Institutional-level support teams : a case study of teachers' understanding of providing educational support through collaboration in the context of inclusive education in one district in KwaZulu-Natal.
With the introduction of inclusive education as an approach to support learners who experience barriers to learning in South African classrooms, schools, in line with international trends, have established collaborative structures to support teaching and learning. These structures draw on collaborative teaming and problem-solving approaches to identify and address the needs of learners who experience barriers to learning. The merit of collaborative teaming in the context of education has gained prominence through school effectiveness research, school improvement research, and policy imperatives. The Department of Basic Education in South Africa has adopted a strategy of collaboration in most school improvement efforts and has also applied it to educational support services. The collaborative structures are referred to as 'Institution-Level Support Teams' (ILSTs). These are novel to most teachers in South African schools and it is therefore necessary to explore how teachers tasked with implementing them, understand such provisioning of support. This study sought to investigate teachers' understandings of providing educational support through collaborative teaming in the context of inclusive education. The study utilised a multi-site case study research design at three primary schools in KwaZulu-Natal. Data was gathered using unstructured individual interviews, focus group interviews, observations, and document analyses. The findings suggest that most teachers’ understanding of educational support and collaboration is located within the medical discourse, while a few lean towards inclusive practices and beliefs. They interpret collaborative educational support as beneficial for learners and teachers, but difficult to achieve in practice. Their experiences reveal they feel coerced into complying with policy requirements, and they display preferences for a less formal structure than that proposed by WP6. However, teachers’ experiences also reveal various enabling forces for the enactment of policy. The study concludes by suggesting that policy implementers need to adopt both ‘forward mapping’ and ‘backward mapping’ as strategies for policy implementation, reculturing and restructuring should occur simultaneously and teacher cultures should be considered with the micropolitical perspective for sustainable change to occur. Changing the provision of educational support from individualistic to collaborative teaming requires changes in both the form and content of teacher cultures; changing the form does not result in changes in values, attitudes, and knowledge. Their compromised understandings could result in teachers becoming ‘strained’, ‘frustrated’, ‘disengaged,’ and ‘burnt-out’.