Concretely, how does it work ? Two models to organize the educational system
Setting up inclusive schools necessitates certain structural choices which provide the conditions for students to be welcomed but also to learn. Marie-Jeanne Accietto, president of the Autism Association of Geneva, has studied this carefully and has an interesting viewpoint. If we look at what is going on in the countries in the West that are working toward inclusion, it's possible to discern two tendencies: a model which uses the help of AIS (assistants in school integration) or AVS (helper for school life) or another model which calls for two teachers in each class.
- the model which calls for the help of an AIS (assistant for school integration) in a normal class to help with special needs children is the one used in France and and the Spanish-speaking Basque country. In these two regions, and for many years, children's needs are evaluated and a person is assigned to each of them for a time proportional to their needs. The objective is to permit the students to stay in the normal classroom with the benefit of individualized help. The main classroom teacher remains in charge of the work program and the assistant helps the student he or she is responsible for. A special education teacher assigned to several students completes this arrangement, providing oversight and coordination of the network along with added help if necessary with the students.
The results of this model are very different in different countries. Its success and pertinence has been demonstrated in the Spanish-speaking Basque areas but the results in the rest of France are more nuanced. The difference seems to come from the level of training, from the teachers, but especially from the AIS. In France, teaching assistants do not have much pedagogical training, while in the Basque country the training for an AIS is equivalent to a baccalaureate + 2 in the area of specialization. This training allows the Spanish AIS person to intervene with the special needs students in a more focused and prepared fashion. Furthermore, they are treated as real professionals with an appropriate salary while the equivalent French AIS staff have a lower salary and precarious status. And finally, those who participate in the Basque program are chosen on the basis of their motivation for the job (have they done previous volunteer work in the field, internships? What is their connection with the families?) All of these factors help explain the success of the inclusive model in the Spanish-speaking Basque country where these methods have been used for the last thirty years.
- The model using team teaching is an American model which has been used, with success, since the 1980s. This time there are two teachers in the classroom. The students thus benefit from both an “ordinary” classroom teacher, although one who is very sensitive to “special needs” issues thanks to his or her initial or in-service training, and by a “support” teacher who has specific skills for dealing with children with learning difficulties. The success of this model depends on the training and skills of the two teachers. The team-teachers must be specially trained to be able to bring the right response to meet the students' needs. And it is also important to note that with this model the class size needs to be limited to between 12 and 15 students.
This arrangement allows several children with special needs to be included in the same classroom (between 2 and 4, depending on the amount of support they need). Having two teachers present allows for individualized attention and greater flexibility in forming groups. In this way, the model benefits all the children in the classroom and is appreciated by all.
The two models explained above are completed by a system of “integrated classes” (or ULIS in France) which welcome children with more important learning difficulties. These classes are led by a special education teacher and an educator (or AVS ) and include 6 to 12 children. Only children with significant learning difficulties are enrolled in these classes; otherwise all students are integrated in regular classes according to the models described above.
For further reading:
Site of the autism association of Geneva: http://autisme-ge.ch
The model of inclusion for autistic children can be found on the website of GAUTENA (an association that supports autistic children) in the Basque country: http://www.gautena.org/home/home.php