Learning support policy in Australia (New South Wales) and New Zealand: Discourses of influence

Year: 2012

Author: Tearle, Kerri, Spandagou, Ilektra

Type of paper: Refereed paper



Inspired by the policy genealogy work of Michel Foucault the presentation will present a comparative discourse analysis of the learning support policy in New South Wales, Australia and New Zealand.  The dominant discourses in both policies are identified and analysed in terms of how they determine the manner in which students experiencing difficulties with learning are included in schools.  It is argued that the possibilities of inclusion are constrained by constructions of learning difficulties which in turn justifies the models of support provided.


The study used Bacchi's (2009) and Balls' (1994) frameworks for discourse analysis. Bacchi's (2009) What's the problem represented to be method allowed a through deconstruction of the problem that learning support policy seeks to address and Ball's (1994) contexts of policy framework provided a cross-sectional perspective of the effects of the policy discourses in drawing conclusions.


Three types of discourses were identified in the two policy documents; inclusion discourses related to placement, rights and needs; historical discourses, that refer to a deficit model of disability, professionalism and human capital in education, and other discourses in education referring to external but implicit discourses of managerialism, marketisation and academic excellence.


The analysis revealed that the policies not only construct students experiencing difficulties as deficit in comparison to other normal students but in constraining support to remediation they ultimately put forward powerful constructions of classroom teachers, normal students, support teachers and school executive (including principals).  In effect the policy acts like a theatre script assigning certain roles to the main participants in schools. The study uses the results of the analysis to explore the possibilities for inclusion under the current policy regimes in both countries.  The study concludes that education reform on inclusion must take place at a broad systemic level concurrently with localised solutions.