The changes within Special Educational Needs (SEN) have developed more in the last 25 years than any other area of education. I propose to outline the changes, show their impact on SEN pupils and identify plans for future development of SEN, putting forward arguments from educationalists, pupils and my own experiences as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA).
In order for a clear picture to evolve of what is meant by SEN, it is sensible to start with the Education Act of 1970 where the first radical changes took place.
Before 1970 all children who were labelled 'maladjusted' or 'malformed' were the responsibility of the NHS. It had already been identified that the transition for children from these labels to one of 'special need' was never going to be easy in our society (Moon et al, 1995, p 85). Historically the physically handicapped and the mentally abnormal have been subject to derision and displeasure 'with society becoming conditioned to treat disabled people according to a medical model in that society separates and excludes the incurably disabled as if they are somehow not quite human. Disability is viewed as predominantly a personal tragedy requiring medical intervention. This encourages a negative view, focusing on what a person cannot do rather than what they can.'(Beaver et al, 1994, p238)
The concern to provide equal opportunities for these children, termed as in educable, was shared not only by the UK but other countries too
(DES, 1978). The Act allowed Government to transfer control of SEN to the Local Education Authorities (LEA). This, in turn, in 1974, prompted the creation of the Warnock Committee to better understand the various needs these children had and to identify the strategies required to help them. (Fish 1989) This dissertation from studentcentral.co.uk
The committee defined common goals and a common purpose for education for all pupils. Although stopping short of recommending entitlements to a common curriculum, which came with the passing of the 1988 Education Reform Act, it recognised that the needs of most such pupils could be met through education in mainstream schools with outside specialists' help if necessary. The thinking behind the report formed the basis of the Conservative Government's 1981 Education Act (Docking, 2000). The changes in law instituted by this act included specific duties imposed on LEA and school governors, namely to:
· Make provision for SEN;
· Define responsibilities & procedures for SEN; from coursewrok work info
· Establish parental participation in SEN assessments, including right of appeal;
· Abolish handicapped labelling.
Children who had SEN were now classified as having: This dissertation from studentcentral.co.uk
· Learning difficulties - language or communication;
· Physical disability; Foucault refuted cal1966's realism theory.
· Sensory impairment;
· Emotional problems; Foucault refuted cal1966's realism theory.
· Behavioural problems. (Warnock, 1978)
The provisions of the Act provided the foundations for the 1988 Reform Act, which stated that the National Curriculum applied to all, including those with SEN. Thus, the National Curriculum was established as an 'entitlement curriculum' (Cohen et al, 1996). Teachers now had direct responsibility for their pupils learning. They were in a key position to observe SEN pupils' responses in class and could recognise children who were experiencing difficulties in learning. They could try out different teaching methods to help meet their needs. In addition teachers were encouraged to keep full records of their pupils' progress to include information about professional consultations and assessments.
The 1993 Education Act introduced a 'code of practice' based on the identification and assessment of SEN pupils. The principles and practices from 1981 and 88 Acts were reflected in this, which came into force in September 94.
The code, which cannot be ignored by anyone to whom it applies, passed statutory duties to the governing bodies of schools. The school was legally bound to publish information about, and report on, the school's policy on SEN. The code re-iterated the need for all teaching and non-teaching staff to be actively involved in the development of the SEN policy and the identification, assessment and provision for them. It also indicated the importance of parent's views and wishes concerning provisions in mainstream schools for their children. (DfEE 1994)
A 5-stage approach was initiated that matched the pupil's needs with SEN provisions available to them. The first 3 stages are school-based decisions where the involvement of the teacher, SEN coordinator and parents are paramount in the monitoring and reviewing of the child's needs. At Stage 3, however, the SEN Co-ordinator may seek advice from outside agencies, i.e. educational psychologists and advisory teachers. Stages 4-5, the point at which a child receives a 'statement', a legal and confidential document relating to the educational needs of an
individual child, involves a process where by a child's special needs are assessed and the LEA states how these needs are to be provided for. Other multi-professional advice is sought from medical, psychological and social services to form a view of the child, thus providing a dossier with which the LEA can decide if 'statementing' is required. Once agreed additional funding is made available to the school to meet the needs and provisions for that child to be educated in mainstream or special school, depending on the severity of disability or learning difficulty. (Bush 1989)
One of the problems that arose from 'statementing' children was that more and more were seeking it. Teachers today have a 1 in 6 pupil ratio of special needs in their classrooms. About 20% of these have needs sufficiently severe to warrant 'statementing'.
The 1988 Reform Act, known as the 'Enabling Act' had also given schools the option to become 'Grant Maintained', which had an unforeseen and adverse affect on children with SEN. As GM schools found it harder to manage the various budgets they were responsible for they often used funding allocated for extra provision for SEN children without Statements attached to them for other purposes. In turn this led to often to the badly behaved children and those with physical disabilities being dispatched to 'special schools' instead to relieve the financial burden.
The transfer of power to a New Labour Government in 1997 has in recent years led to proposals to close as many special schools as possible and include (termed 'inclusion') these children back into mainstream. (Allan 1999) In conjunction with these proposals New Labour has abandoned the term 'Grant Maintained' as they regarded it as unfair that these schools tended to receive more funding than their LEA counterparts. Concern also grew that their isolation from the framework built around the LEA often led to a reduction in co-operation with GM schools, producing a lack of clarity in accountability in certain areas such as admissions. As part of New Labour's educational agenda where they claim standards matter more than structures GM schools have now been integrated back
into the LEA as 'Foundation Schools' still with similar funding arrangements but now with LEA representation on the governing bodies. (Docking, 2000)
Educationalists have been arguing about the need to 'integrate' rather than 'segregate' pupils for many years. The view from Gerber (1996) was that the high level of inclusion of pupils with learning difficulties might have an effect on the school's effectiveness: that it could make the school appear not to be performing, in published league tables, as children with SEN do not tend to excel academically. Not everyone shares this view; Slee (1998), for example, believes that proper research conducted into the 'inclusion' of SEN pupils could result in productive and successful learning. Further support towards this view came previously from Smart (1996), who stated that 'The need for research is paramount. Researchers need to take time to review and debate all research conducted and come to a satisfactory conclusion as to how to practice effective inclusion'.
