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All students with special education needs

All students with special education needs

1.0 Introduction:

This paper explores an ongoing debate in the educational field; should all students with Special Educational Needs (SENs) be included in mainstream educational provisions? To fully understand the issues involved, the paper will begin with an introduction to SEN and historical developments that have shaped SEN as we know it today. An investigation into inclusion will follow evaluating current issues that will help to determine whether inclusion for all SEN is possible or not. An analysis of SEN pupils will highlight strategies that may allow teachers along with organisation to implement inclusion along with its limitations. A conclusion will finalise the paper evaluating key findings.

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2.0 Special Educational Needs (SEN) – An Overview

In order to assess whether students with SENs should be included in mainstream educational provisions, one must first understand what SEN means. Under the 1944 Education Act, children with special educational needs were categorised by their disability defined in medical terms. This meant that some children were considered to be ‘uneducable’ and pupils were labelled into categories such as ‘maladjusted’ or ‘educationally sub-normal’ and given ‘special educational treatment’ in separate schools.

The Warnock Report in 1978, followed by the 1981 Educational Act, radically changed the conceptualisation of special educational needs. It introduced the idea of special educational needs (SEN), ‘statement’ of SEN, and an ‘Integrative’ – which later became known as ‘inclusive’ – an approach based on common educational goals for all children regardless of their ability or disabilities: namely independence, enjoyment and understanding. For purpose of this paper the definition proposed by The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (2002) is taken into account stating that children have SEN if they have a learning difficulty that calls for special educational provisions to be made for them. However, the difficulty with such definition, and the issue arising from The Warnock Report, was the unforeseen consequence that the term SEN has become to be the name of a single category which has led to some conflicting issues. Quarmby (2006) reiterates that government has been using it as if it is the same problem to include a child in a wheelchair and a child with Asperger’s, and this is conspicuously untrue

This category within the SEN umbrella help to understand students with special needs, and ascertains the fact that certain students may need different special educational provisions to be made for them. But whose responsibility is it to provide the necessary provisions for students to learn?

The paper asks a deliberate straight forward question – should all students with SENs be included in mainstream education? If yes, does this mean mainstream schools would be expected to include pupils with Cognitive and Learning Needs; Behaviour, Emotional and Social Development Needs; Communication and Interaction Needs and Sensory and/or physical needs? At what level do we need to include them? Is it just sharing time, socialising, sharing tasks or is it the active participation in-class activities following the same curriculum. This leads to the unenviable task of evaluating inclusion.

3.0 Inclusion

Over the last 30 years, policies about ‘integration’ and subsequently about ‘inclusion’ have been the subject of much controversy. Much has been written about efforts to include pupils identified as having special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools and classrooms. Inclusion reflects the idea that it is not for SEN children to be somehow fitted in or integrated into the mainstream but that education as a whole should be fully inclusive of all children (House of Commons Report, 2006). Until the 1990’s the term inclusion was rarely used and instead we referred to ‘integration’ or ‘mainstreaming’ meaning the placement of pupils with disabilities or special needs in mainstream schools. Integration was the term first introduced in the 1978 Warnock Report referring to the concept of integrating children with SEN into a common educational framework. There were different integration, from full-time placement in a mainstream classroom (functional integration) to the placement of a pupil in a special class or unit attached to a mainstream school (locational) (Hegarty, 1991). The aim to end ‘segregation’ was gathering momentum and from a human rights approach, it was certainly a requirement. However, there was often little difference between locational integration and a traditional special school, which can be seen as equally segregating experiences (Jupp, 1992). Indeed, even pupils placed in mainstream class may be isolated from their peers, particularly if they work with a support worker in one-to-one sessions for the majority of each day. ‘Integrated’ placements, therefore, still leave many pupils ‘segregated’ (Harrower, 1999).

Partly for this reason, the term ‘inclusion’ came to describe the extent to which a school or community welcomes pupils identified with special educational needs (SEN) as full members of the group and values them for the contribution which they make. Their diversity of interests, ability and attainment should be welcomed and be seen to enrich the life of the school. In this sense, as Ballard (1999) argues, inclusion is about valuing diversity rather than assimilation.

This general movement towards inclusion was also (In addition to The Warnock Report) strongly influenced by the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) which had a major impact on shaping policy developments in many different countries. In England this is evident in various government initiatives since the late 1990s including, for example, the statuary Inclusion Guidance (DfES, 2001a), the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (DfES, 2001b) and the ‘Removing Barriers to Achievement’ strategy (DfES, 2004) each providing a further impetus towards inclusion (Hick et al, 2009).

