Lisa-Katharina Möhlen, BA MA

Working Title: The Ambivalent Relationship between International Right to Inclusive Education and Special Educational Needs Assessment in Austria & Germany
Supervision: Michelle Proyer; Julia Gerick
Time period:December 2021 – November 2024


My Ph-D project contributes to the scientific discussion about Special Educational Needs (SEN) as a diagnostic tool in the Austrian and German school systems. On the one hand, the SEN labels and stigmatizes students who deviate from educational standards, fail curricular achievements, or expected school performances. On the other hand, students receive through the SEN label, special remedial measures and individualized support.

While international rights call for inclusive education for all children regardless of identified disabilities, socio-economic migration background, age, or gender, in Austria about 5% of all students receive an SPF, in Germany, it is about 7%. The percentage of SEN is stagnating in Austria or slightly increasing in Germany. In both countries, an increasing number of SEN students can be observed in segregated school settings and special schools. Almost two decades after the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Austrian and German school systems still focus on exclusion and segregation.

The SEN labeling procedure is composed of international, national, and local school policies that affect school practice; the proclamation of expertise from different disciplines such as pedagogy, social work, psychology, medicine, etc.; and practitioners who transfer all these different ideas into practice. The theoretical concept of street-level bureaucracy or organization describes not only the situation of administrators but also the ambivalent and ambiguous situation of practitioners in implementing policy agendas such as SEn and their own inclusive values and beliefs. The Ph.D. project systematically explores this ambivalence in the context of education in general and teacher education in particular against the backdrop of an inclusive paradigm. It leads to two main research goals:

·         An examination of street-level bureaucracy and organization of Austrian and German SEN procedures against the backdrop of global and human rights requirements for inclusive education.

·         Identification of recommendations for reforming traditional diagnostics towards an inclusive assessment that supports practitioners to implement inclusive education for all.

A multi-perspective research design promises relevant results in relation to the two objectives. The project starts with a secondary analysis of empirical data from an Erasmus+ project Inclusive Assessment Map. The data set consists of focus groups with school administrators, teachers, and students from Austria. The pilot study reveals the under-researched field of school administration or bureaucracy and its relevance for the implementation of the international right to inclusive education in the Austrian and German school systems. Second, a Narrative Literature Review schematizes the research field of school administration/bureaucracy and inclusive education by identifying and critically discussing the state of research and the theoretical background. The relevant literature includes not only academic publications but also policy papers. These documents, in turn, provide the starting point for implementing educational strategies and inform educational policy decisions at the national and local levels. Therefore, third, policy field analysis provides usable knowledge to examine the translation of ideas in this case, inclusive education from international rights to national/local policy into practice. The dissertation project concludes with additional empirical qualitative data, which consists of expert interviews. The expert interviews provide in-depth and multi-perspective insights into the complex and multi-layered research field of school administration and inclusion. In the tradition of the grounded theory method in general and the situation analysis specifically, the research process takes place in circulating and non-linear research activities