Using Critical Discourse Analysis, this study aims to elicit and expose the perceptions and attitudes of different policy makers in leadership positions at the Ministry of Education in Israel with regard to inclusion. The first stage of the research consisted of individual in-depth semi-structured interviews (N=8). In the second stage the participants (N=21) responded to a written questionnaire (Perceptions about Inclusive Education – PIE) and then took part in group discussions. The texts of the interviews and the group discussions were analyzed using qualitative measures. The findings point to a sensitive situation, one that is difficult to deal with and creates much disagreement. Although inclusion is the official and unanimously agreed upon policy, the discourse reflects some differences between and within groups of policy makers with regard to several issues: identification of the target population; factors and key figures affecting implementation and teacher training.
These findings raised several questions. As more and more students are enrolled in the mainstream class, what will happen to the special education class? What will happen to the field of special education? Who will be responsible for these students? It seems that hardly anyone is willing to take responsibility for the 'hot potato'.
What have we learned?
Israeli policy makers are in agreement with regard to the idea of inclusion but they disagree on how it should be implemented and most important, on who is the target population for inclusion; It is necessary to bring policy makers together to openly discuss and clarify concepts and beliefs and to create a much needed infrastructure for cooperation and collaborative practices. The introduction of the Inclusion Objective provides an outstanding opportunity to promote and advance these needed changes.
Two years after the completion of the research we met to reflect on our findings. We considered data from a number of additional sources: A Power Point presentation at a national conference where members of DEE met with heads of special education teacher training programs; Revised vision and mission statements we found on websites of several schools; Updated mission statements of DEE, DECE and SPE as published on the web; Occasional encounters and talks with several elementary school principals and with pedagogical instructors from a teacher training program. We realized that the personnel changes that occurred within the Ministry along with steps taken toward the implementation of the Inclusion Objective had an impact on perception as well as on practice. The new Minister of Education continues to advocate mainstreaming and inclusion of students with SEN. The Pedagogic Secretariat within the Ministry has taken additional steps to support the Inclusion Objective through professional development activities in schools and funding of local initiatives as well as through ministerial pedagogic and curriculum planning.
The updated vision and mission statement of DSE 4 emphasizes a view of acceptance, accessibility and equity. Similarly, the updated vision and mission statement of DEE emphasizes the creation of an inclusive culture.
In terms of taking responsibility for the pupil with SEN, DSE budgets support services including teacher aides and additional individual support for pupils with complex difficulties. DEE budgets learning support for pupils in the mainstream class. Both DSE and DEE seem to perceive the DSE as a professional guide and leader with regard to mainstreaming and inclusion. Quite a few of the statements found on websites of different schools pertain to equity and to acceptance of students with SEN, emphasizing the importance of a welcoming school climate. The issue of teacher training for inclusive education needs to be addressed. Collaboration between the different departments of the Ministry is called for. This exploratory study lifted the veil covering inclusive policy making in Israel. The findings call for a large scale study that will include policy makers in leadership positions at the ministerial level as well as educational leaders at the school level and practitioners i.e., teachers. One of the pitfalls of this exploratory study has to do with the fact that the researchers involved in the study were a homogeneous group – all of us are special educators. It may have had a bearing on the interpretation of the data collected.