Specific learning difficulties in Scotland and Greece : perceptions and provision
In this thesis I set out to explore the area of specific learning difficulties, an area of conflicting theories, understandings, policies and provision. The purpose of this comparative research in such a heavily debated area was to illuminate the commonalities and differences which can be observed across countries. Comparative research in a policy related area has a long tradition. However, Greece and Scotland provided two different cultural and educational backgrounds which made the comparisons particularly interesting. The nature of, as well as the provision for, specific learning difficulties is investigated in this research through the eyes of those involved. The perceptions of policy agents, head teachers, learning support teachers, mainstream teachers, parents and pupils, as well as the underlying constructs evident in policy documentation and literature in both countries, provided the data on which this thesis was based. This thesis seeks to compare current policies and provision in Scotland and Greece, to investigate the discrepancies between policy and provision, to highlight the differences in perceptions about the nature of specific learning difficulties among the different groups within and between the countries, and to identify factors which might have influenced these perceptions and the current provision. In addition, as both countries are members of the European Union, the impact that the EU had in forming the current policies or provision is also examined. The case-study schools were selected by policy agents in Scotland and from a list provided by the Ministry of Education in Greece. Case-study pupils were selected by the learning support teachers of the schools selected, or the head teachers using the learning support teachers files. The aim was that no preconceptions held by the researcher about the nature of specific learning difficulties influenced the selection of the case-study schools and/or pupils, consistent with the ethnographic principles of investigation. The data was gathered through semi-structured interview schedules which, although they maintaineda structure, allowed the respondents to play the leading role. The interviews were supported by observation of the case-study pupils, from which examples were drawn to use as exemplification during the interviews. Relevant policy documents and literature, not only those explicitly about specific learning difficulties but also those rather more generally about special educational needs were also studied and compared with the constructs held by professionals and consumers. The findings of this study indicated that culture, societal and educational context had influenced the perceptions of, and the provision for, specific learning difficulties. This was highlighted by the fact that the differences among the various groups within the same country were substantially less distinctive than those between Scotland and Greece. These differences highlighted the `inclusive' Scottish society, supporting the notion of `rights' of individuals, whilst in Greece the attitudes were focused on `exclusion' and the `protective' role of the family. The educational systems also played a significant role; the Greek system is heavily hierarchical, with a prescriptive curriculum based on knowledge and delivered by common-to-all books which focus on the `average' child. In contrast, the Scottish system has been characterised as task-oriented and able to differentiate according to children's needs. In addition, the Scottish curriculum is designed for all pupils, and includes guidelines for 'support for learning' targeted at those with special educational needs. The distinctiveness of the Greek and the Scottish societies and educational systems was reflected in the different understandings of special educational needs. In Scotland, they were seen as a continuum of needs including specific learning difficulties. In relation to specific learning difficulties the location of problems was perceived to be to a large extent within the learning environment and, in conjunction with the dominance of the `rights' discourse, responsibilities were placed explicitly on mainstream and head teachers as well as learning support. The latter's role was perceived as co-operative teaching and consultancy. In Greece, concerns were raised about the system itself and its limitations. Characteristics of this system were the lack of clear responsibility on the part of head teachers, and the lack of co-operation between learning support teachers (regarded as responsible for specific learning difficulties) and mainstream teachers. The construct of special educational needs as set of categories of impairment, the distinctive special and general education systems, the provision for specific learning difficulties in 'special classrooms' and the locus of the problem perceived to be within the child, all reflected the dominant position of the 'medical and charity' discourses in the society. In conclusion, although the aim of the education systems has been stated as being `inclusive' education in both Greece and Scotland, I argue that the two countries are at different points, closer or further apart, from their goal. However, the complexity of the various factors involved in the educational development of the two countries presented in this thesis makes a linear comparison a simplistic one, and hence unsuitable. Nevertheless, as both Greece and Scotland reiterate their objective towards "one school for all", a goal set also by the EU, the latter's impact in Greece is stronger. EU acts through its role as `expert' and co-ordinator of exchanges and by funding projects to support inclusive education. This comparative research has indicated how studies of this kind can raise the awareness of the impact of characteristics of national societies on an area of education which has common rhetoric ('inclusion') across countries but where practice and provision can look very different `on the ground'.