Guiding principles for the effective establishment and functioning of the school based support teams - África do Sul
Policy documents derived from the South African Constitution and the South African Schools Act state that all learners are entitled to support. Support at school level should be rendered by a School Based Support Team. The purpose of this article is to provide guiding principles to schools for the effective establishment and functioning of School Based Support Teams, based on Bronfenbrenner’s eco-systemic theory.
A qualitative, interpretive research design was employed. Findings indicated that schools need to work closely with parents and communities if they want an effective and well-functioning SBST. Therefore, the recommendation of this article, which is based on Bronfenbrenner’s eco-systemic theory, includes guiding principles to schools for the effective establishment and functioning of the SBST.
The SBST is the cornerstone of the development of an inclusive education culture within all schools. Education White Paper 6: Special Needs Education, Building an Inclusive Education and Training System states that SBSTs should be established at all schools (Department of Education, 2001:48).
Literature reviews and research findings indicated that schools are expected to establish these teams, but no guiding principles are readily available to schools for the effective establishment and functioning of these teams. The unavailability of guiding principles and the apparent challenges experienced with the effective establishment and functioning of these teams led to the need for research which has as its focus guiding principles to schools for the effective establishment and functioning of School Based Support Teams.
The purpose and goal of the SBST is to identify and address barriers to learning within the school and offer support in the teaching and learning process (Department of Education, 2001:48). Furthermore, SBSTs need to co-ordinate specific learner, educator and institutional needs (Johnson, et al., 2007:163; Donald, et al., 1997:26; Department of Education, 2009:19).
According to Donald, et al. (1997:27) and the Department of Education, (2007:114), educators as members of the SBST should have the essential knowledge regarding the identification of learning barriers and they should be willing to intervene in learner support. (Department of Education, 2003(b):40). Furthermore, these educators must be innovative, pro-active and competent in their teaching methodologies, thus accommodating learner diversity within the classroom (Landsberg, 2005:66; Department of Education, 2008:88).
In addition to the educator component of the SBST, representatives from the School Management Team (SMT) and School Governing Body (SGB) should be included. (Department of Education, 2003:40). Johnson, et al., (2007:163), Donald, et al., (1997:26) and Landsberg, (2005:67) agree with this viewpoint and state that the inclusion of the SMT and SGB within the SBST may help to convey the message that learner support is an important and central school activity. Close collaboration between the SBST and DBST (District Based Support Team) should be established. A coordinator for the SBST should be appointed to coordinate and take responsibility for the organization of this team (Landsberg, 2005:67; Department of Education, 2009:19).
The majority of research participants agreed that the SBST is an important support structure at school level. The researcher and co-researcher detected that although SBSTs are established their level of functionality is a matter of concern. The following essentials with regards to SBSTs will now be discussed:
- The present functionality of SBSTs at schools.
- Roles and responsibilities of SBSTs and its members.
- Challenges experienced with the establishment of SBSTs.
The present functionality of SBSTs at schools
SBSTs are established at schools but the teams are not functioning optimally. Research results indicated that SBSTs are able to grow and develop into effective teams with the necessary guidance and support. It is evident that DBSTs should empower educators with the necessary skills and knowledge regarding SBSTs. The commitment and support of the DBST to the SBST should enable the SBST to grow and develop into effective support teams.
A shortage of educators, the lack of parental involvement and the negative attitude of some educators towards learners experiencing academic challenges, are hampering the functionality of SBSTs. The negative attitudes of certain educators towards these learners are in conflict with the responsibility educators have towards learners, as well as in direct divergence from Bronfenbrenner’s eco-systemic theory, which is the theoretical framework underpinning this article.
This theoretical framework clearly indicates that educators form part of the microsystem of the child. Inhabitants of the microsystem affect the learner directly as they are the closest to the learner and they play a vital role in the growth and development of the learner. With such a role and responsibility in mind it is imperative that educators fulfil their duty towards learners and that they do not withdraw themselves from any intervention and support needed by the learner.
