Peer integration in a further education college : evaluating the outcomes for mainstream students and their peers with severe learning difficulties
The research project is concerned with the effects of a peer integration project involving students with severe learning difficulties (SLD) and other students in a Tertiary College. The primary aim of the research was to investigate changes in attitudes. Of additional interest were the differential outcomes of process and motivational factors in terms of retention and social outcomes. The study uses both quasi-experimental and quantitative methods. Statistically significant results were obtained in the measurement of attitudes demonstrating that the project attracted volunteers who held more positive attitudes towards disability than a reference group. These attitudes became less idealistic and less neutral as volunteers engaged with ways of making integration work. Volunteers with intrinsic motivation had the best attendance. The qualitative study confirmed these findings. Volunteers described the development of positive and differentiated attitudes towards their peers and felt empowered by the experience to plan on-going involvement with people who have SLD, who they saw as unexpectedly capable, motivated and mature. The term 'inclusive behaviour' was coined to describe practical ways in which they supported students. Students who have SLD were able to identify students from other courses and averaged five integrated sessions per week compared with none prior to intervention. They described increasing normalisation of social relationships and positive feelings about mainstream peers. An analysis of social structures and relationships in both studies revealed differences in attitudinal and behavioural outcomes according to activity. Volunteers in 1:1 tutoring settings retained hierarchical relationships, while lessons with staff and leisure activities resulted in more egalitarian and social outcomes leading to further contact. Volunteers described linked, rather than co-operative social structures and roles that facilitated learning. Changes in attitudes were maintained over two years and behavioural outcomes were reported by ex volunteers. More than half of ex volunteers maintained contact with people with disabilities, albeit in a professional capacity.