Discrimination of others can occur for a number of reasons, and to a number of different people. Individuals may be discriminated against obviously and deliberately, known as direct discrimination. People can also be discriminated against indirectly. Indirect discrimination comes about when specific actions or practices meant for all are inadequate for an individual, which can then cause discouraging effects (Equality law, no date).
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Children and adults with special educational needs (SEN) may be subject to discrimination as a result of their additional needs. Due to this, there are regulations, legislation and laws put in place to safeguard and protect individuals with SEN.
Laws and legislation have moved forward and adapted over time to facilitate those concerned. One Act that became a turning point for children with SEN was the 1981 Education Act. Prior to this Mary Warnock published a report regarding mainstream and special schools and the education of children with SEN within them. Some of her recommendations became part of the 1981 Education Act, one of which being that children diagnosed with additional needs should be educated where and when it is appropriate within a mainstream setting, and so integration began. Integration then led to inclusion with several Acts and pieces of legislation following, for example, 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, 1997 Green Paper: Excellence for All Children and 2001 The Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs (Gibson and Blandford, 2005).
Another piece of documentation is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); this gives rights to all children, additional need or not. The convention sets basic standards for children that should all be respected by the relevant government. Within this document there are fifty four articles summarising and clarifying these rights. These articles cover a range of topics, for example, Article 14: this is regarding a child’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, Article 27: this outlines the right for every child to have an adequate standard of living which enables their physical, mental, moral, spiritual and social development, and Article 28: this states the right of the child to education, ensuring equal opportunities and access to education for all children (UNCRC, 1989).
One convention regarding all with SEN is The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This document outlines the importance for people with SEN to be treated as equals and to benefit from their human rights, as a person without SEN would. Article 24 covers the subject of education. This reiterates the right of people with SEN to education, and to be able to achieve this right without discrimination. It also states that governments should ensure an inclusive education system (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2008).
All of the above pieces of legislation and documentation are put in place to ensure a safe and healthy environment for those with SEN, and to ensure equal opportunities for all regarding all aspects of their life, whether it’s their education or having the chance to have your own views listened to.
For the practitioners working with children, inclusive practice should be something they take their time to ensure is in place in their setting. The term inclusion has taken the place of integration, and is promoted or required within legislation in all EU countries (Evans & Lunt, 2002).
There are two models that outline the ways society view disabilities, these are the medical model of disability and the social model of disability. The medical model of disability sees disability as a problem that needs to be fixed or cured. This model depicts a negative image of disability because the emphasis is placed on the disability and not the individual needs of the child. On the other hand, the social model of disability empowers people with disabilities by recognising they have an equal right to be included within every part of society (Disabled world, 2010). This model highlights that it’s ‘the collective responsibility of society to make the environmental modifications necessary for the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of social life’ (Disabled world, 2010).
Rosenthal (2001, p385) writes that ‘inclusion is a process, not a fixed state. By inclusion we mean not only that pupils with SEN should wherever possible receive their education in a mainstream school, but that they should fully join with their peers in the curriculum and life of the school’. When Ofsted inspect a school, they look for educational inclusion. This entails a school having teaching and learning, triumphs, viewpoints and the well being of every child counting. This inclusive experience is expected with a wide range of groups of people, including those with SEN (Birnbaum, 2010).
To ensure inclusion within a setting, practitioners must ensure all staff show respect for each child by treating them as an individual and taking note of their particular needs. When showing respect, and listening to the child, the likes and dislikes of the child should be acknowledged and taken on board when planning for that child. The practitioner’s ability to adapt the learning environment will help to empower the child. When adjusting practice it is important to remember the child’s preferences, appropriateness of the topic and how these are developed, to help their confidence and self-esteem to grow (Lodato Wilson, 2005).
Westwood (2007, p.83) writes about three different circumstances needed to encourage and accommodate children with SEN and their interactions with others. These are, ‘the general attitude of the teacher and the peer group towards children with SEN must be as positive and accepting as possible, the environment should be arranged so that the child with a disability has the maximum opportunity to spend time socially involved in group or pair activities, during recess and during academic work in the classroom and the child needs to be taught the specific skills that may enhance social contact with peers’. An inclusive practice is an important part of education for all involved, and it begins with the practitioners, they must have a positive attitude towards SEN which should then be reflected within their setting.
It is also fundamental for practitioners to highlight how they strive to promote inclusive practice with all parents, staff and professionals they may be working in partnership with.
