The line between general and special support. Teachers’ and principals’ experiences of intensified support in primary education

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa L10, Zoom link: https://oulu.zoom.us/j/62585946838

Topic of the dissertation

The line between general and special support. Teachers’ and principals’ experiences of intensified support in primary education

Doctoral candidate

Master of Education Helena Nykänen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Special education

Subject of study

Educational science, special education

Opponent

Docent Tanja Äärelä, University of Lapland

Custos

Professor Marjatta Takala, University of Oulu

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The line between general and special support. Teachers’ and principals’ experiences of intensified support in primary education

This dissertation examines the implementation of intensified support in primary education. The aim is to explore how teachers and principals describe intensified support as part of a three-tiered support system. The study also examines how successfully the amended Basic Education Act has been implemented from teachers’ and principals’ perspective.

The research approach is qualitative and phenomenological. The material consists of individual interviews (n=15), a focus group discussion (n=5) and documentary material (n=37). The data were analysed by means of qualitative content analysis.

According to the results, intensified support calls for the development and harmonisation of practices to ensure pupils’ access to the support that they need. According to the respondents to this study, the boundary and concept of intensified support are unclear, and navigating between support levels is not straightforward.

The most important forms of support are planning and providing individualised support based on the pupil’s situation and ensuring sufficient personnel resources, as well as cooperation between the various parties. Students in need of intensified support are not perceived to receive sufficient or effective support in the current system. Resourcing was considered inadequate for intensified and three-tiered support in terms of the principles of neighbourhood schools and inclusion.

According to the results, classroom and special needs teachers, as well as principals, feel that their work has increased and become more diverse. Teaching staff need further training to meet the needs of diverse student bodies. Teachers also need other forms of support, such as peer support and guidance. The implementation of the amended Basic Education Act is still in progress at the school, municipal and national levels. Additional guidelines, as well as good models and practices, are needed for the interpretation and implementation of the amendments.

Support for learning and schooling plays a key role in achieving equality and equity in education. Intensified support is gradually taking shape and seems to offer more options for providing support. The research results will provide new information for teaching staff, teacher training and continuing education, decision-makers, and municipal and national officials in education.
Last updated: 18.5.2021