone else. For example in the school, a lot of resources are allocated to special educators, specialist teachers, resource schools, special schools, and more to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

What if we see functionality intersectionally? I imagine that this question can be approached in two different ways based on the idea of ​​figure and background of Gestalt psychology. How does functionality appear when other dichotomizations are foreground and what role does other dichotomizations have when functionality is the focus?

Functionality within the framework of other power structures

My guess is that functionality is not often problematized in analyzes of, for example, class, gender and ethnicity in the school. Interestingly, the Swedish National Agency for Education, in its often excellent reviews of results on international tests, often discusses the outcome in relation to gender and, to a certain extent, ethnicity and social class, but not in relation to functionality. One reason for this is of course that there is no public data on functionality in Sweden. Often, outcomes are analyzed in relation to performance levels, but it is something other than functionality.

I usually argue that functionality has had such a significance for the development of school systems that the category should be relevant for almost all analyzes of schooling, i.e. also those analyzes that do not specifically concern power structures. By identifying disability, a normality is created and maintained. How this distinction is made will thus have consequences on almost all issues with regard to schooling.

If we for example are interested in issues of democracy in relation to education or school hitory, the distinction between able-bodied and disabled pupils is obviously very important since different school systems have been built around the distinction. A first conclusion that can be drawn is that functionality should be considered more in educational science generally and in those analyzes dealing with power and intersectionality specifically.

Other power structures within the framework of functionality

There is some research that shows the importance of other categories of identity within the framework of disability / special education. Thus, there are a large number of studies in the United States on the representation of boys / girls and different ethnic groups in special education. A recurring result is that boys and certain ethnic groups are generally over-represented, but that the pattern varies with different diagnoses.

For example, in the case of AD HD, the diagnosis is much more frequent on boys than girls. However, although it is important to examine the representativeness of different groups within the framework of special education, an increased understanding of the importance of intersectionality requires more detailed studies of how different identity markers interact in different educational environments.

In what ways does gender / entities / functionality interact in the special school? Is it a difference to have hearing loss for the person who is born in Sweden and has Swedish as the first language than for the immigrant who speaks another language in the home? Is there a difference between having ADHD for boys and girls respectively? In some research these type of question are asked but a lot remains to be done.

A second conclusion is therefore that when functionality is in focus, this should be analyzed more often than before in relation to other power structures.

To conclude: Intersectionality means that power structures must be analyzed in their concurrence. However, this is rarely the case. Also it should also be pointed out that while power structures are extremely important to analyze, it can also mean that we miss the common, what is generally human, in addition to additional types of identifications that do not fit into the intersectional scheme.

The crucial question of inclusion: How should the teacher teach a heterogeneous group of students?

The title question concerns something that probably almost all teachers think about every day. I will describe in more detail the challenge facing the teacher who wants to contribute to creating more inclusive classrooms and then outline what needs to be developed for these teachers to receive the best possible support in their work.

The challenge

Creating a school for all children is a challenge. One of my definitive favorite passages in texts from the field of educational science research is the following written by childhood and educational historian Bengt Sandin about the emergence of a school for all:

“When more and more children from different social classes were accommodated in the same institution, the differences between the children became visible. The differences between different childhood worlds became dramatic and noticeable when hungry, sick children would sit side by side with children with water-combed hair - observed by an increasingly professional profession - the school teachers, who had an interest and personal commitment in pointing out the differences between the children. Not only the reluctance to go to school and the conflict between school and home became apparent but also the childrens´ other shortcomings. Diseases, abnormalities of a physical and mental and not least a moral nature were noted. The school's task of being a school for all was not very easy to carry out ”(p. 61) /my translation/.

The quote thus shows the enormous variation that historically existed in the classroom and even though the situation looks very different today, the fact remains that the students in the classroom have very different prerequisites for school work. One way to handle the variation among pupils is through organizational differentiation where students who are equal to each other are taught together. The special school is an example of this in Sweden, but also the independent schools which gather ambitious middle-class students. In recent years, however, the idea that special solutions should be avoided and that the teacher should be able to meet a more varied group of students in the classroom has gained momentum.

Teacher strategies

There are several theories about how inclusive schools should be constructed and a number of mantras that are repeated regarding how it should be done. These are often in the form of lists of factors that are said to increase inclusion, the Salamanca Declaration being a typical example of this. On the other hand, it is not as common to have lists of what the teacher should do to increase inclusion. Even when such lists exist it is relatively unclear how they can be used by the active teacher. Such lists are of course worth taking part of (see link to previous blog below with a critical review of David Mitchell's list of strategies for inclusion).

In practice, however, many (but far from all) teachers are not sure about how they should be able to meet the needs of all students in a good way. Many believe that they do not have the skills and support required to meet this challenge.

Teachers have different strategies when meeting heterogeneous student groups. A common way identified in research is to target students at an intermediate level. Other teachers can adapt the teaching to the students who have the greatest difficulties. Another way of dealing with students' different levels and needs has been to individualize in the form of, for example, "individual work", which was popular in the 1990s. The student then plans and carries out the school work at his/her own pace.

Each teacher probably has their own ideas about how the teaching should be differentiated so that all students should be given good opportunities. I am also convinced that there are many teachers who succeed with this and from whom you can learn a lot. But many teachers experience this as an almost impossible task and there is a lack of well-proven theories regarding how to increase inclusion in the classroom.

Thus, many teachers feel inadequate. Inclusion is often called for but the tools are partly missing. Several teachers believe that the task is impossible and demand special solutions for different groups of students, such as those who do not keep up with the pace of education or who do not want to conform to the required order or those who are simply unmotivated.

A didactic question

It is important to state that the question in the blog title is largely a didactic question. Didactics can be said to be the doctrine of the art of teaching and what is a more difficult art than teaching a group of students with very different conditions and characteristics? Unfortunately, there is far too little didactic research on this issue, largely due to the fact that didactics has recreated the distinction between the normal and the deviant.

We have had one teaching for "normal" students and another for the "deviant" and this difference is also reflected in the research where didactics in part provided a "normal student" and special education took care of the students who do not reach the norm.

If students with varying conditions are to be in the same classroom, didactic knowledge is needed about how they can be taught together. In other words, we can say that research is needed on how inclusive didactics can be developed.

It is also important to note that there are a number of framework factors that affect teachers. Framework factors consist of things that are beyond the teacher's control, but which still are important for how the teaching is carried out. Examples of such framework factors are the composition of student groups, the time available for various teaching elements, rules and goals formulated in the governing documents, how the support system is organized, the management of the work and the local school culture. Such framework factors can facilitate but also make it more difficult to create inclusive classrooms.

In summary, we can state that we need more research on the consequences of various framework factors for the possibility of creating inclusive classrooms and on how teachers can more concretely shape inclusive teaching in the daily interaction with students.

A final word

Of course, it is not very comforting that more research is needed for the teacher who has given up on the task of meeting a group of students with varying prerequisites. A first step towards being able to meet all students is, of course, that there is a functioning support system, so that the teacher is not left alone in the face of this difficult task. Then I think it is extremely important to build a collaboration between the school and the university to be able to develop didactics in the school and not least to learn from the teachers who seem to go ashore with the challenge of teaching diversity of students in the classroom.

Then, of course, there is a lot of research to be inspired by, although, as I said, there are very few studies that have more systematically analyzed how different didactic choices can lead to an increased degree of inclusion for all students.

 

 

Sandin, B. (1995) The creation of the normal child. In K. Bergqvist, K. Pettersson and M. Sundkvist (eds), Crossroads: An anthology of meetings between young people and institutions then and now. Stockholm: Symposium. (pp. 55-64) /titles translated/

Link to problematizing blog about strategies to increase inclusion:

https://mp.uu.se/web/claes-nilholms-blog/start/-/blogs/does-david-mitchells-book-what-really-works-in-special-and-inclusive-education-provide-a-scientific-foundation-for-teacher-s-and-special-educator-s

 

Inclusion - four definitions

There are those who think that the social and educational sciences should mimic the more successful natural sciences by increasing the level of quantification. Others argue that since the social sciences and the educational sciences are primarily interested in human meaning-making, they should distance themselves from the natural sciences.

My view is that both of these approaches miss an important factor behind the success of the natural sciences and that is the importance placed in the natural sciences in being clear about what is meant by the theories and words / concepts used. Here, I believe that both quantitatively and qualitatively oriented researchers in the social sciences and not least the educational sciences have a lot to learn.

This conviction is also the reason why I myself in my research and also in this blog have spent a lot of time trying to increase clarity about key concepts in educational research. If it is unclear what we mean by a word we use this easily leads to misunderstandings. This becomes extremely clear in the research on inclusion where we can find (at least) four different uses of the word inclusion. Put differently, the same word indicates different concepts.

Kerstin Göransson and I have written an article called "Conceptual diversities and empirical shortcomings" (see reference below) where we critically examine the research on inclusion. In the first part of the article, we discern four different uses of the word "inclusion" in research about inclusive education. Interestingly, this article has been frequently referenced in international research, which may indicate that we have pointed to a critical point.

From placement to community

Many researchers and politicians define inclusion as indicating placement of pupils. A pupil in a special school who is transferred to a regular class is according to the logic of such a definition included. It is on the basis of such a definition that it is possible to say that "inclusion has gone too far" when, for example the pupil does not feel comfortable in the regular class, does not benefit from the teaching, does not get any classmates or is exposed to or exposes others to bullying.

