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Special Educational Needs and Inclusion is an increasingly complex and diverse area, particularly due to the myriad of professionals, families and administrators who are all determined to meet the needs of the child whilst striving at the same time to meet the requirements of the governments educational policy, and the British public who provide the political force which governs and regulates these systems of provision for SEN and inclusion (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009).
Furthermore, SEN lies upon an ever changing continuum with no definite distinction between those children who have SEN and those who do not (Postlethwaite and Hackney, 1989).
Conceptualising the differences such as a child with a disability or that of SEN is complex and often laden with problems. Many views are often opposed or contrasted in terms of what SEN or disability is and how either one of these relate to learning difficulties. Perhaps the most controversial of all, however, is how the provision provided in educational settings to create inclusion must be organised (Terzi, 2005).
Prior to the Warnock Review which coined the term SEN in the late 1970's (DES, 1978) children were labelled as a result of the 10 categories of handicap outlined in the regulations of Education Act 1944 (DoE, 1944). This period of time witnessed the segregation and categorisation of children based on their disability, many of whom were never given the opportunity to see if they could of progressed into the mainstream. Children became stigmatised and aware of how others viewed them and their access to educational opportunities became limited. It was not until the Warnock Report came about in 1978 that the conceptualisation of special education was radically altered. The report emphasised a child's needs educationally should be a priority rather than their learning disability or impairment.
Today, the context of SEN, in relation to education, legally refers to a child with a learning disability or a disability which makes access to education more difficult than peers of the same age (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009). For professionals and teachers, The 1996 Education Act ( DfEE, 1996) provides them with guidance which will enable them to make accurate decisions surrounding provision when attempting to diagnose a child with SEN
Furthermore, inclusion itself is not a new phenomenon and goes as far back to the 1900's. It was supported by the pioneers who believed in a non-segregated system of schooling. In its present form the emergence of this inclusive education is grounded within the 1994 World Conference in Special Education whereby a total of 25 international organisations and 92 governments devised a statement calling for inclusion to become a norm within society. This Salamanca Statement as it was named became the catalyst for an inclusive English Education system (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009).
The Election of New Labour in 1997 provided the foundation for the evolution of inclusive education and acted quickly with the production of the Green Paper (DfEE, 1997) and successive Programme of Action (DfEE, 1998). Both papers set the tone of reform and placed inclusion firmly on the political agenda.
In what follows we will be discussing and analysing the views, both for and against inclusion and inclusive practices, drawing upon the influences of ideological frameworks, the ethical, social and political models, taking into account the dominant approaches. We will use literature from the UK
The Medical Model has had a broad influential history and remains the traditional ideology used by western society to conceptualise SEN and disabilities. Conceptualisations which have become entrenched within the consciousness of society using language, media, policy, research and professional practice. Within the framework Special needs arise from limitations displayed by an individual both psychologically, neurologically and physiologically (Skidmore, 1996).
In terms of education, this model has a strong link historically to the medical profession and its employment of ideas which serve as a fundamental part of the identification and placement of children within the education system, however the theory is weak theoretically and fails to take into account the society in which people with a disability live in, undermining the treatments offered to cure the disability. In failing to view disability holistically invariably denies the individual their human rights and disables their views within society (Swain and French, 2000). Furthermore if we apply this model to special education it could be described as a mechanistic process in which children's symptoms are observed, identified, and lastly diagnosed then treated by a segregated system of education. For a disabled person this model in relation to education is wrong as it leads to professionals concentrating on what a child cannot do rather than what they can learn. Furthermore, the categorisation and labelling elements are prevalent today particularly within frameworks such as the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice ( DfES, 2001)
The code supports the labelling of children as having 'special educational needs' which undermines transformative stance required in today's society and creates a need for support to work with particular categorised children rather than concentrating on an inclusive school ethos. In addition many support staff that have held posts within a school may become embedded in their views and carry within the school cultures the evasive position on inclusion which they in turn could convey to new members of staff. This problematic view is still deeply entrenched within the national and local policies within schools in England and still remains the dominant perspective internationally.
