The main aim of my study is to outline and develop an understanding of how mainstream schools attempt to cater for the needs of children who have been diagnosed as having autism. Considering whether a mainstream environment is more suitable and stable than a SEN school will be the main focus of the study, however I also intend to explore the social factors and how these can impact upon an autistic child attending school alongside pupils who are labelled as the “norm”. By looking into the social factors, it should become more evident as to why SEN children suffer bullying and discrimination. By analysing the legislation of a chosen mainstream school, and one of a SEN school, I aim to compare how each claim to cater for SEN such as autism.
I will be researching the inclusion of children with autism within mainstream schools and will aim to consider whether a mainstream environment is more suitable and stable than a SEN school; I will also consider how social factors can impact on an autistic child whilst at school. The DfES (2006) made a statement that “inclusion is about the quality of a child's experience and providing access to the high quality education which enables them to progress with their learning and participate fully in the activities of their school and community” (DfES, 2006, section 28). I will also consider the best interests of the child and resources and support made available to the child and also support made available to the child and also social aspects such as bullying and discrimination within the mainstream environment. I would like to analyse the legislation of a chosen mainstream school and one from a SEN school in order to compare the policies with regard to SEN children and how they can cater for individual needs. I have chosen this topic, as I have a relative who has this condition. He is now seventeen and has never settled into a mainstream or a SEN school, it was even a struggle for him to have home-teaching due to lack of concentration.
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Researchers and scientists are dedicated to finding the reason and causes behind autism. They are always trying to transcend their knowledge in the medical world, to try to help these autistic children. Inclusion was explored by Thomas and Loxley (2001) who discovered that inclusion was often linked to wanting social acceptance from others. Mary Warnock published a pamphlet which questioned the accepted norms of inclusion (Ryan, D, 2008). Warnock stated that “inclusion is not a matter of where you are geographically, but of where you feel you belong” (Warnock, 2005, pg 41-42). New things are being discovered daily; learning about the subject remains a continuous process. In the future, there will be many new therapies, medications, and alternative medications and treatments hopefully in the next couple of years to help autistic children. Autism has been diagnosed to many children in the last year and scientists feel there has to be a reason why this illness occurs, especially in infants.
I would like to include research into what is taught within certain schools for children with autism and mainstream and how this can improve their skills. This could be used to compare how transferable skills are gained and to see if the change would be compatible for the children to successfully merge into mainstream without cause for concern in terms of struggling with workload. I would like to discuss whether or not it is ethical and feasible for autistic children to be merged into mainstream schooling and also whether the child is adaptable to the environment of the school. As well as including relevant information from my literature review in order to provide my research with credibility, I will also be analysing my data and reducing it to a manageable size so that my analysis and collection of data can start at practically the same time. This also allows me to highlight areas which reflect my topic sufficiently. My literature review is organised around and related directly to the research question I am developing. This allows me to synthesise my results into a summary of what is and is not known; and identifies areas of controversy in the literature. It also enables me to formulate questions that may be used for further research in the future.
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I will endeavour to assure confidentiality when gathering my data, as is a very important factor which can have an effect on the data that is to be collected from the parents of autistic and non-autistic children. There are no ethical considerations to take into account as I have chosen to focus mainly on the data collection from parents of children and therefore will not be involving SEN children or vulnerable adults directly.
When assessing the social and affective outcomes of inclusion according to the British Journal of Special Education (2007, Vol. 34, No. 2), it is evident that the article seeks to explore and quantify the ‘social and affective outcomes' of inclusion policy as experienced by children. Additionally, this study is premised upon a statement by Baroness Warnock which called for greater school inclusion efforts and awareness of negative outcomes such as bullying and feelings of alienation within ‘inclusive' educational settings. It aims to investigate feelings of inclusion/exclusion as experienced by pupils themselves and thereby the validity of Warnock's comments about pupil experiences of inclusion in practice, especially vis-à-vis SEN and disabled pupil experiences.
