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The DEEPS Project, Centre for Disability Studies, School of Sociology and Social Policy. Findings and Initial Conclusions Working Paper 2: Promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people – the views of schools and teachers.
The DEEPS Project, Centre for Disability Studies, School of Sociology and Social Policy.
© Angharad Beckett*, Lisa Buckner, Sam Barrett, Nick Ellison (University of Leeds) & David Byrne (Durham University).
*Author for correspondence. Email: email@example.com
The DEEPS Project, Centre for Disability Studies, School of Sociology and Social Policy.
We are most grateful to the ESRC for their financial support for this study (ESRC Ref. RES-062-23-0461).
Should you wish to quote from this presentation, please cite as follows:
Beckett, A.E., Buckner, L., Barrett, S., Ellison, N. and Byrne, D. (2009) ‘Promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people – the views of schools and teachers’, DEEPS Project Working Paper 2, School of Sociology & Social Policy, University of Leeds. http://www.sociology.leeds.ac.uk/research/projects/deeps/ (date viewed).
DEEPS Project’s own doll and toy wheelchair – sourced from: http://www.theequaloppshop.co.uk/
Disability Equality Scheme
DCSF guidelines for schools stated that this should include plans to:
Eliminate harassment (bullying)
Promote positive attitudes towards disabled people
"Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com"
Questionnaire was sent out to schools January – April 2008 (second sending to all schools that did not respond to initial mailing).
Schools had already been required to produce a Disability Equality Scheme by December 2007 – this was an official ‘deadline’. So our questionnaire was sent out AFTER this deadline had passed.
500 schools surveyed. 136 responses. 27.4% response rate (this is an ‘acceptable’ response rate to a social survey, from a methodological perspective, although one always wishes for a higher rate of response!)
No statistically significant differences were
found between responding and
non-responding schools, so the sample of
responding schools is considered to
be ‘representative’ of English Primary
Schools (or as near as possible).
Schools with a high proportion of pupils who
have ‘special educational needs’ (‘SEN’) were less
likely to already have or be preparing a disability
Only 30% schools had a Disability Equality Scheme (DES) that mentioned promoting +ve attitudes
8% had a DES but didn’t include the ‘promote +ve attitudes’ dimension
14% were preparing a DES and were going to include this dimension
3% were preparing a DES but were not going to include this dimension
16% were preparing a DES but did not respond to the question about promoting +ve attitudes
This example of an inclusive image was found on the web at:
Other varied responses: 5%.
98.5% of responding schools answered the question about Disability Equality Schemes.
24% did not have a DES & were not preparing one
Schools were asked whether they taught/discussed ‘race’, gender and disability with their pupils and if they did, to rank these in order of frequency taught.
The most common responses were to rank ‘race’ first, then ‘gender’ and then ‘disability’ OR ‘race’ first, then ‘disability’ and then ‘gender’.
56% of those that responded to this question ranked race first. Schools with high proportion of pupils from minority ethnic groups were especially likely to rank ‘race’ first.
Picture from: http://www.bradyprimaryschool.co.uk/brady.asp?textpage=wkp&mainpage=wkp This is NOT one of our sample schools. We found this image on the web and include it here because we think it is a really positive image of inclusion!
When, if at all, is teaching for disability equality/awareness likely to take place within your school?
Special focus assemblies/ weeks; school councils; visiting theatre groups/speakers; extra-curricular events (Saturday clubs)
Number of responses
N.B. This is a frequency table and does not show percentages, but numbers of responses from schools.
How important do you believe it is to engage in formal (planned) teaching that is designed to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people?
133 of the 136 schools answered this question (98%), of those responding:
47% said it was very important
39% said it was fairly important
8% said it was neither important nor unimportant
5% said it was fairly unimportant
1% said it was unimportant
I.e. 14% of responding
schools did not think
that it was ‘important’
disability equality/awareness in your school?
I.e. 57% of all schools in survey
N.B. This is a frequency table and does not show statistics, but numbers of responses.
Do you think that there is sufficient time/scope within the existing teaching framework (curriculum) to allow you to teach about disability equality/awareness?
Schools that said ‘yes’ were statistically more likely to teach about disability across a range of subjects (i.e. embedded in the curriculum)
Schools with a high level of pupils eligible for free school meals were statistically less likely to respond ‘yes’ to time to teach disability.
97% response rate to this question
Not enough time…
Need to be ‘creative’…
Teacher: “Staff anxious enough about not having enough time to teach curriculum – would feel it would be something more/else they would have to deliver.”
Teacher: “We bend the rules-official framework…you have to be creative to achieve
what is right for children/community/future.”
Teacher: “(Only enough time) if we
throw something else out”.
Teacher: “It is how you plan and prioritise that dictates content.”
Do you think staff would feel more confident about teaching in this area if they had more/further training?