The following three definitions are also based on placement in a regular class, but for each new definition, the requirements regarding what is to be perceived as inclusion become stricter. Before I go on to definition two, it is important to state that placement is not about the policy of a locked door where no pupil will ever get out of the regular classroom but rather about all students including students in difficulties having a natural class affiliation. There are thus opportunities to work with extra support in connection with the classroom / in flexible group formations.

It should be pointed out that the first definition differs in fundamental ways from the second. The second definition presupposes that the pupil placed in a regular classroom thrives in the class in order for us to be able to say that he/she is included.

Exactly what thriving amounts to can of course be discussed- It can, for example, mean that he/she learns based on his/her potential and develops beneficial social relationships with the other students. According to this second definition, inclusion cannot be said to have gone too far because inclusion is by definition something good. However, it can be difficult to include the pupil for various reasons.

The confusion between the first two definitions has led to a lot of negative consequences. When the Salamanca Declaration talks about "the inclusion principle", it is often about placement. At the same time, the declaration lists a very large number of measures at different levels which must be implemented for the placement to be successful.

Already here, an uncertainty was established, is inclusion only about placement or about placement + measures? I am quite convinced that it is the latter that the declaration implies and therefore inclusion also has a positive value in the declaration; inclusion was considered a good thing because it was thought that these measures would lead to beneficial school environments.

Based on the second definition, a number of measures may be required for the pupil in our example to be included such as visions, adapted teaching and assessment, acceptance, support, resources, well-developed leadership and a functioning collaboration between student health-special educator / special teacher-teacher. If the school provides all this and the pupil still does not thrive in the class, there may be a need for another organizational solution.

My impression is that it is mainly the two definitions described above that has figured in the discussion. However, as has been said, there are additional ways to define inclusion.

The third definition means that inclusion is not only about students in different types of difficulties / with disabilities, but that inclusion means that all students should have a beneficial situation in the school. It is of course difficult to oppose inclusion in this sense, however, one may ask whether it is possible to create an inclusive school and in what ways a particular classroom can be said to be inclusive. To know if a school / a classroom is inclusive, we must, based on this definition, not only examine the situation for pupil with special needs/disabilities but the situation of all students.

That is what Barbro Alm and I did in a study where we were interested in whether the particular classroom we studied could be said to be inclusive. We investigated if the students felt pedagogically and socially involved and if difference was seen as something that was valued within the classroom.

The fourth definition means that inclusion involves, in addition to all students having a beneficial situation, also the construction of communities in schools and classrooms. Such communities can involve different features, e.g. forms of work that require cooperation, a perceived sense of belonging and common goals. This latter ideal is quite far from the discussion that is going on about schooling today which often concerns educational achievement. In the classroom examined in the study mentioned in the previous paragraph, the teachers carried out a lot of community-creating activities, which is why the classroom to important parts also lived up to the fourth definition.

But how should we then look at linguistic constructions such as "social inclusion” in relation to the four definitions? The expression "social inclusion" often appears in international research. The notion of “social inclusion” implicitly builds upon a placement definition. In definition 2-4 above, “social inclusion” is, so to speak, inscribed in the definition of inclusion. If the student is not socially included, he/she is not included at all. Although it is wise to distinguish between different aspects of inclusion (social, pedagogical), it is important to realize that such specifications are basically based on the placement definition.

It should also be mentioned that sometimes the word inclusion is used to denote that a student has a good situation no matter where he/she is educated. Thus given such an inclusion concept we can say that a pupil t in a special school or in a special teaching group is included if he/she thrive in these contexts. However, it is very doubtful to use the word in this way because the placement is a very central point in the Salamanca Declaration (with the exception of students who need instruction in sign language and students who can harm other students / who get hurt in a regular classroom).

Better research is needed

In the second part of the article mentioned above, Kerstin and I mapped the research that exists on how an environment (class, school) through some form of action / change can become more inclusive. We then started from definitions 2 and 3 above and looked for studies that could show positive effects of some action/change in terms of learning and social factors for both students in difficulty and other students. We did not find any article within the time span we examined that lived up to this criterion. It is always possible that we missed someone / some studies, but our study illustrates that the research has a long way to go before it can clearly show how more inclusive environments can be created. To put it differently, we need better theories concerning how schools and classrooms can become more inclusive (see link to article below).

 

 

Göransson, K. and Nilholm, C. (2014) Conceptual Diversities and Empirical Shortcomings - A Critical Analysis of Research on Inclusive Education. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 29: 3, 265-280.

Reference to article where the degree and nature of inclusion in a classroom was examined:

Nilholm, C. and Alm, B. (2010) inclusive classroom? On inclusiveness, teacher strategies and children's experiences. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25 (3), 239-252.

Link to article on the need to create better theories in order to construct inclusive environments:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08856257.2020.1754547

 

Inclusive education - a need for better theories

It may seem a little strange that we have so little knowledge about how school environments can become more inclusive for all students now that 26 years have passed since the publication of the Salamanca Declaration.

In a research article that has recently been published (see link below), I try to argue for how we can gain more knowledge about how such environments can be created. I intend to somewhat develop the reasoning in the article in this blog.

First, though, I want to explain to the reader what kind of article it is. By far the most common article in educational research report outcomes in empirical studies and puts this outcome in a research context.

Empirical research is sometimes brought together in research reviews. More rarely, but not less importantly, research reviews can be about how concepts / theories / methods are used within a research area.

The article I wrote is none of this but is a positioning article. In such an article, one tries to shed light on the entire field of research, evaluate it and try to see development paths for future research. In this way, a positioning article is supported by what is at best a clear line of argumentation.

The starting point for the argument in the article is that there is a lack of empirically based theories regarding how more inclusive environments that include all students can be created at the system, school and classroom levels.

Another starting point for my reasoning is the social psychologist Lewin's idea that "there is nothing as practical as a good theory", which means that if a theory is not useful, it is not a good theory. Similar ideas can also be found in Dewey´s thinking and in pragmatism more generally.

Everyone who is familiar with the field of inclusion knows that there is no shortage of theories, so why are they not sufficient when it comes to developing an education system that includes all students?

Limited and elaborated theories

In the article, I argue that two different types of theories dominate in the field of inclusion research, limited and elaborated theories.

On the one hand, there are what can be labelled as limited theories, which focus on the relationship between variables. Examples of questions asked in such a perspective are: What influences teachers' attitudes to inclusion? Is inclusion effective?

The problem with these types of theories is that they are too general (de-contextualized) and often start from a traditional view of special education, where the focus is only on students in need of special support and not on the inclusion of all students.

On the other hand, there are what I call elaborated theories. Perhaps the most interesting theorist in research on inclusion is, in my opinion, Thomas Skrtic. I choose to discuss his theories in the article as an example of elaborated theories (there are many other examples).

Elaborated theories include, unlike limited theories, complex descriptions of how different levels and processes in society and the education system relate to each other. The problem with these theories, which becomes not least clear with Skrtic, is that they are not tried out in practice. In this way, there are constructions that often solve problems in theory, but we do not know what it means, and what consequences it will have, if their usefulness were to be tested out in practice.

A problem concerning both types of theory is that it is often not entirely clear what is meant by inclusion within the framework of the theories. I mentioned above that limited theories are often based on a view that inclusion is only about students in difficulty. In my article, however, I am interested in theory as a tool to create inclusive environments for all students.

Of course, a number of insights have been gained and interesting research results have been obtained within the framework of these two types of theory. What I suggest in the article, however, is that they need to be developed to become better tools for creating more inclusive environments.

The case study as a vehicle to develop better theories

A large part of the article is devoted to advocating case studies as a way of developing theories of inclusion. The case study as a method fits the complexity that characterizes education and teaching. Case studies have the advantage that they a) combine different levels of analysis b) take into account the complexity of the phenomenon c) do not violate the integrity (the whole) of the studied phenomenon and d) are suitable for theory development.

Case studies can focus on entire education systems, such as in articles of the type "Inclusive education in X" where X is a country. They can also focus on schools and classrooms. In both latter cases, it is of course important to contextualize the study in the educational system where the study is conducted.

The case study of course has to be related to prior research. If, for example, I want to do a study of a classroom that seems to develop in an inclusive direction, it is good to take previous studies about how such a development takes place as a starting point. Through a careful mapping of the case, a theory about how inclusive classrooms can be created can be further developed and nuanced.

It is also advantageous if case studies have a longitudinal dimension because we then have better opportunities to analyze which factors can explain the development of and decline in inclusive processes.

In the article, I exemplify how case studies can be used for theory development with the help of Bengt and Elisabeth Persson's studies of inclusion processes in the Essunga municipality in Sweden and my and Barbro Alm's study of an inclusive classroom, also in Sweden (see link below for references).

The studies are chosen because, based on my argument, they are central and important to the area of research on inclusion. I discuss in the article how they could contribute to theory development to an even greater degree than has been the case. In both studies, a number of factors are mentioned which seem to have been important for the inclusive development studied, but we need more knowledge about how these types of factors interacts in the developmental process towards more inclusive practices.

When I received comments from the reviewers of the article, I decided to remove a long section where I put the idea of ​​inclusion in relation to liberal democracy. Within the framework of an article, only a limited number of themes can be included. Another topic that I could not fully discuss in the article concerns the question of what theories are and I therefore choose to end this blog with a discussion on this important issue.

