Towards a view of inclusion
: Arts teachers’ beliefs, judgements and decisions concerning students with SEND

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Students with Special Educational Needs and or Disability (SEND) are often considered an educational priority, but there is a lack of literature that examines the nature of arts teachers’ understanding about these students and the influence this has on their teaching practice. This thesis addresses these gaps, focusing on the beliefs, judgements and decisions of arts teachers concerning their students with SEND. The purpose of this research was to provide an insight into the intricacies of how teachers conceptualise ‘what counts’ as SEND and the provision they make for these students.

Data collection took place in the arts faculty of my then workplace, a mainstream secondary school. The arts were chosen as an umbrella group because art, drama, design technology and music are often promoted as accessible and inclusive subjects. Informal observations, semi-structured and stimulated recall interviews were used to glean teachers’ reflections on their practice. Teachers expressed beliefs that ‘all students are artists’, circumventing a need to discuss formal SEND classifications. They valued the dynamism of learners and were conscious of interactions between their educational needs, achievement and individual characteristics. Nonetheless, traditional systems of educational assessment seemed to dominate teachers’ judgements of what a ‘successful’ learner looks like. They regularly conflated SEND with notions of ‘low ability’, subsuming all these students into one homogenous group. Such judgements conflicted with teachers’ beliefs that the arts are different to other areas of the curriculum and indicated that a legacy of deficit thinking remains. Teachers consciously wrestled with dilemmas about how far they made decisions for students with SEND, although there was a diverse range of ways they sought to support them, including in situ incremental interventions or ‘micro-adaptations’.

Through giving teachers a voice, this research furthers knowledge in the field by distinguishing misunderstandings about learners with SEND that endure. It resonates with others that highlight the opaqueness of inclusion for students with SEND and with literature on arts teachers’ pedagogical practice. However, this research moves the discourse beyond routine proclamations that arts subjects are inclusive. It moves to a position that suggests uncovering nuances and contradictions in teachers’ beliefs, judgements and decisions is important for understanding the factors that can reinforce or undermine the inclusion of students with SEND in classrooms.
Date of Award1 Dec 0202
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJane Jones (Supervisor) & Carla Finesilver (Supervisor)

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