The Experience of Joe: A Sociocultural Study of an Autistic Pupil in a Mainstream Secondary School.

Willis, Angela Dawn (2021). The Experience of Joe: A Sociocultural Study of an Autistic Pupil in a Mainstream Secondary School. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study investigated the experience of Joe, a year nine pupil with autism, as he participated in lessons alongside his peers in a mainstream school. Data were produced by observation of the activity and relationships in five lessons, over two visits, and follow-up interviews with relevant teachers and teaching assistants. Data were analysed using the framework of the institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal planes developed by Rogoff (2003). The analysis revealed the dominance of institutional policies, practices, and routines on how Joe was responded to in his lessons. Review of the school policy documentation established that pupils’ reading age scores determined class groupings and, in turn, teachers’ assumptions about the ability range of pupils in their lessons. Special Educational Needs and Disability emerged as a specialist domain within the school with teaching assistants deployed to work with pupils with Education Health and Care Plans in lessons. The teachers and teaching assistants participating in the study seemed tacitly to accept an interactional worldview of schooling (Rogoff, 2016) and to conceptualise learning within the associated cognitive-developmental paradigm. The result of this was that Joe was perceived as ‘just one of the class’. This did not require his teachers to implement the specific strategies that were recommended for him in the school’s SEND register. Rather, teaching assistants mediated curriculum information for him. Uniform transmission teaching approaches meant Joe’s interaction, communication and information processing needs were ignored as the focus was on maximising literacy and curriculum knowledge.

The evidence of my study challenges the interactional worldview of SEND. The dominance and acceptance of this worldview limited the opportunities available for teachers and TAs to respond to Joe’s autism as teachers felt constrained by their obligations to report on pupil progress and performance. When a participatory approach was used by a teaching assistant, Joe was able to demonstrate his ability to cooperate, coordinate and contribute to learning activity with others. The approaches occasioned by different paradigmatic beliefs had clear implications for Joe’s participation, how he felt about his contribution to learning and how teachers and TAs described his abilities. The transactional worldview of learning conceptualised within a participatory approach (Rogoff, 2016, p.182) which transformed Joe’s participation offers an insight into ‘inclusion’ that warrants further investigation for the benefits it may offer leaders and teachers in responding to neurodiversity in schools.

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