Policies Seek To Reduce Educational Inequality Education Essay

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The report will be looking at some of the theory and perspectives that can be discussed around special education needs policy within this there will be Marxist and Functionalist perspective. The final part will reflect on findings from the research and look to what I personally envisage the future of our educational system to be. Can we ever achieve equality within education?


Rab Butler, Minister of Education formed the 1944 Education Act. The act created the structure for the post-war British education system. Under the coalition government formed by Winston Churchill.

The act gave every child access to free secondary education for the first time and Local Authorities were given the responsibility of overseeing education.

The act stated "it shall be the duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to continue towards the spiritual, mental and physical developments of the community" (1944 Education Act Part II, 7)

The act raised the school-leaving age to 15 and provided universal free schooling in three different types of schools: grammar, secondary modern and technical. Entry to these schools was based on the 11+ examination. This was called the tripartite system. There were also special schools for pupils that were deemed 'uneducable'.

The tripartite system

Grammar Schools - academically gifted pupils, education between 12 to 19. Grammer pupils usually accessed further / higher education.

Secondary Modern Schools - After four years of academic study would leave school with a certificate. There was no formal exam.

Secondary Technical Schools - Those who failed the 11+ went to a Secondary Modern School. This type of school was closely linked to the world of industry and commerce. It provided a general education with special emphasis on technical subjects. It was more geared to preparing the pupils for their trade after leaving school

Under the 1944 Education Act, children with special educational needs were grouped by their disabilities classified by health and medical terms. Some children were seen as being unable to be educated. Sometimes they were regarded as maladjusted or educationally sub-normal and given special educational treatment in separate schools. This act made the Local Authority responsible to ensure that children were educated in accordance with their age, ability and aptitude. Local Authorities were to provide primary, secondary and schools for pupils with disability of the body or mind.

SEN provision was based on the 1944 Education Act, (Anon 2004, 1).  Children deemed "ineducable' were sent to special schools (Anon 2004, 1).  These post-war educational classifications, while seemingly harsh by today's standards,  "were seen as a positive improvement" (Potts 1995, 399).  By the 1960s, terminology changed from 'mentally deficient' and 'feeble-minded' to 'educationally sub-normal,' and an emphasis on mainstreaming SEN students into regular public schools grew (Potts 1995, 399).

1945 The Handicapped Pupils and School Health Service Regulations extended the 5 handicaps to 11 categories for assessment purposes. Children had to be diagnosed by doctors in the School Health Service as belonging to one of these categories before being allocated special education provision. Some children, regarded as too handicapped to benefit from education, were termed 'ineducable'; these children became the responsibility of the Health Service. At that time, the general philosophy was that the child should fit the school rather than the school fit the child. The concept of segregation (separate provision) was established.


Comprehensive systems evolved because the tripartite system was flawed. Dividing children at the age of 11 into successes or failures.

Comprehensive Schools, however, have not eliminated distinctions between pupils and can still be said to sustain inequality. Most pupils are subject to "streaming" and "setting" according to learning ability. The comprehensive has bettered educational levels with more children going on to higher education. Better academic achievement does not necessarily mean the system has better equality.

From comprehensive schools comes the latest policy, The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, launched in 2003, developing schools with a specialism or academies. This was to regenerate failing schools and encourage social mobility with wider choice for parents. However it is still apparent today that schools in deprived areas do not perform as well as those in affluent. Even with all the policies to redevelop school buildings and build new academies it is fact that children usually access the nearest secondary provision. The school a child attends could then be seen to be predetermined by their parent's financial status and not a child's ability and so does not support equality and choice.

Special schools currently take between 1% and 2% of the schooling population. These schools still remain under the governance of the Local Authorities. Recent policy is supporting pupils from special schools to be included within the mainstream comprehensive/academy schools. The question is does policy supporting very child access to the same school actually support equality or create inequality?

Below are government policies and programmes regarding special educational needs 1997 and onwards.

