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The Government initiative Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) proposes that every child is entitled to enjoy and achieve at school regardless of their background. Therefore, children with special educational needs (SEN) are also entitled to reach their potential at school. The SEN Code of Practice (DfES 2002) states that children with SEN should have their needs addressed by schools and "be offered full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education, including an appropriate curriculum for the foundation stage and the National Curriculum" (2002: 7). It also proposes that most children will have their needs addressed in mainstream schools. However, there are questions as to whether children with SEN require more than simply being physically included in a mainstream setting and that they are still being routinely excluded from school activities. This essay aims to explore these issues on inclusion concerning children with learning difficulties, drawing evidence from educational policies and current research.
The Education Act (1996) defines SEN in relation to learning difficulties when a child has "a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age" (DfES, 2002). Children are regarded as having SEN 'if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them' (DfES 2002). This special educational provision is required to be additional or different from the provision provided in mainstream schools maintained by local educational authorities. As previously mentioned, the SEN Code of Practice states that the needs of most pupils will be met in the mainstream classroom, and the SEN Green Paper (DfEE, 1997) also proposed a similar view in promoting inclusion within mainstream settings whenever possible and children should only be taught in special schools if appropriate provisions cannot be provided in a mainstream school. The UNESCO Salamanca Statement goes beyond this commitment to inclusion, highlighting that children are unique and have their own learning needs and that all education systems need to implement educational programmes to support every individual child. It also states:
Regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudesâ€¦ moreover they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system
The Government's policy on inclusion has been criticised by Warnock (2005) in that she believes that there are many children who are being taught in mainstream schools when it is not appropriate for their needs, causing upset for these children and their parents. She argued that 'governments must come to recognise that even if inclusion is an ideal for society in general, it may not always be an ideal for school' (p. 43). This view is problematic as it may be regarded that if all children with SEN were placed in special schools it will build up negative attitudes within mainstream settings and create social problems in the future when these children are not accepted in society. The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee published a report in 2006, showing their concern that the Government have not explained inclusion clearly, creating confusion amongst local education authorities, educational professionals and parents. For example, the SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement (DfES, 2004) proposes that:
Inclusion is about much more than the type of school that children attend: it is about the quality of their experience; how they are helped to learn, achieve, and participate fully in the life of the school
However, the SEN Strategy also states that there will be a reduced reliance on statements, implying that special school places will fall over time. This lack of clarification on what inclusion actually means will have a very significant effect on the amount and type of provision provided for children with SEN. Bailey (1998) gives an Australian perspective on inclusion, stating that the pupil needs to be physically in the same place as their peers, but also feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. This form of inclusion is contrasted with the term 'integration', which was introduced in the first Warnock Report (DES, 1978). Integration referred to children with SEN being physically placed in mainstream settings but were expected to follow the common educational framework. Ware, Sharman, O'Connor and Anderson (1992) described four studies that focussed on children with severe learning difficulties (SLD) who attended a special school but were integrated in a mainstream school on a part time basis. Their results found no advantages for integration as mainstream peers interacted between themselves and children with (SLD) were not equal participants in these interactions. They also found that schools did not have the resources to monitor this situation. This has now progressed in that children with SEN should not be fitted into a mainstream school but the school's education system should be inclusive of all children.
One problem of inclusion is that there is research to suggest that pupils with SEN feel they are not socially accepted by mainstream peers and perceive themselves as having a negative label. Wade and Moore (1994) conducted a cross-cultural study of pupils with SEN in Great Britain and New Zealand. They found that many pupils viewed themselves negatively and felt inadequate beside their mainstream peers. In a more recent study, Kelly and Norwich (2004) interviewed children in special and mainstream schools. Although most pupils were aware of their learning difficulties and felt negative about themselves, pupils in special schools were more likely to feel positive about their academic abilities. They suggested that this may be due to the 'presence of more positive teacher support in special schools' (p. 427). The use of peer tutoring or a 'buddy system' has been shown to be effective to allow pupils with SEN to feel socially included. Whitaker (2004) studied ten primary school children described as having moderate to severe, to severe, autism aged six to seven years old who each were given a Year Six peer tutor. The tutors were told they were helping the autistic children enjoy playing with another people. Their findings suggest that mainstream peers are able to engage peers with severe autism through shared play. Although it is unclear as to the extent of which the autistic children experienced this as a shared social interaction, it was evident they enjoyed the sessions and they had developed positive relationships with their older peers. The peer tutors were reported to have had a very positive and rewarding experience, and their parents said it was important for their personal growth and gave their children the opportunity to put into practice the social values they believed were important and had fostered themselves in parenting. In a similar study, Jones (2007) found mainstream pupils acting as peer tutors were reported to have increased confidence, an appreciation of the difficulties that others face and a greater understanding, empathy and tolerance of others. Peer tutors that had their own problems with aggression and behaviour were regarded by the headteacher to have excelled as peer tutors. It does seem apparent that the use of peer tutoring programmes in mainstream schools increase social inclusion and may dispel negative, discriminatory attitudes.
