Educators' understanding of their roles at a school of skills
The site for the study is a Western Cape school for industry that became a school of skills in 1999. According to the S.A. National Association for Specialised Education (SANASE) (2001:1), a school of skills, also referred to as a special school, caters for intellectually mildly disabled learners (IMD learners) who are characterised by their poor scholastic abilities in reading, writing and arithmetic skills, low self-esteem, poor self-concept, lack of motivation to study and their inability to cope with academically orientated work. These would be learners who were previously in mainstream schools but whose learning difficulties resulted in their being placed at special schools. These learners pose particular challenges to their school environments, and teachers who work with such special needs learners require specialised training to equip them for their tasks. Teachers at schools of skills, however, generally have no additional training. This study had as focus teachers' understanding of their roles at a school of skills. This study uses an ecosystemic approach within an interpretive research framework to obtain in-depth data on teachers' understanding of the learners' learning needs and the concomitant challenges to classroom learning and their teaching. It also explored teachers' interpretations of their professional positioning amidst the demands posed by an outcomes-based curriculum. The study found that, despite ongoing in-service training initiatives, teachers insist that they need learner-specific guidance as they were incapable of providing suitable learning to their learners. They believe that their learners will need life-long learning support. Such beliefs create barriers to successful learning and can also marginalize learners, preventing them from being part of the mainstream of community life. The study found that the successful implementation of inclusive classroom learning is left largely to teachers' personal initiative. Although some teachers achieved positive results, the majority of teachers at the site failed to provide successful learning. It seems that learning success at schools of skill is dependent on positive teacher expectations of learners learning.