There was no evidence that schools in particular LAs
had received more training than others.
There was no evidence that training and development
were linked to type of school (or any other factors).
97% response rate to this question
99% response rate to this question
21% of schools said that they had no resources to support teaching/learning about disability.
Schools with a disability equality scheme (including those in preparation) were more likely to have some resources, particularly books.
Example poster from: http://www.kidslikeme.co.uk/
Schools with a high proportion of pupils who have ‘SEN’ were less likely to have any resources. Several teachers stated that they felt that their ‘best resource’ was their disabled pupils.
Teacher quote: Two Children here who have disabilities are our biggest “resource”.
Teacher: I suppose we haven’t invested in videos, books et al - we have the “real thing” and we get on with it –VERY WELL!
Teacher: We have a V.I. child here - he does much to help raise awareness in every class...Before we got our V.I. child, many children assumed he could not go to school, play, talk…He has really helped them to learn differently! He has done more to help disability awareness than any amount of training!
Whether the presence of a disabled child in a school means that no further intervention/effort is required to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, is uncertain – further investigation is required here…but we are somewhat sceptical with regard to this type of statement.
Several other teachers in schools where there are no disabled children stated that this was a major challenge in terms of raising disability awareness amongst non-disabled pupils.
Teachers responded as follows to the question – what, if any, challenges do you face in terms of promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people?
Teacher: “Our pupils actually meeting other children with disabilities.”
Teacher: “Very few children in our school have first hand experience of being
with somebody with a disability.”
32% of schools that responded to a question about books said that they had no books that were either about disability or included a disabled character/theme
Teacher: (I have) just set up an emotional literacy library section but I am not aware of any specific books which relate to disability.
Teacher: Getting good quality, positive resources (is our major challenge).
79% response rate to this question
Harter, D. 2000. The Animal Boogie. Barefoot Books.
Question: does your school have any action packs or other resources (e.g. lesson plans) for teachers that help them to teach about disability or to devise ways of encouraging children to develop positive attitudes towards disabled people?
76% of schools that responded to a question about ‘action packs’ had no such action packs/resources….
Teacher: We would welcome a carefully planned series of lessons (age specific) which could be used at appropriate times with our pupils, but which would require “reasonable” teacher research!
Yet there are many lesson plans available, e.g. from…
84% response rate to this question
Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with teachers in 6 case study schools – 9 teachers in total. In most cases the interviews were with the Headteacher (5 schools). But we also spoke to two SENCOs and two classroom teachers.
Interviews lasted between 15mins – 52 mins, most often around 30 mins.
We are also including qualitative responses to the questionnaire in this section, where appropriate/relevant.
Using data from the Annual School Census, English primary schools were clustered into 3 types (for details of clustering technique please contact Angharad Beckett).
Cluster 1: Large schools, high poverty (measured by numbers of children in receipt of free school meals FSM), high numbers of children from
minority ethnic groups & high numbers of children who have ‘SEN’.
Cluster 2: Small schools, very high poverty, average numbers of children from minority ethnic groups, very high numbers of children who have ‘SEN’.
Cluster 3: Average sized schools, low/er numbers of children in receipt of FSM, low numbers of children from minority ethnic groups, low number of children who have have ‘SEN’.
We chose two schools from each cluster. Areas encompassed: London; W. Midlands; Lancashire; Cheshire; N. Yorkshire; W. Yorkshire.
2 schools per cluster
Cluster 1 schools: B and D
Cluster 2 schools: E and F
Cluster 3 schools: A and C
Question: What, if anything, do teachers think that they ought to teach children about disability and the lives of disabled people? What’s the ‘right message’?.....
“We’re not going to produce people in society who are just going to sit on their bums and just ‘accept’ everything. We are here to produce people who are going to challenge society and say – you know – whatever perspective you come from…or if you’ve got a different religious viewpoint, how you’re treating each other is…what it’s all about…We talk to them (and say – ed.)…Jesus has got no hands today, except for the hands that are on your body. What would Jesus do? Would he stand there laughing at people? Would he go up to them and ‘feel sorry for them’? Or was he proactive?” HT, School C.
“By the time they finish and they leave us we would hope that our children would understand that real disability comes through how other people treat you and that impairment is about…something that doesn’t work properly, that you will be working to overcome. But it’s about the attitudes of other people, that makes you a disabled person.”
HT, School C.
A positive response that demonstrates an understanding of social model type thinking.
What did teachers think that they ought to teach children about disability and the lives of disabled people? Other responses…
HT School B explained how she was uncertain what is the best message to convey to non-disabled children – she said that she wanted to avoid making disability into a ‘spectacle’, but also to avoid the ‘these are special people’ route. Later in her interview she then stated:
“I would like them to think that whoever they met, they would not be looking for what the person looked like…that they would in fact recognise that they could get beyond that…that the person looks, in their terms, ‘frightening’.”
