Inclusive Practice: Understanding the sentiments, attitudes and concerns of pre-service Health and Physical Education students

Year: 2019

Author: McCracken, Tahlia, Chapman, Sian, Piggott, Ben

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Social justice takes many forms, but in education helping students to achieve their full potential is a constant goal. One area of education that has had increased attention in recent years is inclusive education. A push for more inclusive education practices across schools where students with special needs are integrated into mainstream classes has been a focus. For Health and Physical Education (HPE) teachers the implementation of inclusive education practices has proved challenging, highlighting concerns around teacher confidence, ability to individualise plans, and cope with difficult behaviour. These issues are amplified by preservice HPE teachers who often feel under-prepared to deal with students with special needs in their classes when on professional practice placements during their degrees.

To understand the issue in greater detail, the perceptions’ of preservice HPE teachers around inclusion of students with disabilities, within Health and Physical Education classes has been examined. The study employed a sequential, explanatory mixed methods research design. Participants included 44 Bachelor of Health and Physical Education (Secondary) students in their final year of study who had completed a compulsory Adaptive and Inclusive Education course in their third year and then completed a final 10-week school internship in their fourth year.

Sentiments, attitudes, and concerns were examined using the Sentiments, Attitudes and Concerns about Inclusive Education- Revised Scale (SACIE-R). Students completed the survey pre and post the Adaptive and Inclusive Education course and then again after completing their final school internship. Results were reported using both Total Scale Scores and Subscale Scores for sentiments, attitudes, and concerns. As part of the questionnaire process, students who were interested in also participating in a follow up interview provided contact details. As a result, six students participated in semi-structured interviews that further delved into the challenges of inclusive education practices in the preservice HPE environment.

Results suggest an improvement in attitudes towards inclusive practices through participation in specific courses that provide direct opportunities for preservice teachers to practice inclusion. In addition, qualitative data highlighted the importance of openness and communication in schools that embraced inclusive practices. Implications for teacher education programs include the importance of direct experience with and without the pressure of school environments.