Primary Pre-Service Teachers
Primar y Pre-Ser vice Teachers' Attitudes Towards Inclusion Across the Training Years
Corrina Goddard 0
0 University of Sydney , Australia
Primary Pre-Service Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Inclusion Across the
University of Sydney
Abstract: Teachers are responsible for meeting the needs of
increasingly diverse learners. Given their position as catalysts for
educational change, teachers’ positive attitudes towards inclusive
education must be considered prerequisite to its success in Australian
classrooms. This study investigated the extent to which pre-service
training affects pre-service primary teachers’ attitudes towards
inclusive education. A survey was designed to examine such attitudes
among primary pre-service teachers at all year levels of their
Bachelor of Education (Primary). To reflect the increasingly broad
definition of inclusion established in the literature, participants’
attitudes towards gifted and talented students, those learning English
as a second language or dialect and those with disabilities were
considered. Using a sample of 56 primary pre-service teachers from
three metropolitan universities in Australia, this study examined the
nature of these attitudes according to child, teacher and environment
related variables across the training years. Results showed that
primary pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion were
generally positive and strengthened across the training years, though
they varied according to demographic characteristics, constructs and
areas of inclusion. The findings of this study have implications for
teacher educators, teacher education institutions and future research.
Education providers are increasingly addressing the quality of inclusive education.
Some nations’ policies (e.g., United States, United Kingdom) have impacted the development
of inclusive policy in education elsewhere
. Despite these international
developments, the review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005
and the federal government’s response
are the first Australian policy and
legislative documents to refer explicitly to inclusive education. This marks a political push
towards embedding the principles of inclusion in school and educator accountability.
The principles of inclusive education were made prominent as part of the Salamanca
. More recently, the United Nations General Comment No. 4
stressed the importance of the legally binding nature of the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities and the call for quality inclusive education. Inclusive education is
based on the principle that schools “provide for the needs of all the children in the
community, whatever their background, their ability or their disability”
. For this reason, mainstream classroom teachers are responsible for accommodating an
increasingly diverse group of learners, some of whom may previously have been educated in
. Given their prime position in helping or hindering
inclusive education, general educators’ attitudes are crucial
(Avramidis & Norwich, 2002;
Stemberger & Kiswarday, 2017)
. Research in this area has been conducted internationally,
with an increasing body of literature in Australia
(e.g., Varcoe & Boyle, 2014; Sharma &
Pre-service teacher education is a catalyst for inclusive classroom practice, and its
enactment in tomorrow’s classrooms. It is important to understand pre-service teachers’
acquired attitudes towards inclusive education and how pre-service training programs
influence these attitudes
(D’Alonzo, Giordano, & Cross, 1996; Forlin, Loreman, Sharma, &
Earle, 2009; Kim, 2011)
Inclusive education is underpinned by a principle of inclusion that all students should
be supported in the neighbourhood classroom. Despite this, the literature defines ‘inclusion’
in various ways. Many conceptualisations rely only on the education of students with
disabilities in mainstream classrooms
(Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; McCray & McHatton,
. Hodkinson (2005), however, suggests that considering inclusion only from the
perspective of students with disabilities is exclusionary.
Others aim for a broader definition. Some see inclusion as a global movement,
involving universal issues of social justice and equity
(Kozleski & Waitoller, 2010; Pearce,
. Some acknowledge that inclusion must cater for student diversity in ability, ethnicity,
gender, social class, culture and religion
(Bradshaw & Mundia, 2006; Forlin, Cedillo,
Romero-Contreras, Fletcher & Hernandez, 2010)
. Ultimately, inclusion is a catalyst for
overcoming “the barriers that inhibit children’s choices and ability to achieve their full
potential” (Hodkinson, 2005, p. 19).