Theories exist in different contexts

In the field of educational science, it can be fruitful to discern beteen theories about, for and in practice. Theories about practice aim to explain and increase the understanding of why the practice looks the way it does. These theories are often described as being non-normative.

Theories for practice aim to develop practice in a desired direction. We can see an analogy to these two types of theory in the division that is usually made between research about and research for the school.

The starting point for my article is, as mentioned, Lewin's maxim "there is nothing as practical as a good theory". This starting point breaks in a way the distinction between theories about and for practice since theories about practice should also be tested for their usefulness in developing practice.

The term "research for schooling" often means that research should contribute to increased goal fulfillment etc. But we can also see that more ideology-critical research can also be for practice, even if it proposes changes of such practices in the longer term.

Now, I would not go so far as to say that all theories must be for practice even when this is interpreted broadly and will also include research that is systemically critical. Some research can simply provide insights and understanding without necessarily affecting the practice more than very indirectly.

However, a lot of the research that is about the school contains a lot of, often unspoken, assumptions about what is good for the practice / how the practice should be developed. This is because the educational science researcher hardly escapes the question of educational ideologies and it is not possible to analyze the school from an ideology-free vantage point.

Theories in practice, finally, is about the theories that head teachers, teachers and others have about schooling. What is interesting in the two case studies discussed in the article is that it is practitioners who develop the inclusive processes. Usually we think that theories are developed in research and then these are to be transferred to practice, but here it is almost the opposite.

If we again invoke Lewin, it seems that these persons have had "good theories". The theories differ from scientific theories in that they are constantly tested in, and retested by, practice. They are not tested in empirical studies but within the framework of everyday experience and are negotiated in discussions with colleagues and others. Strictly speaking, they also exist only as aspects of interpretation and action in practice. They are thus not as de-contextualized and formal as scientific theories.

So I think we can learn a lot from the practitioners who have proven to have good theories in practice. By critically analyzing such theories in practice, we as researchers can contribute to developing theories for practice. Here, of course, a complex translation work takes place from interpretations and actions in practice to more formal theories on how more inclusive environments can be developed.

I thus believe that it is important that we try to bridge the gap between theories for practice and theories in practice in order to be able to develop more inclusive schools and classrooms. In that context, of course, theories about practice are also important.

 

Link to the article:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08856257.2020.1754547

 

Teachers´ attitudes towards "inclusion"

As usual, as in the heading, I put inclusion in quotes when refering to the placement definition of inclusion. When it comes to attitudes towards inclusion, the starting point is always a placement definition because if we mean that inclusion by definition is something good, it becomes strange to ask for attitudes towards it. In order to avoid misunderstandings, I will here write about teachers' attitudes to placement of pupils with special needs in mainstream classrooms.

My starting point is an interesting and much cited research review by de Boer, Pilj and Minnaert from 2011 (see reference below). The review is about the views of elementary school teachers on the placement of students´ with special needs in mainstream classrooms. It is the same researchers who conducted the research review I wrote about in a previous blog and which was about parents' views on "inclusion" (i.e. placement). The researchers use partly the same approach as in the previous review, where studies are divided based on whether positive, neutral or negative attitudes are expressed. However, the present review covers more studies (28 against 10) than the one about parents´ views.

Main results

The researchers' definition of what is positive and negative support is quite strictly defined and most studies are categorized as neutral (19). The participants in the other nine studies express negative attitudes according to the criteria used..

The researchers also analyzed the impact of different factors on teacher attitudes such as gender, teacher experience, experience of having students with special needs in the classroom, training and type of special needs. Experience of teaching students with special needs seems to have the strongest relation to attitudes , where more experience correlates with more positive attitudes. In this context, of course, the question should be asked concerning what is the chicken and the egg. Some training programs also seem to be related to more positive attitudes.

A central problem

The biggest drawback with the review is that it is on a level of abstraction where it is difficult to understand what the attitudes mean. Attitudes are e.g. more negative in studies conducted outside the US and Europe and this could possibly have to do with cultural differences in the view of special needs.

The uncertainty also applies to the more immediate context. The question is begging as to what kind of placements teachers have had experience with when the display their attitudes towards the mainstreaming of students with special needs.

However, these remarks should not detract from the importance of the review. The issue of placing students with special needs in mainstream classrooms has to a large extent been driven from the special educational community and obviously not all teachers are favourable to the idea and it is very important that this is recognized.

The Swedish National Agency for Education found e.g. in an investigation 2014 that over half of the teachers with less than ten years of experience find that they do not have sufficient competence and knowledge to support students in need of special support. The figure drops to a 25% for teachers who have more than 25 years of experience. The teachers also do not think that they receive sufficient support, 60 % state that access to student health is very good / good but only 42% are satisfied with the access to special teachers / special education.

 

What conclusons can be drawn?

It is of course extremely important how teachers look at the possibility and desirability of teaching students in different types of difficulties in the mainstream classroom. The review by de Boer and her collaborators is, as has been said, much needed and it is interesting since it finds a more negative pattern than earlier reviewers.

However, I arrive at similar conclusions as I usually do when I write about this kind of attitudes and it is that the attitudes must be put in relation to the experiences the respondents have and the cultural context in which they work.

Consider Mitchells formula for reaching inclusion:

Inclusive education = V + P + 5As + S + R + L V = Vision; P = Placement; 5As = Adapted Curriculum, Adapted Assessment,Adapted Teaching, Acceptance, Access, S = Support; R = Resources; L = Leadership.

A central question concerns how the environments that the teachers in these attitude studies have experience of look like. Has there been a vision and a leadership that has carried the vision? Has there been access to support and resources and have the teachers received training in adapting the teaching to pupils' different abilites?

In the Swedish context, these issues concern whether the school has applied for support from the SPSM (Special Education School Authority), if there are centrally located support teams, if the student health team is functioning well, etc. It is in specific contexts that attitudes are developed and, as has been said, it is difficult to determine the meaning of an attitude without knowing the context.

The problems with placements must however not be neglected. Just as for parents (see my previous blog), there is great reason to take the teachers' concerns very seriously. We also know that many teachers drop out of the teaching profession during the first few years and one reason for this may be the challenges that the variation of students constitute. Therefore, it is important to provide support and training to the teachers, which has always been a crucial part of the inclusion concept.

Many negative attitudes are probably due to the fact that the teachers lacked several of the factors proposed by Mitchell, even though we cannot ignore the fact that there are still teachers who believe that some students are someone else's concern or who think that they simply lack tools to cope with certain students. These teachers are undoubtedly a big challenge for special educators and specialist teachers who want to create inclusive school environments.

 

De Boer, Anke., Pilj, SJ. & Minnaert, A. (2011) Regular primary schoolteachers' attitudes towards inclusive education: A Review of the Literature. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15 (3), 331-353.

Mitchell, D. 2008. What Really Works in Special Needs and Inclusive Education: Using Science-Based Teaching Strategies? London: Routledge.

Inclusion - the european commission and the declaration of the new Swedish government

It is interesting, and not least, puzzling, to compare how the European Commission looks at the role of education in a democratic society in a recently adopted policy document compared to the picture that appears in the declaration of the new Swedish government.

Both the policy document from the European Commission and the declaration from the new Swedish Government take their point of departure in the threats that exist towards democracy from populism and extremism but end up in quite different conclusions regarding the role of education in counteracting these threats.

 

The European Commission and inclusion

The European Commission's position is that inclusion is an essential part of the solution to the above-mentioned problems. By including students with different backgrounds and prerequisites in the school, a breeding ground is created to maintain and develop a democratic society. Inclusion is here a plus word, that is, it is not an empirical question whether inclusion is good or not

Inclusion is given a significant importance by the European commission and is seen as encompassing society as a whole and not only schooling. In terms of the school, the concept concerns all students and not only students with disabilities. The European commission also refers to the fact that Member States can (voluntarily) contact the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education to develop a more inclusive school system. European Agency writes on its website: “Our ultimate vision for inclusive education systems is to ensure that all age groups are provided with meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities in their local community alongside their peers”. Thus what comes close to an understanding of inclusion as building communities is proposed.

In this context, it may be interesting to note that the European Commission has also staged a program for the development of cooperation in the classroom. How then does the Swedish government see the role of education in countering the threat scenario described above? Before embarking on this issue, it may be important to put it in a historical context.

The Swedish education system has gone from being seen as an international forerunner, not least because of its earlier high degree of equity in combination with good performances in international comparisons of learning. Today, considerably more modest performances are interspersed with an alarming degree of decreasing equity. It should be added that confidence in the system, not least in the important link of politician-teacher, is at a very low level.

 

The declaration from the new Swedish government statement

Against the background that has been outlined, it will of course be of great interest to look at how the Swedish government views the role of education in society when one now gets the opportunity to formulate a governmental declaration.

The focus of the statement is that the school's most important task is to "restore our country as the foremost knowledge nation". This is to be done by improving the fulfillment of the knowledge goals by the students. It is also stated that the equity that has been eroded will increase (unclear how) and that all pupils should get "an honest chance".

