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March 30, 2023

Better outcomes start with teachers who believe in inclusive education

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For all students – particularly those with additional needs – a teacher who doesn’t believe in inclusive education can be harmful.

New research from Griffith University’s Associate Professor Stuart Woodcock reveals less than 50 per cent of Brisbane secondary teachers believe in an inclusive classroom.

‘Inclusive education centres around a greater diversity for a multitude of abilities. It’s not just students with various or specific learning differences (SLD) but those from various cultures, and family structures.

Assoc Prof Woodcock says while teachers understand the philosophy about inclusive education, there’s limited acceptance or adoption by these educators.

An effective way to teach all students

In the survey of 12 Brisbane high schools and 182 teachers, results revealed just 47 per cent of all teachers believed inclusive classrooms were an effective way to teach all students.  That figure rose to 60 per cent for beginner to intermediate teachers (less than 10 years experience) but fell to 37.5 per cent for experienced teachers (10 plus years experience).

Associate Professor Woodcock says in this secondary school research study, the more experienced a teacher is, the less likely they were to believe in inclusive education. It was interesting that in a separate study, where we talked to NSW primary teachers, another correlation was identified.

‘The NSW study showed that when primary teachers had a high belief in their teaching capability, they gave strong support for inclusive education.’

Associate Professor Woodcock says the reason effective strategies to foster inclusive education practices are so important is clear when we look at a teacher’s connection to their student’s success or failure.

Belief in students

‘If we believe a child can not do something, then we are inclined to offer support, scaffolding for learning because we believe they have genuine difficulties doing it. If we believe they will not do it, we may blame the child for lack of effort or motivation and maybe that increases the chance there are negative consequences for the student.

‘In the first scenario, it’s almost like we don’t expect any more from them, which can filter through subconsciously as the teacher doesn’t really expect anything else from me. It’s all good,’ says Associate Professor Woodcock.

‘In the second scenario, the student gets the message, ‘My teacher believes I can do far better than that. I better pull my socks up”,’

‘In this Brisbane secondary school study, research indicated that experienced teachers gave more sympathy to students with SLD, a major segment in an inclusive classroom, compared to beginner/intermediate teachers.

‘This can be harmful because it could lead to SLD and other students to believe achieving at a higher level in the future isn’t expected of them. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.’

And indeed, from the 1182 teachers interviewed there was a higher expectation of future failure towards students with SLD among experienced (10+ years) teachers.

Associate Professor Woodcock believes inclusive education is less successful in high schools because it’s often put in the too-hard basket.

‘The inclusive education focus is mainly seen in primary schools.  There can often be a real lack of understanding conceptually and practically around inclusive education and its implementation in a high school context.

Associate Professor Woodcock says recently ABC News ran a piece where Queensland parents of students with disabilities demanded more inclusive high schools and called for a fix to a ‘broken system’.  ‘This came after a parent was not able to get their child to be part of an inclusive classroom when he moved to high school. In primary school, this wasn’t an issue.

‘Practically, in primary school, it’s easier to work out how to do it because a teacher only has the same class day-in, day-out for the entire year, whereas in high school, there are many different classes and students per teacher.

‘Inclusivity in high school is possible, we just need to find the right approach.

‘Our research is focussed on finding out how we do inclusive education better in a primary and high school setting so that we get the best our of diverse classrooms for all students.

Associate Professor Woodcock says that as part of an international study with Monash University, they have identified inclusive schools in different Australian states and had a roundtable discussion with the principals to see how they are making their schools inclusive. ‘We’re interested to find out what their approach is.

‘What we need to understand is, which schools are inclusive? What are they doing? and What is working?  We plan to speak to parents, students, teachers, principals, and the community. Inclusive education is a collective proposition, it’s important to include multiple perspectives in the study.

For more see: Woodcock S., Nicoll S., (2022) “It isn’t you: Teachers’ beliefs about inclusive education and their responses toward specific learning disabilities”, Psychology in the Schools. DOI: 10.1002/pits.22643

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  1. Teachers already have far too many demands on them. I doubt they actually do reject inclusive education, they just feel that this is yet another time-consuming, top-down command and they just don’t have the time or energy to implement it.
    When the demand comes from education academics, whom they rightly have little respect for, the resistance only grows. From my experience, education academics are easily the most shoddy, and least credible academics in the universities.

  2. People who have never worked in a classroom, managing a number of different abilities, personalities, attitudes all at the one time have absolutely no idea about the intense demands and the pressure a teacher must endure simply to maintain control at the same time as they go about presenting the opportunity to improve knowledge, comprehension abilities and thus learning. the only ones lecturing on “how to teach” should be former successful educators. The interference of social media, social/family attitudes to the value of learning and knowledge have been/are being eroded by pressures of international ideologies and a general political attitude of carelessness/selfishness in the provision of suitable schools and school systems; thus the standard of learning/knowledge is seriously undermined and the ability to develop knowledgeable and discerning thought practices in the general population continues to be eroded. The general population thus is more easily manipulated and controlled by the scheming, selfish and unconscionable behaviour of many political leaders, world-wide. It is no accident the very basics of knowledge attainment are falling by the wayside; because “whilst you may be able to control an educated person you cannot make him/her a slave! ” Those in charge of training those who wish to be teachers, and those in charge of education standards, have long fallen short of what is needed by both teachers and their students. Impossible impositions of ridiculous ideas about classroom management and teaching techniques, put there by inexperienced, stupidly-idealistic bureaucrats in sheltered ivory towers of ignorance, are letting every child down as they cause the present educational failures – sometimes deliberately.

  3. You could interpret the data as suggesting that the more practical experience teachers have working ‘at the coalface’ the more they lose faith in the notion of inclusive education. I’d suggest that either 1) teachers are clearly not getting the support they need to practice effectively the theory of inclusive education or 2) the theory doesn’t work under most circumstances.


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