Classroom teachers have commonly criticised inadequate training in inclusive
(Ashman, 2010; Symeonidou & Phtiaka, 2009)
. Although in-service professional
development is beneficial
(Hemmings & Woodcock, 2011)
, greater focus is being placed on
general educators’ pre-service training. There is consensus in the literature that “teachers’
acceptance of the policy of inclusion is likely to affect their commitment to implementing it”
(Bradshaw & Mundia, 2006, p. 35)
. Indeed, teachers set the tone of their classrooms. Those
with positive attitudes are more likely to adapt their pedagogy to benefit all students, while
also promoting inclusion among their colleagues
(Sharma, Forlin, & Loreman, 2008)
Investigating the effectiveness of pre-service training in promoting such attitudes in teachers
is thus vital
(Woodcock et al., 2012)
According to the predominant social constructivist perspective, teachers’ attitudes are
based on personal characteristics, including gender, cultural background and predispositions
(Louden, 2008; Spandagou, Evans, & Little, 2008)
. Attitude formation is a ‘learned process’
influenced by contextual factors including contact with students with diverse needs, previous
educational background and self-efficacy
(Ahsan, Sharma, & Deppeler, 2012; Lambe &
Bones, 2006; Lassig, 2009)
. Attitudes are therefore “context-dependent and responsive to
factors within a socio-cultural environment”
(Bradshaw & Mundia, 2005, p. 564)
embeds attitude formation in ‘transformative learning’: the process by which
engagement, including pre-service training, effects a substantial change in understanding.
(Hart, Dixon, Drummond, & McIntyre, 2004, p. 166)
relies on teachers’
belief that children’s capacity to learn is not fixed and that teachers can influence student
In a review of international literature on teacher education, it was found that
preservice teachers’ attitudes and beliefs were relatively static during teacher preparation
. Indeed, pre-service teachers enter training programs with beliefs about
education that, once held unchallenged long term, are difficult to change
(Fives & Buehl,
2008; Hudson, Hudson, Lewis, & Watters, 2010; Pajares, 1992; Woodcock, 2011)
Nonetheless, initial training is a context in which beliefs, which inform attitudes, may be
(Pearson, 2009; Tangen & Beutel, 2017; Varcoe & Boyle, 2014)
It is sustained throughout the literature that teachers’ attitudes are prerequisite to the
successful implementation of inclusive practices
(Ahmmed, Sharma, & Deppeler, 2012;
Forlin, 2010; Lambe & Bones, 2006)
Avramidis and Norwich (2002)
identified three major
influences on teachers’ attitudes: child-related, teacher-related and environment-related
variables. This reflects the theory of affective, cognitive and behavioural components of
attitudes used in numerous studies over the years
(Ahmmed et al., 2012; de Boer, Pijl &
Minnaert, 2011; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993)
Exposure to students with diverse learning needs arises as a key child-related variable.
Literature on pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion has tended to focus on the
specific category of disability. Jordan, Schwartz and McGhie-Richmond (2009) assert that
teachers’ broad epistemological beliefs may affect their assumptions about ability and
disability. Teachers’ attitudes often vary according to the type or severity of disability
(Levins, Bornholt & Lennon, 2005)
. Several studies have found that classroom teachers view
students with mild disabilities favourably, but are hesitant about those with severe disabilities
(Ashman, 2010; Sharma et al., 2008)
In one research synthesis, 65% of teachers supported the concept of inclusion, but this
depended upon the types of disability presented
(Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996)
. This review,
however, was only of American research and is somewhat outdated, limiting its application to
the Australian context. Alternatively, teachers’ attitudes towards gifted education can be
prone to the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ as giftedness receives a significantly different response in
schools compared to other additional needs
(Bartley, 2014; Geake & Gross, 2008)
. A study of
primary pre-service teachers in NSW revealed that participants deemed ‘average’ students to
be more desirable to teach than their gifted peers (Carrington & Bailey, 2000). Other surveys
have revealed pre-service teachers’ stereotypic beliefs about culturally and linguistically
diverse students, including their endorsement of deficit labels of students learning English as
an additional language or dialect
(EAL/D; de Courcy, 2007; Kumar & Hamer, 2013)
Attitudes are informed by personal experience and socio-cultural beliefs, values and
also includes demographic and personality traits as
teacher-related variables. Many researchers have aimed to account for teachers’ attitudes
using demographic characteristics, though findings have remained inconsistent
Bayliss, & Burden, 2000)
. For example, in a quantitative survey of final year pre-service
teachers in Australia, older age was identified as a predictor of support for gifted and talented
students (GAT students) and their education
. Others have reported younger
teachers’ more positive attitudes towards the inclusion of students with disabilities
(Avramidis et al., 2000)
. These and other studies of the impact of age, gender and exposure
on teachers’ attitudes vary greatly in location, context and sample size.