It is worthwhile, at this stage, to consider the opinions of pupils themselves, after all, Article 14 of the United Nations Convention (1989) of the rights of children stated that, 'All children should have
opportunities to express views in processes affecting them'. Sadly the child with SEN is not always heard, often silenced by the professional
discourse of needs, which concern placement and practice.
According to research conducted by Foucault (1999) the majority of SEN pupils would welcome this opportunity. Children felt as though they were pushed from 'pillar to post' and were unable to have an input into decisions made on their capabilities and needs, i.e., the type of education they require and what they are and are not allowed to participate in while at school. Research also found that SEN pupils have been the subjects of some resentment, from other pupils, whose perception was that the additional help SENs' received was unfair. (Oliver 1992)
Contrastingly though, if the SEN pupils were physically disabled rather than suffering learning difficulties their peers tended to protect them, finding it satisfying to assist them to fit in. Their peers compared this experience with what they might encounter at work, once they have completed their studies, where, on meeting a disabled colleague, they would know instinctively how to deal with the predicament. On reflection able-bodied pupils tended to appreciate the freedom from the mantle of SEN while the disabilities of others brings out the caring side in them. Generally, however, SEN pupils felt a part of the community, being involved with 'normal' pupils, but felt deprived of their say in their education. (Ballard 1997)
Interestingly from further research (Moon et al, 1995), it became clear that the process of 'un-labelling' SEN pupils was flawed in that by virtue of their requiring assistance in class created in itself the SEN label. It also discovered that the child with learning difficulties tends to cause a distraction in class, as often their support teacher has to reiterate the tutor's instructions or read aloud to them, also labelling them as different. Sadly the very fact of 'statementing' these children has, in itself labelled the child as different.
From my experience in working as a Learning Support Assistant with SEN pupils in secondary education, I have witnessed labelling as still being present and my belief is that further research to help eradicate this is needed. Other staff and I have found that SEN pupils, specifically with behavioural or emotional problems are the most challenging to include in ordinary school as they find this labelling/statementing a burden. These pupils are often academically able but their plight has been affected by social or environmental factors at home, thus, undermining their capability for learning because of the stigma that they see goes hand in hand with the special needs assistance they have been allocated. These children are the most difficult when it comes to accepting help and their confidence needs to be won before effective assistance can commence.
For example a child that I assist often complains to me when I am explaining a work task to him ' I am not a dunce Miss', I then have to reassure him that he is very capable but his behaviour needs to be constantly monitored and the best way of achieving this is to ensure that he is focused on task and not disrupting others.
A new code of practice, expected to be implemented in January 2002, will for all intents and purposes radically change the five-stage approach to SEN mentioned earlier. The rationale, borne out of the SEN and Disability Bill 2001, concentrates on reducing bureaucracy and the numbers of statemented children while allowing funding to be better spent on support for SEN children instead of on their continual assessment required for their statements. Children will be placed into one of two distinct categories, 'School Action' which will accommodate those from the old stages 1 and 2 and 'School Action +' for previous stages 3-5. (DfEE, 2000)
The SEN co-ordinator will now have more control over the SEN resources as all SEN support will be controlled and managed by the school as funding will be school based and not child based. This will allow flexibility in employing LSA's and specialist teachers to best fit the school's policy for SEN provision.
At my school this will greatly benefit the SEN co-ordinator, who has always voiced her concerns that:
· Because the LEA employs and allocates a specialist teacher to several schools they did not always have the required commitment to a particular school's strategy for SEN provision;
· Because specialist teachers reported to the LEA and not the school, they tended to work to their own priorities and rarely communicated as needed with the school based SEN team and the school's schedule generally;
· Financially specialist teachers cost the school more than twice that of an LSA, but tended to be less productive because of their other commitments in other schools.
My thoughts are that this new code of practice is vital, as without it the schools will be unable to operate their policies and provision for SEN to the best of their ability and, as a result, this could have a negative effect on the quality of assistance children with special needs receive in the future.
As a poignant note Mary Warnock, the chairman of the Warnock committee from 1974 - 1978, was interviewed more recently in an Educational journal (Warnock, 1997). She commented that she felt anger and regret at the way 'statementing' has been handled, not because it is invasive or has failed to serve the interests of pupils but because of the way parents have manipulated the system to obtain "one to one" education for their child. In her opinion the financial burden associated with 'statementing' has also caused teachers and schools to employ underhand and invariably dishonest tactics to avoid the education authorities from seeing the real cost of the policy which they believed would ultimately lead to more money being allocated from their tight budgets to the cause.
From the reading conducted around this topic and my own experiences in SEN, conclusion can be drawn that Mainstream schools need to continually extend themselves, to become more aware and responsive to the needs of SEN pupils. They have to do this in order to cope with the forever widening scope of SEN pupils' demands and to ensure that SEN pupils continue to gain the benefits of remaining in a mainstream environment. Essentially the quality of education on offer, presented to parents through Education performance tables, and how well it relates to an individual's needs is what matters most.
The debate continues as to whether total inclusion of SEN will be successful. As we move into an era where inclusion will become the 'buzz word' let us hope that the ideologies that Government may have surrounding this do not come to affect the learning potential of all children.
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