Supervision of Learners with Intellectual Disabilities in a Special School: in Loco Parentis of Teachers as a Wellness Perspective


  • Joseph Seshoka Rapeta UNISA, South Africa
  • Meahabo Dinah Magano UNISA, South Africa


Intellectual disabilities, wellness, health promotion, safety, in loco parentis, supervision, bill of rights, professional teaching staff, behavioural problems, special school


This chapter addresses a study that was conducted at a special school for learners with intellectual disabilities in the Bojanala region of South Africa’s North West Province. After all, the learners are the heartbeat of the school; in their absence, the school, its buildings and facilities, and even the teachers would be rendered pointless. The aim of this study was to explore ways in which learners are supervised and cared for, considering their mild, moderate and (in a few cases) severe intellectual disabilities. This longitudinal study took place over a period of three years and was embedded in a community engagement project conducted at a particular special school in said region. Due to the nature of a project, action research was selected as the approach most likely to yield useful results over an extended period of time. Additionally, Hettler’s Wellness Theory (1980) was used as the theoretical framework by which to investigate how this school’s teachers and other personnel adhered to the in loco parentis principle - i.e. teachers’ legal imperative to assume some of parental functions and responsibilities, including protecting learners’ physical and psychological wellbeing. As such, the school management team (SMT) and teachers made up the study’s participants. Data were collected by means of questionnaires, interviews and observations. In their encounters with the school management team, the researchers realised that it is particularly crucial to ensure learner safety at special schools. Initial findings also revealed that most of the teachers employed at the school had not received training on teaching at a special school. Furthermore, teachers indicated that they were aware of their specific roles, stating that they only needed to be reminded of what they needed to do in order to ensure learner safety at all times. They pointed out that they simply followed the duty roster with regard to learner safety. This entails teaching learners about dangerous objects like garden utensils and how to remove them from the school premises in addition to adhering to the school safety policy. The teachers further revealed that 24-hour security personnel were employed by the school and that the school premises were bordered by a fence. Meanwhile, the SMT indicated that, although the school did have a safety policy, threats to learner safety persisted. For example, learners were not provided with protective equipment while working in the workshops. The SMT listed the potential consequences of this unsafe school environment as physical injuries, bullying, kidnapping, arson, harassment, and teen pregnancies. Since the study was transformative in nature and action research was relevant, there was a need for intervention. Thus, the findings of the study were shared with the SMT. Furthermore, it was clear from conversations with teachers that they needed intervention, including in-service training. The intervention process was discussed with the school management team and all staff members. It was patently obvious that the majority of the teachers and some of the management team did not have specialised training in special needs or inclusive education and that they were not aware of the needs of learners with intellectual disabilities. The SMT thus highlighted the need for training for all staff members in how to adhere to the in loco parentis principle.