The Green Paper 1997 Excellence For All Children Meeting Special Educational Needs. The new Labour Government gave public support to the UN statement on Special Needs Education 1994 which "calls on governments to adopt the principle of inclusive education" and "implies a progressive extension of the capacity of mainstream schools to provide for children with a wide range of needs". DFEE 1997 By doing so, it "aligned the English education system for the first time with the international movement towards inclusive education.

The 1998 publication "Meeting Special Educational Needs - A Programme of Action" which, in conjunction with the 1999 Disability Rights Task Force Report "From Exclusion to Inclusion", strengthen the rights of all children to be educated in mainstream schools.

This Government still uses the existing SEN framework and wanted to develop it through the SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001, and the 2004 SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement. It aimed to set out "the Government's vision for the education of children with SEN and disability". The strategy document showed the Government has greatly increased investment in SEN. However, the government still did not look to update the SEN framework that is struggling to keep up with the 1.5 million children seen as having special educational needs.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001), which amended the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) to make it unlawful for education providers to discriminate against disabled children, students and adult learners. The result is education providers must make adjustments to make sure that disabled people in education do not suffer a significant disadvantage when compared to their peers who are not disabled. Part 1 of the Act strengthens the rights of children and young people with special educational needs to be taught within mainstream settings. The Act also necessitates schools and LAs to plan strategically to increase access to education.

There are comparisons between the Government's 2004 SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement and in the Every Child Matters agenda and the basis of the original Warnock Report in 1978. The Warnock SEN structure (1978) that is still in operation today is struggling to remain fit for purpose, most starkly obvious is the failure of the system to cope with the increasing number of children with autism and social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (BESD). This is placing increasing pressure in mainstream schools and the drive for inclusion. Both develop the need for joined up services, training the workforce, support to meet the needs of the individual children, measurements for success and inevitably raising standards. The content of the Warnock Report proved extremely difficult to achieve. Now we are in 2010 and the aims are much the same and still seem so hard to achieve.

All the above policies support inclusion and work towards equal access for SEN children to mainstream schools. This has led to the closure of special schools and mainstreams struggling to meet the needs of SEN children - the Government's policy of inclusion has come under criticism. The drive for equality in education has resulted in inequality and less effective education.


Special Education is overseen by government legislation that entitles any pupil with a disability to a free and suitable public education in the least restrictive environment. Meanwhile, the local public in general try to resist tax increases to fund education. The stakeholders in public education highlight the inequity in the portion of educational resources between the conventional and special education populations. SEN pupils have more financial, personnel and administrative resources. SEN costs the government more than those necessary to educate the average pupils in a regular education program. This than leads to the question of 'is their equality of education and fairness of provision?'

The report will account for many theoretical positions including Marxism and Functionalism. All these theories may easily be seen to impinge on one another. For example both Functionalism and Marxism believe in a structure and examine what external influences people experience that makes them behave in a certain way. Both theories take a broad view, dividing society into groups rather than giving attention to the individual. In other areas they are very opposing in theory. Marxism being conflict within society and Functionalism being consensus. Below are a few theories that are to be considered in the question of equality of education and education for children with special needs.

There are numerous ways to deliberate the principle of public education, Feinberg and Soltis (1992) discuss a Functionalist perspective, which holds that the role of the school is to prepare students for adult participation in the social, political and economic institutions of society. Examining purpose from a Marxist perspective, schools are one of the vehicles by which the privileged class is able to maintain status and control over subordinate groups. This can be seen by the American view - The 1954 Brown v. The Topeka Kansas Board of Education United States Supreme Court decision became the starting point of special education law. Although the Brown decision addressed practice of segregating students by ability, rather than by some type of disabling condition, Howe and Mirmanotes (1992) report that the court did emphasize that "among the important goods to be justly distributed in a modern society is education, largely because it serves as the gateway to other goods such as income, employment and self-respect"

Frequently students with special education needs are removed from the regular education classroom and educated separately, often in separate schools (Zenick, 1999). This can be seen as exclusion within an inclusive setting.

