An examination of the special education teacher allocation model to support inclusion in Irish primary schools
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The global movement towards inclusive education (Anderson et al. 2007; Garrote et al. 2017) sees a fundamental obligation on State to provide an effective model which supports and enables school staff to include and cater for students with special educational needs (SEN) in the mainstream school. This study examines the current national directive with regard to inclusive educational practice for primary schools in Ireland, Department of Education and Skills Circular 0013/2017, which introduced the Special Education Teacher Allocation Model (SETAM). This research set out to unveil the workings of the SETAM, by giving a voice to teachers, as the key stakeholders in the implementation of government policy in schools, to understand how they have interpreted and implemented this model in the Context of Practice (Bowe et al. 1992; Ball 1994) and to examine the implications of their views for policy direction and practice in the classroom. A mixed-methods approach to data collection and analysis was adopted. The sample consisted of principals, SEN coordinators, class teachers and special education teachers. A national, online survey was carried out, followed by semi-structured interviews, which aimed to examine the perspectives and experiences of teachers who had been working under the SETAM since its introduction in September 2017. These interviews were conducted in four Contexts of Practice, i.e., a boys’ school, a girls’ school, a mixed school (non-DEIS) and a DEIS school (mixed). Analysis of the datasets, guided by the theoretical framework of Ball’s (1994) Policy Cycle, revealed a number of significant findings. This study highlighted the complexity of policy implementation in schools, as the notion of teacher agency versus increased responsibility, and the dilemmatic nature of such within Contexts of Practice, emerged. Interesting data, surrounding the use of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Continuum of Support (DES 2007a) as a framework for inclusive practice, were also revealed, providing insights into the need for greater continuing professional development for all teachers on SEN and inclusive practice in schools. Furthermore, a move towards more collaborative practice to meet the needs of students with SEN in schools was found, with increased use of in-class support and co-teaching approaches evident under this model. However, data also suggest the remaining need for withdrawal practices within this inclusive policy. In summary, this study argues that evaluating current practice on a micro level is vital to inform those at the macro level of policymaking about what is happening on the ground, to create a well-informed, evolving policy cycle (Ball 1994). The study listened to teacher voice and in doing so, identified areas of success within the SETAM and potential for improvement, according to those at the coalface of policy implementation in schools. Thus, findings may provide an important evidence base to underpin and inform the evolution of inclusive education policy and practice for students with SEN in Irish primary schools.
Inclusive policy and practice
Teacher allocation models
Special educational needs