Marc Arnal (left), chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools, and ATA President Mark Ramsankar conduct a press conference to share the findings of a new report that found Alberta could be doing better at making schools more inclusive.
“Hit and miss” implementation has stifled improvement
It contains more than 100 pages and gives 38 detailed recommendations, but the main message of the Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools can be summed up in four words: We. Need. A. Plan.
Struck in 2013 as the result of a resolution passed that year at the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Annual Representative Assembly, the blue ribbon panel was tasked with reviewing the current state of inclusion in Alberta schools and developing recommendations. The review was conducted through the lens of Alberta Education’s Setting the Direction Framework, published in 2009.
“We believe the basic structure [of the framework] is sound,” said panel chair Marc Arnal. “The problem has been with the implementation.”
Arnal delivered the report to ATA President Mark Ramsankar at a news conference on Wednesday, Sept. 10. He said the panel didn’t have any issues with the framework, agreeing that its vision, mission and principles still hold true.
But implementation of the framework has been “hit and miss,” thanks in part to the disbandment of three groups critical to providing leadership, information and feedback, said Arnal, a former dean of Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta.
The unit within Alberta Education charged with leading the consultation process and creating the framework was dissolved once the provincial government accepted all 12 of the framework’s recommendations, a time when leadership at the provincial level was most needed to guide the implementation process, Arnal said. A provincial stakeholder advisory committee and stakeholder working group were also disbanded, effectively eliminating two mechanisms for acquiring feedback on the progress of implementation.
“Nothing is wrong with that happening,” Arnal said of the groups’ disbandment. “But do it eventually, when the culture of the [system] has changed.”
The first two recommendations in the panel’s report address the concerns raised by the elimination of those three important groups. As with the 36 other recommendations, they are organized around seven elements: shared vision, leadership, research and evidence, resources, teacher professional growth, time, and community engagement. They promote the collaboration and communication between stakeholders at the school, jurisdiction and provincial levels. They speak to the roles of provincial government, education ministry, universities, teachers, administrators, school councils and the ATA.
The eight-member panel includes a classroom teacher, a special needs teacher, a school-based administrator, a central office administrator and representatives from Alberta universities and the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
Informing each recommendation of the panel’s report were the voices of Alberta teachers, administrators and superintendents. Telephone interviews captured the insights of superintendents representing urban, suburban and rural areas. Focus groups provided the opportunity for teachers from urban, suburban and rural settings to share their voices and views. Random and open online surveys captured more than 1,400 responses from teachers and administrators in the schools and classrooms struggling to make inclusion work.
Review all 38 recommendations in the Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusion in Alberta Schools or read the full report.
“It’s really sad to see students not receiving support and teachers who really want to do their best, leaving each day feeling like they have not made a difference. I am truly hoping for some kind of change,” stated one teacher.
This comment and others from survey participants appear throughout the report, driving home the reality of inclusion in many Alberta schools and the need to act on the panel’s recommendations, Arnal said.
“Inclusion is not only for students that need special attention. Inclusion is basically a form of citizenship education for all students … it’s meant to benefit all students,” said Arnal, adding, “100 per cent of students require a good, solid inclusion program in their school.”
Ramsankar said the Association won’t wait for an invitation to advance the agenda on the report with the new premier and education minister.
“The provincial government approved the recommendations of the Setting the Direction Framework almost five years ago,” said Ramsankar. “We can’t afford to wait any longer. The teachers and students who are in our classrooms today need a plan and support for inclusion.” ❚