What Works? Re-focussing special schools in Leeds
Dr Mark Priestley and Dr Parvaneh Rabiee
This was a six month evaluation research project (October 2000 – March 2001), funded by Leeds Education Authority’s Inclusion Service, with co-funding from an ESRC fellowship award.
The project was initiated by the Inclusion Project of Leeds Education Authority, with a view to evaluating new pilot schemes for promoting the inclusion of disabled children who might otherwise attend special schools. The pilot schemes draw on the resources and expertise of exisiting special schools, re-focussing them to support pupils in mainstream settings.
The two models under investigation included ‘Partnership’ schemes (where pupils from an existing special school attend a partner school in the mainstream) and ‘Support’ schemes (where staffing and resources from a special school are used to support pupils who attend mainstream schools in the local area, but who might otherwise be referred to a special school).
Documents available on-line
Other relevant policy includes:
- The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, with explanatory notes
- The Alliance for Inclusive Education site.
Some key principles
Evaluation tends to work best when:
- The people affected by change do not feel threatened
- All the key stakeholders are valued and feel ownership over the process
- The approach evolves to work within existing systems and procedures
- The task of monitoring and evaluation does not add significantly to existing workloads
- The specific value of both quantitative and qualitative data is acknowledged
- To monitor the development of pilot schemes for ‘partnership’ and ‘support’, from the perspective of all the key stakeholders.
- To determine the criteria that different stakeholders would most value in judging the success of such schemes.
- To establish how such criteria might be most effectively measured.
- To use these measurements in evaluating the pilot projects.
- To develop easily administered evaluation tools for future use, based on this experience.
It will be important to our approach to involve all the key stakeholders (e.g. pupils, parents, support assistants, teachers, headteachers, therapists and specialist staff, SEN co-ordinators, LEA staff, etc.).
The methods will include meetings and interviews with key stakeholders; regular direct observation of the pilot schemes in operation; feedback and validation of initial priorities; questionnaires, etc.
Phase One (October – December 2000)
During the autumn term, our priority will be to identify the key stakeholders affected by each of the pilot schemes and to establish, directly from them, their hopes and concerns. In particular, we will focus on the factors that they believe should be taken into account when evaluating the success of the scheme. This will take time and should be an ongoing process from day one.
During this time, we will also familiarise ourselves (in collaboration with Inclusion Service staff) with the most relevant policy developments and documentation that frame the context for the pilot schemes. This will be done primarily through ‘key informant’ interviews and feedback sessions.
As the initial phase progresses, we will work with the data we have accumulated to draw up a priority list of potential evaluation criteria. We will consult with stakeholders in order to reflect on, and refine, this initial list. Such consultation may take a variety of forms (e.g. small group discussions with parents or school staff teams, consultation with the mainstream and special school pupils involved, discussions with LEA staff, letters and/or questionnaires).
By Christmas we hope to have selected the most promising and realistic evaluation criteria and developed approaches to measuring these, in consultation with key authority staff. This should include a mixture of quantitative and qualitative indicators. We envisage that such criteria should include not only educational and management outcomes, but also social and other non-educational outcomes.
Phase Two (January – March 2001)
The second phase of the research we will focus on operationalising the selected criteria and using them to measure the impact of the pilot schemes. Our emphasis will be to establish what works, and how it can most easily be accommodated within existing systems and practices. It will also be important to reflect on the importance of different indicators to the different stakeholders and the implications of this for prioritising how evaluation tools are used in the future.
It is likely that some measures will be more useful to the central management of inclusion, while others will be more useful to the schools concerned, or to parents and pupils. We will look at how such measures of inclusion could be incorporated into monitoring, evaluation and self-review practices.
Through this process, we will develop and test specific tools and instruments that yield useful information about the pilot schemes, and that can be adopted or adapted in the development of subsequent schemes. It will be important to involve relevant stakeholders in this process, to ensure that the outcomes are readily usable and of interest to those who will administer them.