Other studies focus on longitudinal attitudinal change across an inclusive education
unit of study in pre-service training
(Spandagou et al., 2008; Woodcock et al., 2012)
However, teachers form beliefs about teaching and inclusion throughout all aspects of their
training (Woodcock & Vialle, 2010). Rindfleisch, Malter, Ganesan, and Moorman (2008)
warned against longitudinal research, given that “causes that are temporally distant from their
effects [can be] more difficult to establish than those that are proximate” (p. 264).
Crosssectional design, however, allows for suggestive results and avoids some challenges of
longitudinal studies, such as participant drop out
(Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011)
Research has also considered the educational environment. In a recent Australian
study, pre-service teachers’ greatest concern related to the adequacy of school resources for
supporting inclusive education
(Woodcock et al., 2012)
. Final year secondary education
students have also expressed frustration at catering for culturally and linguistically diverse
students, as their needs ‘interfere’ with classroom teaching
(Premier & Miller, 2010)
. There is
an apparent need to promote the notion that all student populations, including students with
disabilities, GAT students and EAL/D students, should be equally supported in the education
The potential of initial teacher training to change and/or support attitudes related to
inclusion should be exploited, bearing in mind the heterogeneity of those entering the
. Inclusive classrooms cater for “students with or without
disabilities as well as students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds”
. Research in the field must therefore reflect the increasingly broad definition of
inclusion, recognised internationally as catering for all students, not exclusively those with
disabilities (Ainscow & Cesar, 2006).
This research study examined pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion in
terms of disability, giftedness and second language learning. Research findings may allow
training institutions to “differentiate their curricula to ensure that they meet the dissimilar
needs of trainee teachers”
(Forlin et al., 2009, p. 207)
. Therefore, this study aimed to
investigate the questions: What are the attitudes of primary pre-service teachers towards
inclusive education? and, How do pre-service primary teachers’ attitudes vary according to
child-related, teacher-related and environment-related variables?
The literature on teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion has seen a “turn away from
description and interpretation towards causal inferences”
(Louden, 2008, p. 359)
studies have relied on quantitative methods to draw conclusions about pre-service teachers’
attitudes towards inclusive education
(Harvey, Yssel, Bauserman, & Merbler, 2010;
. Quantitative research aims to “identify cause-and-effect relationships that
enable … predictions and generalizations”
(Johnson, 2008, p. 35)
. A quantitative survey and
cross-sectional design were used for this project. In cross-sectional designs, participation is
more likely at single points in time and large samples allow for comparison of participant
(Cohen et al., 2011)
Importantly, previous research of pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion in
Australia has focused on a single special education unit of study or has combined primary,
secondary pre-service and postgraduate teachers into a single study
(e.g., Forlin et al., 2009;
Mergler, Carrington, Boman, Kimber & Bland, 2017; Woodcock et al., 2012)
. It has been
acknowledged, however, that primary and secondary education contexts are substantially
different and that there is a need for research focused specifically on the attitudes of primary
(Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Varcoe & Boyle, 2014)
Pre-service teachers were drawn from three metropolitan universities in Australia.
These institutions were chosen for their similarity in course structure and coverage of content.
Participants were undertaking a four year Bachelor of Primary Education undergraduate
degree at one of these institutions, preparing them to teach children from Kindergarten to
Year 6, aged five to 12 years. Pre-service teachers were in their first, second, third or fourth
(final) years of study at the universities, allowing for attitude comparison. First year students,
therefore, had just commenced their teacher education programs and fourth year students
were entering their final semester of study.
Pre-service teachers complete on average 112 days of professional experience
placement in primary schools as part of their pre-service training at the participating
universities. Coverage of inclusive education in compulsory and elective units of study varied
at each institution, but typically occurred in the third year of study. One program prioritised
compulsory units of study in inclusive education and catering for multilingual students in the
second half of the program, with elective study in EAL/D support available. Others provided
a compulsory focus on teaching linguistically diverse students and students with special
educational needs as a long-term specialisation throughout the degree, or as the context for
A survey was developed for this research. Surveys are “one of the most efficient
research methods for [comparing participants’] knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours”
(Woodcock, 2011, p. 25)
. The survey consisted of two sections. The first section elicited
participants’ demographic information, including gender, age, year of study and exposure to
students with diverse needs.
