Traditions and Challenges : Special Support in Swedish Independent Compulsory Schools

Sammanfattning: This thesis has two overarching aims. The first is to generate further knowledge about Swedish independent schools, specifically regarding the organisation and provision of special support and how these relate to special educational traditions and inclusive education. This is conducted through four empirical studies, utilising data gathered in two total population survey studies. The first survey was a total population study of Swedish independent compulsory schools (N = 686, response rate = 79%), and results from this study are presented in articles I, II and IV. Article III presents results derived from a total population survey of special pedagogues (SENCOs) and special education teachers in Sweden educated according to the degree ordinances of 2001, 2007 and 2008 (N = 4252, response rate = 75%).Article I contains a general description of special education issues in the total population of independent schools. Article II continues with comparisons of these issues in different groups of independent compulsory schools. Article III studies differences in organisational prioritisations regarding special support and special educators in municipal and independent schools. Finally, article IV presents qualitative content analysis of over 400 responses regarding special support at independent schools.The second overarching aim of the thesis is to further develop the discussions initiated in the articles about how special education and inclusive education can be understood in light of the education reforms that introduced the independent schools. A critical theoretical analysis and contextualization of the empirical results from the articles is conducted to explain and describe the consequences of the new (market) education paradigm.Results show that, generally, the independent schools have not challenged special educational traditions to a significant degree. Rather, traditional conceptions, explanations and organisational measures are reproduced, and in some cases enhanced, by market mechanisms. However, there are great differences between the different types of schools with regard to both their perspectives on special education and their organisational approaches. There are also indications that the principle of choice is limited for this pupil group as compared to some other groups. Additionally, the increasing clustering of pupils in need of special support at certain schools replicates a system with special schools. In this case, market mechanisms are contributing to a system that is in contradiction to the idea of an inclusive school system.The theoretical interpretation of the results suggests that Skrtic’s theory can largely explain the empirical patterns found. However, his theory gives rise to different predictions or potential scenarios depending on what parts of his theory are underscored. Moreover, his theory must be complemented with additional perspectives to more fully account for diversity within the results, particularly as the results indicate that discourses/paradigms of special education and inclusive education often occur simultaneously and can thus be seen as expressions of practices taking place in a complex social and political environment.Keywords: Special education; inclusion; school choice; education reform; independent schools; compulso-ry schools; pupils in need of special support, SENCOs; special education teachers; critical pragmatism; Thomas M. Skrtic