Inclusive or Exclusive? Students’ Perceptions on How Teachers and Peers Treat Students with Special Educational Needs in General Education Classrooms

University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Participate in an individual interview online between 30-60 minutes and as a thank you for your time, you will receive a $30 gift card! This is a master's thesis study examining teacher and peer practices towards students with special educational needs in high school classrooms. If you are a student in first- or second-year university, I would like to learn about your perceptions of the contributions, difficulties, learning opportunities, and barriers experienced by students with special educational needs in the high school settings from which you recently graduated. Additional Information - Background of the Study: As high schools in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) move towards de streaming grade 9 and 10 courses to make their classrooms more “inclusive”, it is critical to investigate what exactly we are including students into (Parekh & Brown, 2019). The past forty years have seen a shift from educating children with special educational needs (SEN) in a segregated setting or integration, to a more inclusive model (Mitchell, 2010). This is where children with and without SEN are educated on a full-time basis with same-age peers and their individual learning needs are met in the general education setting by the regular classroom teacher (Somma, 2020). In the TDSB, the shift away from a special education exclusion model towards inclusive education was informed by research demonstrating the negative effects of withdrawal and exclusion on the socio-emotional well-being, academic outcomes, and postsecondary pathways of students with SEN (Parekh & Brown, 2019). Despite inclusive national and local school board policies, individual school boards and teachers continue to face attitudinal and practical barriers in actualizing this model (Parekh, 2013). Typically developing students hold neutral to negative views of their peers with SEN (Bates et al., 2015; de Boer et al., 2012; Petry, 2018), and teacher attitudes towards inclusion at the high school level are predominantly negative and related to a medicalized model of disability (De Vroey et al., 2016; Pearce et al., 2010). This is of great concern given that school boards are placing students with SEN into “inclusive” classrooms without addressing teacher and peer beliefs that could hinder inclusion and create a negative learning environment. Typically developing students in general education classrooms see firsthand how teachers accommodate student differences. As a result, they would be able to provide insight into how inclusion works in their high school classrooms. With research demonstrating the important role of teachers and typically developing students in facilitating inclusive education (Bates et al., 2015), it is necessary to explore whether perceived teacher and peer attitudes and behaviours impact those of students without SEN in their classrooms. To accomplish this, a qualitative approach will be taken to answer the research question: “How do typically developing high school students perceive teacher and peer practices towards students with special educational needs?"

Your Impact

The objective of this research project is to achieve a better understanding of teacher and peer practices towards students with special educational needs in inclusive classrooms from the student perspective. Given the lack of empirical research that investigates inclusion comprehensively, especially in secondary schools, this research can shed a light on what is needed for a successful transition to an inclusion model in a Canadian context (McGhie-Richmond et al., 2013; Schwab et al., 2018). It will also address the discrepancy between inclusion legislation and actual implementation of these policies in practice (Pearce et al., 2010; Tiwari et al., 2015), and what teachers say and what they really do in practice (Kiely et al., 2014).

Eligibility Criteria

All genders

At least 18 years old

university student

first year university student

second year university student




college student

first year college student

second year college student

Study Tasks

virtual interview
online interview
lived experiences
high school experience
special education
special education students
teacher interactions
student interactions
peer interactions


This study has been approved by the University of Toronto Research Ethics Board (Protocol #: 00040103)


online interview
lived experiences
special education
first or second year student

Activity and Time


Interview, Online

Weekdays, Weeknights, Weekends

1 hour total, 1 session

Participants are asked to contact me via chat or email. We will have a short screening test over email, phone call, or Zoom (participant choice) to ensure that the participant has experience with the phenomenon under study, to collect some basic demographic information, and schedule a date and time for the virtual interview. The interview will be between 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how much the participant wishes to share.


$30 Indigo, Amazon, Starbucks, Loblaws, Walmart, Chapters, Shoppers Drug Mart, Best Buy or Staples gift card

Gift cards to additional similar retail locations can be accommodated at the request of the participant.

Study Address

This study doesn't require any in-person visits. Complete it in the comfort of your own home!

You must be a resident in Ontario, Canada, North America to join this study

Posting date: Dec 7, 2020

$30 Indigo, Amazon, Starbucks, Loblaws, Walmart, Chapters, Shoppers Drug Mart, Best Buy or Staples gift card