Forlin et al. (2009)
found that “particular demographics …
[significantly impacted] changes in preparing pre-service teachers for working in inclusive
classrooms” (p.200). Collecting demographic information was therefore important as such
variables may account for differences between pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards
The second section of the survey dealt with three constructs: child-related (student
acceptance and academic ability); teacher-related (responsibility for inclusion and training);
and environment-related (resources and support). The survey addressed each of these
constructs as relevant to students with disabilities, GAT students and EAL/D students
. Items addressing students with disabilities were adapted from the Concerns
About Inclusive Education Scale (CIES)
(Sharma & Desai, 2002)
; Kim’s (2011) Teachers’
Attitudes Towards Inclusion Scale; and
) Scale for Measuring Attitudes
Towards Inclusive Education. McCoach and Seigle’s (2007) Assessing Attitudes of
Preservice Teachers Toward Giftedness scale
(as cited in Troxclair, 2013)
was referred to in
developing items related to GAT students and
Ting and Gilmore’s (2012)
Teaching Deaf and ESL Students scale was considered for items concerning EAL/D students.
Each of these instruments used Likert-type questions, though they varied between
4point and 5-point scales. It is recommended that Likert-scale questions feature no less than
five response categories, therefore a 5-point scale was used in the survey developed for this
(Allen & Seaman, 2007; Jamieson, 2004)
. A pilot trial of the survey was conducted to
ensure reliability and validity (Cohen et al., 2011), with 25 participants drawn from a
convenience sample of second and third year pre-service teachers. Changes to wording were
made to items that were identified by participants to be unclear or ambiguous
The final internal reliability analysis (Cronbach’s alpha) resulted in an alpha coefficient score
of .761. This confirmed that the items in the survey were internally consistent
(Cohen et al.,
2011; Muijs, 2011)
The final survey collected demographic information about the participants, followed
by 40 items that were rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to
Ethics approval was obtained from the researchers’ University Human Research
Ethics Committee [Protocol: HREC 2014/268] prior to commencement of the study.
Participants were recruited from three metropolitan universities in Australia. The survey and
information regarding administration and analysis were emailed to the university program
instructors. Pre-service teachers in their first, second, third and fourth years undertaking a
Bachelor of Education (Primary) at the target universities were emailed the participant
information, including the survey link, inviting them to participate. Participants were assured
that their contribution was voluntary and that their responses would remain anonymous and
confidential. They were advised that they could complete all or part of the survey and
withdraw at any time. Consent was assumed by participants’ online submission of responses.
The survey was made available to participants online using Google Drive.
Internetbased surveys can reach a broad population while maintaining anonymity, and a diverse
range of participants allows for greater generalizability
(Cohen et al., 2011)
. Survey data was
downloaded in an Excel file format. Scores were reverse coded for 18 of 40 survey items.
Weems and Onwuegbuzie (2001)
recommend caution when including positively and
negatively worded questions, given the risk of participant confusion or acquiescence, the
“inclusion of reverse coded items motivates participants to process items more carefully”
(Salkind, 2007, p.843)
. Therefore, after coding, a higher score indicated a more positive
Data analysis was undertaken using the SPSS Statistics software package, including
the calculation of means and standard deviations for comparison of responses to survey items.
Descriptive analysis was undertaken according to the three constructs and areas of inclusion,
using participants’ demographic characteristics as extraneous variables
(Rindfleisch et al.,
. As established in the literature, demographic variables include age, gender and
exposure to diverse students
(Ahsan et al., 2012)
Prior to analysis being undertaken, data were checked for normal distribution
(Shapiro-Wilk, p = .560). As a result of the data being normally distributed
, univariate analyses were conducted to examine differences between pre-service
teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion according to child-related, teacher-related and
A total of 56 primary pre-service teachers participated in the present study. Of the
total data set, 87.5% of the participants were female (n = 49) and 12.5% were male (n = 7)
primary pre-service teachers. The majority (69.6%) of participants were between 20-29 years
of age (n = 39). Most participants (85.7%) indicated that their birthplace was within Australia
(n = 48).
Table 2 shows the total mean inclusion scores according to the demographic variables.
Most pertinent of these were primary pre-service teachers’ exposure. Participants who had a
disability themselves, had friends or family with a disability, had been enrolled in a class or
school for GAT students, or whose parent(s) had completed a university degree had more
positive attitudes towards inclusion.
