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Practices in Special Education: Debates and Challenges|
The Student Centred Appraisal of Need (SCAN) mechanism is an ascertainment and planning process to determine student needs and assist in making adjustments for students with disabilities in ACT schools of the Archdiocese. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a written plan developed at school level to plan for, review, and assess the learning needs of students with disabilities. The IEP, developed in collaboration with parents, is a key element of a school’s response to meeting needs of every student with disabilities. Schools offer their own IEP for each special needs student. The annual IEP summary is a Catholic Education Office (CEO) requirement for system accountability and planning processes.
An Individual Planning Tool (IPT) is an ascertainment and planning process to determine student needs and assist in making adjustments for students with disabilities in the NSW schools of the Archdiocese. The IPT process will be gradually introduced into NSW schools from 2010. The Literacy Numeracy and Special Learning Needs program is an Australian government initiative to provide educational systems with supplementary resources to support better learning outcomes for students with special needs. The Archdiocese distributes these resources to schools on an annual basis to support students with disabilities and students with special needs (other than disabilities).
TEACHERS AND PEDAGOGY
The research literature on teaching students with disabilities has broadly and widely documented the nexus among teacher training, teacher perceptions, teacher attitudes, teacher discrimination, and teacher efficacy that affect classroom pedagogy. Critical areas—among many others—are teacher rejection of the principles of inclusive schooling and teacher lack of knowledge and skills (Winzer, 2008).
Some teachers dislike the principles of inclusion. Winzer (2006) observes that
Many teachers reject the demands that all teachers be prepared to teach all children, dispute inclusion as a universal template that assumes that only one solution exists to the various challenges faced by children with special needs, are unwilling to accept the loss of the safety valve called special education, and prefer the present system. (p. 33)Teachers’ perceptions of teaching children with disabilities and their attitudes toward inclusion are significantly influenced by their own perceived levels of efficacy, particularly in the teaching of children with disabilities in their classrooms (Hsien, 2007; Winzer & Mazurek, 2010b). Many teachers lack skills. Research findings from across the globe indicate that schools and teachers are struggling to respond to students with special needs and to provide authentic, relevant, empowering, and worthwhile schooling for such students (e.g., Aniftos & McLuskie, 2003; Wills & Cain, 2002; Winzer & Mazurek, 2005; Zajda, 2011).
Australian teachers have reported that they found the inclusion of students with special needs to increase their workloads and spoke of their increased stress and lack of support (Chen & Miller, 1997; Forlin, Haltre, & Douglas, 1996; Klassen, Usher, & Bong, 2010). A recent study in Western Australia (Anderson, Klassen, & Georgiou, 2007) found that many teachers seemed willing to move toward greater inclusive practices although many were ambivalent or angry about the problems associated with the day-to-day practice.
Level of training is significantly correlated with the level of confidence in teaching inclusively. It follows that the nature and the quality of teacher training for inclusive schooling for students with disabilities is a major factor affecting teacher attitudes and teacher efficacy (Romi & Leyser, 2006; Winzer, 2006; Winzer & Mazurek, 2010a, 2010b).
Reports from Australia claim that young teachers are not trained effectively to work with students with special needs (see Milton & Rohl, 1999). In a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey, more than 60% of Australian teachers wanted more development than they received (OECD, 2009). It is not surprising that a recent study (Anderson et al., 2007) found that the number one request by teachers was for more training and professional development in inclusion-related topics. In particular, teachers wanted more training in a variety of disabilities.
Some advances are evident. In the state of Victoria, major government policies have emphasized that for inclusive education reform to be successful there is need for reform in teacher preparation at the pre-service level so that teachers are better prepared for inclusive schooling for students with disabilities.
However, in the state of New South Wales it was proposed that teachers be trained to cover a broader range of needs instead of specializing in areas such as autism, language, or behavioral difficulties. The Education Minister did not believe specializations will be lost, or that online training is inadequate. She said that “110 hours of additional specialist training is something that most teachers that I’ve talked to have actually jumped at the chance to do.” Opponents argue that “The idea of using online training for just 110 hours and [then] put teachers in front of students with diverse special needs was always absurd.” (ABC News, 2009). In September 2009, the New South Wales government deferred the reform of special education in the public schools to allow time for further consultation.
As Winzer and Mazurek (2010b) point out, “Few issues have received the attention and generated the controversy and polarization of perspectives as has the movement to include all children with disabilities into general classrooms” (p. 87). Although integration is accepted policy in Australia, the issue of genuine inclusion of students with disabilities continues to be a challenge and there are still unresolved education policy, curriculum, and classroom pedagogy issues.
Australia sees a plurality of voices governed by a common concern; multiple discourses address inclusive schooling for students with disabilities. Each state approaches inclusive education quite differently so that education policy reforms for inclusive schooling contain a multifaceted diversity of educational provisions, rather than one approach.
Inclusive schooling in Australia illustrates the complexity of the inclusive reform movement, the changing agenda, and the pervasive challenges. We point to only two of the challenges below: legislative intent and teacher skills and training.