Special Educational Needs

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Special education needs.

The last fifty years have seen significant changes in the education of students with special learning needs.  An estimated 1.7 million pupils in the UK have special educational needs (SEN), with over 250,000 having statements of SEN (Russell 2003, 215).  Many positive advances have been made in educating these children, with special needs children receiving more options and learning opportunities.  How these opportunities are presented has been an ongoing source of debate. There are basically two schools of thought in special education: one advocates mainstreaming and inclusion, the other supports special schools and segregated programmes.  Legislation and educational policy have swung back and forth between the two camps, and while there continues to be disagreement on how best to serve SEN children, legal advances regularly provide for better provision overall for these children’s learning needs. Entering the 1950s, SEN provision was based on the 1944 Education Act, which called on LEAs to decide a child’s need for special treatment and appropriate educational measures (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). The Warnock Report, The Education of Handicapped Children and Young People, was published in 1978 (Potts 1995, 398).  The document “provided the foundation for revolutionary change in thinking about the educational needs of children with special needs” (Anon 2004, 2).  The report sought to cover any student learning needs that could not be met by teachers in a typical mainstream classroom, and advocated inclusion rather than special schools (Anon 2004, 2).  Lady Warnock contended in her report that “we should consider the ideal of including all children in the common educational enterprise of learning, wherever they can best learn” (Kent 2005, 29). The Warnock Report was soon followed by the Education Act of 1981, a sweeping legislation regarding education in general, but with significant impact for students with special learning needs (Potts 1995, 398).  The definition of SEN broadened considerably, and more children were required to be evaluated for SEN, leading to steady increases in the number of special education students throughout the next two decades (Potts 1995, 398).  Importantly, the Act prevented any child from being denied education, regardless of impairment, and strongly supported mainstreaming and inclusion whenever possible (Kent 2005, 29).  The 1981 Education Act requires a formal assessment of all potentially SEN children, a provision retained by subsequent legislation (Kenworthy and Whittaker 2000, 220).  A ‘Statement of Special Educational Needs’ is produced by educational authorities, who are responsible for defining the child’s areas of need and proposing educational guidelines to best serve the child (Kenworthy and Whittaker 2000, 221).  The SEN Statements are to place children in mainstream schools if the child’s needs can be met there, his or her presence does not interfere with other children’s learning, and inclusion is an efficient use of resources (Kenworthy and Whittaker 2000, 221). The UN Rights of the Child Convention, adopted by the UK in 1991, continued the 1981 Education Act’s emphasis on inclusion.  The Convention contended, amongst other things, that disabled children “should have effective access to and receive education which encourages the fullest possible social integration and individual development” (Anon 2004, 2). Not all parents or LEAs supported inclusion, however, and many families argued they should have more input into decisions regarding...
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