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The issue of the inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) into mainstream schools, initiatives and government policies has become not just a contemporary political question about the best way to run the education system (MacBeath, 2006), but is for some, also a debate on social justice (Conner and Ferri, 2007). Rachael Hurst, project director of Disability Awareness in Action, feels that real equality in the education system will only be achieved when every child with a disability or special educational need has the right to all mainstream schooling (Inham, 2000). Similarly, Oliver (1996) argues that in being denied access to the same curriculum and initiatives as everyone else, the educational opportunities of children with SEN will remain limited.
The definition of SEN is somewhat defined In the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (DfES, 2001a). It states on the one hand, that 'there are no hard and fast categories of special educational need', that 'every child is unique' and that 'there is a wide spectrum of special educational needs that are frequently inter-related' (DfES, 2001a, Section 52). Farrel (2003) highlights these as important points when trying to provide for any child with an additional need, or indeed any child in your care. On the other hand, it also states that 'there are specific needs that usually relate to particular types of impairment', and that 'individual pupils may have needs which span two or more areas', nevertheless, the 'needs and requirements can usefully be organised into areas' (DfES, 2001a, Section 53). These include communication, cognition, behaviour, and sensory. It should be noted, however, that it is often the case that all children, regardless of the SEN statement, could suffer in one or more of these areas, and it is good practice to know how to deal with these areas for the benefit of all children. (King-sears, 2008).
Contemporary government policy has tried to take accountability and show seriousness to this subject through legislation (Warnock, 1978, Act on Children with Special Educational Needs, 1981, 2001. Education Reform Act, 1988 and the Education Bill, 1992). The SEN code of practice, amongst other initiatives, was introduced to try and ensure that any child, regardless of need, could have their education provided for in a mainstream school (DfES, 2001a), and should have the treatment of any pupil in respect to access and achievement (DfEE, 1999, DfES, 2001a,b, 2003, 2004, 2006, DoH, 2001).
Possible future government policy also shows a need to continue producing effective plans to allow all children, regardless of need, to attend mainstream schools and achieve to the best of their abilities, with a "review of SEN provision" possibly required (Alexander, 2009, DCSF, 2009).
Both Mitchell (2005) and MacBeath (2006) are critical of whether it is actually ever possible to be fully inclusive, and suggest that there are some barriers, to do with society and medical issues, that simply cannot be removed.
Burr (2003) suggests that these exclusive barriers are founded in the social phenomena of our culture, and it is this that develops into social contexts, restricting access to minorities. This is otherwise known as social-constructionism. Burr goes on to suggest that, in the case of additional and complex needs, we have a social context into which we place children's conditions and behaviour, and it is this that decides what a child is or is not capable of, in "our" mainstream society, this is otherwise known as internal essences (Fromm, 2001).
It is, therefore important to challenge this behaviour as it is only ever a direct response to the situation in which we find ourselves. We need to take children's behaviour on a case-by-case basis, and not allow ourselves to lower their behaviour to a word that will describe them, whatever their behaviour (Abrams et al, 2005, Young, 2008, Bearne, 1996).
Hardey (1998) and Makin (1995) extend this point by asking: who decides what an additional or complex need is? The idea of whether a child is functional or not is context-dependent. Practitioners can often fall victim to teaching children with "classic pedagogy" for a "common" class. However, any child who is unable to learn "normally" in those conditions is seen as disabled, in good practice or through social context, this may never be the case.
It is, indeed, argued that disability is a function of the environment in which children are constrained to learn, otherwise known as "the social model of disability". It is up to the teacher to break down the barriers that constrain children's participation, if we cannot always break them for the act of learning itself (Ainscow, 1999, Rose et al, 1993, Sebba et al, 1994).
It is not only sociological factors which need to be addressed, there are also the psychological theories of labelling, life chances (Meighau & Harber, 2007 Norwich & Kelly, 2004) and the lowering of educational expectations (Hayes, 2004).
"Pupils tend to perform as well, or as badly as their teachers or society expects them to." (Meighau & Harber, 2007 p.367) This can be communicated to them frequently in unintentional or unconscious ways, otherwise known as "self fulfilling prophecy" which will damage a child's self-concept.
This calls for teachers to be aware when using SEN statement labels, or indeed, any deviant behaviour by a child, as a judgement to their learning or environmental requirements. Practitioners can use their judgements and examinations of a person being labelled as a guide, but should always get to know their learners and draw their own conclusions about their needs (Bearne, 1996, Meighau & Harber, 2007, Cheminais, 2007).
Hayes (2004), Ainscow (1999) and Cheminais (2007) all place importance on not using the additional or complex needs of children as an excuse to lower educational expectations. Hayes suggests that self-esteem is to be found through educational achievement, it is important to notice that they mean a child's own "personal achievement" and, perhaps, will not always be National Curriculum attainments. The suggestion is the idea of "value added" being introduced (Hayes, 2004, Alexander, 2009). Hayes suggests this is only possible through trying to limit barriers to learning (as medically achievable), by breaking down as many possible barriers to participation, otherwise known as having equal worth for learners (Rogers, 1983). There also needs to be a "positive and unconditional regard" for all learners (Hayes, 2004, p134, Griddens, 1998).
Ecclestone (2003) and Bearne (1996) suggest that teachers need to have the mentality to make it unacceptable to use barriers to participation as an excuse for a child to be unable to participate in an activity, change it so that they can do it (Nind et al, 2005)!
