Headteachers’ views on the inclusion of students with special educational needs in Taiwan
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The main aim of this research is to offer a sociological analysis of Taiwanese headteachers’ views of the inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools. Taiwan is a country which combines Confucian and westernised traditions, and these are reflected in its education systems, including SEN provision. To date, there is little research on headteachers’ views of inclusion and most studies involve attitudinal surveys. By way of contrast, this qualitative research, which adopts a neo-marxist theoretical perspective, is based on twenty five in-depth interviews with school headteachers, who are regarded as having high social status in Taiwan. In addition, the research presents two case studies of schools implementing inclusive practices, based on interviews with headteachers, analysis of the school websites and media reports. Critical discourse analysis is used to analyse the twenty five interview texts and the case studies. Three major discourses of inclusion are identified: the managerialist discourse, the critical discourse and the school as social microcosm discourse. The extent to which headteachers employ these discourses appears to be influenced by various personal and social factors. Headteachers’ understanding of disabled students is the key personal factor influencing their views on inclusion. Further, their unfavourable attitudes towards the inclusion of disabled students may be influenced by the views of parents with non-disabled children, competitive credentialism and the government’s stance. With regard to the inclusion of gifted students, the discourses employed are he following: the school as social microcosm discourse, the privileged class discourse and the dilemmatic discourse. The first two discourses are articulated by headteachers holding favourable attitudes towards the inclusion of gifted students whilst the third discourse is articulated by those holding uncertain attitudes. Headteachers’ understanding of gifted students is the key personal factor influencing their views on inclusion. Competitive credentialism has a major influence on attitudes towards the inclusion of disabled students as well as gifted students. With regard to the two case studies of schools exemplifying inclusive practices, it is argued that the wider applicability of their approaches is questionable. Overall, the results highlight the Taiwanese government’s unclear stance on promoting inclusion. This research has also suggested that a clear operational definition of inclusion is necessary and urgent before the comprehensive implementation of inclusion in wider educational arenas.