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From 1997 the new labour government

To what extent do you agree with the statement that ‘From 1997 the new Labour Government renewed its policy commitment to inclusive education'? (Norwich, B' 2008, Dilemmas of Difference, Inclusion and Disability' London, Routledge).


Introduction

From 1997 the New Labour Government appeared to renew its commitment to inclusion, beginning with the Green Paper, Excellence for all Children, which supports the 1994, UNESCO Salamanca Statement, and ‘provides an outstanding opportunity to put inclusion on the agenda in such a way that it would be central to all aspects of policy development' (Ainscow, et al, 1999: 1). Proposals were put forward for a ‘progressive extension of the capacity of mainstream schools to provide for children with a wide range of needs' within a system in which specialist provision would be seen as an integral part of overall provision (Department for Education and Employment, 1997b: 44) (DfEE). This essay will attempt to asses how far down the inclusion path the United Kingdom (UK) has come, by describing and evaluating some of the features of education policy together with some of the implications for practice.


The policy inheritance of the code of practice (1994), which stated a need for collaborative working, was reaffirmed 'the Government, LEAs, other local agencies and business need to work together in supporting the education of children with SEN' (ibid), but yet again no guidance as to how they should co-operate and how this could be achieved was given, which made the duty placed on special educational need coordinators (SENCos) to create 'positive working relationships' with outside agencies difficult. The Green Paper made the assertion that special schools had an important role to play, so whilst advocating inclusion for some it still sanctioned segregation for others, which according to Lloyd (2000) has resulted in the continuation of varying choices. From 1999 to 2003 it was reported that the amount of pupils in special education had only reduced by three thousand eight hundred, showing the move to inclusion was extremely slow, National Statistics (2003). Although policy fosters inclusion, at the same time it is also guided by policies to raise achievement in the form of accountability and market style systems, the pressure for professionals to achieve directly hinders inclusion as pupils with SEN may not always bode well for school profiles; ‘in many cities this also has an effect of exacerbating ethnic segregation' (Booth 1999: 22).


The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) was brought in to amend the Disability Discrimination Act (1985) and uses the previous definitions, the fluidity of concepts adds to the inclusion dilemma. The DDA is built on a social model that distinguishes between disability and impairment, speaks of discrimination, and removing barriers to participation and actively promotes inclusion: however it then goes on to categorise the types of impairments that are covered under the act, linking impairments back to disability. Also the term used in legislation since 1983 is ‘special educational needs', part of the dialogue which according to Corbett (1996), suggests a deficit model. In addition there is no definitive meaning of what the term inclusion actually means (see essay one), which makes it difficult to research; moreover the research that does exist is not clear on the benefits of inclusion, (Lindsay 2003) ‘A more sophisticated definition of inclusion that permeates LEA and school policies and processes is needed' (Ainscow, et al, 1999: 1). It has been documented by many (for example Armstrong, 2003, Corbett, 1996) that the language used in SEN policy, shapes understanding and practice as it cannot be separated from wider socially constructed views. According to Lloyd, (2000) lack of definition and lucidity are represented in the naive notion that excellence in education amounts to basic literacy and Numeracy. Parts of the law relating to education came into force in September 2002, with other parts having come into force in 2003, and with the final part that extends the definition of disability to include persons with progressive illness, coming into force in 2005. Two key duties were set out; not to treat disabled students less favorably, and to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting pupils at a substantial disadvantage. However there are some circumstances where it may be lawful to treat pupils less favorably, for example if pupils are perceived as having a detrimental effect on the education of others. The second duty is limited as what is deemed to be reasonable; this is open to individual interpretation. SENDA is a core part of the new statutory framework for inclusion and has had a significant effect on the numbers of teaching assistants (TAs) employed to work in schools and the range of tasks carried out. According to (Neill, 2002) The National Union of Teachers survey (NUT) found that 80 per cent of TAs had not received training, though ‘primary TAs were significantly more likely to have received training than their secondary colleagues. TAs come to their post with a range of qualifications and experience and therefore their training needs will be affected by that prior expertise. Unfortunately, as OFSTED (2002) points out


‘although the training teaching assistants undertake is often related to the school's needs…it is seldom based on any systematic identification of teaching assistants' own needs' (OFSTED 2002: 15).