Jorden & Powell (1994) in their study identified that the bases for most inclusion programmes were based heavily on integration rather than inclusion itself. They found that the content along with the approaches to teaching of the national curriculum within mainstream schools were not altered in any way to accommodate children, particularly those with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The assumption was that the content of the National curriculum was equally relevant to all children who access it, even if it did need modification and breaking down in order to make it more accessible in some cases, however this breaking down may work for children with learning difficulties but would not work with children with ASD for example, a condition which requires the child to learn about intentional behaviour and goals. The approaches in the curriculum are geared towards normative development of how children think and learn however for a child with ASD these norms take on a different path.
In reviewing the medical model it is clear to see that emphasis is placed on the individual as being the problem. However a fundamental re-examination of disability came about in the 1970's which challenged the idea that disability is caused by an impairment of the body and bought about the ideology that it is society which disables individuals. This was labelled the Social Model.
From a Social model perspective disability is not something which a person has but something that is done to a person. A study conducted by Brainhes (2007) highlighted how the environment is to blame for disabling people as it creates barriers and restricts movements of individuals; this in turn restricts their ability to function as effectively as people without impairments. He reinforced the fact that many environments today are designed by people who are not disabled and have little in the way of knowledge of the requirements a disabled person needs. For those who support this model, education in primary and secondary is seen as fundamentally important in order to overcome prejudicial attitudes shown by a society towards disability and impairments. Unlike the medical model which allocates the professional as the agent of change the social model believes the agent of change is the individual or anybody else who affects the arrangements between society and the individual.
In implementing the full principles of the social model we could prompt major changes in the provision provided within schools for children with SEN and disability, by providing local schools which are accessible for all, however for the schools who adopted this framework would require an overhaul in their approaches to the curriculum, classroom management along with the expectations of staff who worked there in order to create an ethos of inclusion and a breakdown in discriminating stereotypical attitudes society holds surrounding impairment (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009). This model has become central to many current debates surrounding inclusive education and has become deeply entrenched within the legal views of disability within British Society. In doing so this model has been open to many criticisms for being theoretically flawed, as with the medical model. Swain and French (2000) argue that the social model fails to challenge the mistaken idea that a person with a disability cannot enjoy life or be happy. In addition this continues the view that disability is a personal tragedy in which individuals are required to tolerate. In support of this criticism Terzi (2004) believes the social model will always suffer weakness due to the partial view it holds in terms of the relationship between impairment, disability and society, requiring clarification in order to provide an ideological framework for inclusive education.
The differences between the medical and social models of disability are vast. As stated the medical model places emphasis on the individual and their limitations both physically and psychologically whereas the social model places emphasis on society itself being the problem, placing barriers in the way of inclusion. Both provide a view that disability is not a medical condition but a social state, and with this requires a framework whereby the politicisation of disabled people challenge the domination of discriminatory attitudes with a view to give disabled people a voice.
The rights based model could therefore undermine the medical models values, attitudes and beliefs towards disability (Allan, 2005).
Deeply embedded in this approach is the firm belief that all children have the right to attend a local mainstream school within their community, this being in order to challenge the medical models beliefs surrounding segregated education and the inability for children with impairment to be included in mainstream education. Furthermore, the human rights view is becoming increasingly evident internationally due to the Education for All (EFA) agenda developed in the 1990's. The movement was based largely on the right of access and participation to education for all across the world and was driven by the 2 international conferences held in 1990 and 2000 in Jomtien and Dakar (UNESCO 2000, online). While this movement does base its foundations on the rights of individuals it also places emphasis on providing education opportunities for communities and overcome barriers faced by many. One of the areas of priority was the education of girls in particular countries, however whilst the overarching prospect is valid, the targets have limited value, as exclusion predominantly occurs locally. Consequently the areas which need to be addressed become the barriers which need to be defeated. Kalambouka et al. (2007) implies that while a shift towards inclusion internationally it is important to acknowledge each child's unique set of needs, however this is fraught with many complexities, particularly for support staff within schools who may lack the knowledge needed to support children with SEN. In summary the rights based model is good as a framework but it is abstract and not always used in practice.
