Media representations of special schools: A challenge for inclusive education

Year: 2019

Author: Spandagou, Ilektra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research on disability media representations has explored how powerful and persistent stereotypical representations are. In an analysis of disability representations in Greek media, a hybrid model of representation was identified which presents disability as simultaneously a personal and social issue (Zoniou-Sideri, Deropoulou-Derou, Karagianni, & Spandagou, 2006). The conflicting nature of this representation isn’t recognised but rather suppressed framing disability concerns as unproblematic and commonsense. Research on newspapers representations on inclusive education (Connor, & Ferri, 2007; Dorries, & Haller, 2001; Oreshkina & Lester, 2013) has focused on inclusion as an emergent discourse and how it challenges dominant disability models that have informed segregated special education provision.

While 178 state parties have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which defines and recognises inclusive education, there is evidence that many countries are moving towards increased segregation. This is the case with Australia, where segregated settings, like special schools, are on the increase (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017). This study aims to explore how this increase in special schools is presented in newspaper articles and how these representations relate to inclusive education.

Using Factiva, articles published in Australia in the last two years reporting on special schools were identified. From the more than 800 articles originally found, a set of 300 with a clear focus on special schools were included in the preliminary thematic analysis. The identified articles with a positive representation were grouped based on whether they referred to the need for more special schools, funding, benefits of special schools, their organisation and running, specific programs offered, or a focus on their students and/or teachers. The articles with a critical stance towards special schools constitute a noticeable smaller group and they were explored in terms of the reasoning provided; equity, social, financial, academic, and personal reasons being the most common ones. In-depth analysis of a subset of 30 articles is underway to explore how the dominant media representation of special schools deflects attention from the right to inclusive education. This is achieved through an emphasis on special schools as an essential, hard-earned resource for communities that is benevolent in nature, and inclusive in orientation. The appropriation of an inclusive discourse is notable as it reinforces the commonsense understanding of special schools as good schools for all involved. This analysis raises questions for inclusive education and its response to these representations.