Secondary school for students with disabilities : strengthening collaborative partnerships between home and school : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education in Special Education at Massey University
Experiences of secondary school, for parents whose children have a disability, are often vastly different from those of other parents. This study examined the culture and practices of one secondary school in order to describe how relationships with these parents are created and maintained, how well they work for parents and how their experiences could be enhanced. A single case study approach, situated within the complex home-school ecological context, was employed. The perspectives of 24 parents, 23 students and five special education teachers were obtained through semi-formal interviews. In addition sixteen IEP meetings were observed and 13 student home-school diaries were analysed as were the IEP documents from 24 previous IEP meetings and various other of the school's documents, such as its relevant policies and correspondence with the Ministry of Education. The data were analysed employing a matrix style theoretical model, which clustered identified themes into three powerful spheres of influence: school climate, school systems and personal relationships. The levels of satisfaction with school culture and practices were found to be very high for all participant groups in this study. They were particularly positive about the strong individual relationships they had been formed. However, the degree of active, equitable participation in many school activities was influenced not only by factors within the school, but by educational policy and practice and by society at large. There were a significant number of barriers identified in each of these areas, which limited participation for each group. Improved systems for communication, greater flexibility regarding IEP format and higher levels of inclusion were among the improvements sought by parents and teachers. Potential improvements in each of the nine clusters of themes represented in the matrix were identified as ways to achieve a more equitable role for these parents and their teenagers. The study suggests that describing home-school relationships utilising the matrix provides a particularly suitable platform for identifying, maintaining and celebrating positive practices, while revealing, acknowledging and acting on those areas that are shown to need development, both within IEP practices and across the school community.