Further explanation for her use of this term: some of her pupils had been upset by a story that was circulating…
“Sometimes the Muslim children will come in with stories of children being turned into disabled people because they’ve done something wrong.” HT School B.
For these children disability therefore = something to be feared.
Suggestion: it is important to be aware of the challenges that teachers face in terms of promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people whilst also remaining culturally sensitive.
Challenge for teachers is what the ‘positive’ & ‘right’ message is here AND what approach to take...
“There’s still an attitude that lots of children carry that: ‘there’s a table of children in the corner…who aren’t that bright (to be politer than no doubt the children who be!)’ and that’s about as far as their understanding (of disablity – ed.) would go a lot of the time. (…) How do we alter perceptions of those children?”
SENCO, School D.
I.e. the importance of
‘modelling’ behaviour is
being stressed here
“(we approach it by helping) everybody else to get over it…and make allowances for it and be very forgiving…you don’t do that through discrete teaching sessions…you do that every day through the examples you set and by praising the examples of people that you see around you.” HT School C.
“There’s not a point that it might come…into the curriculum or into a school year I don’t think. (…) if someone offered training on ways…to help your children in your school have a better attitude towards disability, ways to incorporate that into the curriculum or to resource things…I’d be very interested and would attend.”
SENCO, School D.
The exception was School C, where they are taking a more proactive approach…
“I really believe that children see other children as children, they might later then realise there’s something different about them, but I don’t think children initially notice it.”
HT, School A.
We have had several disabled children here whom the children accept and naturally include in play and class activities…Our children do not have negative attitudes towards disability…I do feel strongly, however, that…all these awareness schemes for disabilities are simply highlighting difference instead of allowing people to accept disabilities for what they are and therefore treating them with the respect and consideration they would accord anyone.
Teacher. Survey response.
Lack of information regarding the ‘positive attitudes’ dimension of the DED: Schools D & E raised this and school F seemed rather unaware of this dimension.
Absence of ‘good’, easily accessed resources.Schools C, B and D raised this.
That said, one teacher did admit that they don’t always use the resources that they do have:
“I went on a course and we were given a big story board…with sort of magnetic characters…and there were children that were disabled as part of the characters… But it was so many years ago that, kind of, it had it’s day and then it got put in a cupboard…” Classroom teacher, School B.
And in another school where they had bought some books ‘recommended by Richard Rieser’ (positive step!), when asked whether the non-disabled children used and liked them, said: “ I don’t know if they do or not, to be honest.” SENCO, School D.
HT School C also said she was concerned that younger or less experienced teachers might lack the confidence to adapt resources to make them ‘work’ for their schools.
“I think that we do have a special school (locally – ed.)…so maybe a starting point would be to make links there. Sort of ‘outreach’ maybe. (…) It’s the only way, because it’s concrete examples isn’t it?” HT School A.
Ensuring that non-disabled children have ‘positive encounters’ with disabled people. All teachers interviewed stated that they believed this was *essential*. In some schools where there were higher numbers of disabled children (School F in particular), teachers felt that this happened naturally…but other schools struggled with this & how best to achieve it.
“What they need is more opportunities to have these positive encounters…what we need is time & opportunity to have these very normal things. It’s not rocket science is it, for people…to meet and chat and get to know one another?…but there aren’t sufficient opportunities to do it. HT School E.
Levels of confidence
“I think staff training is another thing, because they need to be comfortable with dealing with it, and to be comfortable that what they’re saying is the right thing. (…) I think a lot of people are not comfortable with the terminology…the terms are changed every so often and something’s not politically correct, therefore you run the risk of saying it wrong, when you don’t mean any offence.” Classroom teacher, School B.
Knowing that we’re saying & doing the ‘right thing’: several teachers expressed a concern about this.
“Language, I find this quite confusing. I mean obviously it’s quite clear you don’t talk about…’retarded people’. But I’m sure a few years ago, to talk about someone ‘with a disability’ was…the way to go. And then I went on a course a couple of years ago and you have to say ‘a disabled person’ and that’s a more positive way to view people. I find this really difficult…I would think ‘with a disability’ is less discriminatory.” SENCO, School D.
After brief explanation of Social Model & how language relates to this:
“Right! I’ve never had it explained quite like that. That does make sense.”SENCO, School D.
HT School E: in answer to question ‘how aware do you feel about disability politics’ and the ‘message’ that the disability movement might like conveyed to non-disabled children?
“I don’t think I’m unaware…I think there’s maybe more that I could find out, you know, if I was in a position to need to.”
Implied: I’m not sure that I do need to know about this…
Whilst it was clear from the interview as a whole, that this teacher was not at all opposed to the idea of promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people, there were moments (for example his use of the term ‘handicapped’) that suggest that he may not be as familiar with current thinking regarding disability politics as he believes.
