When considering provision for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in England, the Warnock committee’s report (DES 1978) was a significant landmark towards ‘inclusive’ education. This committee suggested not only the concept of special educational needs (SEN), but also encouraged the principle that children with SEN could be educated in mainstream schools or non-special schools. Also, the committee introduced parental participation in decision-making for their children with SEN. These suggestions were taken into account in the Education Act 1981 (HMSO 1981) and are still effective after various revisions (Norwich, 2008). ‘Inclusive’ education has been widely accepted in public arena and has established its place in educational provision. On the other hand, some ambiguities of ‘inclusion’ are still left to be discussed. In this assignment, the areas which remain as dilemmas within inclusive education are going to be discussed, by identifying influential aspects and processes which can be used to develop inclusive practice.
The Warnock report and the medical model
The starting point of inclusive education is first considered. Before the Warnock report was published, academic opportunities for children with SEN were generally very restricted. Unfortunately, they were thought of as not capable of being educated, maladjusted or sub-normal. Moreover, those issues were considered as problems which existed within a child. Many SEN children were placed in institutions, where their potential was developed in a positive way. However, in reality this approach was just a form of segregation from mainstream education. The Warnock report was the first time it was suggested that children could be integrated into mainstream education, if their special ‘needs’ were addressed in order to overcome their difficulties, rather than as children within a medical setting. It is also important to point out that such provision was under certain conditions; it was in accordance with the parents’ wishes, compatible with the education of other children in the class, and allowed efficient use of resources (Bibby and Lunt 1996). In one sense, policy moved away from the view of a ‘medical model’ of disabilities.
Instead, the ideals of the Warnock report and the subsequent Education Act 1981 rather favoured a movement towards ‘integration’, not towards ‘inclusion’. Oliver (1996) thought that the commitment of the governmental and educational administrators was incomplete to ensure its implementation. Norwich (2008) considered that the initiative which Local Education Authorities (LEAs) took was to increase resourcing to try to accommodate many children with SEN in mainstream schooling. However, this is again another form of integration, not inclusion.
As a result of the inclusion movement, special school populations started to decrease and some schools closed down as a result; later, this would cause some dilemmas in the support system. Nevertheless, this reflected the start of inclusive education, even though it was to ‘integrate’ SEN children into mainstream education. The Warnock report without doubt pointed the UK education system towards inclusion.
The Warnock report was introduced positively with an emphasis on providing for the needs for children with SEN, rather than looking for deficits in children. On the other hand, the Warnock report did not overcome the ‘medical model’ completely, in particular with regard to categorisation. The issue of categorisation is discussed here. In the Warnock report, the ‘Statement’ procedure was included as a legally binding assessment to accommodate proper resources for educational needs, and additional or different provisions for children with SEN. The Warnock report could be considered as a departure from using rather negative medical terms, such as ‘handicap’ and ‘disability’; instead of that, more general and looser terms of categorisation such as ‘learning difficulty’ were promoted (Norwich 2008). In short, it was just a substitution of terminology.
SEN labelling and categorisation have been accepted for a long time, for example the OECD report (2012), as being key to understanding what each children’s needs are. Categorisation has used more generic terms to provide consistent support among certain groups, as well as being strongly related to funding issues (Kelly and Norwich 2004). There is a problem here; even though this categorisation is used in a positive way to provide support, the categorisation can sometimes be treated negatively. The nature of the categorisation has a risk of turning into a ‘label’ for learners’ difficulties. And a label is, according to Freeman (2013), simply based on assumptions and never evidence, giving authority to professionals, and then resulting in limiting children’s expected capability. Even though expectation should be equally high for all learners, a label may be used as justification or as an excuse for a learner’s failure to reach targets, instead of finding a way of improving attainment. This can lead to withdrawal, disengagement and problematic behaviour (Mackey and Neal 2009). At the heart of labelling is the belief that those within a certain SEN ‘box’ are all the same, with the same needs and therefore normalising individual needs. Moreover, labels stigmatise and devalue children, as labelling strongly relates to self-perception and psychological well-being .The impact of the school setting and others’ views of educational ability are strongly co-related with self-perception (Kelly and Norwich 2004). Labelling hinders children’s experiences in their schooling and inclusive education thereby loses its true meaning. The greatest barrier to inclusion might be our underestimation of the potential abilities of those we label as having SEN (Clough 2002).