I have a disability
I have (a) friend/s with a disability
I have (a) member/s of my family with a
I had (a) friend/s with a disability in my
class at my school
There was a class for students with
disabilities at my school
I was enrolled in a class or school for gifted
One or both my parents have completed a
Responses to items 12 (By separating students into gifted and other groups, we
increase the labelling of children as strong-weak, good-less good etc.), 15 (Gifted students
cannot cope well socially in the regular school) and 31 (Teachers should commence planning
for all students at the age related content area within the syllabus/curriculum) were the most
positive for this variable (M = 4.05, M = 4.04 and M = 4.07, respectively). Attitudes related
to items 6 and 33, concerning planning for GAT students and EAL/D students, were the least
positive (M = 2.66 and M = 2.73, respectively). The attitudes of participants in their final
year of pre-service training for child-related items were slightly more positive (M = 3.69)
than those of the first-year participants (M = 3.46).
Attitudes according to this variable were positive, with some of the highest means
recorded for items 7, 10, 14 and 18 (M = 4.44, M = 4.39, M = 4.55 and M = 4.41,
respectively). Responses to item 14 (Regular classroom teachers should be required to
receive training so they are professionally prepared to meet the needs of linguistic
minorities) indicated the most positive attitudes across the survey items. Pre-service teachers’
attitudes according to teacher-related items were significantly higher for final year
participants (M = 4.02) compared to those in their first year of study (M = 3.67).
Participants who had completed a mandatory unit of study in special and inclusive
education or EAL/D recorded slightly more positive attitudes on the mean total inclusion
scores. Alternatively, participants who had not taken an elective unit in gifted education had
very slightly more positive attitudes than those who had elected to study in this area.
Year of Study
An exploratory analysis of variance showed a main effect for year of study (F(3, 46) =
4.13, p = .011, 2 = .212). A post hoc analysis using Tukey’s HSD showed that total attitude
scores for fourth year pre-service teachers were significantly more positive than for first year
teachers (p = .039). The effect size was similarly large for first and fourth year pre-service
teachers attitudes towards EAL/D students (F(3, 46) = 4.90, p = .005, 2 = .235; p = .046) and
for teacher-related variables (F(3, 46) = 4.32, p = .009, 2 = .216; p =. 015). A moderate
effect size, but not statistically significant (p > .05), was found for the difference between
first and fourth year participants’ attitudes towards GAT students (2 = .53), students with
disabilities (2 = .069), child-related variables (2 = .119) and environment (2 = .041).
Special and inclusive education unit of
Gifted education unit of study
English as an additional language or
dialect unit of study
Attitudes according to this construct were varied. Those indicated by items 3, 11 and
17, which dealt with learning support and educational setting, were particularly positive (M =
4.54, M = 4.49 and M = 4.34, respectively). Items 5, 16, 27 and 39, however, which
concerned adequate resourcing for supporting students with additional learning needs, were
less positive (M = 2.21, M = 2.70, M = 2.46 and M = 2.13, respectively). Attitudes according
to item 39 (Special education teachers are best equipped to meet the needs of students with
disability) were the least positive across all survey items.