Although some educators indicated that they did not want to be involved in the SBST, most educator participants indicated that they would like to be actively involved in the activities of the SBST. Research revealed that SBSTs are in need of continuous growth and development with the help and support from the DBST, School Principals, community members, parents, educators and professionals within the community. The SBST coordinator plays a vital role in the effective establishment and functioning of the SBST. The coordinator will be responsible for the management and administration of the team. This person may be an educator at the school, or schools can appoint a learner support educator based on their staff establishment. The coordinator (or learner support educator), should serve the needs of the team (Landsberg, 2005:67 and Department of Education, 2009:19). The SBST coordinator and team members of the SBST must be able to function well in a team structure and have skills in collaboration, problem solving and essential knowledge regarding identification and intervention.
Schools are advised to ensure that SBST members are a group of people who are able to support and trust each other and to share information instead of keeping it to themselves. This team shares its resources, special talents and strengths in order to develop cooperation, high morale and a good work ethic. SBSTs should become effective learner support structures within schools with the support and guidance of the DBST.
The roles and responsibility of SBSTs
It is expected from SBSTs to embrace a holistic, pro-active approach to learner support where measures are in place to prevent possible barriers to learning. Additionally, it is expected from SBSTs to arrange regular in-service training opportunities for educators. Good in-service training will enhance the skills and knowledge of educators with regards to learner support and intervention. Growth and development within the SBST is an ongoing process as educators need to develop themselves on a continuous basis. New knowledge and skills to address the diverse needs of all learners in all schools needs to be acquired.
Challenges with the establishment of SBSTs
An overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that the establishment of SBSTs at schools can be challenging. They mentioned various factors that challenge the establishment of SBSTs at schools. Systemic challenges (multi-grade teaching), negative attitudes of educators and the non-involvement of parents were some of the challenges schools had to deal with during their endeavours to establish SBSTs at their schools. Systemic challenges such as multi-grade teaching, a lack of knowledge with regards to SBSTs, over populated class groups, as well as time limitations contributed negatively to the establishment of SBSTs at schools. Educator participants felt that due to their multi-grade situation it is nearly impossible to provide additional help and support to learners. Educator participants mentioned that big class groups cause educators to feel overwhelmed with responsibility and overloaded with work.
The non-involvement of parents in the lives of their children hinders effective learner support and intervention. Parents are important role players in learner support and intervention as they are rich sources of information and educators need their input to provide the best possible support for the learner.
In contrast to schools that experienced challenges with the establishment of SBSTs, some participants mentioned that they did not experience any difficulty with the establishment of their SBST. Schools which embraced an ethos of inclusivity did not experience major challenges with the establishment of their SBST. At these schools learner support was perceived as fundamental and of utmost importance. Guiding principles for schools will now be presented for the effective establishment and functioning of SBSTs at schools.
Guiding Principles for the School
According to Bronfenbrenner’s eco-systemic theory, schools form part of a social system. Based on this fact schools, in close collaboration with other interrelated systems and sub-systems involved in learner support, should aspire to support and address institutional, learner and educator needs.
Inclusive Education demands a school culture that welcomes and accepts learner diversity and embraces a positive attitude towards learner support (Swart, et al., 2005:19 and Mitchell, 2008:27). Schools need to create a school culture that addresses learner needs. The vision and mission statement of the school should portray that all learners matter, all learners can achieve and therefore all learners should benefit from learning. Furthermore, schools in close collaboration with the SBST need to collaborate with various role players to address systemic and other challenges. SBSTs need to make contact and consult with other professionals within the community as well as with the DBST with regards to training opportunities for educators. The DBST, in close collaboration with other professionals within the community, needs to train educators on identifying and addressing barriers to learning, thus enabling them to address the diverse needs of all learners. The knowledge and skills gained by educators during training sessions or capacity building sessions will enable the entire school to grow and develop optimally.