Lorenz (1998) reports that there is lack of agreement as to what is an appropriate role for TAs and in addition support staffs are habitually left to fend for themselves, and are often inadequately trained to support students with SEN. The SENCO is responsible for the every day development of provision for pupils with SEN and leading, managing and deploying staff and resources; however the increasing work load imposed upon them means there is very little time to address all needs. Despite this increasingly demanding and responsible role, the SENCo is rarely a part of the senior management team (SMT), and seldom permitted to manage the SEN budget. Wendell (2004) states that messages from the SENCO Forum e-mail group pointed out the extensive differences in how schools approached the management of SEN provision and the force of this disparity on the SENCO role. Lorenz reports that when there is one-to-one support from the TA, teachers often are often more detached from pupils with SEN, leaving the teaching of the pupils with the most complex needs to the least qualified staff, which contradicts equality of opportunity. Commenting on a report co-wrote for the NUT, Professor MacBeath said that ‘the reality of inclusion was very far from the world of fine intentions inhabited by policymakers' (MacBeath. 2007:22). The professor went on to say that a child's presence in a classroom did not amount to inclusion; the child can still be excluded if needs are not met, which can lead to behavioral issues, which in turn can have a detrimental affect on other pupils education. A head teacher of a special school said ‘For some children we are their best chance of getting on in life. Inclusion is about meeting a child's needs, not about where it is done' (Quarmby 2006:21). According to (Osborne and Reed, 2004), there are many parents, professionals and disability organisations that share this ethos; some fight against what they see as enforced change to retain specialist provision, as they believe that 'the special school environment can provide the specialist knowledge, equipment and support for which the mainstream classroom and teacher can never provide a full substitute' (Ainscow and César. 2006 :29); this is especially true for the ‘deaf community', (their terminology, not the authors).


According to Only images available(Patrick and Peach, eds.2006), behavioural difficulties have recently become synonymous with special educational needs, and for some professionals, the term inclusion creates panic that they may be asked to include large numbers of pupils with ‘bad behaviour.' Frederickson et al. (2004), stress that successful inclusion practice significantly relies on the views of the teachers that are directly involved with the inclusion process. It was found that mainstream teachers were more positive concerning the inclusion of pupils with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) and or mild physical difficulties, but not always as positive about including pupils with severe learning difficulties (SLD) or behavioural difficulties. The authors articulated that this would have implications when the staff came to planning support programs for the pupils. Hence, ‘the opinions, concerns and perspectives of those staff involved in the process of inclusion will have a considerable impact on the success or otherwise of inclusion' (Waddington, and Reed 2006). The authors (ibid) go on to note the differences in views of special education staff and mainstream staff; special needs staff appear to judge whether or not inclusion is successful on the experiences and views of pupils that attribute to their social and emotional development, whereas mainstream staffs tend to prioritise firstly on academic achievement. Behaviour and obedience also rank highly in mainstream, particularly where other pupils are influenced by the behaviour of others. Likewise, many further education colleges are unenthusiastic to enrol pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, whereas higher education institutions are keen to enrol students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, as it is linked to extra funding, thus a medical model dominates. Fredrickson et al, (2004) also made a distinction between the views of persons with direct and indirect interactions of pupils with Special educational needs (SEN); it was found that persons with managerial roles were much more positive about inclusion. So views on inclusion appear to differ according to the type and severity of needs, the particular setting and the role of the staff member; therefore wider social influences can affect equal opportunities.