Here is not the place to go through everything that is said, but the text can be said to emphasize the importance of all students reaching the knowledge goals and that the school should be a safe environment. It is not at all wrong with these requirements, but the document is not least interesting for what it does not mention. Words such as democracy, citizen and inclusion, which come back many times in the form of plus words in the document of the European Commission document, are absent.

However, we can find a reverberation of the recent political discussions that "inclusion has gone too far". It is stated in declaration from the Swedish government that: "It will be easier to get special support in smaller teaching groups" and further: "Resource schools should be developed and special program for students with intellectual disabilities shall be strengthened".

Such a statement about an increase in the proportion of segregated education in the Swedish school system comes a little bit unexpected, not least in the light of international declarations signed by Sweden (e.g. the Salamanca Declaration) and in view of how the European Commission approaches this issue.

 

Concluding comment

The Swedish educational researcher Tomas Englund has said that the policy of a part of the Swedish bourgeois has been involved in a striving for "the paradise lost". The paradise lost is in this case the school as it looked before the internationally renowned unit school was introduced. To a large extent, one has succeeded in implementing such an education policy as by now.

The Swedish school has increasingly taken the form of a parallel school system where pupils with similar backgrounds meet each other in the classrooms and where the focus is on strengthening the nation and the labor market's needs and not on citizenship and democracy. In that light, it seems logical to also exclude the students who, late, if ever, have gained access to the regular classrooms.

The outcome when students in different types of difficulties are placed in ordinary classes depends on how this placement is arranged. One can choose to try to develop more inclusive environments or to pass certain pupils to special groups and it is the latter solution that is presented in the declaration from the government.

No one (at least very few) believes that it is possible to place all students in the usual classroom. However, one way to get as many people as possible to be there requires that municipalities and schools have a well-thought-out work to meet the diversity of students. David Mitchell's definition of inclusion can be a benchmark here:

Inclusive education = V + P + 5As + S + R + L V = Vision; P = Placement; 5As = Adapted Curriculum, Adapted Assessment,Adapted Teaching, Acceptance, Access, S = Support; R = Resources; L = Leadership.

Those students who do not function in the ordinary classroom, even when there is a vision of inclusion, good leadership, support, resources and more are probably difficult to include in a genuine sense. Today, however, special educational groups and resource schools are filled by students because the regular classroom has failde to provide the conditions mentioned by Mitchell.

I believe there is a risk that a dust hatch will be opened with the new declaration from the government and that we will witness a substantial growth of segregated education in the Swedish school system. Creating smaller teaching groups is probably a far less challenging task than making the usual teaching more inclusive.

 

Mitchell, D. 2008. What Really Works in Special Needs and Inclusive Education: Using Science-Based Teaching Strategies. London: Routledge.

 

 

Parents' attitudes towards "inclusion"

Sometimes researchers are surprised by their results. So were the Dutch researcher de Boer and her co-workers when they made a review of the research of how parents look at "inclusion", or to express it more precisely, the placement of "pupils with special needs" in ordinary classes. I use quotation marks for inclusion to clarify that the researchers use a placement definition of inclusion.

Why were the researchers then surprised? Given that the issue of inclusion in many countries from the beginning was driven by parents of students with disabilities partly in opposition to other parents, they expected to find more positive attitudes to "inclusion" in the former group and more negative in the latter group but this pattern did not emerge in their review.

What were the main results then? A mixed but predominantly positive image emerged in the review. The researchers found 10 studies in which parents' attitudes towards the placement of pupils in need of special support in regular classes were examined. In three of these, only parents to pupils in need of special support were studied, in four only parents of other students and in the three additional studies both groups were studied.

In seven of the studies, the influence of different factors on the attitudes towards “inclusion” were studied, for example the influence of parents' level of education or of the student's type of difficulty. The reviewed studies were divided based on whether they showed a positive, a neutral or a negative attitude to the placement of pupils in need of special support in regular classes.

In none of the studies did negative attitudes prevail according to the criteria used by the researchers. Parents of students other than those in need of special support are described as generally positive towards the placement of pupils in need of special support in regular classes. In one study referred to in the review, 47% of these parents were positive about the placement before it was implemented and 64% after it was implemented. Parents frequently described the social benefits of inclusive education for their own children.

Parents of pupils in need of special support were somewhat more neutral in their attitudes according to the article authors. However, it should be noted that in two of the three studies where the groups are directly compared, parents of pupils in need of special support are actually more positive towards “inclusion”.

A very important point de Boer et al emphasize is that there are many parents of pupils in need of special support who think that their children should go in special groups/schools and who also express concern about the access to support and adapted teaching as well as about the child's emotional development when their children go in regular class. In one study e.g., 54% of these parents thought that they did not think their children should attend regular classes.

Higher education levels among the parents as well as more experience of "inclusion" co-varied with more positive attitudes. Pupils with behavioural problems or severe disabilities were considered, as usual one is inclined to say, to be those who were considered most difficult to place in a regular classroom.

 

Some questions

There are a number of questions, of which I will discuss three here, that are evoked during the reading of this interesting research review: What conclusions can we really draw from the studies? What more research is needed? How should we understand the outcome in relation to the idea of ​​inclusion?

 

What conclusions can we draw?

David Mitchell (2008) has presented a model for what is required to create inclusive environments. Mitchell means that it is not enough to place a pupil with special educational needs in a normal class in order for us to be able to talk about inclusion. In this way, he represents a different inclusion concept than the placement definition used by de Boer et al. Mitchell uses the following formula to show what it takes to create inclusive environments:

 

Inclusive education = V + P + 5As + S + R + L

 

V = Vision; P = Placement; 5As = Adapted Curriculum, Adapted Assessment,

Adapted Teaching, Acceptance, Access, S = Support; R = Resources; L = Leadership.

 

Without getting into detail with Mitchell`s model, we can see that, according to him, a lot is required by the learning environment in order for it to become inclusive. A setback with the review of de Boer et al is that it does not specify what kind of environment that respondents in the different studies have experience with.

In other words, the parent who has experience of an "inclusive" environment without vision, with weak leadership and little support, etc. probably has a different attitude to "inclusion" than that which has experience in an environment where the opposites prevail. Not surprisingly, the attitudes differ depending on where studies have been carried out.

That does not mean that we should not take parents ' scepticism seriously and it is a very important contribution by Boer et al to show that such scepticism is quite widespread and more widespread than most researchers thought before they did the review. We must never sacrifice students for a principle. It is of course a terrible experience for a parent to see her/his child in a harmful situation in an "inclusive" environment.

 

What further research is needed?

The question about inclusion has to a large extent been driven ideologically and too little research has been devoted to how to create inclusive learning environments. If we look at the Mitchell model above, we understand that creating inclusive learning environments is a complex task. There is therefore a need for more research on how to create such environments.

 

How do we understand the outcome in relation to the issue of inclusion?

The Norwegian researcher Peder Haug, as well as other researchers, have argued that the right of students in difficulties to be placed in a regular group and to be part of a learning community is not an empirical issue but an issue about social justice. From such a perspective, the surveys that de Boers and others are reviewing become questionable: What groups other than students with disabilities can be challenged in this way? Is a reasonable question from such a perspective.

From the standpoint of inclusion, it is also rewarding that these students by many respondents seemed to be seen as bringing value to the educational environment.

One should however be hesitant to draw general conclusions on difficult issues. Inclusion is often about very vulnerable students and it is important to show great humility rather than getting stuck in locked ideological positions.

In my opinion, we should try to create as inclusive school environments as possible which we will not succeed in if this task is not given priority and taken very seriously. At the same time there are very few who believe that it would be entirely possible to avoid segregated placement for some pupils and this is also clear in the Salamanca declaration refers to (see link). Let us see inclusion as a goal to pursue where needless to say no one can be sacrificed on the way.

 

De Boer, Anke., Pilj, SJ. & Minnaert, A. (2010) Attitudes of Parents towards Inclusive Education: A Review of the Literature. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25(2), 165-181.

Mitchell, D. 2008. What Really Works in Special Needs and Inclusive Education: Using Evi-dence-based Teaching Strategies. London: Routledge.

 

Link to blog about the Salamanca statement.

https://mp.uu.se/en/web/claes-nilholms-blog/start/-/blogs/what-is-meant-by-inclusion-in-the-salamanca-statement-

 

 

Is it possible to measure the quality of research applications in a reliable way?

Most researchers have told or in any case heard stories of the following type: "We got five points on our research application last year, then we developed it on the basis of the reviews we got and then we got a four this year, that's really strange…." The central point of this short story is to illustrate that the assessment of quality that is assigned to applications by research councils, foundations and the like, tend to appear quite less systematic than expected.

This blog will thus deal with the assessment of research applications and whether it is possible to assess the quality of such applications. It may seem particularly strange to ask the question at all. Of course, why would such assessments otherwise be made? And the assessments have far-reaching financial consequences, since in many cases a lot of money is distributed. Is it not true that such an activity rests on a secure foundation? A basic requirement for an assessment is that it reliable, that is, the grade we give to an application should not be arbitrary, but independent experts are expected to assess the same application to a great extent in the same way. What does the research say about researchers' ability to assess applications in a uniform manner?

