Purpose: Attitudinal research suggests that students with significant disruptive behaviour are reported to be one of the most difficult groups of students to include in regular school settings. Rises in the identification and segregation of students whose behaviour challenges regular school norms show that these views remain unchanged over time. Set in this context, this paper reports on a study that explored the relationship between attitudes, knowledge and confidence of principals in managing disruptive student behaviour in their schools. The paper argues that any endeavour to improve the inclusive opportunities for students with disruptive behaviour in schools requires an understanding of the influences upon principals, who are considered a powerful cultural influence in schools. It is also argued that strategies are required to enhance knowledge and skills in understanding and supporting students with disruptive behaviour as well as challenging narrowing perceptions of who mainstream schooling is for.
Method: The Principals and Behaviour Survey (PABS) is a new composite survey built upon the foundation of existing validated studies into principals and inclusion. The PABS contains multiple scales measuring attitudes, skills, confidence, knowledge of behaviour theories, emotional responses and demographic characteristics. NSW Government Primary School Principals (N=340) completed the survey representing a 20% response rate. Results were analysed using descriptive statistics, principal component analysis (PCA), Pearson correlations, within subject ANOVA and multiple hierarchical regression.
Results: PCA of the attitude scale identified four factors suggesting that whilst principals hold positive attitudes towards the inclusion of students with disruptive behaviour, they hold negative views about the effects on teacher workload and peers, teacher training and funding. Principals report their practice to be influenced by multiple forms of knowledge and theoretical approaches to student behaviour. Analysis of confidence measures suggests that principals consider themselves effective in supporting staff, students and their schools. Hierarchical regression, however, shows that the most salient predictors of principal confidence are positive attitudes towards inclusion.
Conclusion: The results of this study have implications for planning interventions aiming to promote inclusion. The results suggest that increased attention needs to be paid to developing the capacity of principals and schools to effectively support students with disruptive behaviour but also to challenge attitudes about disruption and 'disordered' students. This seemingly obvious solution is however not without its challenges as principals largely view their knowledge and attitudes as an accumulation of experiences over time, shaped both by formal and informal learning in their school contexts.