This research study aimed to investigate primary pre-service teachers’ attitudes
towards inclusion across the training years. It is widely acknowledged that pre-service
education is a critical time during which attitudes towards inclusive education may be
(Lambe & Bones, 2006; Varcoe & Boyle, 2014; Woodcock et al., 2012)
Preservice teachers entering the primary teaching profession with positive attitudes towards
inclusive education are more likely to implement strategies that promote an inclusive
paradigm in their classrooms
(McCray & McHatton, 2011; Sharma, Forlin, Loreman & Earle,
2006; Woodcock & Vialle, 2010)
. However, pre-service teachers enter initial training with
beliefs about teaching and demographic characteristics that may influence how they develop
their attitudes towards inclusion
(Ahsan et al., 2012; Fives & Buehl, 2008; Pajares, 1992)
The first aim of this study was to examine the attitudes of primary pre-service
teachers towards inclusive education. Inclusion was defined broadly to reflect international
discourse, “from a perspective of diversity rather than disability”
(Forlin, 2010, p. 650)
Participants were required to consider their attitudes towards the inclusion of students with
disabilities, GAT students and EAL/D students, in mainstream classrooms
Given that the success of inclusive education is generally assumed to be determined by
(Sharma et al., 2006; Varcoe & Boyle, 2014)
, the findings of the present
study are encouraging for teacher training institutions. The attitudes of participating
preservice primary teachers were generally positive. For the majority of survey items, responses
indicated neutral to positive attitudes towards inclusion. This echoes findings throughout the
(Beacham & Rouse, 2012; Hsien, Brown & Bortoli, 2009; Kraska &
Boyle, 2014; Rae, Murray, & Mckenzie, 2010; Swain, Nordness, & Leader-Janssen, 2012)
is important to note, however, that many studies in this field have focused on a change in
attitudes of primary and secondary teachers across a single unit of study
(e.g., Forlin et al.,
2009; Hemmings & Woodcock, 2011; McCray & McHatton, 2011)
. The majority of those
studies has also conceptualised inclusion only in terms of disability, rather than from a
position of promoting education for diversity
(Forlin et al., 2010; Hodkinson, 2005;
Symeonidou & Phtiaka, 2009)
The second aim of this study was to examine how primary pre-service teachers’
attitudes varied according to child-related, teacher-related and environment-related
constructs. Child-related variables included exposure to children or persons with diverse
learning needs and beliefs about the nature of ability
(Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; de Boer
et al., 2011)
. Participants’ attitudes according to child-related variables overall were neutral
to positive, but showed some variation according to the area of inclusion. Attitude scores for
items relating to EAL/D students were more positive than for those in the other two areas. It
has previously been found that pre-service teachers struggle to construct positive views of
disability and that they may be unsupportive of the needs of GAT students
Mundia, 2005; Carrington & Bailey, 2000; Troxclair, 2013)
. There is, however, limited
research on pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards students with EAL/D (Youngs & Youngs,
In an Australian study, pre-service teachers were found to have lower expectations of,
and be less confident about teaching, EAL/D students than students who are deaf
. This conflicts with the finding of the present study, though other research
has demonstrated teachers’ positive attitudes towards the inclusion of EAL/D students in
(Reeves, 2006; Youngs & Youngs, 2001)
. The results may be
explained by examining the structure of the pre-service training programs undertaken by the
participants. The coverage of content, especially in the area of giftedness, did not appear to be
as consistent as for EAL/D and disability across all three target institutions’ programs.
Indeed, very few Australian institutions feature a compulsory unit on gifted education in
primary pre-service training
(Gallagher, 2007; Taylor & Milton, 2006)
Teacher-related variables include pre-service teachers’ beliefs about their
responsibility to cater for diverse students, their training and demographic characteristics
(Avramidis & Norwich, 2002)
. Participants’ attitudes according to teacher-related variables
were in the neutral to positive range. Attitudes relating to teachers’ responsibility for GAT
students, EAL/D students and students with a disability and the need for specific training
were particularly positive. This awareness of all students is important, as “teachers who
believe it is their responsibility to instruct students with special education needs in their
inclusive classes are more effective overall”
(Jordan et al., 2009, p.538)
The demographic information of participating primary pre-service teachers was
collected as extraneous variables that may influence their attitudes towards inclusive
education. Female participants had slightly more positive attitudes overall compared to the
male participants. This is consistent with some previous research
(e.g., Ahsan et al., 2012;
Bartley, 2014; Youngs & Youngs, 2001)
. However, others have found the opposite result and
argued that findings according to gender have remained too inconsistent to suggest any causal
(Ahmmed et al., 2012; Sharma, Shaukat, & Furlonger, 2015)
It has been argued that direct experiences with people with special educational needs
cannot be assumed, universally, to foster inclusive attitudes (Lancaster & Bain, 2007).
Exposure was, however, a predictor of more positive attitudes towards inclusion in this study.
Substantial literature has focused on the strong influence of exposure on teachers’ inclusive
attitudes, especially towards students with disabilities
(Ahmmed et al., 2012; Caroll et al.,
2003; Forlin et al., 2009; Jung, 2014; Lambe & Bones, 2006)
. Stemberger and Kiswarday
(2017) reported in a study of 252 teachers that there was no significant relationship between
exposure and attitudes. Despite this, teachers reported positive attitudes towards inclusion of
students with disabilities.