This focus can be seen to be valid as research opinion is ambiguous. For instance on the one hand, suggesting that mainstream school life for ‘included' children can be more frequently characterised by increased bullying, rejection, few social relationships and isolation from peers and teachers (Carter & Spencer, 2006, p. 11; Simmons & Bayliss, 2007, p.20). Or alternatively that inclusion has a positive effect upon “social competence, friendship network, and enhancement of social esteem” (Harr &Wei, 2005, p. 146). It is possible to highlight that Warnock's model of inclusion calls for integration at all levels, i.e. at an educational, social and school level. Consequently to begin in earnest it is necessary to recognise that inclusion itself is subject to different conceptualisations, continuing to be the subject of “debates concerning definition” (Daniels, 2000, p.1). Booth and Ainscow assert that “Inclusion is seen to involve the identification and minimising of barriers to learning and participation”; moreover the relationship between such goals and the need to plan for them is self-evident (Booth & Ainscow, 2000). Ofsted defines “educational inclusion” as being “about equal opportunities for all pupils…it pays particular attention to the provision for, and achievement of, different groups of pupils” (Ofsted, 2001).
There is also an identifiable trend within, which notions of inclusion have broadened to encompass the inclusion of those with special educational needs such as Autism and also those that are socially marginalised. The Centre for Studies of Inclusive Education (CSIE) provides the following definition:
“Inclusive education is children - with and without disabilities or difficulties - learning together in ordinary pre-school provision, schools, colleges and universities with appropriate networks of support. Inclusion means enabling pupils to participate in the life and work of mainstream institutions to the best of their abilities, whatever their needs.”
Thus inclusion in its widest sense, as the CSIE reference to “school life” participation indicates, can actually be seen to go beyond merely facilitating curriculum access i.e. by becoming a whole school target which also deals with issues of welfare and social exclusion and togetherness. This could however be in conflict with other educational trends and cultures.
Mittler supports this position, arguing whilst “classroom practice must play its part, “inclusion involves a process of reform and restructuring of the school as a whole”…which provides school opportunities” (Mittler, 2000, p. 2). Inclusion can be “about engendering a sense of community and belonging” and can thus go beyond the concrete and quantifiable” (DfES, 2001). Within this article, Fredrickson et al actually seek to quantify experiences of inclusion; their methodology will be explored further into my study. Nevertheless, widespread support can therefore be found for Warnock's ‘macro' approach to inclusion. There is a quandary however in that, whilst Fredrickson et al seek to develop a ‘practitioner friendly' (2007, p. 105) mode of assessment, as previously highlighted nationally “particular efforts” are made in line with understandings of inclusion thereby complicating efforts at developing a universal mode of quantifying social and affective outcomes. Making such mechanical approaches problematic to quantification, it could prove beneficial. Their methodology also uses statistical operations such as AVOVA (analysis of variance, and T-test) to make meaningful their questionnaire data; operations which are perhaps beyond the reasonable competencies of most practitioners despite their claims. However, in the world of education, positivism is often considered potentially problematic.
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The consensus position seems to be that “educational attainment, gains in self esteem and improved relationships” must not be sough in isolation from one another (Ofsted, 2002). Whilst educational attainment is ceaselessly monitored “social and affective outcomes are not evaluated; hence Fredrickson et al seek to analyse the effectiveness of inclusion strategies” (Fredrickson et al, 2007). Previous multi-variate research exploring bullying and social and affective outcomes within mainstream schools has been carried out by the likes of Nabuzoka (2003). Nabuzoka used an adjective based peer rating method. Children were asked to link behaviours such as “cooperates, disrupts, shy, fights, seeks help, leader, bully, and victim” to three peers. Such an approach is problematic in that it relies upon language to access understandings and experiences which may extract the most valid response from the most linguistically capable. As suggested by Ward, meanings can be seen to be a labour of independent construction being contingent and personal and subject to change (Ward, 2007). De Saussure highlights the importance of language systems, and some children i.e. EAL/SEN pupils may have yet to acquire an English language speech/writing system and may therefore be unable to fully engage with such a methodology (De Saussure, 1966). Additionally notions such as “cooperation” are abstract and can be seen to require higher order language skills; research has shown this may prove difficult for SEN children (Bignell & Cain, 2004).