Reflecting on the three models of disability it is evident that all have dominance in shaping and informing the meaning of and future of inclusion. What is not evident is the views of the children themselves and their right to have a voice and participate in issues that affect them.
In the UK there have been many initiatives implemented in order to give children with disabilities a voice and all stress the importance for practitioners and other professionals to support this, however there seems a resistance to comply and emphasis is placed on children who are 'able'. In doing this, raises many ethical dilemmas, for example, a view that children who are young or have SEN are less capable of forming their own views. With views such as this professionals may facilitate the child's voice creating a 'who talks for who' perception (Hartas, 2008).
Many studies surrounding disability have produced innovative ideas for practitioners to include children with difficulties, but this is not being transferred in to schools. Children should all have the opportunity to have their views respected regardless of age, ethnicity or disability and in cases where a child has a disability support should be accommodated in order for them to participate in different ways. It becomes apparent that on occasions that there is a fine line between when a child talks and when an adult is talks on their behalf resulting in what started off with a view to be inclusive suddenly becoming very exclusive. It could be suggested that an element of trust should be based on children in their ability to think and communicate their feelings.
Moving forward, SEN highlights the need for more child centred schools which stand by an ethos where accomplishment is awarded in the public field through technology as these are likely to offer children with SEN the skills to participate which in turn will support the child's intellectual, emotional and social development, something which the medical model does not take in to consideration. Furthermore, it is through this participation that children acquire the ability to argue, debate, and negotiate, whilst building their self esteem and communicate their rights. For very young children this may be viewed socially weaker in terms of maturation; however it should not disable their rights any less. Similarly if a child's voice or participatory rights are compromised it compromises other rights such as protection, provision and survival. Considering these dilemmas creates a view that participation for children should encompass principles of inclusive practice, empowerment in supporting the development of confidence, citizenship and community (Hartas, 2008)
To conclude, this essay has discussed and analysed literature which explains the history, theoretical perspectives and current debates surrounding inclusive education for SEN children.
We can see through the policy and perspectives discussed that the political view bases its policies and legislation on the social and rights based models of disability, in its view to give all children with SEN the right to a full, accessible and inclusive education, free from the barriers society places before them, however what we actually see in practice is children still being observed, labelled and segregated on the basis of their disability, which supports the historical medical model and that of the Warnock Report.
In order to create a strong foundation for inclusion within schools would require all three to be combined, taking the best points out of each. However in doing so would require an overhaul of school policies and society's view on disability in order to break down barriers to inclusion and create a fully inclusive approach and ethos within school and society.
The development of policy and its implementation is complex and not a linear process, whereby it is fed down from the hierarchy in a systematic way. What one may intend at one and of the cycle may not equate to the messages one receives further along. With policy comes an embodiment of values, processes, procedures and systems which are used to influence practice, and it is with these values that a child's experiences and identities are shaped. As a result of subtle processes these policies and procedures which are predominantly intended to promote inclusion may actually mask a philosophy of exclusiveness which could be detrimental for a child with SEN in a mainstream setting. Policy itself is designed by individuals who will all interpret them in their own ways, which insinuates the success of the policy is heavily reliant on the commitment of those individuals; however this will only happen if they feel confident in their abilities to plan and deliver it. In addition, factors of success are heavily dependant on effective leadership and respect for difference. In order to ensure this, governments, administrators, policymakers, practitioners, parents and children should have the opportunities to become active participants in the inclusion debate. Children should have their views heard and taken in to account surrounding issues that affect them in order to challenge public perception on child capabilities and create a society where all children feel valued enough to articulate their views.