Leadership for inclusive education: The knowledges, attitudes and practices of primary school principals
Date: 20 July 2020
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Education
This study sought to understand leadership for inclusive education from a principal’s perspective, in acknowledgement of the crucial part they play as leaders of schools. It adopted the Ecology of Inclusive Education (Anderson et al., 2014), a conceptual framework that situates inclusive education within the complex context of schools, ...
This study sought to understand leadership for inclusive education from a principal’s perspective, in acknowledgement of the crucial part they play as leaders of schools. It adopted the Ecology of Inclusive Education (Anderson et al., 2014), a conceptual framework that situates inclusive education within the complex context of schools, and the environments in which they operate. This afforded a recognition of the influential nature of context in the construction of principals’ knowledges, attitudes and practices as leaders for inclusive education. Seven case studies were conducted across primary schools in an educational region of Queensland, Australia. Each case utilised thematic analysis to analyse two in-depth semi-structured interviews and key school documentation. The results yielded some interesting findings. Each of the seven principals perceived inclusive education as a continuum that permits education to occur in a way determined by the schools as best meeting the needs of the students, whether this be in a mainstream classroom, a special education classroom, a special school setting, or anywhere in between. Principals expressed a predominantly negative attitude towards the notion of inclusion and identified barriers over which they had no control as justification for this attitude. The knowledges and attitudes described by principals significantly influenced the selection and enactment of leadership practices for inclusive education. While a small number of practices promoted inclusive education, the majority were either used in both inclusive and exclusive ways or were solely exclusive. Yet practices applied in exclusive ways were consistently described by principals as being ‘inclusive’. The findings of this study highlight some key points. Principals knowledges of and attitudes towards inclusive education reflect the operation of the education system in which they work. Aspects of influence from the social, political and historical contexts were also evident in the principals’ discourse, across both the interviews and documentation. Two shifts need to occur for inclusive education to have a chance of success. First, the system needs to reflect the social justice principles of inclusive education in everything it does. Second, principals need to be afforded the opportunity for authentic introspection, where current ways of thinking and knowing are challenged. It is only when systems operate in a consistently inclusive way, and principals perceive inclusive education positively, that students, regardless of their starting point, will benefit from schooling - socially, emotionally and academically - in an equitable way.
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