The purpose of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of how the decision for the type of school at the secondary level is made for children with special socio-emotional needs from their mothers’ point of view. The study was conducted in the state of Thuringia in Germany against the background of its recent development towards a more inclusive school system.
The research problem was addressed qualitatively. Seven semistructured interviews were conducted in order to listen to the mothers’ voices, that is, their experiences and perceptions with the phenomenon under study. Two of the informants had a child in regular school and another two informants had a child in regular school since the beginning of secondary schooling. Three other informants had a child that changed or was going to change from regular to special school at secondary level. For the analysis of the collected data, an interpretational approach based on the principles of hermeneutics was used.
The data revealed that the school decision was an interactive process among three contributors: the child, the teacher, and the mother herself. A child’s high degree of problem behavior, accompanied by low school achievement, encouraged the decision for special school. Mothers of children in special school had in most cases a weaker social background than mothers of children in regular school. Teachers’ recommendations for school type were in most cases followed, but their ability to deal with children with special needs was perceived as limited. The teachers’ advice convinced four mothers in the sample to agree to special school in spite of their initial negative attitudes. On the part of the mothers, a high level of involvement was required in order to achieve regular schooling for their children, but in most cases not possessed by them. The decision for regular school was reversed in three cases. Class size, teacher competence and care, belonging, and future perspectives were factors of significance to the mothers in the evaluation of the schools.
On the basis of the findings, the researcher formulated implications and recommendations. More support and further training for teachers should be provided, so that they feel empowered to cooperate with parents and encourage regular secondary schooling for children with special socio-emotional needs.
Key words: special socio-emotional needs, decision for type of school, secondary level, regular school, special school, mothers’ voices