The management of these barriers to participation can be aided by three theoretical practices. One, being the basic concept of knowing your learners' (Norwich & Kelly, 2004, Nind et al, 2005) differentiation of the curriculum to suit everyone (King-sears, 2008, Bearne, 1999, McNamara & Moreton, 1997) and, two, effective summative and formative assessment, informing future practice.
King-sears (2008) actually states that "a variety of adaptable pedagogies are effective for students with and without disabilities" (2008, p55). Research has shown that the general education curriculum, with help from differentiation, can ensure that all learners be educated successfully (Cole, 2005).
Rose and Meyer (2000a,b) propose the initiative of "universal design learning". These are techniques based on three categories, firstly, how the learning is represented to the children (for example visual or tactile methods), secondly, the resignation to the fact that children engage in learning activities in varied ways, and thirdly, the simple fact that children may wish to express their learning in different ways (spoken, drawn or written). If this ideal can be used in conjunction with Nind et al's (2005) scheme of planning, teaching and assessing additional educational needs, with related pedagogies to cover the stated requirements, then this will, not only break down the barriers to participation for children of SEN, but will also aid all learners (Solity and Bull, 1987).
These two practices will help in the formulation of future teaching through both types of assessment. Norwich & Kelly (2004) give testimony to the case of self-assessment not being solely for mainstream pupils, all children have vital opinions on how they see their learning taking place, and this information should always inform your future practice and pedagogy (Bearne. 1999).
The SEN code of practice (2001a) suggests the use of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) when dealing with additional and complex needs. These are planning documents, which also inform teaching and contribute to monitoring, recording and reporting a pupil's progress and attainment. They, like the other practices suggested earlier, advocate the setting out of approaches such as differentiation of teaching, and responding to the learning needs of pupils with SEN. The DfES (2001b) continues this and suggests that IEPs are a tool for planning, teaching and reviewing interventions for pupils with additional or complex needs. This can sometimes be through the use of other educational professionals, when the barriers to learning are too great. The plan should set out the content, methods and frequency of knowledge, and the understanding and skills to be taught through carefully selected activities. However, as stated throughout this assignment and advocated by readings (Bearne, 1999, Ainscow, 1999) IEPs as well as statements are useful to any practitioner as a guide and structure, it should never be that these are additional or different to provision provided by a thoughtful teacher delivering a differentiated curriculum to all their learners (Nind et al, 2005). It comes down to the point of individual learners, whether it be a statemented child or a highly-gifted one, they are helpful in the sense that they can show medically when a child may be unable to participate in some learning through the aid of partnership and SENCOs (Farrel, 2003).
While it is important to have a full understanding of the implications of practice in general terms, it is of course vital to have practical strategies that can be implemented in the classroom context. Throughout this module, through placement and private reading, I have come to grasp many practical strategies including instructional (King-sears, 2008), modelling and prompting (Cass et al, 2003), co-operative learning, scaffolding, (Westwood, 1997) peer-mediated tutoring (Greenwood et al, 2001), collaborative strategic reading (Kings-sear, 2008), content area learning (Vaughn et al 2001), learning centres (King-sear 2008), a caring pedagogy (Corbett, 1992), precision teaching (Kessissoglou et al 1995), circle time (Curry 1997), behaviour contracts (Westwood, 1997), cross-curricular or connective pedagogy (Ainscow, 1999), partnership teaching (MacBeath, 2006), individual LO's, stars and a wish, success criteria, WILF/WOLF, self assessment (Ofsted, 2002, Westwood, 1997), sensory stories (Peirce, 2010), person-centred planning (Kincaid, 2006), cue cards, graphic facilitation, talking mats (Taylor, 2007), and learning outside the classroom (Dowling, 2005, DfES, 2006).
Some personal examples of strategies successfully brought into practice in my experience include the use of differentiation of learners through group LO's and WOLF/WILF's (Appendix 1). On second year placement I had a motor impaired child who struggled to participate with his peers in written tasks. To combat this I altered my practice, and changed the tools the child was using, by increasing the paper size and giving him a pencil grip to ensure there was no barrier to participation.
I also went to a school to produce a literacy day on behalf of the university, and was put in charge of a group with an autistic child. I spoke with her SENCO and we worked together to enable her to participate in the activities. We adjusted the pedagogy to be more directly-instructive, ensuring her name was specifically used in any instruction, and ensured she was confident in her drama role, explaining the way the day was planned out to her, and it was agreed that the day was a huge success for her, the SENCO, her peers and myself.
Just as important, though, is knowing when there is such a barrier to learning that you, as a mainstream practitioner, are unable to deal with a child's need in a mainstream setting. This was the case with a child who was EAL but also suffered from a cleft lip and palate and found, at that time, verbal communication too difficult, and would have some vital lessons to aid her development through another professional, namely a speech therapist, that was better for that child at that time.
In conclusion to this module I have learnt that while legislation can be critically reflected upon to such an extent that it is seen as nothing more than daunting rhetoric (MacBeath, 2006), it is ultimately up to the care, expertise and the drive of teachers to try and achieve these requirements as best they can. Managing diverse and complex needs is something that can be done in mainstream schools if you allocate yourself time and energy to wanting to do it, and also by getting to know all your pupils' needs. It is necessary that practitioners understand that barriers to learning cannot always be broken due to medical reasons, this is vital, just as it is vital that practitioners know they do have the power to break down the barriers to participation through good working, reflective practice, good partnerships and, finally, knowing their learners! This final point cannot be stressed enough.