National Curriculum and Marginalisation.
Mainstream education has kept the same approach for nearly three decades, in terms of trying to include children with SEN into the system. This is another barrier for inclusive education. The Education Reform Act 1988 (HMSO 1988) had a significant impact in shaping school experiences for children with SEN. This Act enhanced free parental ‘choice’ of school, and also introduced the National Curriculum to focus on levels of standardised attainment; to maintain this, Key Stages and Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) were introduced. Reflecting parental choice and a consumerist approach to education, schools were driven to a market-based education system and concentrated on raising standards and attainment (Tomlinson 2008). There followed league tables for schools and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspection system in the 1990s, echoing this movement. The issue here was that while the National Curriculum introduced for all pupils the right to access the same curriculum, it did not take account of children with SEN.
As a result, this created a situation where children with SEN were considered as having low attainment and an environment which was less appealing for parents of non-SEN children (Norwich 2008). Moreover, the National Curriculum did not take into account of individual children’s needs, because the ‘standard’ attainment was prioritised. Furthermore, schools were obliged to follow the National Curriculum, which was not flexible initially, while at the same time schools had a responsibility to cater for children with SEN. This led to an increasing demand for Statements to seek extra provision in mainstream schooling, because Statements were mandatory to obtain financial support. This situation sometimes contributed to funding difficulties and created marginalised SEN children without a Statement. It also created marginalised children with a Statement, for example, those with a behavioural problem who were placed in a normal situation and were permanently excluded, because of the need to conform with the National Curriculum (Audit Commission 2002). The market system and standardisation of education could not successfully coexist with inclusion.
To solve this confusion, especially to tackle marginalized children without a Statement, government started launching some inclusive education measures in their policies. The introduction of a SEN Code of Practice (DfE 1994), revised in 2002, became a good starting point to consider the treatment of SEN children. In addition, the Labour government from 1997 sought a wider inclusion agenda in the education system and introduced some positive measures, such as ‘Excellence for all children’ (DfEE 1997) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) (HMSO 2001). Policies encouraged schools to take initiatives for their own support systems for children with SEN before the Statement process, such as placing a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) in school, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and later there followed Action Plans (DfES 2003). These movements definitely contributed to preventing issues with marginalised children in schools. Moreover, and importantly, the most significant initiative for inclusive education was that the government introduced special adaptations in the National Curriculum for children with ‘learning difficulties’ (QCA 2003). Before these adaptations, the National Curriculum did not have the flexibility to provide an individual curriculum for individual needs and targets in education (Norwich 2008). Schools and systems had to change their attitudes to deliver the right education for individual children’s needs to be met, rather than children needing to fit within the curriculum in order to be included. This is a clear shift towards the ‘social model’ of disability.
The social model
The shift of thinking towards the ‘social model’ of disability is an important aspect when considering inclusive education. If the ‘medical model’ perspective saw children’s difficulties as resulting from children’s own characteristics, by contrast the social model of disability sees them as the outcome of social realities (Clough 2002). To create an inclusive environment in which children with SEN can participate, the curriculum should have an aim, which is an ‘objective’ that is ‘adjusted’ or ‘special’ to reflect individual needs. Therefore schools and teachers need to give attention to regular assessment and revision of learning within the framework of the curriculum, with the view that the ‘curriculum’ exhibits issues, not the learner. IEPs can support this approach.
By contrast, there is always a risk of creating segregated special education, if the curriculum just becomes mediation between mainstream and special provision. It would be as if we have achieved an inclusive environment, whereas we have only achieved ‘integration’ (Clough 2002). Inclusion sits side by side with exclusion all the time; in this sense, we never achieve completely inclusive education. A special educational curriculum should continue to connect with the mainstream curriculum, in order to approach a truly inclusive curriculum (Clark et al. 1998).
