Narratives of collaborative working for inclusion in the context of educational reform in Wales

Carmel Conn, Alison Murphy, Charlotte Greenway

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


A growing number of countries are positioning the role of learning support coordinator as an increasingly strategic one for inclusive education (Lindqvist 2013). This is often a middle leader role that requires the translation of principles of school improvement for inclusion for the purposes of classroom practice, and encompasses identifying learners who require extra support, applying resources and services, offering advice to teachers, liaising with external agencies and keeping records (Lin et al. 2022). Research into the work of learning support coordinators points to a range of challenges in the role, perhaps most notably, the balancing of accountability with developing a culture of inclusive values and responsibility (King and Stevenson 2017; Smith 2022). A particular challenge is identified in relation to the blurred boundaries of the role, specifically that coordinators seek to facilitate the pedagogical practices and relationships of others, whilst also having to intervene directly in teacher instruction and classroom activity (Struyve et al. 2018). Most essentially, current conceptualisations of inclusion mean that the role is a collaborative one (Ainscow and Sandhill 2010; Ní Bhroin and King 2020), the coordinator seen as a ‘change agent’ but one who always acts as part of a collective made up of multiple agencies (van de Putte et al. 2018).

Recent ecological perspectives on teacher agency focus on the ways in which teachers achieve agency through an interaction of their own resources with the affordances and constraints of the socio-material environment in which they work (Priestley et al. 2015). Inclusion requires a complex view of agency to reflect multiple performative agents, individual but also collective activity, discursive and material practices, and reciprocal influences within systems and subsystems (Naraian 2021). Embodiment and emotion also play an important part in the production of teaching for inclusion, since often strong feelings are associated with support for learners who experience difficulties with learning and who are at risk of school failure (Naraian and Schlessinger 2021). Research into inclusive education therefore needs to be able to provide sufficient account of interrelated discourses, affects, spaces and materialities in or connected to school environments.

The research presented here took place in schools in Wales where widespread reform of the education system is currently taking place. Included in the reform programme is change to the system for learners who require additional support for their learning, who are now designated as having ‘additional learning needs’ (ALN). Central to reform is the role of the Additional Learning Needs Coordinator (ALNCo) who has become a ‘teacher leader’ under new guidance (Welsh Government 2021). The role of the ALNCo is given prominence in policy documents, which describe it as one of overarching responsibility for the coordination of support for learners with ALN. However, guidance states it is the wider workforce, that is all staff working with children and young people with ALN, who also have responsibility for ‘ensuring that learners’ needs are identified and provided for’ (Welsh Government 2021, p. 71).

The focus of this small study is on the role of the ALNCo and how it has been shaped by recent reform. The aim it to investigate ALNCo experiences of working with others as a way of exploring the complexities of collaborative working in the context of ALN. To this end, we have developed the following research question for the study: How have school practices in relation to additional learning needs developed in response to educational reform?

For the research, we seek to move beyond a focus on single subjectivities and organisational structures towards evaluation of embodied knowledge, affective responses and material practices as they relate to sites of power and resistance (Youdell and Armstrong 2011). To this end, we seek to extend traditional materialist analysis by using a method of data production and analysis that draws on new materialist social inquiry (Fox and Alldred 2015) and addresses ‘entanglements’ (Barad 2007). Of interest is the self within the landscape of practice and connections between bodies, material objects and ideas (Davies and Gannon 2012).

We are organising small focus groups to gather ‘collective biographies’ (De Schauwer et al. 2016) of ALNCos who are working in primary schools in the south Wales region. Four focus groups in total are planned, with three ALNCos invited to each group (n=12). We do not assume that narratives of practice pre-exist our encounter with ALNCos (McKenzie-Mohr and Lafrance 2017), but rather see the groups as spaces for coming together and producing narratives of collaborative working as they relate to developments in ALN in Wales. We are asking participants to bring images of their workspaces as a provocation to move away from discursive description of practice and to consider its materiality (Van de Putte 2018). Participants are given the questions below to support their choice of images, with the same questions also used to structure focus groups:

• Where do you work?
• How do you communicate with others? How do you listen?
• How do others communicate with you? How do they listen?
Within a materialist ontology, the researcher cannot view themselves as interpreters of the meaning of data, but rather as part of the apparatus of knowing (Lenz Taguchi and Palmer 2013). In this study therefore, analysis of data involves reading the data whilst ‘thinking-with-theory’ (Fox and Alldred 2015) as a way of sensing flows that emerge in between the researchers and the data (Barad 2007). Of significance we believe for the process of data production and analysis is that two of the researchers bring their own past experience of working as learning support coordinators.

Preliminary findings suggest the development of school practices that were both aligned with policy reform, but also resistant to it. Educational reform was described as creating precarious conditions in terms of accountability, but also described was the ‘agentive maneuverings’ (Naraian and Schlessinger 2018) of practitioners in schools that indicate degrees of freedom. Findings from the research help to refine, therefore, what we mean by the active becoming of inclusion, illustrating both the constraints that operate but also the lines of flight that are available. We would like to note that this study is an exploratory one with further studies planned to gather views and voices beyond that of the ALNCo.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2023
EventEuropean Conference of Educational Research (ECER) 2023 - University of Glasgow, Glasgow
Duration: 22 Aug 202325 Aug 2023


ConferenceEuropean Conference of Educational Research (ECER) 2023


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