 

Reliability in the assessment of research applications

Research about the assessment of research applications provide an unusually coherent picture with regard to the ability to achieve reliability in ratings. After analyzing applications to the Australian Research Council in a large project, Marsh e.g. concludes (2008): "Peer reviews lacked reliability". Interestingly, the outcome was no better for applications in the natural sciences than in social sciences and the humanities. In a more recent study mimicking the assessment procedure of the National Institute of Health in the United States, the authors draw the following almost devastating conclusions:

”We examined 43 individual reviewers' ratings and written critiques of the same group of 25 NIH grant applications. Results showed no agreement among reviewers regarding the quality of the applications in either their qualitative or quantitative evaluations. Although all reviewers received the same instructions on how to rate applications and format their written critiques, we also found no agreement in how reviewers "translated" a given number of strengths and weaknesses into a numeric rating.” (Pier et al, 2018).

It seems to be a consistent result in studies of independent assessments of research applications that interrater reliability is on embarrassingly low levels, not least for those who claim that quality can be assessed in this way. Note that I only talk about the reliability, that is, the ability to make similar judgments, and not the more advanced and complex question of validity, which is about whether it really is quality you measure. However, as we know, reliability is a necessary prerequisite for validity, which is why I will stay on the discussion about reliability.

One argument in responding to the fact that independent judgments have low reliability is to argue that panels of experts arrive at better assessments of scientific applications than individual assessors. The idea is then that when all assessors jointly put their perspectives on an application, the final assessment will be better than if each one assesses from their own perspective. I myself have felt quite skeptical in relation to that kind of argumentation since it seems more like a legitimization of a decision-making process than being built upon evidence. We can expect an occurrence of such arguments because it is in the interest of many to show that assessments are made with a process that is exact.

However, I want to warn against arguments that are based only on trust in processes and which are not substantiated by empirical facts. Interestingly, I have found a study by Fogelholma et al. (2012) that examined whether discussion in group panels improve the reliability of assessments of research applications and their conclusion there was: ”This indicates that panel discussions per se did not improve the reliability of the evaluation. These quantitative and experimental data support the conclusion by Obrecht et al., who based their findings on mainly qualitative data”. In fact, Fogelholma and his collaborators recommend that you should not have panels because they are costly without contributing to better reliability.

It should be noted that there seem to be some candidates for how the reliability could increase of which the perhaps most promising to at least raise the reliability somewhat seems to be to have several independent assessors. Other proposals are that researchers should assess applications in areas they really master, which is not the case in e.g. the educational sciences where assessors meet applications in areas they have little knowledge in. It is also the case that if there are many really bad applications the reliability increases. However, the current funding system has meant that universities and colleges, at least in Sweden, arrange work-shops and similar activities with the aim of writing successful research applications, which leads to a reduction in the number of substandard applications.

 

Conclusions

Thus, research implies that assessments of applications have a very low level of reliability and thus hardly any validity. Further, it seems that panel discussions did not increase reliability when examined systematically. Perhaps I should point out that the reliability (and validity) of research applications is not my research area and it may happen that there is some study that I have missed. I hope the reader who knows of any such study can get in touch with me. Moreover, there is also the possibility that new studies can come that put things in new light.

But what conclusions can you draw if the pattern I found is correct? One obvious conclusion is that researchers who are surprised by the grading of applications as in the example initially have no reason to be surprised. Different assessment of the same application seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Or more generally, the researchers, and there are quite many, who believe that gradings of research applications have an objective character can abandon this idea. Many researchers, including myself, are convinced that we can assess the quality of an application. Facts, however, point to a need for a greater element of humility on this issue.

A second conclusion is about the importance of discussing how research funds should be distributed. Often professional assessments are used because there is no other way that has proven better. If it now turns out that the emperor is naked, we cannot pretend that we do not see it and therefore we should seriously discuss how much resources should be given to peer reviews of applications.

Thirdly, the outcome may not be so surprising upon closer reflection. Researchers simply have very different opinions about what is the most urgent research.

Fourth, and finally, research applications are not the only area where peer-review is conducted. There are many reasons to also discuss the possibilities and limitations of such processes in other contexts.

 

Fogelholma, M. et al. (2012) Panel discussion does not improve reliability of peer review for medical research grant proposals. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 65 (2012) 47-52.

Marsh, H., Jayasinghe, U. och Bond, N. (2008) Improving the Peer-Review Process for Grant Applications Reliability, Validity, Bias, and Generalizability. American Psychologist, 63 (3), 160-168.

Pier, E. et al. (2018) Low agreement among reviewers evaluation the same NIH grant proposals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115 (12), 2952-2957.

 

 

Paradoxes of inclusion

We cannot include anyone if he/she does not want to be included. On the other hand, we cannot include those that do not adhere to the basic values that inclusion involves. There is a paradox in the inclusion idea which means that inclusion always has its limits, because some do not want to / cannot be included.

To put it in a more personal perspective: No one can force me into a community I don't want to belong to. There are some communities I cannot be included in because I do not share the norms and values ​​of these communities.

An example can further clarify what I mean with the proposition that not everyone can be included. If we mean that inclusion represents an affirmation of equality and a belief in people's equal value, inclusion almost by definition cannot include people who think that people who express a certain form of values or belong to a specific cultural/ethnic group have less human value.

Thus we cannot expect to build communities that include everyone. In the compulsory school, this fundamental paradox is reinforced because the student is obliged to attend. This means that the school must put a lot of effort into trying to include all students. We can nevertheless expect that there will be students who do not want to or that cannot be included in the community.

 

Paradox 1: Inclusion segregates

The paradox expressed in the title is clearly visible on the global arena. For example, when the EU strives to become more inclusive, it is obvious that everyone does not feel at home in this community. For a long time, it appears that a democratic, socioliberal political project has emerged victorious. Values ​​that have been central to this project are individuals' equal value, human rights, globalism, democracy and, at best, an idea that everyone should feel part of society.

It now seems as if it is an undeniable fact that a relatively large proportion of the populations in many countries do not want or can be included in this socioliberal project. .Instead, they argue for a different set of concerns such as nationalism, ethnocentricity, and traditional values, often involving a desire to live life as it always was lived. In the post-industrial society, structural changes are constantly occurring which break the possibility for people to live the life they want to live. Progress marginalizes groups and individuals. Some who say no to the social-liberal project are xenophobic and others are pure racists but far from everyone. Many simply feel that progress and the good life are not for them.

Personally, I think it is devastating if we do not carefully monitor the fundamental values ​​that are part of the social-liberal project. At the same time, of course, it is fatal if large groups of citizens are emerging who cannot identify with such a project. It can be people who reasonably argue that family and nation are values ​​that have, and should have, significance, and which can at the same time include the idea that nations do not necessarily contradict a commitment to the global, over those who simply feel outside and marginalized to extremes such as racists.

If the fundamental values of society are challenged, it will be even more important to create an inclusive school where pupils with different backgrounds and conditions learn to work and work together and are prepared for the democratic life. This question leads us to paradox 2. The discussion primarily concerns the Swedish school system but is relevant to many other school systems.

 

Paradox 2: A society that claims to be inclusive has created an increasingly exclusive school system

Ideas about how society should be designed and organized are passed on to new generations, not least through the educational system. Put differently, if we want a society that is inclusive, we must also have a school that is inclusive and that advocates inclusion. The school act states, among other things, that the students should be prepared to participate in society, which presuppose that they are and feel included in the school.

The school today, however, is increasingly resembling the old parallel school system. That is, the high and middle classes tend to gather in the same schools while students from homes where parents have less resources in the form of money and cultural capital end up in others (see link below). Pupils with disabilities, including those from privileged groups, tend to become the short straw. The second paradox means that the need for a more inclusive society is paralleled by a school system that develops in a more segregated direction. This increased segregation involves in Sweden not only the issue about where students are educated but also the educational attainments of students with different backgrounds.

When we more than ever have to create communities in schools for students with different backgrounds, more and more walls are thus created between different groups. As much as freedom of choice, it emerges to be about the FREEDOM TO REMOVE. At a time when schools are to show results, pupils who are not high-performing and who are resource-intensive are seen as a burden in many schools.

At the beginning of the 20th century pupils in need of extra support were described as "an extra weightt" that slowed down the other students' progress. As a lecturer, one could before use this quote to be slightly ironic about the intolerance and constraint of the time and little could be thought that similar ideas would come back with renewed power.

When there is no natural place for pupils with disabilities in the ordinary schools and classrooms, it is natural that parent groups call for special solutions. If diagnoses are then required to gain access to support and resources, the demand for these will also increase.

 

A final word

There are two different kinds of paradoxes I have discussed. The first one is, so to speak, inevitable, we simply cannot establish inclusion without at the same time excluding someone. However, communities can be made more or less inclusive. The second paradox I discussed is not inevitable. Here it is not a paradox in a logical sense but rather something paradoxical: Politicians and others in Sweden who advocate an inclusive society have made possible the development of an increasingly segregating school system.

Link to blog about the decrease in inclusion at the system level in Sweden.

https://mp.uu.se/web/claes-nilholms-blog/start/-/blogs/inclusion-at-the-system-level-a-challenge

 

 

One turn too many?

In the social and educational sciences, it is common to talk about different turns, which means that the research community, or at least parts of it, begins to move in a new direction. One example is the qualitative turn. The qualitative turn meant that many researchers began to get interested in meaning creation and the social agent.

Previously quantitative research had dominated. In this research, one tries to find law-like relations between variables. Phonological training improves learning to read is one example from the educational science field of such relations.