While appropriate delivery of the curriculum is vital for inclusive education, the whole school ethos, institutional culture and role of pedagogy are equally important in creating an inclusive environment (Clough 2002). Therefore, considering inclusion only within the sphere of children with SEN might limit the possibilities of inclusion itself. Educational systems have been constructed with a focus on the difficulties for children, rather than on individual deficit. The cycle of deprivation comes from social disadvantage, and inequality has resulted from institutional inequality, sometimes in the form of a hidden curriculum (Tomlinson 2008). The ‘social model’ of disability regards inclusive education as connecting with an inclusive society and the removal of all forms of oppression (Clough 2002). Therefore while the curriculum has a crucial role in accessing an inclusive education, maximised participation in the community and culture is an essential element for inclusive education (Clough 2002).
According to Booth (1996), exclusion is not simply about disability, it is about the inability to participate in mainstream culture and community. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989 (UN 1989), the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO 1994) and Education for All (UNESCO 2000) have promoted a universal awareness of issues and also influenced the UK political agenda; access to an appropriate education is now an ethically and socially fundamental element for human rights, equal opportunities and participation. Those rights will lead to social and educational inclusion. Inclusion has been even more promoted in the public and political arenas, and inclusion has echoed the views of the ‘social model’ of disability rather than the views of the ‘medical model’ of disability. Inclusion has set a philosophical argument that any children with mental, physical, or emotional handicaps are entitled to access to education within the mainstream of public education. Therefore, the more inclusive is educational progress, the more inclusive is societal progress. According to Hunt (1966), the problem of disability lies not only in the impairment of function and its effect on us individually, but more importantly in our relationship with normal people.
The whole approach
Educational inclusion is irrevocably connected to social inclusion. Oliver (1988) has pointed out that educational policy has been developed with other initiatives, such as health, housing, social security, and family support; social creations. Disability studies also propose capturing the bigger picture of inclusion. Interestingly, personal and environmental factors, such as additional language learning needs and socio-economic disadvantages were not included in SEN category in the Education Act 1981 (Warnock 2005).
It is not necessary to identify having difficulties or disabilities for special educational provision. Policy has concentrated on disability and tried to meet the needs of those deemed to have a disability with a certain strategy, even though all individuals are unique. Actually, we need a view of abilities within individual children. Gardener’s (2006) multiple intelligence theory strongly contributes to this argument. Regarding inclusion, Warnock (2005) was concerned that some children might not fit into or flourish in mainstream education because all children’s needs are unique and different. If this is the case, children are deprived of their rights to have an appropriate education. The current Government policy is to encourage the maximum level of integration of pupils with SEN into mainstream schools and to try to provide special support to facilitate this. Conversely, if some students do benefit from specialised teaching and extra resources in special schools, then it might be asked whether there is a benefit of integration into mainstream schools for children with SEN, and this is an individual choice (Warnock 2005).
When considering an appropriate education, it is an entitlement of parents and children with SEN to be involved in decisions for special educational provision; and there is also the obligation of the authorities to provide adequate resources to ensure that children with SEN can have an education appropriate to those needs, to become full members of our society (Borsay 2005). This echoes with the Every Child Matters (ECM) (2004) agenda.
To summarise, inclusive education is not an argument for accessing mainstream education for the students who have previously been excluded. Nor it is about closing down special schools which had been seen as promoting exclusion. ‘Inclusion’ should be valued as a process in which existing school systems can change; such as taking into account the environment, curricula and teacher’s roles, to further the participation of all learners (Barton 1997).
Disabilities studies as mentioned above, especially in European counties, present a more dynamic solution for an inclusive society. The recent European disability strategy suggested that the concepts of inclusion in mainstream education must target supporting people with disabilities to develop their biographies in the context of ‘normal’ social institutions and places, because those are the decisive conditions for their participation. Moreover, to appreciate disability, welfare and educational policies need to understand the risks of discrimination, continuing to rely on medical and psychological interpretations and define and measure impairment with reference to specific impairment groups, but not with any mindset of oppression or discrimination (Barnes 2008). As a result, we identify the realities and difficulties of people’s lives as well create the link between individual biographies and social barriers; this is the perspective of a life course approach (WHO 2000). Taking the life situation of people with severe disabilities and complex needs as a starting point, the life course oriented approach makes it possible both to collect data on patterns of social protection and public attitude and to identify risks of discrimination in each stage of their life (Schade, et al. 2008). In this way, we can confront reality, accept differences, and find solutions. Children’s difficulties exist in reality. This also echoes the ECM agenda (2004).