With the above-mentioned in mind, the successful establishment and functioning of the SBST is only attainable once support structures within the school work together towards effective learner support. School Principals, SMTs, SGBs, SBSTs and educators need to create collaborative opportunities, where they can work together regularly with parents, professionals and communities. Such collaboration should concentrate on learner support, learner behaviour and learner achievement.
Summary of the guiding principles for schools for the effective establishment and functioning of the SBST
- The School Principal, SMT, SGB and the SBST should take the lead and embrace an inclusive school culture.
- Schools need to establish and ensure inclusive policies and practices that acknowledge learner diversity.
- Learners, educators, parents and the community should be aware that all learners matter, all learners can achieve and therefore all learners should benefit from instruction.
- School Principals, SMTs, SGBs, SBSTs and educators need to create opportunities to collaborate with each other, with parents and with communities on a regular basis.
- A collaborative team approach towards learner support should be embraced.
- DBSTs and School Principals need to inform SBSTs of their roles and responsibilities.
- SBST members, in close collaboration with the School Principal and SMT, need to appoint an SBST coordinator to manage and administer SBSTs activities.
- SBST coordinators, SMTs and Schools Principals need to create opportunities for educators to develop their skills and knowledge on how to address barriers to learning.
- SBSTs should recruit parents, community members and other professionals within the community as members of the SBST.
- SBSTs should keep regular contact with the DBST.
- DBSTs should use their ability and authority to establish the multi-layered, multidisciplinary support structure needed for learner support and intervention.
- DBSTs should collaborate with SBSTs and other professionals within the community.
- DBSTs should provide training and capacity building sessions to SBSTs, educators and other professionals within the communities-
From the above discussions, research results and recommendations it is apparent that for the effective establishment and functioning of the School Based Support team an eco-systemic approach such as Bronfenbrenner’s eco-systemic theory needs to be used. Literature highlighted the importance of establishing School Based Support Teams within an Inclusive Education setting whose core responsibility would be to address barriers to learning systemically. The importance of collaboration with various stakeholders such as the SMT, SGB, SBST members is highlighted as well as the appointment of an SBST coordinator. Additionally, literature revealed that SBSTs should provide support within the school to learners, educators and parents (Daniels, 2010:637 and Department of Education, 2003:15, 50). Based on the above discussion it is evident that an ecosystemic model will be conducive for the effective establishment and functioning of the SBST.
- Department of Education. 2001. Education White Paper 6. Special needs education: Building an Inclusive Education and training system. Pretoria: Government Printers.
- Department of Education. 2003. Directorate: Inclusive Education. Conceptual and operational guidelines for the implementation of Inclusive Education: District-based support teams. Pretoria: Government Printers.
- Department of Education. 2007. Directorate: Inclusive Education. National Strategy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support. Pretoria: Government Printers.
- Department of Education. 2008. Directorate: Inclusive Education. National strategy on screening, identification, assessment and support. Pretoria: Government Printers.
- Department of Education. 2009. Directorate: Inclusive Education. Guidelines for Full-service/ Inclusive Schools. Pretoria: Government Printers.
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- Donald, D., Lazarus, S. & Lolwana, P. 1997. Educational psychology in social context: Challenges of development, social issues and special need in Southern Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
- Johnson, B, & Green, L. 2007. Thinking differently about education support. (In: Engelbrecht, P. & Green, L. Responding to the challenges of Inclusive Education in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers p.159–174).
- Landsberg, E. 2005. Learning support. (In: Landsberg, E., Kruger, D. & Nel, N. Addressing barriers to learning. A South African Perspective. 2nd.(edition) Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers p.69–85).
- Mitchell, R. 2008. What really works in special and Inclusive Education:using evidence-based teaching strategies. London : Routledge.
- Swart, E. & Pettipher, R. 2005. A framework for understanding inclusion. (In: Landsberg, E., Kruger, D. & Nel, N. Addressing barriers to learning: A South African perspective. Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers p.3–26).