Tomorrow is (probably) the last day of data collection for the PMLD social inclusion project. I’ve spent two years driving up and down the country, visiting schools, developing relationships with staff and students, observing different forms of practice, and learning a lot about the nature of social engagement for children with PMLD who experience both special and mainstream placements. I’ve been fortunate enough to observe children in preschool, foundation, primary and secondary education. The settings have been diverse, and include an integrated nursery, informal dual placement arrangements, a special unit in mainstream school, and a co-located site. The amount of data I’ve collected is somewhat daunting in terms of its quantity and depth but I have a year to analyse the research and write it up so hopefully I’ll be OK! As cliche as it sounds, the experience has been eye-opening. Some children with PMLD do remarkably well in terms of peer interaction in mainstream schools while others seem to be almost hidden from sight. Time is needed to dig deeper into the data to explore these issues further.
Although eight children were recruited to the study, only seven were observed in the end. It was clear that one teacher was pressured into supporting the project by senior management so I made the decision to cancel data collection. As such, if timetable and budget permits I may collect more secondary school data. (Given my teaching and supervision commitments I’m not confident that I’ll find the time until the summer term).
If you would like to learn more about the background and design of the research you can read my book ‘The PMLD Ambiguity‘ or a paper published in Child Care in Practice. These publications refer to my PhD work. Publications on my postdoctoral work are forthcoming, though you can contact me via email (email@example.com) and I’d be happy to share the findings as they emerge.
(Pictured above: part of my weekly commute to schools)
I’m back on the road again for fieldwork, spending several hours a day commuting to schools across southern England, travelling across both motorways and single lane dirt tracks in order to reach sites participating in the project. Fortunately, it’s the summer term so when my alarm goes off at 5:30am the sun is already up and the birds are singing!
This term I’m based in an integrated nursery, a co-located primary school, and a secondary school with a PMLD unit. I’m immensely grateful to the children, parents, and school staff for supporting the project. The sample is the epitome of the diversity of provision for children with PMLD in England. According to the Salt Report (2010), 82% of children with PMLD attend special school, 15% attend mainstream primary school, and 3% attend mainstream secondary school. Despite 18% of children with PMLD attending mainstream school, there has been very little written about what mainstream education looks like for children with PMLD, and the research literature is so sparse that publications on the topic are sometimes decades apart. In fact, even the Salt Report (2010) is thin on the ground when it comes to detail – the report fails to make it clear whether children are in mainstream schools part-time or full-time. The report also overlooks the kinds of provision that children attend (e.g. single site vs. co-located sites). It is this lack of information that partly makes the current project fascinating. There are strong feelings for and against mainstream education for children with PMLD but there are so few studies on the topic that arguments are ideological, or based on anecdotal evidence rather than sound research. My current research is suggesting a more complex picture on the subject than I previously anticipated (e.g. I’ve seen wonderful social interaction opportunities in mainstream school and special school, though for potentially for different reasons). Hopefully the fieldwork will continue to provide rich data to inform passionate debates about “inclusion” and I look forward to sharing the findings in due course.