Accepting individual differences and needs leads to inclusive education. An acknowledgement of the diversity of the learning needs of all learners and flexibility in pedagogy is the starting point to consider ‘inclusive education’ (Wedell 2008). Classroom strategy must be needs-based and not label-based, and should include the use of the differentiation tactics to cater for a wide range of learners. Teachers can build up a picture of a learner’s difficulties, their learning needs, which interventions have worked for them in the past and which have not, and the way forward. Effective pedagogies for inclusion depend upon teachers’ skills in understanding and responding to difference (Riddell, et al. 2006). Of course, this depends on class size and class subjects, and moreover the collaboration with the Teaching Assistant is vital element (Goepel, et al. 2014). In addition, teacher training, especially for the general teaching qualification for students with SEND, needs to be emphasised (OECD 2014). Realistic and flexible approaches are required for an inclusive environment, such as activity-based learning, self-directed learning, practical hands-on approaches, thematic approaches to topics and open-ended tasks (Goepel, et al. 2014). Similarly the assessment for learning strategy (Black and William 1998) is considered strongly effective to create inclusive teaching, including feedback; meta-cognition and self-regulation; peer mentoring and peer working; well-structured and well-targeted questioning; and small group working. Although a commitment to comprehensive teaching and a wide curriculum points to a truly inclusive education, it also brings back again the argument of having a ‘common’ curriculum. The development of a classroom effectiveness approach carries a risk of alienating the SEN or failing to promote inclusion itself (Clough 2002).
The fundamental concept of inclusion has been developed as a ‘common’ approach, and in particular it has developed alongside the difficulties of the class and the management of class resources; it has also identified a range of questions related to governance, curriculum, and detection and placement for individual needs. This is the way forward to inclusive education (Norwich 2008). The issue is not about treating everyone the same; what is important is that everyone should be treated equally: ‘realising these entitlements would look very different for different children in different areas, but the quality of their opportunities would not be different’ (Wadell 2008).
Children and Families Act 2014
The future of inclusive education is now considered, in relation to the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 (HMSO 2014). There are clear signs of improvement around a good number of processes which are the central aim of this reform, such as enhancing the child and family centred view. Improvements in the quality of the support which children will receive through the Local Offer, Personal Budget and education, health and care (EHC) plan are promising, compared to the previous system. Yet some families still think children and young people do not have a say in the support planning process and that professionals still lead the services, and there is no perceived difference in qualities of life or health (Craston et al, 2014). Involvement in the decision making process, moreover allowing young people to think what is best for them, should be a vital role in decision making. Early intervention, multi-agency work, parental views and the children’s own views should be coordinated as part of a comprehensive program, to provide efficient support bearing in mind the future perspective of their life, leading to a life course approach. It is still too early to make any judgement on the outcome of this new Act; in addition, inclusive education involves a process of reform and restructuring as a whole (Mittler 2000). Inclusion will work in an environment with proper accommodation for sufficient support, with adequate resources and funding, where decisions are truly child-centred.
Without any doubt, ‘inclusive education’ and inclusion as a whole are ethically, socially and politically essential rights to be a member of society. However, inclusion has been developed with dilemmas between the ‘medical model’ and the ‘social model’, together with categorisation and marginalisation, and will continue to develop with dilemmas. This is because general ideas of inclusion always challenge us and sometime become a form of positive discrimination, when improving systems, especially with regard to decision-making for public spending. The ‘official’ terminology is sometimes too conceptualised, and is not current with the ideas and thinking of issues involved in SEND. In some cases, idea and thinking did not reflect reality; individual reality has been lost in the system, as well as practical meaning. So inclusion becomes far away from reality. Inclusion can be used as moral and political rhetoric in Western counties, but should be considered as the movement and process which has resulted from current beliefs, and different local struggles (Clough 2002). In this way, inclusive education can capture ideas from the real life and experiences in each child. Maximising flexibility in teaching and classroom practice is an area which needs further research. Promoting attitudes of accepting realities and recognising differences for individual needs are vital areas of inclusive education. (Word counts: 3,305)