I will briefly describe the most important turns from the second half of the 20th century until today in the educational sciences before returning to the question in the title. It should be noted that the different turns are expressed in different ways in different national contexts and my point of reference is primarily the Swedish research context. However, I believe that the reasoning and distinctions made are relevant to many other national contexts. So let us start with the qualitative turn.

 

The qualitative turn

I believe that a strong argument for a qualitative turn was that human agency and morality were to a large extent ignored within the framework of quantitative research. Human beings were seen as objects among other objects in a mechanistic worldview. When the view of the human being as an acting and morally responsible subject was increasingly established, the interest in this human being and her/his meaningful interpretation of the world was established. Interpretation to a certain degree replaced measurement.

I believe this shift was not primarily about methodology (quantitative/qualitative) but rather about differences in worldviews, objectivism was to some extent replaced by subjectivism. However, the qualitative turn has been criticized for being too uncritical of society and schooling, not least from those who advocated a critical turn.

 

The critical turn

Already Marx developed a critical social science. When talking about the critical turn in the educational sciences, one often implies sociologically oriented research which is based on the assumption that society and education are deeply unfair. Thus, it became the researcher's task to criticize the society and the education she/he studied and, at best, also to try to initiate some change.

The critical turn gained momentum through the leftist student movement during the latter part of the 1960s. The class society and colonialism were the main enemies and with time the patriarchal social structures and other power systems have come to be criticized. Sometimes the critical turn has gone hand in hand with the linguistic turn.

 

The linguistic turn

A basic starting point in the linguistic/communicative turn is that the language is not a transparent tool that reflects the outside world of objects and their relations. On the contrary, language and language use make an active contribution in recreating and renewing the world we live in. Some within the linguistic turn even went so far that it seemed that almost everything was language and / or that the world was created in interaction.

There is a particular risk with the concept of language because it has such a huge metaphorical potential. It is almost too easy to see everything as language, for example, as in the terms "soccer is a language", "the language of clothes" and the "language of the silence", that it is easy to forget all the materiality and practice that is part of the life that provides a framework for language.

It is probably the fact that we see the very construction of meaning as so central to language that we so easily use it as a metaphor for other meaningful phenomena. Maybe this tendency is strengthened when the researchers theorizing the world themselves live their lives in a textual world.

The very idea that language also contributes to the construction of the world means that the linguistic turn easily can be connected to the critical turn, perhaps since both turns take the starting point that the world as it appears is not a natural fact.

The last turn I will present is in some ways even more critical than the critical turn. Before going over to it, it should be noted that there are also connections between the qualitative and the linguistic turn, such as in, for example, ethnomethodology.

 

The ontological turn

This expression was used by an internationally well-known researcher at a seminar at Uppsala University, but I do not really know how established the expression is. Sometimes this turn, or parts of it, is referred to as post-humanism / postmodernism and can take different forms, ranging from a milder form in which man's rationality is partly deconstructed, over views such as at Bruno Latour´s where objects are seen as actors to approaches where animals are seen as subjects with equal value as human beings. The ontological turn thus involves a radical questioning of human sovereignty.

It is possible to distinguish and name the turns in slightly different ways and also to put them more clearly in a chronological context. It should also be noted that they have co-existed and the quantitative approach has always had a strong position. However, my point here has been to illustrate the occurrence of turns and to briefly describe them. It is now time to return to the question that was asked initially.

 

One turn too many?

This question can be interpreted in two ways. One the one hand the turns can be seen as an expression of a research community where confusion prevails. If so, we could talk about several turns too many. Many would think that it is important to turn in the right direction and then go on in that direction. However, I do not agree with this because I believe pluralism is an inherent aspect of modern society, therefore we can expect different views and each approach can contribute to our knowledge in different ways.

The other way to interpret the question has to do with the fact that a return to quantitative research seems to be evident in many countries. It is seen by many as a turn too many. The research community should have stayed within other approaches the argument goes. I agree with that objection but certainly not fully. Of course, my position depends on my own theoretical starting points. I consider myself a pragmatist in the sense that I believe that the development of knowledge should be relevant to the development of society and schooling.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, I do mean that research should follow the lead of politicians and school authorities but research should be relevant to the democratically decided goals of schooling. The pluralism in perspectives illustrated above can all be useful in such a pragmatic project.

However, I do not sympathize equally with the different turns, sometimes I have even warned of some elements in them, but everyone contains something important that we should take advantage off. What I see as particularly problematic in my pragmatic perspective, however, is that there are very few encounters between researchers who adhere to different turns.

If we use democracy as a metaphor, the research community in that light can be seen as consisting of different parties that very rarely debate with each other. The metaphor comes out a little bit short because political communication is usually ritualized. It is rarely about genuine discussions. But the educational science research would definitely benefit from different approaches coming into contact with one another.

As mentioned earlier, the quantitative approach in educational research has never disappeared, but seems to have ended up in the background of qualitative and critical research, at least in Sweden, for a relatively long time. The quantitative research share several assumptions with the instrumentalism that characterizes what is usually called New Public Management, which could largely explain the return of the quantitative approach. There are, of course, great risks with such an instrumentalism, which in its worst forms can develop into an anti-humanism.

From my pragmatic perspective, however, the (re)turn of the quantitative appoach can not only be seen as a negative event. It has raised very important questions about the content of research and the relationship of research to practice and has further contributed with a lot of interesting empirical research that have important implications for the work of schools.

In conclusion, it is something of a paradox that the pluralism of perspectives illustrated here rarely leads to deliberative discussions on the content and functions of research. Rather it seems that the many researchers perceive themselves as entrepreneurs whose task it is to drive their own approach forward rather than to engage in a dialogue with the research community.

 

Inclusive teaching? - more research is needed

A number of years ago I gave a lecture at one of Sweden's many institutions for teacher education. Afterwards a prospective mathematics teacher came to me and we started discussing different things. I took the opportunity to ask him "Do you get any teaching on special educational issues when learning how to teach Math?" i.e. I was interested to know if, and in what ways, the learning of how to teach math also considered the fact that several pupils experience difficulties in this area. He answer indicated that the prospective Math teachers learned Math, not how to teach it.

I do not mean that this episode is necessarily representative of Swedish teacher eduation in general. However, I believe that the example points to what seems problematic in many contexts. The anecdote illustrates that the teaching of prospective teachers must be developed if they are going to be able to create inclusive classrooms. In order to underpin such teaching more research is needed about how to teach specific contents to pupils of varying ability.

In a school that strives to be inclusive, students with different prerequisites are in the same classroom. As I have described in prior blogs the placement of students in need of special support / with disabilities in ordinary classes is a necessary but not sufficient condition for inclusion. The pupils needs also have to be met in order for schools to be inclusive. This is a great challenge for the teacher, how should you teach students with very different abilities?

It is a fact that a lot of teachers feel uncertain about how to teach pupils in need of special support. Thus, teachers need more knowledge about how they can teach the diversity of students they meet in a school system where special classrooms and special schools are avoided. Further, the special teachers and special educators who support them also need scientifically based knowledge to build their support on. Consequently research is needed which helps to answer the question about how inclusive teaching can be accomplished.

We thus need teaching research that explores how teachers, together with other staff in the school, can be able to meet the diversity of students and the knowledge that such research generates should become a natural element in courses in teacher education. Younger teachers feel a greater uncertainty than those with more experience. It does seem that many of them do not consider that they have received enough knowledge from their teacher training in how to teach a heterogeneous group of students. This problem was illustrated with the anecdote above. If teachers in teacher education neglect didactics a, they probably neglect the needs of the the most vulnerable students' learning too.

A more profound structural problem is the concept of normality that cuts as a knife through the school systems. Historically, the division into normal students and others has given rise to parallel systems, a normal system and a special system. This distinction has been partly re-created in the research, where the teaching of normal pupils was focused in educational research, while questions about the pupils who were considered deviating became an object of special education. A distinction made in the organization of schooling has thus largely been reproduced in research about the school. My point here is that if we want to break this historical trend and create more inclusive schools, research on teaching should be expanded and also include those students who have been the subject of special education. In a similar vein, students in teacher education has to receive knowledge about how they should teach a diversity of pupils.

Should teaching pupils with medical diagnoses be built on similarity or difference?

An old dispute issue in the field of special needs education is whether there are teaching methods that are specific to different target groups such as e.g. students with ADHD, students with intellectual disabilities and autism.

You can distinguish two extremes in this discussion. On the one hand, some advocate teaching built upon similarity, which means that pupils' group belongings are considered to have few or no educational implications. On the other hand, we have those who mean that the deficiencies of the target groups need to be mapped out in detail so that we can tailor teaching approaches to suit their needs.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the two approaches as S (Similarity) and D (Difference) in the reminder of this blog.

 

Similarity as the point of departure

The S-teacher says something like this: "What's good for all students is good for students in need of special support/with medical diagnoses and vice versa." It was this conclusion that I believe John Hattie reached in his overview of educational research. Working methods such as direct teaching and peer learning appeared to be good for all students. In a similar vein, the S-teacher would argue that structure and order in schools, classrooms and lessons, which are usually emphasized as important to students with ADHD and Autism spectrum disorder, is beneficial to all students.


Insightful S-teachers are of course not ignorant of the fact that students are different. However, diversity is seen as a characteristic of individuals rather than as a variety of different kinds. In this way, the S-teacher has to attend to individual difference rather than group differences. Consequently, it is important to have knowledge of each student's specificity.


