The sovereign and the obedient: School leadership and the inclusion of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Irish mainstream primary schools

Colum, Miriam
The purpose of this study is to investigate how school leadership, in its broadest sense, i.e., formal, and informal leadership structures, supports the inclusion of children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) in mainstream primary schools. The research gives a ‘voice’ to this broad grouping of school leaders in order to gain a better understanding of the complexities that influence inclusion for this cohort of students. Four schools based in North city and county Dublin comprise the sample for this study. Qualitative research congruent with a phenomenological approach, adopting semi-structured interviews and a reflective journal as research tools was utilised. Foucauldian theories of discourse, power, subjectification, and governmentality provides the theoretical framework for the analysis. This framework holds significant value for broadening existing knowledge about leadership practices, by providing nuanced, theoretically rigorous understandings of the complexities faced by school leaders for inclusion. Findings in this study indicate that school leaders are “apparatuses of knowledge” (Foucault, 1980, p.106) in the inclusion of children with EBD; that their practices of doing inclusion centre on experiences, attitudes, values, and perspectives underpinned by their understanding and commitment of care to both staff and children. The research has revealed the need to have an awareness of EBD without subjectifying the individual child. Understanding EBD is the prime medium through which inclusion can happen as knowing the children and working from where they are, are the fundamentals to effective support (Zolkoski, 2019). The milestones, both positive and negative, encountered along the trajectory of inclusion are marked by a sense of achievement and learning in most incidents and emerging from the findings is a reinforcement of the value of ‘teacher leader’ and constitution of the ‘special needs assistant leader’ through a distribution of power situating them as forward thinking and proactive. Their roles and approaches, how they relate to, and support children was central to effective inclusionary practices. The evidence proffered in this research indicates that the practices of inclusion for children with EBD in Irish mainstream primary schools is positive and despite societal, cultural, and governmental properties, school leadership for inclusion transgresses the many barriers experienced.
NUI Galway
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland