by Stella Mouroutsou
You can hear more about Stella’s research via her Thursday Video
Inclusive education is promoted in many countries and is supported by international agencies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank. Although there are differences among countries concerning the progress made in implementing inclusive education, significant progress has been made in the field as there is growing societal awareness of its benefits, and educational policies and legislation promote inclusion in many ways.
The promotion of inclusion of all children in mainstream schools is a significant provision in Scotland. A raft of legislation supports the policy of inclusion, such as the Education (Standards in Scotland’s Schools, etc) (Scotland) Act 2000, which established the idea that education will be provided in mainstream schools for all pupils unless one of three specific circumstances arise; and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, with which the term ‘special educational needs’ (or SEN) referred to in the 1980 Act was replaced with the wider term ‘additional support needs’. This Act encouraged the view that there is the possibility for all children and young people to have additional support needs at some stage during their school career, and duties were placed to local authorities, and other agencies for the provision of additional support where needed. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009 included some amendments providing some clarifications regarding the rights of children with additional support needs (ASN) and their parents.
Three Government policy priorities that promote the development of positive relationships and inclusion in learning environments are: the Early Years framework (Scottish Government, 2008), Getting it Right for Every Child (Scottish Government, 2010), which is a child centred approach that enables intervention when there is a concern about a child; and Curriculum for excellence (Scottish Government, 2010) which provides a framework for the learning and experiences of all pupils aged 3-18.
Despite the good efforts taking place in the field of inclusive education in Scotland, there are still questions and concerns by different groups, not only because of the conceptual confusion of the term ‘inclusive education’, but also because of the difficulties that emerge in the policy process and on the way that policies are implemented. Policy is also a contested term and educational policy’s conceptualisation as a linear process of policy formulation and policy implementation has been challenged and replaced by a more complex process (Ball and Bowe, 1992). Indeed, policy actions are dynamic and do not have linear relationships.
More specifically, policy implementation is an active process that constantly changes, as new behaviours emerge, such as the formulation of the Acts that promote inclusion. Viewing the policy process as a system, the various relationships of policy-makers, schools, Education officers, teachers etc. could be observed and any misunderstandings or problematic areas could be identified.
The aim of my research then, is to ‘observe’ the relationships of this system and the way a policy is implemented in order to better understand how such a system works and how key agents such as policy makers and support teachers perceive, interpret and implement the policy; as well as how the policy is perceived by supported pupils who are those who experience inclusion after all. My research is focused on the implementation of a specific Scottish policy which is called: ‘Better relationships, better learning, better and behaviour’ (Scottish Government, 2013). The policy was published in March of 2013 in response to the Behaviour in Scottish schools research 2012 (Black et al, 2012) and it basically includes priority actions to support local authorities, practitioners, and partners to promote positive relationships and behaviour within their learning communities, which is also one of the aims of the Curriculum for Excellence and GIRFEC.
The policy was formulated by the Scottish Government and SAGBIS group: ‘the Scottish advisory group behaviour in schools’, which has been renamed to: ‘Scottish Advisory Group on Relationship and Behaviour in Schools’ (SAGRABIS) and monitors the development of positive behaviour and relationships in schools. The group is chaired by the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages and the Spokesperson for Education, Children and Young People from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA); and it also consists of representatives from various organisations such as: Education Scotland, General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC), Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP), National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Association of Head teachers and Deputes Scotland (AHDS), Association of Directors of Education (ADES), Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) etc.
It is evident that various agents are involved in the formulation of the policy but, who is involved in the policy’s implementation and in what ways? How the policy is interpreted by different agents? Along with these questions, other significant questions about the implementation process will be addressed in my research, such as: What are the schools’ relationships with policy? How the policy is decoded? How the policy is implemented in several schools that belong to different local authorities?
Hence, adopting a complexity perspective, the implementation of the policy and the relationships involved will be explored in my study, in an effort to avoid oversimplifying policy processes, possibly revealing tensions and the multi-levelled character of policy implementation. Through observation of the relationships included in policy implementation in action, the interactive nature of policy implementation will be emphasised, and the influences in the micro level as well as in the macro level will be revealed, observing how economic and social factors affect the system too.
Ball, S and Bowe, R. (1992) Subject departments and the “implementation” of national curriculum policy: an overview of the issues. Journal of curriculum studies, 24 (2), 97-115.
Black, C., Chamberlain, V., Murray, L., Sewel, K. and Skelton, J. (2012) Behaviour in Scottish schools 2012 Final Report. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Scottish Government (2008) The Early Years Framework [online] Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/257007/0076309.pdf (accessed 1 May 2015).
Scottish Government (2010) Supporting children‘s learning code of practice (Revised edition) Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/04/04090720/21 (accessed 1 May 2015).
Scottish Government (2013) Better relationships, better learning, better behaviour [online] Available at: http://www.gov.scot/resource/0041/00416217.pdf (accessed 1 May 2015).