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The criteria as set down by the DfEE Green Paper (1997) heralded a landmark turning point in setting an objective of achieving: 'excellence for all children meeting special educational needs'. The first part of this essay will briefly deal with the attitudes and methodology surrounding the system before and up to this point, and will highlight the paradigm shift in approach to Special Educational Needs which The Green Paper proposed.
Secondly, a critical analysis of 'inclusion' as a problematic word will be analysed which, under scrutiny, opens up a wide debate as to what exactly the term means and who should qualify to benefit from such a policy. The idea of 'inclusion' as 'an ideological concept will, as well as other sociological factors, bring into focus the challenges that face those professionals involved with formulating inclusion policy.
An example of intervention where the need to address 'gifted and talented' pupils will lead to an overview on how the move to inclusion has determined how schools have adopted more effective and inclusive attitudes. Good practice within the educational setting has become the norm with initiatives such as 'Sure Start' and 'Every Child Matters' strengthening the argument that inclusive practices are breaking down the barriers to learning and facilitating social inclusion.
DfEE Green Paper (1997)
Essentially, the Governmental Green Paper on Special Educational Needs had, at the core of its aims, the philosophy that 'all' children, wherever possible, should be educated within a mainstream setting, unless the child was so severely impaired with emotional, learning or physical impairments that this would be impossible. The Green Paper, forwarded by David Blunkett, championed the idea that such a policy would inevitably benefit the whole of society: 'The ultimate purpose of special educational needs (SEN) provision is to enable young people to flourish in adult life.' (Thomas and Vaughan, 2004 p.130)
In this sense, the remit of the Green Paper had in its sights the wider notion of 'social inclusion' rather than a more limited idea of special provision within the educational setting. For example, the social, economic and educational barriers hitherto experienced by people with disabilities were often 'imposed' as a direct result of social constructions and models of disability: 'Instead of promoting social rights and opportunities, the welfare state has attempted to compensate disabled people... either by segregating them in special institutions or exposing them to rehabilitation programs.' (Payne, 2000, p.186) Although this statement was originally aimed at addressing the issues concerning disabled people in general society, there is a striking parallel with the way children with disabilities were treated prior to a shift in attitude where Warnock (1981) replaced the term word 'handicap with 'special needs'. (see Wearmouth, J, 2001, p1) The Green Paper's far reaching proposals were, therefore, the pivotal feature in a whole line of reports both from the UK and America which marked a definite move towards inclusive education for all.
What is inclusion?
To construct a definition for the word 'inclusion' is not a simple task and to arrive at a concrete hypothesis tends to become more illusive and problematic. What it is to be inclusive has evolved to a point where 'opinion' is often the decisive factor in its meaning: 'Historically, it has often been used to mean either the moving of disabled children into the mainstream settings, or reducing the exclusion of other pupils from school.' (Bristol CYPS)
Although historical definitions of inclusion are less blurred at the edges, they did little to adequately meet the needs of the individual. For Example, Skidmore (2004) refers to the 'sociological paradigm' which, in effect, added to the problem of inequality by: '...contributing to the reproduction of existing social inequalities by siphoning off a proportion of the school population and assigning them to a lower status educational track.' This approach of differentiation by segregation was challenged by the 'organisational paradigm' which argued that the problem lay with the school as an institution rather than the individual pupil. This worked by removing the barriers to learning and eradicating deficiencies in order to accommodate those pupils with some form of learning difficulty: (Skidmore, 2004, p.7).
This positive change in attitude towards those with special educational needs is reflected in the way that Ofsted have revised their inspection frameworks and the way that schools can successfully provide an inclusive environment: 'They [inspectors] must judge how effective are the efforts made by schools to overcome barriers to pupils' full participation in learning.' (Ofsted 2000d, p17) This revised terminology suggests a departure from the requirement to consider specific individuals with special needs and emphasises that 'all' pupils should now be fully accessing the curriculum in a way that is positive and enriching. This suggests a climate of change whereby schools will never fully achieve a point where 'total' inclusion is achieved. Inclusion, therefore, could be described as an unattainable ideological endpoint which, nevertheless, is worthy of pursuit. The objective, in this context should perhaps be one of continuous improvement: 'The most effective schools do not take educational inclusion for granted. They constantly monitor and evaluate the progress all pupils make." (Ofsted 2000d)
Gifted and Talented
The traditional isolation and treatment of individuals viewed as having a special educational need has been overturned by the notion that the requirements of 'all' students should be fully considered. This has inevitably highlighted groups which would not normally have been identified as having a special need. One particular group which falls under this category is that of the 'gifted and talented'.
Skidmore (2004) cites the case of Sealey Cove School where over one third of the pupils could be judged as gifted and talented. In this kind of situation, the resolution to the problem goes far beyond classroom differentiation. At Sealey Cove, many children were not being academically challenged because they were in mixed ability groupings. Speaking on the situation, the coordinator commented: 'There's no policy for able children, the SEN policy doesn't consider them at all... It is a glaring need in the school. (Skidmore, 2004, p87). The school then adopted a policy of differentiation appropriate to the ability of the child with additional support staff as required.
The move to total inclusion
We have considered the implications of the wider net that is being cast in order to support all pupils and this has generated a new philosophy of social inclusion that has seen changes both in and out of the classroom setting. The 'Sure Start' initiative in 1998 worked from the premise that intervention at a very early age, i.e. from birth to age three, would act as a preventative measure in the fight against inequality and learning difficulties. The initiative was fully endorsed by fully trained support staff and enabled children from 'all' backgrounds to participate. Sure Start was unique in that it reached families with limited social expectations, therefore the idea that making parents part of the inclusion process was initiated: '...Supporting parents in promoting the physical, intellectual and social development of their children... including support for children with learning difficulties and emotional and behavioural difficulties.' (DfEE, 1998, p4)
Perhaps the most influential and ambitious government scheme to emerge in the last few years is the 'Every Child Matters' Green Paper (2003). Though written in light of the Victoria Climbie case, the scheme takes the idea of inclusion to a new heights. Every Child Matters has, at its core of aims and outcomes, a new approach which supports children and young people from birth through to nineteen years old. Perhaps more than any other governmental scheme, this system truly epitomises total social inclusion which benefits, not only the children themselves, but society as a whole. It offers a network of multi-agency support for the families of young people:
'The programme places better outcomes for children firmly at the centre of all policies and approaches involving children's services. These outcomes are: Be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being.' Every Child Matters [online]
Such a wide reaching charter goes beyond the scope of previous notions of inclusion by putting the child firmly at the centre of the process and ensuring full potential is reached throughout 'all' aspects of their life.
Both 'Sure Start' and 'Every Child Matters' have on their agenda the importance of including parents and children in the decision making and policy making processes. This sharing of responsibility allows for an culture of 'ownership' when decisions have been made. Participation in School Councils have given children the opportunity to develop ideas and rules for conduct within their school which have a direct influence on their own lives. (see Wearmouth, J, 2001, p248-53)
It has become clear, that the developments from 1997 have seen swift and groundbreaking improvements in the way inclusion is practiced in our schools today. The segregation practices of the past seem worlds away from the pioneering Green Paper on Special Educational Needs. With the current trend leaning towards inclusion for 'all' gathering pace, we may one day reach that unassailable goal of total inclusion.