Inter-professional collaboration in the special school
This research explored inter-professional collaboration amongst professionals involved in meeting the special needs of pupils with physical impairment in special schools. The principle of adopting a multi-professional approach for assessing and meeting special needs is enshrined in much recent social and educational legislation. However, its implementation has been acknowledged as presenting a challenge to professionals who each have their own professional culture, values and expertise; and who are employed by different agencies with their own priorities, funding, and organisation. Services offered to 'clients' by this multi-professional team are the outcome of the interaction between both social and psychological factors which exist amongst professionals in particular social contexts. Three social psychological theories were used to develop a framework which offered possible explanations of inter-professional behaviour in the special school context. The three approaches were Realistic Conflict Theory(R.C.T.) developed by Sherif(1966), Social Identity Theory(S.I.T.) developed by Tajfel(1978) and the Contact Hypothesis based on the work of Gordon Allport(1954). Both qualitative and quantitative techniques were adopted for data collection. In the first phase of the research an interprofessional collaboration scale was developed. It was validatd by members of seven professional groups identified as being involved, to varying degrees, with pupils with physical impairment. The collaboration scale was incorporated into a postal questionnaire in the second phase of the research. The questionnaire sought professional views relating to professional identification, perceived goal conflict, in-group favouritism and differentiation against out-groups and involvement in collaborative activities. Data were gathered from 263 members of seven different professional groups, working in 53 special schools. Finally qualitative data were gathered, using semi-structured interviews, from 12 respondents, 6 teachers and 6 physiotherapists, working in 3 special schools. The research resulted in the validation of an interprofessional collaboration scale which was shown to have high internal reliability. Professionals perceived themselves as being involved in the activities described in the scale, and indicated that collaboration was both desirable and beneficial. The identification scale, used to measure professional identification, was shown to have high internal reliability in accordance with the findings of previous studies in which it had been used. It revealed that respondents identified positively with their professional group, but this identification was not associated with inter-group differentiation as predicted by social identity theory. Multi-variate analyses identified contact to be the best predictor of in-group favouritism and differentiation. This was in contrast to the findings of previous studies in which conflict and identification had been identified as the best predictors of inter-group differentiation. Contact was also shown in this study to be the best predictor of collaboration. Interview data added to these quantitative findings revealing the purposes of contact and sources of conflict to be linked to involvement in collaborative activities. A link between identification and self-esteem, as predicted by social identity theory, was also in evidence in the interview data. Professional perceptions of parents' views relating to collaboration indicated little progress towards partnership with parents. It was concluded that future research should investigate in greater detail the relationships between inter-professional contact, conflict and collaboration, and develop the use of social identity theory in a professional context. Finally it was concluded that investigating the relative value of a collaborative approach as opposed to other multi-professional approaches, may be beneficial in informing the planning and organisation of special provision for pupils with physical impairment.