Disabled Children Negotiating School Life: Agency, Difference and Teaching Practice

J. MacArthur, S. Sharp, Bernadette Kelly, M. Gaffney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the school experiences of seven 11–14 year old disabled children, and focuses on their agency as they negotiated a complex, changing, and often challenging social world at school where “difference” was experienced in negative ways. The paper draws on ethnographic data from a wider three-year study that explores the influence of school experiences on both disabled and non-disabled children’s identity as they make the transition from primary to secondary school in regular New Zealand schools (although the focus of the present paper is only on the experiences of disabled children). The wider study considers how Maori (indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand) and Pakeha (New Zealanders of NZ European descent) disabled children and their non- disabled matched peers (matched for age, gender and classroom) understand their personal identity, and how factors relating to transition (from primary to secondary school); culture; impairment (in the case of disabled children); social relationships; and school experience impact on children’s identities. Data on Maori children’s school experiences is currently being collected, and is not yet available for inclusion in this paper. On the basis of our observations in schools we will illustrate how disabled children felt and were made to feel different through an array of structural barriers such as separate provision for disabled students, and peer and teacher attitudes to diversity. However, we agree with Davis, Watson, Shakespeare and Corker’s (2003) interpretation that disabled children’s rights and participation at school are also under attack from a “deeper cultural division” (p. 205) in schools based on discourses of difference and normality. While disabled students in our study were trying to actively construct and shape their social and educational worlds, our data also show that teachers and peers have the capacity to either support or supplant these attempts to be part of the group of “all children”. We suggest that finding solutions that support disabled children’s full inclusion and participation at school requires a multi-faceted and systemic approach focused on a pedagogy for diverse learners, and on a consistent and explicitly inclusive policy framework centred on children’s rights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-120
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Children's Rights
Volume15 (1)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'Disabled Children Negotiating School Life: Agency, Difference and Teaching Practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this