Across all constructs, final year primary pre-service teachers’ attitudes were
significantly more positive overall than their first year counterparts, suggesting some positive
change brought about by the training years. This mirrors similar recent research on
preservice teacher attitudes according to year of study
(Kraska & Boyle, 2014)
. The change was
statistically significant for first and fourth year participants’ attitudes towards EAL/D
students and according to teacher-related variables. This result mirrors the findings of Flores
and Smith (2009) which demonstrated teachers’ positive attitudes towards their training and
responsibility for linguistically and culturally diverse students.
Pre-service teachers’ beliefs about educational settings and access to support and
resources were considered to be environment-related variables
(Avramidis & Norwich,
. Attitudes according to this construct were the least positive compared to the child and
teacher-related variables. This is consistent with the findings of a recent study of pre-service
primary and secondary teachers, a third of whom indicated uncertainty about or a lack of
support for an inclusive classroom setting even after taking a course in inclusive education
(McCray & McHatton, 2011)
. Ambivalent attitudes towards inclusive settings specifically for
GAT students have also previously been found
. The results suggest a need
for training institutions to more explicitly address issues of inclusive setting, resourcing and
support in their teacher education programs
(Avramidis et al., 2000)
This study has several limitations. The teacher preparation programs from which
participants were drawn were geographically limited to metropolitan Australia. Though
further Australian research is required, generalisation of these results may be limited, given
the unique student population
. Importantly, the study is cross-sectional and
direct causal inferences should not be made about relationships identified in the data, such as
between the attitudes of first and fourth year participants
. Trends that may have
been elucidated by a longitudinal design may also be lacking
Participation in this study was voluntary, and therefore the sample is slightly skewed.
Substantially more fourth year primary pre-service teachers participated in the study,
compared to students in first year, limiting interpretation of the results. Given that an online
survey was used, participants may have found a pattern or responded in what they perceived
to be the expected or ‘correct’ way
(Beacham & Rouse, 2012)
. It is also important to note
that the results of this study only reflect participants’ understanding of and attitudes towards
the theory and principles of inclusion. Pre-service teachers’ perceptions do not necessarily
match the reality of their classroom practice
(Gravett, Henning, & Eiselen, 2011)
Participants may have claimed positive attitudes towards the notion of inclusion, but remain
concerned about their lack of knowledge about applying this paradigm to pedagogy in the
The understanding of different institutions’ primary pre-service training programs,
including the number of days of professional experience, has mostly been elicited from the
universities’ websites. The program and course descriptions provide only brief information
about the nature and pedagogy of these courses and may not be entirely representative of
. Additionally, while course structures were noted from this
available information, integration of content on inclusive education and inclusion of students
with disabilities, GAT students and EAL/D students may not have been explicitly advertised
on the universities’ websites. It was intended, as part of this study, to compare the number of
professional experience days between the university programs as a teacher-related variable.
However, the results were not substantial enough in sample size to draw any conclusions with
regard to attitudes according to training programs. It is recommended that future research
address this issue, as previously suggested in the literature
(Florian, Young, & Rouse, 2010;
Swain et al., 2012)
This study examined primary pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive
education across the training years. It is important that pre-service teachers emerge from their
training with positive attitudes towards inclusion and equity, as these may predict inclusive
classroom practice and negative attitudes are difficult to reverse
(Bradshaw & Mundia, 2006;
Pearce, 2009; Swain et al., 2012)
. Results indicate that a positive change in attitudes was
brought about by pre-service training, between the first and final years of study. Attitudes
were particularly positive towards EAL/D students and according to teacher-related variables.
It was revealed that attitudes towards the inclusion of GAT students and students with
disabilities, and in terms of the educational setting, resourcing and support, may require
attention from teacher educators.
It has previously been recommended in the literature that pre-service teacher training
be differentiated in order to cater for the dissimilar needs, experiences and demographic
characteristics of trainee teachers
(Forlin et al., 2010; Forlin et al., 2009; Varcoe & Boyle,
. Given the heterogeneous population of pre-service teachers entering training
1994; Pearson, 2009)
, and the impact of their differences on inclusive attitudes, the findings
of this study seem to support this suggestion. The Australian Curriculum stipulates that
primary teachers are responsible for meeting the learning needs of GAT students, EAL/D
students and students with disabilities as part of an inclusive philosophy for education
(ACARA, 2013). The results of the present study suggest that these areas are not being
equally addressed in pre-service education, the purpose of which should be to foster teachers’
positive attitudes towards prioritising inclusion as they enter into the teaching profession
(Symeonidou & Phtiaka, 2009; Woodcock et al., 2012)
. Future research using a larger sample
size may help to further inform and enhance Australian primary teacher education programs.