The Revised SEN Code of Practice, (2001) emphasised the significance of children's and parents involvement in decision-making and of effectual multi-agency working, to unite services around the needs of children and their families; however again lack of guidance made effectual working difficult and as a consequence the process has since been reported to be bureaucratic and disjointed causing additional stress to all parties (Children's Trust Executive Group Report, 2006). It was recommended that schools take on a graduated approach to match provision to pupils SEN, and the five stage procedure for statutory assessment of the 1994 code of practice was replaced in favor of a two stage model, ‘school action' and ‘school action plus.' Unlike the final stage of the former method, outside agency support would not necessarily lead to a ‘Statement of Educational Needs' or relocation to special school; this feature of the Code was designed to avoid this by recording, assessing, intervening and reviewing each stage, which has strengthened SEN pupils' right for a mainstream education. However this has also placed more responsibility on ordinary teachers who were not trained to teach pupils with SEN before 1997. Moreover IEPs increased the workload for SENCos, ‘IEPs being seen as a “bolt on” rather than integrated into the curriculum', (Frankl, 2005:.78). It has been argued that the task of frequently writing, reviewing and sharing IEP information with parents has lead to a bureaucratic configuration being created in many schools. It was reported that implementing IEPs in secondary schools was difficult as more teachers are responsible for pupils' learning in the post-primary sector: In addition IEPs adopt a behaviourist view of learning and sponsor quantifiable targets (ibid). It was now required for schools to keep an SEN Register and according to Wearmouth (2001), this may not be conducive to establishing positive relationships with parents. One of the biggest causes of conflict between the school staff and parents is when there is differing views of a child's needs; this was particularly prevalent when staff characterized the child from a deficit perspective. Keeping a register does not take account that some parents may be uneasy with this. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) have the main responsibility for identifying, assessing and providing for pupils with SEN, which led to significant differences in mainstream and special school placement from borough to borough. (Brown: 2007), states that there is evidence that the quest for additional finances has lead to increases of the level of pupils that are labelled as SEN; furthermore it is reported that males and particular ethnic groups are twice more likely to be labelled SEN.


Teachers may be encouraged to represent different sorts of issues under thebanner of special educational needs simply because the Code provides anconvenient system for organising the management of pupils who experience difficulties with learning and behaviour in their schools


(Armstrong 2005: 141).


In addition policy does not consider the differences in parental advocacy capacities, and the extra weight given by some powerful lobby groups such as dyslexia and autism. (Russell 2003) argues that LEAs sometimes allocate resources based on the level of resilience of the parent and whether or not they were legally represented. So educated, more affluent parents are more able to obtain the desired placement and resources that their child may require; this leads to advantages and power for some, and disadvantages for others.


It will be some years before any government tackles the remaining limits on inclusion, which means that some children and their parents still face formal discrimination and do not have the basic right to inclusive education.


(Thomas and Vaughan 2004:94)


The 2004 Ofsted and 2002 Audit Commission reviews ‘identified serious flaws in the SEN system with regard to standards and consistency of provision, the statementing process, fair access to schools, and outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities' (Simpson, 2006:22). This suggests that some LEAs are more inclusive than others. Both Ofsted and the Audit commission believe that there needs to be a system with more superior clarification and more robust supervision on minimum standards of provision. ‘Without such a system in place, guidance on “reducing reliance” on statements has led to the inequity of provision and “postcode lottery” that exists' (Education and Skills Select Committee 2006: 42). Moreover the one to one support that statements encourage is not helpful to inclusion. Despite calling for a radical review of the statementing system, ‘… it was surprising that the government chose not to seize the opportunity to review the law with the publication of Removing Barriers to Achievement' (Teachingexpertise 2007: 4).


At an enquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie', Lord Lamming blamed multi agency failure; ‘What transpired during this period can only be described as a catalogue of administrative, managerial and professional failure by the services charged with her safety' (Lord Lamming 2003:4). The report highlighted a number of concerns, lack of coordination meant that assessments were duplicated, errors were made, and accessing services was difficult, which caused stress to parents and children. The report did not bring to light the many difficulties that professionals encounter. (Roaf, 2001), report that organisations already lacked funding which led to conflict as to who should pay the additional costs when liaising with other agencies; additionally compared to a single agency approach was extremely demanding of staff, concerning time restrictions and accommodation which was made worse by difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. Some of the information gathered was enormously sensitive, and there were inadequate guidelines and safeguards as to who should be privy to this, therefore was kept confidential. When working collaboratively there was no clarification of roles and responsibilities, there were also competing priorities; individual agencies had their own specialist vocabulary as well as policies and practices, which hindered shared understanding, also there were conflicting professional and agency cultures and management.


