Inclusion of pupils with special needs
A study carried out by Dyssegaard et al. (2013) collated results of international research and studied the effects of including pupils with special needs in ordinary tuition in primary and lower secondary. In brief, the study found that inclusion can have a positive academic and social effect on all pupils. The prerequisite is that teachers have adequate competence and access to special needs support staff. Using two teachers has a positive effect on all pupils contingent on one of the teachers having special needs training. The teachers should co-ordinate their teaching and take turns to assume the teacher role so that both of them teach and support all of the pupils. It is also imperative to the special needs pupils’ academic and social progress that the school takes a positive attitude towards inclusion.
In a study into special needs education in upper secondary, Markussen et al. (2009) found that a sense of belonging with an ordinary class is important. Special needs pupils who are included in ordinary classes achieved better grades at Level Vg1 than pupils who are segregated in separate classes. Other than the potential social effects of inclusion, it is hypothesised that integrated special needs pupils are met with higher expectations when included in ordinary classes. Inclusion in ordinary classes is particularly effective for those with the best grades, i.e. those who achieved close to average grades in lower secondary. Markussen et al. (2009) also point out that the key factor is being affiliated with an ordinary class. It is not apparent that the inclusion of special needs pupils, or pupils who require additional help and support, has a negative impact on the other pupils.
High-quality teaching and special needs expertise are important
Mjøs (2007) writes that close co-operation between general teachers and special needs teachers appears to be a prerequisite for successful inclusion and adapted tuition for all pupils. Special needs competencies are considered to be particularly valuable when combined with ordinary tuition.
Egelund and Tetler (2009) demonstrate that the teachers’ qualifications are vital to the outcome of special needs education. This is in line with other international research, which has shown that the teacher is the one factor with the greatest impact on pupils’ learning (Hattie 2009). Many teaching assistants assume extensive responsibility for the tuition provided in individual subjects. Research suggests that not prioritising competent teaching staff in special needs education may render poorer outcomes than had the special needs competence been of a high level (Haustätter and Nordahl 2013)
Developing new knowledge in the field of special needs
The Research Council of Norway has allocated NOK 28 million to special needs research in the period 2014 to 2023 as part of its new research programme FINNUT. The research, which will commence in the summer of 2014, will help generate new knowledge about the factors that promote or impede inclusion in kindergartens and schools.
When looking at international research the special needs education field has according to Holck (2010) traditionally differentiated between different disabilities and diagnosis. Availability of research-based knowledge about the environmental factors that impact on individual pupils’ learning is more limited. Identifying the factors that actually cause children and young people to learn, be happy and develop in line with educational objectives requires different skills and a different set of concepts. Unlike past practices, the aim is not to investigate and identify a diagnosis, function or problem, but rather to determine what creates good learning environments for everyone.