Inclusive practice under a policy of integration: learning from the implementation of support assistant provision in South Korean schools
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date05/07/2020
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The study aims to identify the conditions that appears to be promoting or hindering inclusive practice in S. Korean primary schools. As a lens to give scope and focus, the study looks at the implementation of support assistant provision in mainstream primary classes. It proceeded from the idea of inclusive pedagogy, specifically that the diversity of pupils’ educational needs requires teachers to broaden their perspective from ‘some or most’ pupils to ‘everybody’, so that none are marginalised (Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011). In S. Korea, the integration of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) into mainstream schools is facilitated by “special” or “additional” support as “compensation” for disability. Formally, that assistance is implemented exclusively by the special education sector and is confined to pupils with formal Statements of SEN. That policy, applied strictly, stigmatises the assisted pupils and gives no authority to class teachers to use assistance more flexibly in a class community. This study took the form of an instrumental case study. Seven primary school classes in Seoul, were chosen as cases. The methods used to examine daily practice were class observation and semi-structured interview with mainstream class (and subject) teachers. Assistants were also interviewed, both to give more detail about context and for data triangulation. This study looked at how an individual teacher’s views and practice regarding teaching and support and the actual work of a support assistant created class practice and whether and how that practice fitted the official policy and guidelines. The modified Wider Pedagogical Role (WPR) model (Blatchford, Russell, et al., 2012) was used as a reference for data collection and analysis. The development of inclusive practice was discussed in the light of the ‘some/most or everybody’ distinction from the Inclusive Pedagogical Approach (IPA) (Florian & Black- Hawkins, 2011). Codes developed from the Inclusive Pedagogical Approach in Action (IPAA) framework (Florian, 2014b) were used to classify evidence of how the three principles from that framework were applied in particular contexts and to show unique patterns of class practice. To varying degrees, support assistants exercised autonomy in making pedagogical decisions regarding SEN pupils. However, the overall pattern of practice in each class, including the issue of to whom support was given and how, was largely determined by the mainstream class teacher’s view and practice. This is where the official structure of support assistant provision shows conflict in its character: the support assistant is formally not managed by or accountable to the mainstream class teacher but the assistant’s activity is as permitted by that teacher. The study applies the ‘some/most’ or ‘everybody’ distinction from two different angles, 1) the availability of support assistance and 2) teachers’ perceptions and implementations of the extent of their responsibilities in teaching and supporting. Regarding 1) availability of assistance, support assistance was used mainly for pupils with SEN. On the other hand, it was also found that, sometimes regardless of a teacher’s thinking and/or practice, the demands of pupils’ needs in various situations naturally widened the application of assistance. Where a teacher took a widely permissive view, the support assistant was free to help any pupil in the class. Regarding 2) the teacher’s taking responsibility, where the class teacher took responsibility for all of the pupils except for the pupil with SEN (‘most’ approach), the support assistant worked as a primary instructor for that SEN pupil. Two forms of function of support assistance were identified: (1) as a necessity for including a pupil with SEN or (2) for easing the teacher’s workload. On the other hand, where the ‘everybody’ approach was manifest in teacher’s practice, support assistance was used to complement the teacher’s main teaching role. In such cases, support assistance was considered as an asset to support learning by all pupils and to enrich the class community. Where a teacher’s practice was inclusive, an exclusive application of support assistance was seen as a barrier to inclusion. However, because of the allocation of control to the Special Education Sector, those class teachers whose practice was broadly inclusive were not inclined (or had given up trying) to actively extend their inclusive practice to their use of support assistance. Therefore, where a teacher took sole responsibility for all of the pupils in the classroom, minimising support assistance was a form of inclusive practice. Furthermore, such teachers, of course, saw the maximising of support assistance as desirable, so that an assistant would be available to help any pupil. Here, conflict is apparent between the prevailing use of support assistance and teachers’ views regarding the inclusive use of support assistance. Different approaches and views lead to different results and implications. Although policy encompassing inclusive education and support assistant provision is driven by special pedagogy and is based on providing a “special” or “additional” approach for some (pupils with SEN), this study found various forms of inclusive thinking and practice driven by the ‘everybody’ approach. While practice was still inconsistent and imperfect, there was substantial evidence of inclusive thinking and actions (as accredited by the IPAA) (Florian, 2014b), even in cases where a teacher’s practice was widely non-inclusive. Where policy sees integration as inclusion, practice may have to stretch the bounds of policy to take inclusion forward. The voices of teachers whose practice is inclusive may be persuasive of a need for change. It is common that ideological change brings about change in policy and practice. Here, however, actual practice will justify its theoretical basis. The diverse needs of pupils and teachers’ development of individual practice have led naturally to more inclusive practice. Inclusive Pedagogy finds its justification here on practical grounds.