Fredrickson et al employed a system of peer assessment, however, rather than using words, cards with smiling face, sad face and neutral face were used to measure the ways in which pupils viewed each other. Responses were then analysed to establish whether there was a relationship between disability, SEN and isolation. Whilst seemingly less subject to linguistic incoherence, nevertheless whilst the sad face may mean ‘rejected' to the researcher (Fredrickson et al, 2007, p. 109) it could mean ‘sad' to the pupil signalling emotional intelligence and empathy rather than rejection. Fredrickson et al also employed “The Belonging Scale” to establish to what degree a child felt attachment to their school. Results showed that there was negligible difference statistically with regards to sense of attachment to school across the SEN, typically developing and former special school pupils (2007, p. 113). The “Belonging Scale” approach however relied upon children choosing from pre-determined responses to pre-formulated questions. As an additional measure, a qualitative study analysis would have helped reveal subjective understandings and experience which could have served as a basis to formulate an initial research framework (Cheung, 2004, p. 38; Llewellyn, 2000). This may have also served as a way of explaining why former special school pupils were more accepted than SEN pupils as workmates. School attachment is also put forward as a positive force for higher achievement (Kao, 2005), yet despite acknowledging, this study did not seek to explore its validity. Whilst research into the PSSM (Psychological Sense of School Membership - adapted to provide ‘The Belonging Scale') have provided support for its reliability and validity (Goodenow, 1993; Hagborg, 1998) research has shown that as a construct the questions may not always gather responses in relation to the pre-determined ‘factors' as thought i.e. “acceptance” (Hagborg, 1998). Other research has also shown that a very important risk factor with regards to lack of attachment and inclusion relates to the degree of visibility of a disability/learning need. Despite explicitly acknowledging this as a salient factor (Fredrickson et al, 2007, p. 106), researchers did not differentiate for this within their study thereby possibly absorbing the negative experiences of certain individuals within the statistical group average.
Harr and Wei (2005) conducted research with a similar methodology however they sough to triangulate their findings through analysing school profile reports and teachers perspectives through conferences in order to gain a fuller picture of the social and affective outcomes of inclusion (p. 145). Fredrickson et al limited their research to a focus upon pupils; this is arguably justifiable, as within Nabuzoka and Smith's study (1993) “pupils significantly associated being a victim of bullying with shy and help-seeking behaviours while teachers associated victims with fighting, being disruptive, and showing a lack of cooperation” (Carter and Spencer, 2006, p. 18). Significant here is the fact that different test groups selected different behaviours within the same study thereby highlighting the significance of standpoint interpretation.
It may be true that in a significant proportion of research within the area of inclusion that whilst the study provides evidence to support that inclusion can achieve positive social and effective outcomes within exemplary inclusive settings, it nevertheless presents a specifically contrived snapshot. Ultimately the value of such research will come from longitudinal, cross-educational setting re-evaluations which may shed light on any long term trends for to rigorously explore outcomes, it is arguably necessary to begin with an analysis of starting points.
My main methodology objective is to use qualitative data, firstly I will interview a member of my family who has an autistic child; this will help me gain a better understanding of the condition and what it is like to cope with on a daily basis as a parent and how it has affected the child's life. This interview will be in depth and focused on one child with autism; however I will have to acknowledge the fact that I may have bias towards the autistic child and I will therefore endeavour to keep a disciplined researcher prospective. I will then devise ten questionnaires based for not only the parents of autistic children, but also for parents of children who do not have autism, five will be handed out to parents who have an autistic child and five will be handed to parents who's child does not have autism; this will allow me to cross compare and analyse efficiently the differences between the two. I could then use this form of data collection to sample it across the younger and older generations of parents to see if opinions differ, I can then link this to the awareness of the issue as it has been found to be an increasing condition in children. Using this type of data collection, the responses are gathered in a standardised way, so questionnaires are more objective, certainly more so than interviews.
Generally it is relatively quick to collect information using a questionnaire. However in some situations they can take a long time not only to design but also to apply and analyse. Potentially information can be collected from a large portion of a group. This potential is not often realised, as returns from questionnaires are usually low. However return rates can be dramatically improved if the questionnaire is delivered and responded to as soon as it is distributed. In order to establish trustworthiness in my data collection, my qualitative research must be auditable through checking that the interpretations are credible, transferable, dependable and confirmable. Credibility is improved through long triangulation in data collection; transferability is achieved through a detailed description of the research process to allow a reader to see if the results can be transferred to a different setting.
Bick-Har, Lam & See-Wai, Yeung Alison (2005) Inclusion or Exclusion? - A Study of Hong Kong Students' Affective and Social Outcomes in a Mainstream Classroom, Educational Research for Policy and Practice (2005) Vol. 4, p. 145-167.
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