All included? A Research of Genderbias in the Distribution of Special Education Support in Public Schools

Marie de Stoppelaar

Student thesis: Master thesis


In recent years, the Danish public primary school has undergone a politically driven “inclusion reform” (Tetler, 2013:12). The objective was to have fewer pupils attend special schools and have more pupils included in the public primary school’s community. As a result of the reform, the schools today have a number of resources to support the challenged pupils succeed in school. Due to this, a new group of pupils who previously possibly would have been referred to a special school, is now included in the broad community of the primary schools. This thesis engages with this new group of pupils. Based on a statistical observation, the thesis wonders how it has become a reality that at least twice as many boys as girls in every grade are granted resources for challenged pupils. Based on interviews with seven public primary school teachers in 4th-6th grade in the Municipality of Copenhagen, the thesis provides practical insight into how identity is created and negotiated in school trough division and classification of pupils on the basis of certain norms. Specifically, the thesis sets out to illuminate how teachers determine whether or not pupils need resources for support. Trough discourse analysis inspired by Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, the author shows that teachers construct different norms of appropriate behavior by pupils founded on discursive productions of truth that correlates with their understanding of feminine forms of identity. Further, the analysis finds that the distribution of resources does not necessarily reflect that girls are not challenged in school, but rather that they express their challenges in ways that breaks less with the teachers’ norms for appropriate behavior than the boys do. Thereby, the study concludes that fixed gender norms in different ways can make the teachers’ decisions easier, which can have unintended consequences for the pupils’ access to both the volume and type of resources for support. Founded on a discussion of the analysis’ findings, the thesis concludes that a greater awareness about how gender works and structures in schools seems to have potential to contribute significantly to breaking with gendered patterns in future inclusion efforts. At the same time, the author maintains that increased gender awareness alone never will be able to resolve the challenges as continued (re)production of gendered norms stretches beyond the borders of the school.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages89
SupervisorsJustine Grønbæk Pors