If a pupil encounters difficulties in school work, the S-teacher advocates a proper educational inquiry where the individual's situation is mapped. The occurrence of a diagnosis is of course not insignificant for such an investigation, but it provides limited information from an educational perspective. It is the individual and his/her teaching environment, including factors such as the teaching and the social climate, that becomes important in such an investigation.

An S-perspective can have very radical implications. If we consider that students are basically the same, it is difficult to argue that some students should be taught in specific groups. Thus, a central question then is how teachers can teach students with different conditions in the same classroom given a certain teaching content.

In other words, how should teachers teach e.g. math / English / gymnastics for students with different prerequisites? Framed differently, how can teachers teach different content in order to create inclusive classrooms? In order to be able to answer such questions in the best way, educational research has to be developed which addresses these types of questions. Unfortunately, such research is too rare.

 

Difference as the point of departure

The deviation is the starting point for the D-teacher. The question is not "What education is good for the heterogeneous student group?" but instead "How do we teach students with developmental disorder / learning disorder / dyslexia / behavioral disorder / Tourette's syndrome / obsessive-compulsive disorder"? The focus is on tailoring the education to these groups based on their specific characteristics.

It thus becomes important to investigate the deviation itself. Here a lot of research is taking place about, for example, executive functions, working memory and "theory of mind", which strives for a greater understanding of the specific deviations. Knowledge about such deviations, it is argued, will in the long run provide better education for these groups. This research is rarely didactic in the sense of being concerned with a specific knowledge content, but it is of course possible to ask, for example, "Which mathematics education is best for students with ADHD?"


The search for specific problems does not necessarily mean that segregated educational practices are strived for. Some suggest that we need to find out more about how these groups of students process information, etc. in order for them to be taught in the ordinary class.

 

An empirical question?

In part, the question about similarity or difference is an empirical issue. In order for us to methodologically determine the need for teaching strategies based on difference, we should be able to show that a teaching method X works for the Y group (for example, students with ADHD) in a different way than for "ordinary" students. This is actually quite rare. On the other hand, students in difficulties may often need more education to achieve the same goal, "more of the same."

An example from reading research can highlight this. A special teaching method for pupils with dyslexia would build on the assumption that students with dyslexia learn to decode text in other ways than the other students and thus need to be taught in a qualitatively different way. However, this assumption can hardly be said to be supported by research. On the other hand, students with dyslexia need longer time to learn to read. The difference sees thus to a large extent to be quantitative, more of a similar teaching, than qualitative, the need for another kind of teaching.

There are of course instances where teaching built on difference is necessary. For example, students who are blind need such special education. Seeing students orient themselves naturally easier in the room while pupils who are blind need to train orientation in space in qualitatively different ways, e.g. by learning to use a stick, be more vigilant on sounds and other non-visual perceptual information that seeing students do not need to focus to the same extent.


My own view is that teaching based on similarity takes us quite far but we need more didactic research on how heterogeneous groups can best be taught. Unfortunately several teachers feel more or less helpless when it comes to the task of teaching students whose behavior is considered to interfere with the order in the classroom. In such a situation, it is not uncommon for teachers to ask questions about "how shall I teach students with ADHD". Although research built on difference does not seem to have very many other answers than that it is good with order , structure and consistency and to be encouraging, which is probably good for all students, at least the teachers' concerns are taken seriously.


As long as we to a large extent lack the didactic research that I discussed above, ie didactic research that tries to solve the problem with how heterogeneous student groups are best taught in different subjects, then the demand for teaching methods built on difference will probably increase. One risk of this is that teaching built on difference easily translates into demands for special solutions and sometimes also to working methods that are not the most functional ones.

Moreover, if some students are seen as qualitatively different from other students in their learning, the step is not far to advocate teaching in special groups with educators who have a special knowledge of the group. Education built on difference provides an attractive frame for professional specialization, among other things because some of the high status of medicine comes with the special thinking. Another risk with a starting point in difference is that it conceals the enormous variety that exists within the groups. The pupil with a medical diagnosis then risks being treated based on a stereotype rather than on her/his own individuality.



 

Some remarks on A Manifesto for Education by Biesta and Säfström

A Manifesto for Education seems to be timely or is perhaps almost always timely. Education has very often, as has capitalism and democracy, been considered to be in a crisis. Maybe the sense of a crisis is part and parcel of the modern project.

To my knowledge, the manifesto referenced in the heading has reached quite a large audience. It was published in 2011 (see link below) by Gert Biesta and Carl-Anders Säfström. It is a brave act to propose a manifest for Education consideringgiven the multitude of perspectives and areas that constitute Education.

I read the manifest as an invitation to a dialogue, hence my remarks. My reading has more to do with the fact that I believe that a manifest should be dialogical rather than the Manifest being dialogical. My comments pertain both to the Manifest itself and to the comments to the manifest separately written by Biesta and Säfström.

 

Some interesting ideas

Apart from the publishing of a Manifesto in itself there are some things I really like about the Manifesto. In this context, I will mention four of these.

Firstly, I like the idea of taking Education back to Educationalists. Too many other research fields and professions have claims on Education that to me seems unwarranted since they are actually not concerned with Education itself but rather with issues at the fringes of Education. Especially problematic is of course the dominance of New Public Management, putting economics, administration and law at the centre-of –attention and the concomitant quest for evidence-based Education.

Secondly, I like that the authors of the manifest try to pinpoint what Education should mean in terms of the here-and-now. Too often Education is the means to something else such as the means for children and young people to be prepared for adulthood and/or as a vehicle to change society. Biesta and Säfström make a tremendously important claim about Education by insisting and underscoring that Education should be meaningful in its very act of occurrence.

Thirdly, the invocation of the possibility of an ironic reading of the Manifesto by Biesta is well taken. Is this a time for Manifestos? Have Manifestos ever changed the world? This signals a well needed self-distance without giving up the idea of a Manifesto altogether.

Fourthly, I also feel sympathetic towards what I want to call the anger expressed by Säfström in his comment. How can the Swedish school system, from being characterized by higher levels of equity than any other system in the world, have developed into its present shape?

Having said this, I will present what I believe is two major shortcomings of the manifesto.

 

Lack of dialogue

The text is quite polemic. Two enemies towards Education are pointed out: Populism and Idealism. Populism is somewhat loosely characterized but is said to simplify and to be instrumental, turning to issues of “what works”. Idealism, on the other hand, is characterized by asking too much of Education being linked to “democracy, solidarity, inclusion, tolerance, social justice and peace”. None of the two antagonistic positions are ascribed any positive values. Moreover, no distinctions between different ways of being populist or idealist are made. However, as is evident in Säfströms comment to the manifesto (labelled “A manifesto for Education!) at least one of the authors proclaims some of these values intensely, which I find reassuring but somewhat contradictory.

However, the point I wish to make concerns the rhetorical format of the manifest. By establishing and homogenizing “the others” there is no opening for dialogue. From the perspective of the authors, nothing is to be learned from these strawmen/women: If You are not with us, You are against us.

 

Lack of clarity

It is a little bit like kicking in open doors to state that there is a lack of clarity in the Manifesto as to the central issue of what Education is since a lack of transparency is admitted to by the authors themselves. However, it is quite clear that Education is something of a the Holy Grail in the document. This illusive Holy Grail it is located in the here-and-now and it is relational, it is neitherot an empty reminiscence of the past, neither nor a quest for the future. It has to do with freedom, these rare moments when “speech” occurs and the resources used in this process are “ethical, political and aestethical in character”. This is about how close we come to understand Education. This of course ties in with the reasoning above about being non-dialogical, in order to use the word Education we now have to abandon most, if not all, of it prior meanings.

 

The future and the past

As has been said It is a little bit reassuring that Biesta in his comment to the Manifesto (A manifesto for Education?) considers the possibility that a Manifesto written today has to be ironic. This too is a little bit contradictory although I find Biesta’s reading more balanced than the writing of the Manifesto. However, I do not read the Manifesto as something that is tied so much tied to the present as being reminiscent of older narratives. Something is endangered by outside forces. This something is holy and so deceptive that it cannot be described properly but the heroes of the narrative will most likely save it. I think we need more modern tales characterized by dialogue and openness to different definitions of what constitutes Education.

 

Link to the Manifesto:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2304/pfie.2011.9.5.540


 

What is meant by "inclusion" in the Salamanca statement?

In 1994, a number of representatives of different educational systems and organizations gathered in the Spanish city of Salamanca to discuss special educational issues. The result became what is commonly referred to as the Salamanca Statement (see link below), which is considered as the international breakthrough for the inclusion thought in education. The word had been used in other contexts before but now it became a keyword in the special educational field at the international level.

The Statement says in a clear way that a whole new way of looking at special educational issues is needed. Schools should become built upon the inclusion-principle. The situation where students in need of special support /with a disability attend special schools or participate in other types of segregated special education or in some instances do not attend school at all was to be radically changed. These students would now get their education in as regular a context as possible. In order for this to succeed, a large number of measures at different levels of society from policy down to the classroom need to be taken according to the Statement. If schools open up to diversity, it is also believed that a number of positive effects in other areas will be achieved:

“… regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combatting discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.” (p ix)


While the first part of the document is the statement itself, the second and by far largest part consists of pieces of advice and proposals for action at a variety of levels in order for education systems to succeed in this new way of working. The overwhelming impression is that the document is built upon principles and argumentation for those principles. Sometimes reference is made to experience, but never to specific research although probably the signers of the document mean that their convictions have support in research.


