The purpose of my case study research is to explain the development trajectory of Special Needs Education policy in South Africa. I also intended to establish whether this policy reform trajectory could be explained as “non-reform” in Special Needs Education. The development path of policies has been widely researched and explained in relation to theories of change. Over the past decade there has, however, been a growing body of knowledge that has moved the theoretical basis for the development of policy from a traditional linear and causal model to a more complex, dynamic model of change. I was able to draw from both models to engage in my case study research on the development of the Special Needs Education policy. This policy eventually culminated in a Government White Paper on Special Needs Education. My primary research question is to understand why the policy on Special Needs Education did not emerge in South Africa when it was widely expected. I examined “up close” the views, perspectives and understandings of policy makers to establish the reasons for the non-emergence of the Special Needs Policy in South Africa. On closer analysis, I found that not only was there a significant delay between the policy formulation and policy adoption, but that this had created a critical policy vacuum in the Special Needs Education system in South Africa, which warranted an explanation. I found that the main reasons for the “policy-lag” were situated in the intended paradigm shift from a medical based model to an eco-systemic model, the intended restructuring of the special school system, logistical factors, and the availability of resources. This study addresses a gap in the related literature by its focus on the policy-making process for Special Needs Education in a transitional context. Its significance lies in shifting explanations of policy reform from the domain of the causal-linear to a political account of the process. The research was guided by a conceptual framework that combined the linear and iterative models of the policy development processes with the conceptual devices of “theory of action” and “theory in use”. The role of specific paradoxes and the ensuing tensions was formulated using qualitative content analysis. The study produced several new findings with regard to the factors that affect education policy-making in South Africa. Principal amongst these findings was the observation that the politics of participation was the main factor constraining the speed and direction of policy development in Special Needs Education. The findings of this research warrant several conclusions regarding the implementation and the dynamic nature of policy-making. The study concludes with suggestions for future research in policy-making related to Special Needs Education in South Africa.
Thesis (PhD (Education Management and Policy Studies))--University of Pretoria, 2005.