Teachers stated that they need and would value more advice from disabled people and their organisations…
Levels of confidence
“I think some people are worried as well…that you’re going to offend somebody - if you put a child (non-disabled – ed.) in a wheelchair, that it’s somehow offensive to a disabled person. If I was disabled, I’m afraid I would say… ‘if sitting in that wheelchair for 5 minutes helps you to understand what it means for me, then get on with it!’ But other staff, they might feel that’s not the right thing to do. So I think there needs to be an establishing of what is acceptable to people, that’s got to come through the organisations that work on behalf of disabled people, to help us understand what does offend or doesn’t (…) In order for people who are disabled to help educators it would be useful if the organisations representing disabled people thought about how they could offer training or help to people…come to us and explain what it’s like (to be a disabled person – ed.). If you could teach our children, then what would be useful to you (disabled people – ed.)?”
HT, School C.
1. Teaching about ‘Race’ is ranked above disability and gender (though disability can rank above gender in some cases) – so there is a hierarchy in terms of teaching about ‘difference’.
2. While there is nothing surprising about this finding, it provides evidence of the scale of the task facing the Disability Movement, practitioners, policy makers and others who want to enhance children’s awareness about disability and promote positive attitudes towards disabled people.
Our evidence suggests that disability issues are not well embedded within the teaching curriculum but distributed across PSHE, assembly, circle time, etc. Does this degree of spread risk diluting the ‘message’? – this will depend upon how often, and in what ways, disability issues are considered during these activities.
That said, there is an awareness amongst a large number (57%) of the schools that responded to the survey, that they ‘could do better’ – suggesting that there is a willingness to address disability issues, but…
Some schools were unclear about how disability awareness could be fitted into the curriculum, and some teachers believe it is wrong/risky to highlight ‘difference’.
As stated, the fact that 57% of schools stated that ‘we could do more’ is significant.
However, there is a difference between those schools that saw teaching for disability equality/awareness as a challenge but also an opportunity, and those who perceived it (often for understandable reasons) as an additional pressure.
Slide 12 provides a snapshot of differing attitudes to this issue – one teacher suggests that there is need to be creative to achieve what is right for children, another feels that s/he doesn’t have sufficient time – an additional burden
Generalised to School level, it is clear that a number of factors are at work:
Schools with high levels of children in receipt of FSM are statistically less likely to respond ‘yes’ to having sufficient time to teach disability (probably because teachers are feeling stretched in other ways – this is not surprising).
Our findings also indicate that schools with high proportions of pupils who have ‘SEN’ are less likely to have resources dedicated to disability equality/awareness. (That relevant resources are not available for children who have ‘SEN’ is of concern because it is likely these children would benefit from the greater availability of inclusive materials, which include images/stories about children/people ‘like me’).
Resources are an issue. Although schools with Disability Equality Schemes in place or in preparation were more likely to have resources (i.e. books),
76% of schools said that they have no action packs or other dedicated resources to support teaching about disability
32% said that they had no books about disability or books that included a disabled character
21% of schools said that they had no resources at all to support teaching and learning about disability.
thoughts for policy makers
The key policy implication is that schools will require more formal support from government and local authorities if they are to raise the quality of teaching about disability issues.
‘Support’ can involve incentives to stock school libraries with relevant books/videos; visits and support from disabled people’s organisations as part of general awareness-raising about disability issues; provision of extra training for SENCOs and Head-teachers etc. We are sure that this is not an all-encompassing list!
Perhaps OFSTED might consider reviewing levels of resource and the approach taken to promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people, as part of general school inspections? If the government brings in its ‘MOTs for teachers’, might teachers’ level of confidence when it comes to teaching about disability become a part of this ‘check-up’?
Our research indicated a degree of lack of confidence amongst teachers and a feeling that they might somehow be ‘getting it wrong’ in the eyes of the Disability Movement. For example, fears about using the ‘wrong’ terminology about disabled people were expressed by some respondents. It may be that this lack of confidence leads some teachers to shy away from incorporating disability awareness into their teaching – using lack of resources, time and fears of highlighting difference as reasons for not tackling key issues.
So there are, we suggest, some questions here for the Disability Movement, in terms of how to provide the right sort of support and information for teachers – how best to instill the confidence that will allow teachers to embrace disability issues in an ‘un-defensive’ manner. Expectations of what hard-pressed teachers (who are known to be under many pressures including league tables, an ‘over-stuffed’ curriculum etc.) can achieve also need to be realistic. Further, it may be that there is a need to mortgage a bit of ‘delicacy’ around terminology, in order that teachers are not so preoccupied with language that they lose track of the importance of promoting a positive message/sentiment and one that reflects Social Model thinking.