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Pupils' views on inclusion: a longitudinal panel study

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SFI is conducting a large-scale project to monitor developments towards more inclusive schools. The aim is to provide education in inclusive environments for more pupils with special needs.

In Denmark, pupils with special educational needs (SEN) are taught in special schools (segregated), in special classes in mainstream schools (semi-inclusive) or in normal classes with additional special teaching, either during the normal school day or after class (fully inclusive).

The percentage of pupils educated in segregated or semi-inclusive programmes has risen steadily from 4% to 5.5% during the last decade. To reverse this trend, the government has launched a large-scale initiative aiming at providing education in inclusive environments for more SEN pupils. The official aim is to reduce the percentage of SEN pupils taught in segregated or semi-inclusive programmes to its former level (4%) within a three-year period (2012-15).

SFI (in cooperation with the Department of Education, Aarhus University) has been commissioned by the Danish Ministry of Education to lead a large-scale research project to monitor developments towards more inclusive schools, with focus on pupil’s experiences and views.

The research project consists of four parts: data collection consisting of longitudinal surveys of pupils, teachers and principals and linking this to register data; randomised controlled trials (RCT) studies; qualitative data collection and analyses; and finally (causal) effect studies on observational data collected in the longitudinal surveys.

First, to monitor the path towards a more inclusive educational setting from the pupils’ point of view, we are conducting a longitudinal, large-scale survey among pupils.

Almost 170 schools have joined the project. In each school, the full population of 5th graders or 7th graders (school year 2012/13) are being surveyed six times over a 3-year period. The survey thus follows these pupils’ well-being and academic development. Moreover, once a year, pupils are assessed in an attention and concentration test. Their class teachers and school principals are also being surveyed on a regular basis to collect information on teaching methods used in classes and inclusion initiatives at school level. 

In addition to the information gathered from the surveys, we are using student and school-level data from administrative registers to link information on pupil’s test scores, family background and school characteristics to the survey data.

Second, two randomised controlled trials (RCT) among teachers and pupils will be carried out and evaluated. Teachers will be offered a course to upgrade skills in inclusive teaching methods. Pupils with ADHD or similar challenges will be offered an ADHD mastering course to help them thrive in an integrated educational setting. In this course, the pupil learns to implement practical strategies for learning both in the classroom and the schoolyard.

Third, a longitudinal qualitative interview study will be implemented at a limited number of schools. Once a year, pupils with special needs who are taught in fully integrated settings and their class mates will be interviewed.

Finally, using the data collected in part one of this project, we will conduct a number of effect studies using quasi-experimental approaches to identify causal effects. We will examine research questions like which teaching methods are effective in improving pupils’ academic skills and well-being in the classroom? Or what is the effect of moving pupils from a segregated to an integrated school setting?

Overall, this research project will establish a unique large-scale, longitudinal dataset, which - apart from providing a good picture of the pupils’ views of the path towards a more inclusive educational environment – will provide data to conduct well-identified causal-effect and RCT studies.

The project is expected to finish in 2016.

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