Howe and Mirmanotes (1992) offer a prospect of special education from a Utilitarian point of view, holding that deeds or policies are correct if they maximize the total good. Philosophers such as Gutmann (1987) see it as the responsibility of the school to have every pupil reach a threshold of educational. It is this perspective that allows for unequal division of educational finance but only until students acquire functional skills necessary to develop into citizens that contribute to society.

One question is should more resources be dedicated to special educational need pupils? This is discussed in Clabaugh and Rozycki (1997), when analyzing a controversy; one must think about whether or not the debate is fundamental. Parents, Teachers and administrators i.e. legislators and advocates have all been apprehensive for years about the disparity involving standard education and the special education regarding the unequal expenditure of financial, personnel and administrate resources. Some would say if finance was no object, there would be no debate and the needs of every pupil could be met equally with no hesitation.

The allocation of resources is a dispute between legal interpretations of statute and the philosophical argument of what is right and wrong? How can we achieve equality when considering the distribution of limited resources?

As discussed by Howe and Mirmanotes (1992) the role of education to allocate resources in such a way that every child has as close as possible to some threshold of competence. Resource should have distribution on a needs-based criterion. The question is then defining the threshold of competence and how responsible are public schools for getting close to it. There is also the need to consider the notion of equal respect and worth which should then include the allocation of resources within education.

Strike, Haller & Soltis (1998) address the theory of the total good of all pupils looking at the principle of benefit maximization? This theory forwards that the best and most just decision is one that offers the greatest benefit for the largest number of pupils. It looks at a framework for deciding how to most efficiently use educational resources. To interpret this position may support resources should be directed away from children with disabilities or special educational needs as their ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way is probably limited.

Feinberg and Soltis (1992) state that people who regard society from a functionalist viewpoint believe that in society there will are different members performing different tasks. Within this perspective, the role of the education setting then becomes to provide equality of educational opportunity to ensure that all have equal chance to improve talents and skills to achieve these tasks. Educational finances can be regarded as a limited commodity. People can only pay for so much education. One could consider that resources should be distributed via a principle of "fair share," meaning that no one group receive any more of a resource than another.

In 1999 Rozycki promoted the opinion that special education contravenes principles of fair sharing as it forces resources to be focused on a minority group of students. Because of the legal policy surrounding the funding of special education, any discussion of its equality must consider the relationship between ethics and legality.


Policy in education is often on the principal of the provision of equality. When considering special education we should look at this alongside the needs of every child to ensure equality. Determining how resources should be utilized to reach special educational children makes us questions how can equality really exist within education. Policy making for SEN is a diverse struggle.

I believe it is safe to assume that educators have a desire for all students to have the "best" education. With this desire comes the realization that the current funding structure will never allow this to occur. Given the lack of definition of what is "best," I don't see the possibility of disproportionate funding ever ending. When the possibility exists that spending just one more pound may make a difference, no one person wants the responsibility of telling a particular group of students that they've been given enough or even going to be given less resources than another pupil.

Within the report it looked at possibility of equality through policy that resource extra to a pupil until they reach a benchmark or a functional level. Within equality where is that benchmark when has a child had an equal opportunity. Some Local Authorities have a policy of criteria for additional special education resources that once a child reaches a functional age e.g. 9 years reading age that the disproportionate level of resources will cease regardless of if the child is still performing below their peers. Has the pupil then had enough opportunity within this policy to then go on to have the potential of social equality?

A common Principle of Equity is Fair Share this requires that no one receives more of a scarce resource than any other. To enable fair share then the equity principle applies to teaching - triage, teaching to the middle or average student. I would see that this policy method then is denying the gifted and the subnormal?

Whether to include or segregate children with SEN into mainstream schools is still a controversial issue, and one that is not easily resolved. There is certainly a trend towards inclusion both within this country and internationally. Many theo­rists believe that inclusive education for children with SEN should be thought of as a 'right', whereas others believe that it may mean that the teaching of SEN children becomes less effective. It is not clear if special education separates and discriminates against those who are disabled or different or even if the inclusion of these children is then a deficit to the mainstream pupils.

