This qualitative study, pursued within a one–site case study, explores the understanding and implementation of inclusive education in an independent Jewish community school in Johannesburg, South Africa nineteen years post democracy. It analyses the phenomenon of inclusion in a school with a community ethos of care and belonging whose context is by definition exclusionary on grounds of a particular social category, religion. Because of its exclusionary agenda the school can be paradoxically positioned as inclusive on grounds of strong communal values. The school however, struggles with difference and diversity of a certain kind, despite its purportedly strong communal spirit and strong religious culture. This study set out to probe how stakeholders understood inclusive education in an attempt to explain how this influenced their practice of inclusive education.
Lewin’s theory of Planned Change and four belief systems were utilized to examine the understanding and practice of stakeholders at the school. The study suggested that the four belief systems influenced the way in which inclusive education was both understood and practised in this school. The study argued for the recognition of the importance of different belief systems in the implementation of inclusion in South Africa.
The main research question which guided the study was:
How has inclusive education policy been implemented in a mono-cultural community school in South Africa, with the three sub–questions being: 1. How do the various school stakeholders understand the concept of inclusion and what are their attitudes towards inclusion?
2. How is inclusive education managed at class, school and community level?
3. To what extent do their attitudes and understandings influence their practice of inclusive education?
It was conducted within an interpretative/constructivist research paradigm and utilized a case study design. It relied on qualitative methods of data generation such as insider interviews, personal accounts and document analysis. The participants were drawn from four stakeholder groups, namely, teachers, parents, middle managers and top managers.
The descriptions of the stakeholders’ understandings that emerged in this study highlighted how belief systems determined the action towards inclusive education and how despite the school being a community school, the community discourse did not prevail in the actions towards inclusive education, it was the individual beliefs which vied for dominance which determined inclusive action. This resulted in a qualified and fragmented inclusion and in some cases exclusion. The findings were linked to Lewin’s planned approach to change including field theoretical and group dynamic theories. The study concluded that the four belief systems influenced the way in which inclusive education was both understood and practised in this school and the study argued for the recognition of the importance of different belief systems in the implementation of inclusion in South Africa.