Parents need to have the confidence in their child's school that they are able to meet their special educational needs, particularly now that policies are moving towards inclusive education. Runswick-Cole (2008) explored parents' views on inclusion and found three categories. The first was parents who only accept mainstream education for their child. She stated that these parents do not see their child's SEN as a barrier to learning and value their knowledge of the child higher than a professional. More importantly, these parents also regard social acceptance as an important factor for choosing mainstream education. The second category were parents who initially wanted mainstream schooling for their child, but then had appeal for their child to attend special school. Parents' reasons for this included the realisation that their child was feeling excluded in mainstream education, hostile school cultures, a lack of school resources and inflexible learning styles. The third category was parents who have only ever wanted special schooling for their child. These parents were less likely to focus on barriers to their children's learning and were more likely to tend towards medical understandings of disability which put a high value on professional knowledge. Runswick-Cole also found that these parents view special schools as the only way their child can lead a normal life. She concluded that her study suggests that 'parents' attitudes to inclusion are complex and their experiences suggest that, despite the policy shifts since 1997, the process of inclusive education continues to be fragile' (p. 179). Leyser and Kirk (2004) conducted a similar study in America and found parents to be in strong support of mainstream education, giving social and emotional outcomes as the main benefits. However, parents still expressed concern about their children feeling socially isolated, negative attitudes and the quality of teaching and support their child received.
Ofsted (2006) investigated the provision and outcomes in different settings for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities. Little difference in the quality of provision was found between mainstream and special schools, but mainstream schools with additionally resourced provision were particularly successful in achieving high outcomes for pupils academically, socially and personally. One issue they found was the collaboration between mainstream and special schools was rare and they fail to make an equal partnership. They concluded that mainstream schools need to consider the effective use of teaching assistants and increase the amount of specialist teaching, and special schools should share their expertise in developing this specialist teaching. Farrell, Dyson, Polat, Hutcheson and Gallannaugh (2007a, 2007b) found that although there was a small relationship between academic performance and inclusion, they argued that this would have no effect on a school's overall performance. In contrast, Peetsma, Vergeer, Roeleveld and Karsten (2001) found in Dutch schools that children in mainstream education made more progress in academic performance than children in special schools. It would be expected that children who were once in mainstream education would not perform worse in special schools, and instead make more progress. They concluded that special schools need to improve special care for children's psychosocial development. They found only one special school provided good special care for its pupils through good use of teaching assistants and individual educational plans. However, they found that differentiation in the classrooms can lead to negative outcomes, including poorer school motivation and a lack of self confidence in pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties. Again, this highlights the possible need for mainstream and special schools to work together.
Many mainstream schools may feel they need more support and advice from professionals with expertise in SEN if they are to provide adequate provisions. Atkinson, Regan and Williams (2006) found that collaboration between teachers and educational psychologists (EPs) enhanced teachers' understanding of how psychology can contribute in education and promote social and emotional well-being of all children. Pupils were more aware of their learning and felt more confident about their ability. Teachers were reported positively about having support from an EP, but the researchers highlighted that many teachers believe the role of the EP was to address 'problems' instead of aiming to promote the learning and social and emotional well-being of all pupils. Since the Warnock Report (DES, 1978), the role of the EP has been closely linked to the statutory assessment process and to working with individual children, but they should be more involved in a wider application of education.
In conclusion, there is evidence to suggest that children with SEN who are taught within a mainstream setting need more than simply being physically included. Children need to feel they are accepted by their peers, and research has shown that this can lead to these children feeling negative about themselves which in turn may have an effect on their learning. Parents' views have also shown that they want their child to feel socially accepted and not segregated and is one of the key reasons why they choose a mainstream school for their child. In contrast, some parents feel that mainstream schools are not equipped to educate their child efficiently and meet their needs and therefore believe that their child is effectively excluded because they are unable to access the curriculum. Mainstream and special schools need to work together and share their knowledge to adapt their teaching approaches so that children with SEN have their individual needs addressed better. Research does suggest that social acceptance of children with SEN is still an issue in mainstream settings. Studies using peer tutor approaches have shown some positive results to encourage interaction between children with SEN and their mainstream peers and have benefits for all children in their social development. Teacher collaboration with other professionals such as educational psychologists is highly important if schools are to provide effective teaching and learning for children with SEN. They can also promote social and emotional development for all children; which will create a more inclusive society in the future, where they can accept others who face difficulties and have greater understanding and empathy of one another.