The records of special education and special schools in terms of student outcomes has not been positive, when you compare the very substantial resources allocated to it (there is up to 15 times more spent on a special school student than a mainstream school student). Both traditions, 'constructive' and 'deconstructive', have disputed over an end to separate education systems. With the financial implications so apparent Local Authorities and government policy have pushed for inclusion within the mainstream, but may not have invested the same SEN funding level in mainstream settings. With limited resources and inexperienced staff mainstream schools seem only to provide a second rate education to that provided through the special school placement. Many children are being educated separately within the mainstream setting anyway. Should equality look for all children to be educated in one classroom regardless of individual needs? Is this meeting the needs of all children and producing equality because they all access the same provision?

The practice of inclusion has been criticized by advocates and some parents of children with SEN because some of these pupils require instructional methods that are different dramatically from typical classroom methods. It can be argued that it is not possible to deliver effectively two or more very different instructional methods in the same classroom. As a result, the educational progress of students who depend on different methods to learn often fall even further behind their peers. And yet policy still drives for inclusion. Is this for the child or for financial reason? Is it for inclusion and equality of education?

Parents of average or even talented children sometimes fear that the special needs of a single "fully included" student will take crucial levels of attention and energy away from the rest of the class. This will thereby impair the academic achievements of all students. Again can inclusion policy deliver equality?

Currently Special education students are more likely to drop out of school than their peers. It can then be argued that policy for SEN has not had the positive impact for equality.

Public policy in Britain supports the inclusion of as many SEN children as possible in mainstream schools. The recent Green Paper on SEN (DfEE, 1997) states that there should be a continuum of provision, including special schools where they are needed. The Green Paper states that:

 We support the UNESCO Salemanca World Statement on Special Needs Education. This calls on governments to adopt the principle of inclusive education, enrolling all children in regular schools unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise  

The report so far has looked numerous views and theories regarding the inclusion policy for SEN it is only in the last few years that the real impact of SEN mainstream inclusion can begin to be analysed - Has SEN policy reduced educational inequality?

On Thursday, 23 March 2006 Hilary Wilce reported for the Independent Paper that Labour is committed to a policy of including as many children as possible in mainstream schools, and 93 special schools have closed down since l997. This is broadly in line with policies embraced throughout the Western world. But many of those children have been inadequately provided for, and as a result the pendulum has swung back towards demands for more special-school provision. Policies had backfired and are bias against allowing parents to choose to educate their child at a special school. As more special schools close down parents are also subject to the post code lottery with the standards of special educational provision varying greatly depending on where they live. Parent power is stating that inclusion does not work. A second issue raised by parents is whether policy should reform the way children's special needs are identified and supported. Most parents agree that the system of statementing, and the appeal system that backs it up, are bureaucratic, time-consuming and geographically inequitable. Both systems favour articulate parents who know their rights.

With new policy looking to give more school more autonomy. The local authorities could be left with the responsibility of overseeing special needs provision, but they will have no power and no resources.

An article by Graeme Paton 05 Jan 2008 Mainstream schools failing special needs pupils for the Telegraph Newspaper revealed the negative impact of mainstream schooling is having on special needs children. The report shows that thousands of special educational needs children are being expelled from mainstream settings because teachers do not have the expertise to cater for them. Is policy for inclusion actually resulting in exclusion and special educational needs children not getting the schooling they need? Has the government's inclusion policy failed?

In July 2005 Baroness Warnock called for the Government to set up another commission to review the situation. She felt that there are significant problems with the present system. She suggested that there needs to be a better understanding of the link between the social disadvantaged and children with SEN. There also needs to be an overview of the process of statementing and the drive for inclusion. Mary Warnock who pioneered the drive towards more inclusive teaching called for a major rethink of SEN policy. Although Mary Warnock authored a report on special education 25 years ago that first challenged the norm of SEN pupils being educated separately, argued that although SEN pupils were taught in mainstream schools, they were often taught apart from other pupils, and without proper provision could become victims of bullying.

