Teachers´ attitudes towards "inclusion"
Skrivet 2019-06-05 13:15 av |
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.
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.