Re-imagining Special Education: A pre-requisite for the transformation of schools
Brian J. Caldwell is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Educational Transformations and Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne where he served as Dean of Education from 1998 to 2004. This paper was addressed in an invited keynote presentation at the First Asia-Pacific Congress on Creating Inclusive Schools on the theme Reflect – Shift – Transform, co-hosted by the Australian Special Education Principals Association (ASEPA) and the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), Sydney, 2 May 2014.
Aspirations for education and the well-being of society will not be achieved unless there is a transformation of schools, the re-imagination of special education and an across-the-board commitment to inclusion.
Transformation is defined as significant, systematic and sustained change that secures success for all students in all settings. This transformation will not occur unless schools build a capacity for self-transformation. The most important role for ‘the system’ is to build the capacity of schools to be self-transforming.
In this presentation I will draw on my recent co-authored book The Self-Transforming School (Caldwell and Spinks 2013) and its predecessors – Why not the Best Schools? (Caldwell and Harris 2008) and Transforming Education through the Arts (Caldwell and Vaughan 2012), along with accounts of successful policy and practice around the world, to argue that a broader view of special education is required if the transformation of schools is to be achieved. The current narrow focus tends to push special education to the periphery. Special education should be central to the efforts of all schools and resources should reflect this requirement. Current ideas about special education and the way it is resourced have not closed the gap in levels of achievement, defined broadly, for students in Australia and many other nations in the Asia-Pacific.
Two lines of argument are presented, first, that a broader view of special education is required and second, that Australia and comparable countries must resist the temptation to narrow the curriculum in efforts to achieve a higher level of equity or secure a higher level of inclusion. There is an assumption in both lines of argument that schools must take up a higher level of autonomy, and that is the starting point in this paper.