Appendix 1: Survey Instrument
Pre-Service Teachers' Attitudes towards Inclusion
I have a disability:
I have (a) friend/s with a disability:
I have (a) members of my family with a disability:
I had (a) friend/s with a disability in my class at my school:
There was a class for students with disabilities at my school:
I was enrolled in a class or school for gifted students:
One or both my parents have completed a university degree:
Bachelor of Education (Primary) at: __________________________________
Year of Study:
I have completed a: Mandatory unit of study
Special and inclusive education: Yes No
Gifted education: Yes No
English as an additional language or dialect: Yes No
I have completed a practical experience/fieldwork focused in:
Special and inclusive education Gifted education
Elective unit of study
Please provide your level of agreement with the following statements; circle the number to represent your level
1 All classroom teachers are teachers of English as
an additional language or dialect.
2 The best way to meet the needs of the gifted
students is to enroll them in special classes and/or
schools. 1 2 3 4 5
Please provide your level of agreement with the following statements; circle the number to represent your level
3 Learning support processes should be in every
school to assist students with additional learning
4 Prior to enrolling in the regular school, students
should learn to become proficient in English.
5 All schools are adequately resourced to meet the
needs of the gifted.
6 When planning to meet the needs of students with
English as an additional language dialect, you start
from the content in the syllabus that corresponds to
their chronological age.
7 Planning to allow students to engage with learning
through a range of flexibly designed activities
maximises a teacher’s ability to accommodate all
students’ needs in the regular classroom.
8 Students learning English as an additional
language are as likely as their peers to apply
themselves to their school work.
9 All teachers are teachers of the gifted.
10 The education of students with a disability is the
responsibility of the whole school community.
Adaptations to the physical school environment
may be required for the inclusion of students with
By separating students into gifted and other groups,
we increase the labelling of children as
strongweak, good-less good etc.
Regular classroom teachers are responsible for
making decisions about adjustments to assessments
for students with disabilities.
Regular classroom teachers should be required to
receive training so they are professionally prepared
to meet the needs of linguistic minorities.
Personalising learning within the regular classroom
is the responsibility of a specialist teacher. 1 2 3 4 5
Please provide your level of agreement with the following statements; circle the number to represent your level
15 Gifted students can not cope well socially in the
Regular schools do not have the resources to cater
for students with significant disabilities.
Collaboration with a learning support team is key to
designing quality learning activities for students
with diverse learning needs.
Planning to meet the needs of students in the
classroom is a moral responsibility of the class
20 Students with disabilities will improve their
social skills when placed in a regular education
Catering for a student with limited-English in the
classroom is detrimental to the learning of the other
We have a greater moral responsibility to give
special help to children with disabilities than to
Students with disabilities have the right to be
educated in the regular classroom regardless of the
severity or type of disability.
Grade skipping should be used as a strategy to
accommodate the needs of students with specific
gifts and talents.
25 Some teachers feel their authority threatened by
Parents should have the major responsibility for
helping their child develop their specific gifts and
Specialist schools should be made available to
enroll students with diverse learning needs.
Students learning English as a second language will
need content from earlier or easier levels of the
It is unreasonable to expect a regular classroom
teacher to teach a child with limited English.
30 Teachers should commence planning for all
students at the age related content area within the
Teachers enhance their planning for the gifted
through encouraging the use of higher order literacy
and numeracy skills.
Students learning English as an additional language
have difficulty making friends in the regular school.
Teachers plan from higher grade level content to
accommodate the needs of gifted students.
A specialist teacher should be solely responsible for
teaching students with English as an additional
language in regular schools.
35 Regular classroom teachers are responsible for
the education of students with disabilities.
Teachers catering for a student with EAL/D
personalise their planning using the EAL/D
We should invest supplementary funds and support
for gifted and talented students.
Teachers commence planning for students with
disabilities from content in lower stages.
Special education teachers are best equipped to
meet the needs of students with disability.
Students with disabilities are more disruptive than
students without disabilities.
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