Supporting pupils with additional support needs in mainstream settings: the views of pupils
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This thesis is the study of experiences of a group of mainstream secondary pupils identified as having additional support needs within the terms of the Education (Additional Support For Learning ) (Scotland) Act (2004). This means that they have been categorised as having entitlements to whatever support they require to ensure that they can attain good educational outcomes. Prior to the 2004 legislation, practices were based on categorisation of such pupils into separate, often segregated, provision which reflected assumptions about their restricted potential. The 2004 legislation is part of a policy agenda concerned with social justice and equity of educational provision for all pupils. It requires that all barriers to learning are removed for each individual pupil. Such a policy shift, and the move towards an inclusive person-centred approach, seem consistent with Scottish education as it is widely regarded, that is, with a strong tradition of, and a commitment to, egalitarianism. However, there is research which also suggests that Scottish education has been, and continues to be, meritocratic and with a strong focus on academic attainment, and that the belief in the tradition of egalitarianism, which is now regarded as a myth, can still influence perception and policy. It has also been argued that the neo-liberal reforms of the public services since the 1980s have narrowed teachers‟ work, led to a focus on its measurable aspects and led to less time being available for other areas of work, including supporting non-academic learning and attainment. In this thesis I discuss how the influence of the „myth‟, a tradition of meritocracy, and a performativity focus on attainment, shape teachers understandings and practices as they are required to reconcile them with a concurrent policy agenda which has a focus on social inclusion and equity of educational opportunity. To enable the voices of pupils and their teachers to be heard, I use semi-structured interviews and an interpretivist approach to study the experiences and attitudes of 8 teachers and 17 pupils in 2 comprehensive schools in a Scottish local authority. Through doing this I identify factors which might prevent teachers from developing inclusive approaches and support for learning practices which are helpful and acceptable to pupils. I also consider any apparent tensions between a person-centred inclusive policy agenda and a tradition of meritocracy. I found that pupils were generally positive about their experience of learning and identified practices they thought would be both helpful and acceptable to them: peer working; teachers mediating learning through discussion/questioning; work which was interesting to them and/or relevant to life beyond school. There was also a degree of consensus that difficulties associated with the reading/writing tasks they were required to do could be barriers to fully accessing the curriculum. The study also found that the teachers interviewed showed a commitment to provide support to pupils with additional support needs and that they provided a range of in-class arrangements to achieve this. However, they seemed also to be influenced by academic traditions/assumptions and felt that what they were able to do was limited by the agenda created by national examination requirements and it was that which drove the curriculum. The study concludes that the practices and power relations in schools are influenced by the conservative thinking which characterises Scottish education, that these practices and power relations can be oppressive and disempowering to teachers and pupils and that pupils are still labelled, sometimes segregated and treated differently from their peers. It also emerged that while there are no real opportunities for pupils to express their views and challenge the identities ascribed to them, when they are given that opportunity they can have well formed views about their education and what changes to existing practice would better help them to improve their attainment and develop useful skills. Not all of the pupils did express such views, and this may link to effect of the power relations in schools. Of those who did express views about what they would like to see change, the changes they identified seem to be generally possible within the pedagogical and curriculum framework changes as suggested in Curriculum for Excellence documents. However, given the findings of this study about power relations and the persistence of academic traditions and assumptions, it is relevant to note that these changes in themselves will require alterations to existing in-school power relations, working arrangements and conceptualisations of what constitutes educational success and how it is measured.