Based on the fact that inclusion is understood in different ways in different contexts, it may be a point to more specifically look at what is meant by inclusion in the document. I intend to briefly discuss two questions in relation to this: What children / students is the document concerned with? What is meant by the term an "inclusive school"?

Who is the document about?

Although in some places it is stated that inclusion is about the situation of all students, the main impression is undoubtedly that there are students in different types of difficulties that is focused by the document.

“The guiding principle that informs this framework is that schools should accomodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas and groups.”

While the first half of the quote points to the fact that it is about students regardless of their characteristics, the groups that are explicitly mentioned are essentially defined by having problems or being marginalized in other ways. In many places, however, the document only mentions students with disabilities.

It is important to note that the placement of students in different types of difficulty in common classes is not emphasized as an absolute principle but as something that should be strived for:

“Assignment of children to special schools – or special classes or sections within a school on a permanent basis – should be the exception, to be recommended only in those infrequent cases where it is clearly demonstrated that education in regular classrooms is incapable of meeting a child´s educational or social needs or when it is required for the welfare of the child or that of other children.” (p 12)


Another section of the document states that it is difficult to establish general principles regarding exceptions to placement in ordinary classrooms and suggests that such issues must be settled on a case-by-case basis. However, the document affirms the need to create special environments for children and students in need of sign language communication.


What does the term "inclusive school" mean?


"The inclusive school" is a central expression in the document and the document often uses the phrase "the principle of the inclusive school", which is formulated as follows:

“The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, whenever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have. Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles and rates of learning and ensuring quality education…. “ (p 11).

I think this quote is illustrative in two ways. On the one hand, it indicates the importance underscored in the document that all pupils (although focused on students with disabilities in the document as a whole) are entitled to meet high quality education. On the other hand, it shows ambivalence in what is meant by an inclusive school.

We can read the quote as saying that the fundamental principle is defined by the fact that students are placed together, "learn together". Then, these "inclusive" schools must also act in a certain way. It is the interpretation of "must" that becomes important here. Do schools that are inclusive do these things because the authors of the Statement mean that they have to do so? Or do they have to act in this way in order to be able to call themselves inclusive? If you adhere to the latter interpretation, it could have been expressed more clearly, such as with the following wording: The fundamental principles of the inclusive school are that a) children should learn traits and b) are ensured a high quality education.

In the Salamanca Statement, the word inclusion in its various forms is thus used in an ambivalent manner. Sometimes it is used to indicate where the student gets his/her education (e.g a) above), and as in the following example:

”While inclusive schools provide a favourable setting for achieving equal opportunity and full participation, their success requires a concerted effort…” (p 11)

It seems thus theoretically possible, based on the quotation, to have failed "inclusive schools" because the quality of the education is not made into a defining part of the term. On the other hand, of course, it is understood that students should have a good situation in the "inclusive" school, but that is not what defines the term in the quotation above. In that case, one could have written: Schools have to exhibit equal opportunities and full participation in order to be labelled inclusive.


In the preface to the document written by Federico Mayor as Representative of Unicef ​​we meet another way of using the word "inclusion":

These documents are informed by the principle of inclusion, by the recognition of the need to work towards ”schools for all” – institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs. (s iii)

Mayor's text is not unambiguous either, but seems implicitly to mean that inclusive schools are defined not only because they are open to all students but also by exhibiting certain characteristics.

Thus, we encounter different ways of using the word "inclusion" and its various forms in the document, the same words thus expressing different concepts.

The Salamanca Statement - A Challenge

I have just touched on some aspects of the Salamanca Statement. In particular, I have wanted to illustrate that the document does not categorically advocate that all students should attend regular classes, although it is undoubtedly what is preferred and deviation from this should be seen as rare exceptions. I have also shown that inclusion is given different meanings in the document. But there is also much else to analyze, for example, how the relationship between ordinary teaching and special education is expressed. In this regard, the document is not as radical.



http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/SALAMA_E.PDF

The teacher - a free spirit or a robot?

The heading is of course exaggerated. No soul is totally free, no human is a robot. Bu even if one cannot place a concrete teacher at either of these extremes I still believe that they lurk in the background when the work of teachers is discussed. What does it mean then that that the teacher is a free spirit?

The free spirit

There are those who believe that the teacher shall stand free from outer influences. This does of course not mean that the teacher should not listen to the opinion of others or read about research findings but at the end of the day it is the teacher him/herself that decides how to teach the pupils.

It is thus the teacher´s discretion and own experience that should be the basis of the education. John Dewey (1916) expressed the dangers that emerge when goals are forced upon the teacher from the outside. He believed that authorities force goals upon teachers who, in turn, force them upon children. This makes the teacher´s intelligence confined. Rules, inspections, books on teaching methods, curricula etc. block the teacher from getting into close contact with the teaching content and the mind of the child (p 150). Dewey´s line of reasoning feels remarkably up-to-date despite the fact than it was written about a century ago. It is modern both in its threat scenario but also in its trust in the capabilities of teachers to be free spirits.

There are quite widely held beliefs that teachers are, or could become/or be educated to be a sort of didactical virtuoso. Such a teacher is familiar with different conceptions of subjects and different work forms always adapting the teaching to the situation at hand and to the different interests and skills of each pupil. The educational situation cannot be understood beforehand, thus the skilful teacher is capable of mastering varying prerequisites in the situation at hand. The concept the “reflective practitioner” belongs to this tradition. By reflection upon experience the teacher develops him/herself and the teaching. Some go as far as to state that education is an art form with secrets that are mastered be the teachers but that cannot be revealed in its entirety.

I believe this view of the teacher, or at least the ideal teacher, is not uncommon among educational researchers. The idea is an expression of a strong faith in the teaching profession and an expectation that the profession should be left to its own good judgments and reasoning.

The robot

The word robot originates from the monotonous work that was performed by Czech peasants. A robot is pre-programmed to act in a specific way in given situations. The biggest difference between human beings and robots is that the human decides over and is responsible for his/her behaviour. The less a human can decide, the more he/she becomes robot-like and thus less responsible.

Taking a look at the teaching profession in Sweden today one has to conclude that it is extremely regulated. There are laws, inspections and all those things Dewey talked about having a massive influence on what goes on in schools and classrooms. This state of affairs is probably similar to that of several other countries. Moreover, the work by teachers in Sweden is supposed to be evidence-based. According to my opinion this quest for evidence is not so much about the extremely complex and important issue about how research and practice should be interconnected. It seems as a rather to more or less (hopefully less) arbitrarily way to decide that some methods/actions “have evidence” and/or to legitimize a particular way of teaching.

As an educational researcher I am of course not against the idea that teachers should be knowledgeable about scientific findings and a lot of things are going on in schools that are not backed up by empirical research. What bothers me is the trivialization of research and the research-practice relation that often accompany quests for evidence.

The expression “teacher proof teaching” sort of clearly formulates what the control of teachers´ work to a large part is all about. It seems as if the goal is to make education as independent from the teacher as possible. Along this line, Swedish publishing companies are creating study material that will make sure that the pupils will reach the knowledge goals prescribed (from the outside). We recognize traces from the educational technologies in the 1960ies.

The relation between teachers on the one hand and politicians and authorities on the other is built upon distrust in this scenario. Politicians and authorities do not trust teachers, hence the intense regulation of their work. The teachers do not trust the politicians.

Some reflections

These are complex issues. Instead of trying to provide answers I will make some reflections. I am much more oriented towards the first view at the same time as I can see that it is far from unproblematic for several reasons: a) All teachers are not skilful enough to work in this way b) All teachers do not want to work in this way c) Outer control is not always a bad thing, it can in certain circumstances raise the quality of teaching and it also provides a democratic insight and influence into schooling and d) There are teachers who make claims for the freedom of the free spirit but that misuses this freedom- b) and d) can be seen as examples of what Erich Fromm viewed as “a flight from freedom”, i.e. the responsibility that is an intrinsic part of freedom.

There are of course huge dangers involved in trying to make education “teacher-proof” even if politicians and others try make their claims in the name of goodness. I am not an admirer of the French social philosopher Michel Foucault, but here some of his concepts come in handy, such as “docile bodies” and “surveillance”. In addition to a de-professionalization of the work (anyone can follow manuals…) the value of the concrete encounter between the teachers and the pupils and the fact that the outcome of such encounters cannot be predicted beforehand is profoundly underestimated.

As usual one has to find some middle-ground. Given the teacher shortage in Sweden, and in many other countries, an important question concerns how to make the teaching profession more attractive:

  • Which teaching role will attract the right students to teacher education?

  • Which teaching role can make skilful teachers return to the profession?

  • Which teaching role will keep skilful teachers in the profession?

There is an obvious risk for bad spirals here. E.g. an increasingly watered-down professional role might deter the ones that would like to be free spirits which will cause the surveillance to increase and so on. The role of being a free spirit is demanding but isn´t these the teachers that are admired and remembered?

 

Dewey, John. (1916/2000). Demokrati och utbildning. Göteborg: Daidalos.

/Democracy and Education/

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