Special Needs Resource Roles: A Cross-Jurisdictional Comparison

Article excerpt

This paper compares selected aspects of the school-based special needs resource teacher role in Northern Ireland and in Ontario, Canada. Particular attention is given to how clearly the role is defined for practitioners within their respective jurisdictions. Practitioners' major objectives in the role are discussed and the way in which both groups of participants spend most of their time is presented. Key factors that may be impacting on the role in both jurisdictions are also identified. The findings discussed here are pan of a larger study comparing the resource role in these two jurisdictions. The major study involved a series of personal interviews with special needs resource teachers in both jurisdictions (n=30), and follow up questionnaires (n=150).

Educational policy makers in both Ontario, Canada and Northern Ireland advocate that special needs students be educated in mainstream classes. Indeed, according to Ainscow (1997), "the idea of inclusive education is gaining ground in many parts of the world" (p.3). Stainback and Stainback (1992) also support the notion of `Schools as Inclusive Communities', while being careful to point out that "appropriate educational experiences and support in integrated settings" (p.29) are key elements in special needs students being successful in the mainstream. The skills and attitudes of regular teachers are also vitally important when it comes to successfully `including' special needs students (Giangreco, Dennis, Cloninger, Edelman & Schattman, 1993).

Background

The education systems in both Northern Ireland and Ontario have developed a specific role focused on the support of special needs students in mainstream classrooms. In Ontario, these individuals are known under a variety of titles, most frequently involving some reference to `Resource Teacher'. Although the title may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (e.g. Academic Resource Teacher; Special Education Resource Teacher), the intent of the role is relatively consistent. A model for the resource teacher role emerged in Ontario in the early 1980s in response to legislation dealing with the education of special needs students. The model evolved from much of the resource teacher literature in the United States and was clearly articulated in Ontario by Wilson (1984), in the publication `Opening the Door--A Key to Resource Models'. It became generally accepted in school boards across Ontario as the preferred approach to supporting special needs students in regular classrooms. This new role required the resource teacher to have not only the assessment and programming skills required for working directly with students but also to have skills involving consulting and collaborating with other teachers.

Special Education in Northern Ireland also experienced some major changes in the 1980s following the Warnock Report (1978). The notion of `a whole school approach' to special educational needs gained support in England, and Northern Ireland was able to look to this as a future model. This concept offered an exciting alternative to the more traditional forms of provision found in ordinary schools (Dessent, 1987). The Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (DfE, 1994),- implemented in Northern Ireland in 1998- requires that all schools designate a member of staff with responsibility for coordinating special needs within the school. The emergence of the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) in England was a key development in addressing the need for support in ordinary schools. In spite of some issues around the lack of clarity, definition, and training (Bines, 1988; Dyson, 1990), the SENCO role became established in Northern Ireland. The SENCO is expected to work closely with teachers as they strive to meet the special needs of students in their classes. The Code sets out the responsibilities of the SENCO, however, Dyson and Gains (1995), stated that the Code imposes "an enormous-perhaps overwhelming burden on co-ordinators" (p. …