The role of primary school leadership in inclusive practices

Year: 2012

Author: Neihart, Maureen, Yeo, Lay See, Chong, Wan Har, Huan, Vivien

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


It is well established in the literature that teacher attitudes toward inclusion are a key variable in the implementation of inclusion in schools and that administrative support is a powerful predictor of these positive attitudes. Villa, Nevin, Thousand and Liston (2005) concluded that administrative support was the number one predictor of teachers' positive attitudes toward inclusive practices.  Limited research has been conducted, however, to examine the specific type of administrative support that influences teachers' perceptions and beliefs about inclusion. This paper reports findings from a large qualitative data set of primary teacher perceptions toward inclusion in Singapore in which teachers' perceptions of the role of administrative support was examined. Data was collected from a sample of 202 classroom teachers, para educators and special needs teachers in 41 primary schools through focus group interviews. Interviews were transcribed and coded by multiple coders using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Giorgi, 1985), which is widely used in qualitative research to understand how individuals perceive, experience, and make sense of life events.   Inductive content analyses were conducted in 6 steps by the authors and 2-3 trained research assistants using NVIVO 8 and  9 software: (1) independent identification of meaningful units, (2) obtaining consensus categories, (3) creation of a manual with coding rules and defined criteria for categories and subcategories, (4) assessment of inter-rater reliability to identify categories in need of further definition and revision, and (5) repetition of inter-rater reliability. Four broad categories and 46 subcategories were identified. Inter rater reliability was more than 90%. Mean code frequency across all leadership categories was 4.2 with a frequency range of 0 to 50.  Six codes accounted for 53% of all coded responses. Most frequent were teachers' comments about the impact of school leadership's beliefs, values and attitudes, accounting for 33.2% of coded responses.  Next, but much less commented on (6.1%), was school leaders' knowledge or awareness and information about special needs. 4.2% of coded responses referred to leaders' approving special arrangements or exemptions and 3.8% referred specifically to emotional support from school leaders.  Two additional codes each had a frequency of 3%. Results suggest that it is specifically school leaders' values and beliefs about inclusion for children with special needs that impacts teachers' positive attitudes toward inclusion more than school leaders' instrumental, informational or appraisal behaviors. We discuss our findings in light of the literature on school leaders' roles in school culture change.