Although educational policy cannot be held totally responsible as described by The 2005 Warnock paper says that it is "undeniable that socially deprived children tend to have more educational difficulties. One of its three major conclusions is that SEN policy must reflect "our growing recognition of the crucial differences that social differences make to educational chances".

The report also shows there is a category of children in the current system now described as having social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (SEBD). This with autism is the fastest growing type of SEN. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (SEBD) provide an example of where the old Warnock framework is out of date and where significant weakness exist in the system to the disadvantage of those who fall between them. The report emphasises the frustration and upset caused to parents and families by the failure of the system to cater for the needs of these children. New policy must give this urgent consideration.

John Macbeath et al at University of Cambridge concluded in a report that "while there are many examples of social benefits both for children with special needs and their peers, there is much less positive evidence that learning needs are being met across the whole spectrum of ability."

Madeleine Brettingham 2007 revealed that Mainstream schools fail special needs children 'A third of statemented children in mainstream primaries score up to 3.5 marks less than expected in tests. But for special schools the figure is only 2 per cent, the guide's researchers, using key stage 2 test data, found. On average, a pupil in a special school achieves 1.5 points more than a similar pupil in a mainstream school.'

Many of today's newspapers and report show a devastating critique of Government policies for educating pupils with special needs.

Possible alternatives - Maybe in time there will be policy that achieves for every child and supports equality in education.

The Conservatives acknowledge weakness in current policy and want to replace statements with a simplified profile system. This will assign each child one of 12 levels of additional provision, and enable parents to give that money to whichever school they believe suited for their child.

An alternative approach that could be developed via policy is homogenization and lockstep standardization is proposed, using the Sudbury model as discussed by Greenberg, D. (1987) schools, an alternative approach in which children learn at their own pace rather than following a chronologically-based curriculum.


Anon 2004.  The development of education for children with special educational needs. Available at www.socsci.ulst.ac.uk/education/scte/sen/articles

1945 The Handicapped and Pupils and School Health Service Regulations

1944 Education Act Part II, 7

The Warnock Report in 1978

SEN 2004 Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement

Estelle Morris Wednesday, October 23, 2002 Estelle Morris Secretary of State for Education and Skills.

1997 The Green Paper Excellence For All Children Meeting Special Educational Needs,

Baroness Warnock 2005 Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, Special educational needs: a new look. No. 11 in a series of policy discussions. 

Zenick, S. P. (1999). The evolution of case law that led to the least restrictive environment provision in the individuals with disabilities act. (Doctoral dissertation, Tennessee State University). ProQuest Digital Dissertations, AAT-9943853

Brown v. Board of Education, (1954) 347 U.S. 483

Potts, P.  1995.  What's the use of history?  Understanding educational provision for disabled students and those who experience difficulties in learning.  British Journal of Educational Studies

Gutmann A., (1987). Democratic Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Feinberg, W., & Soltis, J., (1992). School and Society (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press

Howe, K. R. & Mirmanotes, O. B. (1992). The ethics of special education. New York: Teachers College Press

Strike K.A., Haller, E.J. & Soltis, J. F. (1998). The ethics of school administration (2d ed.). New York: Teachers College Press

Rozycki, E., G., (1999). The ethics of educational triage: Is special education moral? [On-line paper] Available: http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Triage.html

Clabaugh, G. K. & Rozycki, E. G. (1997). Analyzing controversy: An introductory guide. Dushkin/McGraw Hill

Greenberg, D. (1987), Free at Last, The Sudbury Valley School.

DfES (1998), "Meeting Special Educational Needs - A Programme of Action"

HMSO (2001), "Special Educational Needs and Disability Act"

Hilary Wilce 23 March 2006 Special-needs education: Does mainstream inclusion work? report for the Independent Paper

Graeme Paton 05 Jan 2008 Mainstream schools failing special needs pupils - Telegraph Newspaper

University of Cambridge, John MacBeath et al, The Costs of Inclusion: a study of inclusion policy and practice in English primary, secondary, and special schools. Commissioned and funded by the National Union of Teachers.2006.

Madeleine Brettingham 23 February, 2007 Mainstream schools fail special needs children Article Published in The TES