In 2003 the Government published a green paper called Every Child Matters (ECH); this was published alongside the formal response to the report into the death of Victoria Climbie'. A number of initiatives were put forward aimed at improving the welfare of young people from birth to age nineteen, which was extended to the age of twenty five for vulnerable persons; the Children Act, (2004) provides the legislative spine, (DfES 2004). In England a Children's Commissioner was appointed and each LA received a new Director of Children's Services. The subsequent white paper Every Child Matters (DfES, 2005) laid down a ‘Children's Trust model of practice', which required an array of professionals to integrate to create a common-assessment framework (CAF): In addition the concept of a lead professional was instigated to take on the lead to coordinate provision (DfES, 2005). Outside agencies were themselves under pressure, which made the role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCos) extremely complex and time consuming. It is possible to have fifty or more separate partnerships all contributing to the Every Child Matters (ECH) and extended school agendas. These range from parents/carers to forefront practitioners from ‘education, health and social care; the police, youth workers, Connexions, charitable, voluntary and community organisations; local businesses, other schools, colleges, children's centres, and members of the community' (Cheminais, 2008: 58).


A duty was placed on all LAs to work with and that they ‘may pool funds to pay for arrangements made', into a children's trust with partners, which included Primary Care Trusts and others to encourage more joined up services (The Children Bill 2004 Appendix 1); however It has been documented previously that some LAs are more inclusive than others, clearly if policy states ‘may pool budgets' there will inevitably be some who do not. In addition the extents of culture changes that are required to make this work are underestimated. Two-thirds of children's trusts had moved towards pooling budgets in at least some service areas.…The diverse strategies adopted by children's trusts during their first yearis due to their own characteristics… Bachmann, et, al. (2006)


Submission from The Children's Trust to the Review of Services for disabled children, by the Treasury and Department of Education and Skills states ‘After the initial fanfare with which children's trusts were launched the Governments enthusiasm seems to be focused elsewhere' (Children's Trust, 2006:4) They go on to report that services are still uncoordinated, and lack of funding in this area, results in a shortage of much needed key workers whom could help with this quagmire.


The 2004 DfES SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement, details the Government's vision on SEN. The strategy aims to provide clear nationwide guidance supported by a programme of continued action and review in four key areas: Early intervention to enable pupils with SEN to get the help that they need as soon as possible and that their parents have access to appropriate childcare and Removing Barriers to Learning, by enshrining inclusive practice in all schools and early years settings. ‘Raising expectations and achievement' by developing the skills and strategies of teachers for meeting the needs of children with SEN and enhancing the spotlight on their progress ‘An improved partnership approach', better coordination of services to meet the needs of children and families, (DfES 2004) Guidance to LEAs was also provided stating that ‘the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time” and there should be a ‘reduced reliance on statements.'


Baroness Warnock in her 2005 article Special Educational Needs: “A new look”, has served to make the already litigious nature of educational inclusion even more so. Warnock Condemns Government's policy for its befuddled and varying definition which is claimed to be resulting in the shutting of special schools and "forcing” some pupils into mainstream schools when being there has a detrimental affect on them. Warnock also calls into question some aspects of the Warnock Report (1978) including the position and function of statementing which she now believes to be damaging: However Lord Adonis claims, the Government "have no policy whatever… … of encouraging local authorities to close special schools' (Education and Skills Select Committee, 2006: 38), the report states that this appears to indicate that that the Government is looking for a “third way” by moving towards seeking a “flexible continuum of provision” being made available in all local authorities. This appears to directly contradict the approach outlined in SENDA 2001, the SEN Code of Practice 2001, and the 2004 SEN Strategy, which sends out an extremely confusing message. The Government should clarify its position on SEN particularly on inclusion (Education and Skills Select Committee 2006).


The Audit Commission Study (2008) concluded that children's trusts do not appear to have improved the outcomes for young people; performance varies greatly and there is confusion over status. This year (2008), an inquiry has begun into the death of another child in the same London borough as Victoria Climbie'.


"This case is worse than Climbié. The signs were there but were not followed." There had been lapses in information sharing between the agencies and the child had not been put first. "I do not think they can scapegoat an individual in this case. We must look at the system as a whole."


(Dioum, 2008:1)


Conclusion

Since 1997 inclusion policy in the United Kingdom appeared to be marching steadily forward towards its goal of inclusion; however now it appears to have stopped. Mary Warnock, amongst others, has placed a great deal of blame on the statementing process, and others blame multi agency failures; however these processes are not to blame in isolation, all of the polices appear to provide convenient loop holes and contradictions through lack of clarification, guidance and fiscal inadequacies, which in turn shapes understanding, attitudes and practice towards SEN and inclusion. This policy was built on the arguably antiquated 1981 education system which, it could be debated, is in need of a complete overhaul.


References