Within the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice there is a chapter that highlights the importance of parents working in partnership with practitioners. It emphasises the role parents play in their child’s education, and their involvement making decisions regarding their child, and what would be best for them (Green, 2003).
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Green (2003, p305) also writes, ‘if early years staff do not communicate with, ask questions of, and receive relevant information from, children’s parents, they will not be fully prepared to respond to children’s individual needs, identify potential points of crisis for them, or have the awareness to help them to cope with new or worrying situations’. As well as practitioners ensuring they have regular contact with parents, it is vital they make themselves approachable to parents. This will encourage the parent to communicate with the practitioner, and give them the confidence to do so.
When working with children with additional needs, there may be a number of other professionals also involved with that child. There could be a physiotherapist, who may provide physical healing methods for a range of injuries or illnesses, the family may also be given some exercises to further the treatment (Behrens, 2013). A speech and language therapist could be required to carry out an assessment to identify any communication difficulty, to measure the degree of difficulty, to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the child, and to set some targets to work towards which would be discussed with the parents, and possibly other professionals (Wright, 1993). The child may visit a paediatrician at a local hospital, often referred by a GP (general practitioner). The paediatrician will speak with the parents and the child, where possible, and carry out necessary observations and assessments to gather all of the information needed to decipher the best possible actions for the child, and make any further referrals if needed (Miall, Rudolf and Smith, 2012).
It is important for practitioners to be aware of children having involvement with other professionals, and ensuring communication between the services is effective. Within all childcare settings a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) must be in place. The SENCo role may differ slightly from setting to setting (Crowne, 2003). However, the SEN Code of Practice (DfE, 2001) highlighted some key responsibilities for the SENCo. They are: ‘ensuring liaison with parents and other professionals in respect of children with special educational needs, advising and supporting other practitioners in the setting, ensuring that appropriate Individual Educational Plans are in place and ensuring that relevant background information about individual children with special educational needs is collected, recorded and updated’.
All practitioners should ensure the appropriate adaptations are carried out within their setting. Adaptations should be made in the environment, with the resources in use, and practitioners need to adapt their practice if needed, and display a positive attitude towards each child and their inclusion within the setting.
Adjustments to the environment could include installing ramps or lifts, ensuring doors are wide enough for wheelchair access, varying toilet heights to facilitate all children, and table and seat height is adequate for all (Klein, Cook & Richardson-Gibbs, 2001). The immediate nursery environment should also be adapted where necessary, ‘adapting the environment to suit their individual needs will help their progress’ (Beaver et al., 2001, p63).
Reasonable adjustments should also be made with the resources within the setting. This could be ensuring that all activities are set up at a level that can be accessed by all children. Each practitioner also needs to consider that they know the strengths and areas of need for all children in their care, all activities should therefore further the strengths of children with additional needs, but are also challenging and able to enhance all of the children (Deiner, 2010).
Another area for adjustment could also be the attitudes and perspective of the practitioners themselves, and although the activities and environment are important factors that should always be considered, each practitioner is a role model and their ‘behaviour toward children- acceptance, consideration and respect- speaks louder to the class than anything you deliberately set out to teach’ (Deiner, 2010, p.2).
In conclusion, there are several entitlements and rights of children with SEN that must be met by the practitioners and professionals that care for them. These entitlements are highlighted within a number of legal documents and pieces of legislation. A key requirement within some of these documents is the definitive access to an inclusive education that will meet each individual child’s needs, including making reasonable adjustments and adaptations if required. Each practitioner should also ensure they cooperate fully with the families and work in partnership with them to deliver the highest quality childcare they possibly can.
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- Behrens, M. S. (2013) What is Physiotherapy? USA: Gilkie Publishing.
- Birnbaum, R. (2010) Choosing a School for a Child with Special Needs. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) Online. Available at: http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml (Accessed 21 October 2013).
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- Lodato Wilson, G. (2005) ‘Promoting competency, independence, and self-advocacy’, in Schwartz, D. (eds) Including children with special needs. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, pp. 257-270.
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- UNCRC (The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) (1989) Online. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx (Accessed 21 October 2013).
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- Wright, J.A. (1993) ‘Assessment of Children with Special Needs’, in Beech, J.R., Harding, L. & Hilton-Jones, D. (eds) Assessment in Speech and Language Therapy. London: Routledge, pp. 128-148.
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