Finding a 'shady place' : a critical ethnography of developing inclusive culture in an Aotearoa New Zealand school.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This qualitative study is concerned with the development of inclusive values and practices in an Aotearoa New Zealand school. It focuses on the experiences of staff and leadership in the development of inclusive culture within their school. Since the launch of Special Education 2000 in 1996, it has been the stated aspiration of the Ministry of Education to create a ‘world class inclusive education system’. This thesis is part of an effort to assist schools, in the Aotearoa New Zealand context, to get closer to the aspiration of inclusion. It is hoped that this research can contribute to the sustainable development of inclusion within our schools, and that the values expressed by the ideal of inclusion can become firmly rooted in our learning communities.
The research involved embedding myself in an Aotearoa New Zealand co-educational high school as a qualitative critical ethnographic researcher. Using participatory observation and semi-formal and informal interviews I examined the experiences of a school community developing inclusive values. During an academic year the school utilised a framework for inclusive change known as the Index for Inclusion. The Index provided the framework in which the school community could explore their values, how those values were translated into practice, and to guide the change process.
My analysis drew on hermeneutic phenomological theoretical perspectives underpinned by a social constructionist epistemology. I utilise a theoretical construct of culture, or model, in which to frame the change process within the subject school. The tension between neoliberalism and inclusion based on social justice, and between a model of special education and definitions of ‘disability’ and ‘inclusion’ creates a dynamic that enables the co-creation of knowledge as well as possible futures. The methodology I employed was critical ethnography. Critical ethnography allows the researcher to become a participant in the project. Using a critical ethnographic methodology, the researcher/researched relationship was also a pedagogic relationship. Throughout the year of this study the staff at the subject school reflected on the core values of their school and made changes necessary to begin to align their practice with those values.
I argue that inclusion is linked to culture, and as a result, efforts to create a ‘world class inclusive education system’ must take place in the setting of the school culture. As culture is multi-layered, the change process requires time, perseverance, and at times involves pain. Change involves a renegotiation of meaning and a negotiation of expression. I argue that in a devolved educational system such as Aotearoa New Zealand, the individual school provides a ‘shady place’ in which work can be carried out to counter neoliberal policies and inculcate values of inclusion based on social justice. An ancillary argument in this thesis is that no research is neutral, and that it is an ethical responsibility of the researcher to be aware of whom their research benefits. This awareness does not compromise research; it gives research relevance.