Lived experience and inclusive education: an exploration of the phenomenon of inclusive education in the life world of young people, parents and teachers
Murdoch, Diana Campbell
While much research has focused on the processes and practices of inclusion in schools, less is known about how these processes are experienced on a daily basis, and what these experiences mean to young people, parents and teachers. The development of inclusion in the Scottish education system is examined, to give context and background to this study, as well as the features of Scotland’s approach to the education of children with ‘additional needs’. A number of more general issues surrounding inclusive education in schools are discussed, identifying barriers, which appear to hold back the enactment of inclusion in schools, as well as difficulties surrounding the conceptualisation of inclusive education and its rôle, alongside the aims of education. Using a phenomenological approach as both methodology and method, this research seeks to gain a greater understanding of the daily experience of education, which describes itself as ‘inclusive’. Based on Husserlian phenomenology, as further interpreted in Merleau- Ponty’s theory of embodiment, in depth interviews were used to gain rich descriptions of experience, giving voice to seven young people, together with four teachers, one Learning Assistant and the mothers of two of the young participants, making fourteen in all. All the young people attended one mainstream, fully comprehensive, non-selective secondary school, for pupils aged between twelve and eighteen years. The young people in this study were identified by the school, as having a range of “additional needs” and might have been educated in alternative provision, prior to the extension to the policies of inclusion in Scotland. A range of methods was used, within the interviews, to enable the voices of those seldom heard in research, to be heard. The interview data were analysed by reference to Merleau-Ponty’s five existentials, and the phenomenological methods of Moustakas and van Manen, to create an eidetic description of the experience of inclusive education. The ethical nature of inclusive education was examined, through the lens of Levinas’ theory of alterity. The findings of the research underline the importance of the human relationship in all aspects of school life. Findings indicate a number of areas, where the characteristics of an inclusive education in a mainstream school, are not experienced as “inclusive”. Looking forward, the research findings suggest a need to reconceptualise inclusive education, as an ethical response to a call from the Other, based on Levinas’ theory of alterity, in which the unique singularity of each person is accepted and valued, allowing young people to grow and develop in schools, with a true ‘sense of belonging’.