The lack of learner discipline in ordinary schools is a universal concern. Managing learners’ discipline is even more challenging in special schools since learners with special educational needs (LSEN) struggle with a wide range of difficulties that impact their behaviour. Many of these learners do not readily recognise authority and have a very hard time following school rules. These are often secondary problems stemming from primary conditions, such as communication disorders which are complex and difficult to manage.
This case study was conducted at a special school in the Gauteng province of South Africa. A sample of 18 members participated in the study by answering semi-structured interview questions. The goal of this qualitative study was to answer the main research question: How do special schools manage learner discipline? To do this, the nature, intensity and frequency of the disciplinary issues of learners in special schools had to be explored. The unique challenging and disruptive behaviours of individual learners in special schools include but are not limited to ADHD-associated behaviours, extreme aggressiveness, the throwing of tantrums, verbal abuse and direct threats towards teachers and other learners, hitting, biting and scratching teachers, severe defiance, and severe bullying. These behavioural challenges have a negative impact on both the quality of teaching and learning as well as on the safety and security of all school stakeholders.
The findings of this study were interpreted through the theoretical lens of the social model of disability, as learners in special schools are accommodated using measures implemented from a social premise. While using the medical model of disability as a base, teachers and other staff at the research site currently apply the principles of the social model of disability to accommodate learners with behavioural problems in spite of the limitations of this model. These environmental accommodative measures have also proven successful in removing spatial barriers and assisting the staff in managing learner behaviour.
This study used Charles’ (1989) definition concept as a working definition for the management of discipline in schools focusing on preventive, supportive and corrective discipline. The literature review focussed on these concepts in relation to the management of discipline of learners with special educational needs.
As postulated by Charles (1989), the goal of preventative discipline is to prevent disruptive behaviour before it occurs. In terms of preventative disciplinary measures, the school chosen for this study used its code of conduct alongside the well-established classroom rules to serve as the basis for managing learner behaviour.
Supportive discipline, on the other hand, refers to support strategies that are developed to assist an individual acquire social and behavioural competence. In line with existing literature, effective supportive disciplinary measures are focused on individualised strategies developed by multi-disciplinary teams to assist individual learners. It must be noted that parental input and support is a vital component of this process. The findings of this study, which are detailed in the closing chapter of the dissertation, indicate that the environmental accommodations made for learners from the premise of the social model of disability are, to an extent, successful in removing environmental barriers within the educational context and assisting staff in managing learner behaviour.
The third pillar of discipline management, corrective discipline, refers to measures that help redirect poor behaviour when it does occur. This is aligned to Charles’ (1989) definition of discipline. Corrective discipline is therefore not a punitive disciplinary measure, but instead focuses on providing individual support to help correct current behavioural patterns and prevent further inappropriate behaviours from developing.