02 December 2019
Author: Chantelle Zilli
Research has highlighted the importance of increasing the participation of autistic pupils in decision-making about their school experiences. This is a timely and relevant topic to explore due to national policy changes that prioritise the full participation of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in decisions that affect their lives.
Reviews in the literature examined how published research defined participation and studied how pupils with SEND participated in their local community. However, these reviews did not consider decision-making or specifically focus on the experiences of autistic individuals.
A systematic review was conducted to address this gap in the literature. Findings highlighted a focus on formal processes such as meetings for transition planning and individual education plans, rather than day-to-day decisions at school, with the majority of studies using quantitative research methods.
A case study of one school was conducted to provide rich, detailed context-dependent knowledge of school-related decision-making that is lacking in the literature.
Sixteen participants took part in the research: four autistic pupils, two carers and ten members of staff.
Data collected were photographs pupils took of places where they felt listened to, lesson observations and semi-structured interviews with pupils, carers and staff.
The Black-Hawkins (2010, 2014) and Florian et. al (2016) Framework for Participation provided the lens with which data was analysed.
The results captured four dominant themes in the data:
Findings highlighted that the culture of the school appeared to create opportunities for pupils to decide when and how they learn, manifested both in the flexibility of school systems and in the interactions between staff and pupils.
A partnership approach to decision-making was a particular feature of interactions, involving negotiation and reciprocal feedback between staff and pupils.
However, for some pupils having to take decisions created anxiety, which suggests that decision-making is a skill that may need to be learnt and supported.
Carer perspectives did not feature prominently in the findings, which may indicate that day-to-day school practices are less visible to carers.