From the author's perspective of day-to-day involvement in the continuing professional development of teachers in the Higher Education (HE) sector, this study seeks to explore how some secondary schools are responding to the demands of the government reform agenda. The particular focus of the research is the professional development required to promote and facilitate delivery of the various initiatives, especially in relation to special needs and the move towards a more inclusive education system. Through the medium of in-depth interviews, the relationship between rhetoric and reality is investigated by determining how teachers have responded to government policy, and by questioning whether there is a mismatch between the expectations of teachers and government agencies concerning the provision and nature of professional development. The professional needs of teachers are examined by identlfymg the most appropriate forms of professional development required to address barriers to learning in their classrooms, and by considering the contribution of Higher Education in enabling teachers to respond to a greater diversity of needs. A comprehensive, in-depth literature review is presented which traces the development of teachers' in-service training; in particular it raises concerns about how professional development for special needs has become marginalised as a result of funding changes and new course structures. Key findings include the existence of a rhetoric/reality gap between expressed government policies in relation to educational reform, and teachers' perceptions of them; in particular teachers were sceptical about the nature and content of the government's professional development proposals and the motives behind them. Teachers appeared to lack an appropriate discourse with which to properly express and discuss professional needs. Many teachers claimed to lack a repertoire of learning and teaching strategies appropriate for addressing barriers to learning. Teachers' notions of special needs were centred round ‘labels’ and dominated by concerns about behaviour. Mixed messages ftom government were contributing to teachers’ confusion about the inclusion agenda. The effects of ‘quasimarket’ forces appear to be acting directly and substantially against the interests of children with special needs. Implications of these findings are considered in relation to Higher Education; a number of recommendations are made, which reinforce the responsibility of HE to the profession for its continuing development. There is evidence to suggest that teachers may be adopting a restricted model of special needs in the face of pressure to raise standards. The study proposes that, in challenging times and lacking a clear lead ftom government, teachers are being forced to adopt a minimalist view of the concept of inclusion, rather than taking the opportunity to broaden their understanding. The study concludes that high quality, focussed, education and training can play a significant role both in improving the status and morale of the teaching profession, and in helping to bring about equality in the classroom
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