This week the Review of Education for Students with Disability in Queensland Schools was released. For me professionally and personally, I was very excited to read the recommendations. For at least two decades, some of us have been advocating for a change of practice now included in the review’s recommendations.
Perhaps the closest recommendation to my heart was the recommendation to review the role of the general school-based position, Head of Special Education Services or HOSES.
If the redevelopment of the role goes ahead, it would be exciting for myself and HOSES across Queensland. In 2014, I published my thesis, Powering a Curriculum for All which was about the leadership of a HOSES in a Queensland secondary school. My findings included the fact that even the name given to the role contributed to how others perceived the leader. The use of the word “special” had a detrimental effect on the HOSES influence on others.
The HOSES, in the research setting, was instrumental in challenging exclusive language and practice. A lot of this language challenged reflected deficit attitudes and beliefs that were played out in exclusionary practice. I described this deficit language as a meme. These memes were transmitted between the staff and were repeated as an excuse why students with disabilities were unable to achieve.
The word “special” was a powerful meme. Especially, between departments and teachers. For example, the statement, “I’m not paid to teach these special kids”, was transmitted throughout the school, and used by some to excuse themselves from the education of students with a disability.
The HOSES in the research setting had many undervalued leadership practices that were implemented through various methods and manner. For example, the HOSES may explicitly choose the language (method) in a reactive way (manner) to challenge the exclusive practice.
The HOSES in my research applied complex leadership practices and was highly successful in changing the culture of the school towards greater inclusive practice. Sadly and currently, the role is seen only as a management role in Queensland. This perception of the role as purely managerial undervalues this complex role. Furthermore, its name which includes the word “special”, relegates the leader in some settings to the margins along with the students they teach.