Disability and challenging behaviour: An exploration of social relations in a school environment through critical realism

Alison Gable (2011). Disability and challenging behaviour: An exploration of social relations in a school environment through critical realism PhD Thesis, School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Alison Gable
Thesis Title Disability and challenging behaviour: An exploration of social relations in a school environment through critical realism
School, Centre or Institute School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 393
Total black and white pages 393
Language eng
Subjects 13 Education
Abstract/Summary In light of the premise that student behaviour serves to communicate a child’s experience of problematic environments, this thesis seeks to understand and explain how, despite inroads into more inclusive forms of education, the support of students with disabilities who are perceived to have challenging behaviour (SWDPCB) continues to confront the system. It investigates how a contentious and still divided knowledge base, foundational to professional practice, sets the conditions under which adults negotiate environments to support students with disabilities. As such, the research concentrates on the social effects of a divided knowledge base, its implications for student outcomes and its consequences for the transformation of a school towards more inclusive practices. The research has applied a critical realist lens to address dual objectives; the first to find a methodological strategy for researching a complex and conceptually confused phenomenon. The second to separate, and engage with, the problematic nature of knowledge in light of the object of study. In addition, the research has had to consider the methodological consequences of a critical realist strategy, given its permissive direction for applied research, to determine if the approach could contribute to the inclusive education project. An exploratory, qualitative case study was undertaken of an independent school in South-East Queensland. An initial analysis of the school revealed co-occurring yet philosophically different structural conditions in place to support SWDPCB. Despite the potential of these contexts to provide holistic and meaningful responses, their contested theoretical foundations generated conditions in which emergent structural conditions were produced. A second phase of data collection was followed by a re-focusing and narrowing of the study. In conjunction with a cross-case comparison, analysis revealed a set of generative mechanisms occurring within the context of the professional culture of the school that produced both inclusive and excluding outcomes for students. Accordingly, the research contributes to the debates over the adequacy of professional knowledge characteristically described as the special education divide. More specifically it examines how tensions in knowledge can trigger mechanisms that undermine the confidence of parents in schools to destabilise partnerships and threaten student outcomes. In summary, this study provides a deep understanding of the complex causal pathways between a contested professional knowledge base to its social effect. This explanation brings attention to a number of issues. First it addresses the problematic nature of professional knowledge and its implications for developing parental confidence and trust in schools. Second, it provides further insight into school reform efforts through its exploration of agent action in light of unstable and contradictory structural conditions. In addition, through its attention to professionalism it throws focus on the necessary social relations between parents and teachers required to facilitate school capacity and produce a more inclusive system of education. Third, the research identifies mechanisms occurring within a particular layer of the phenomenon. Here the findings have implications for: disability theorising and its application to students and schools; our understanding of dysfunctional adult interactions and their consequences for the inclusion of SWDPCB; as well as providing insight into the dynamics of home-school collaboration and its impact on student outcomes. Finally this research, through its methodological reflection on the contribution of critical realism to the inclusion project opens new research territory for examining the practical adequacy of research and theory currently informing practice, fills a methodological gap between psycho-social and sociological interrogations of home-school partnerships and provides a research strategy to link collaborative practices to student outcomes. In addition the research examines the boundaries and limitations of a critical realist approach. It concludes that a critical realist application brings potential for more interdisciplinary research and analysis of school responses to students with disabilities in order to build holistic understandings and better theoretical frameworks for action.
Keyword Critical realism
Inclusive education research
Professional learning
Parent participation

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Created: Thu, 09 Feb 2012, 09:18:10 EST by Mrs Alison Gable on behalf of Library - Information Access Service