South Australia’s special school co-location reforms: inclusion or illusion?

Author: Peter Walker

Walker, Peter, 2019 South Australia’s special school co-location reforms: inclusion or illusion? , Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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On 20th September, 2006, the Rann Government announced Education Works, its bold plan to “reshape the face of public education in South Australia” (Government of South Australia, 2006a, p.1). A critical feature of this plan was addressing infrastructure issues arising from ageing school buildings, limited curriculum choice and declining student enrolments, by partnering with private industry to create six new schools. These ‘super schools’ were to cater for different types of schooling. After consultation, 17 schools were identified as being suitable for closure, combining with other schools, or, alternatively, being reconfigured. As a result of this plan, six new schools were built.

One of the key features of Education Works was “greater school interaction though clusters” (Government of South Australia, 2006b, p.1). Historically, special schools have been segregated environments. Interaction between schools can reduce such segregation and reflect a movement towards both inclusive policy and practice. The current research described and explored in this dissertation seeks to discover whether and how increased interactions have been planned for, or occurred, in relation to the students with disabilities and their teachers within selected special settings. Opportunities and barriers to the development of inclusive practice are identified, in newly created schools that involved the co-location of special and mainstream schools under the Education Works plan, with recommendations made to guide future policy.

The dissertation is an interpretive case study, utilising four newly co-located special schools. Three separate methods of data collection and analysis are utilised: a document analysis, a spatial analysis, and, finally, interviews of leaders from the special schools. For both the interviews and document research, coding occurs through a blended design. In the spatial research, however, Soja’s Thirdspace (1996) framework is used to explore spatial design intentions, the way space is utilised in practice, and to propose alternative spatial responses to support the goal of inclusion.

The main findings indicate the problematic nature of using special school leaders to develop inclusive practices when they conceptually frame inclusion in a manner that does not align with a rights approach to inclusion or support the goal of full inclusion (United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016). Instead, systemic segregation appears to be reproduced by framing inclusion as a faulty, utopian vision, and a threat to the sustainability of special schools. Existing and planned connections between special schools and mainstream schools fit the definition of integration rather than inclusion. The increase of withdrawal spaces appears problematic, considering their capacity to be used as spaces for seclusion.

The findings indicate the need to provide more detailed direction regarding inclusion (United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016) at a policy level, and to ensure that those leading inclusive education reforms do not hold positions which are antithetical to the goal of full inclusion. Future co-locations would benefit from a broader, research-informed, understanding of how to meaningfully include the voices of students with disabilities in co-location planning and decision-making. An increase in preventative behavioural approaches, such as Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS), is also recommended in order to lessen teachers’ advocacy for withdrawal spaces.

Keywords: inclusion, reform, co-location

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2019
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Kerry Bissaker