Overall, after an extensive literature review it was evident that three main strands have developed relating to inclusion. One is about equal opportunities and right to education for all. It argues that any form of segregation on the basis of disability or learning difficulty is morally wrong (Jordan and Goodey, 1996; Lindsay, 2003). A second strand is based on a re-conceptualisation of the special needs issue as part of the process of school improvement (Ainscoq, 1999). This idea is based on the argument that it is the structure of schools as organisations rather than differences between individual pupils that creates special educational needs (Tomlinson, 1982). The third strand of literature has been concerned with questions of pedagogy. Though some have focused on the development of inclusive practice from the outset (Forest and Pearpoint, 1992), others have considered whether or not teaching practices and methods can be implemented in mainstream schools and classrooms in order to meet the challenge of inclusive education (Cook and Schrimer, 2003). Inclusive practice’ is therefore concerned with actions and activities that staffs in schools do that give meaning to the concept of inclusion. These 3 main strands will be used as a framework in deciding whether students with SEN should be included in mainstream education provision.

In addition it is essential to understand and apply the SEN Code of Practice principles that support inclusive education as a framework in achieving inclusion. The five fundamental principles that support inclusive can be observed in Table 2:

As with any change, the inclusion of all students with SENs in mainstream education provisions may bring both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ impacts within schools and pupils.

3.1 The ‘Good’ and the ‘Evil’

Although inclusion is seen as a very positive strategy by some, it is considered idealistic and impractical by others. Some critics have argued that inclusion happens at the expense of good and appropriate education for the other children in the class; in other words, if a student with special needs is taught within a mainstream class, they might need extra attention from the teacher, or may be disruptive or difficult in class, and this could harm other children’s education. On the other hand it can be argued that the other children in the class benefit a great deal from working with students with special educational needs and that inclusive education helps to remove stereotypes and ignorance.

It is also argued that children with SEN are better off in segregated classrooms as this enables them to gain social support from others with similar difficulties. It also allows opportunities to concentrate specialist teachers and resources in one place. The objection to this is that the disadvantage of keeping children with certain difficulties together is that it makes it harder for them to integrate fully into society once they leave school.

3.2 Inclusion in Practice

The Government recognised the barriers to inclusion that exist in schools in its statement in 2004(DfES, 2004) and set out a proposal about how the barriers should be tackled. OFSTED, in its report in 2004, found that more mainstream schools saw themselves as inclusive, but only a minority met special educational needs very well. Members of the SENCo Forum responded to the Government’s Special Need Action Plan by stating that schools would have to provide much higher level of flexibility in the way that learning and teaching take place, if the aims of inclusive education are to be realised (SENCo Forum, 2003). In addition, MacBeath et al (2006) concluded that some of the problems in schools attempting to implement inclusion were that the current education system itself made it difficult to implement inclusion.

Gillinson and Green (2008) argue that it is essential to regard children and young people themselves and their parents as normal practice. They conclude that the issue is not about treating everyone as the same- what is important is that everyone should be treated equally. Gross (2001) also comments that what young people most want is the right to belong. Belonging brings along a morale issue with regards to inclusion. It is therefore imperative to understand what characterises these pupils with SEN and understand better what makes them unique.

4.0 Special Educational Needs Pupils

At heart of all the discussion are the actual pupils who suffer special needs. In light of the extensive research, proposals by government, frameworks and guideline and committee reports one inevitably raises the question of their effectiveness. Are mainstream schools performing? Are pupils experiencing inclusive education? Are these guidelines and proposals effective? Unfortunately the overall answer may be unsatisfactory. The Audit Commission found that the vast majority of permanent exclusions in the 22 local authorities surveyed related to pupils with SEN: 87% of exclusions in primary schools and 60% of exclusions in secondary. In addition, pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and mental health problems made up significant proportions of these pupils.

At this stage one wants to highlight that it is not the purposeful intention to only focus on pupils with Autistic and Social, Emotional, and Behavioural Difficulties but data does demonstrate that with regards to inclusion of sensory and/or physical needs pupils, some success in mainstream education provisions are beginning to develop. The House of Commons Report (2006) cites the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) recognising, “there has been major progress in providing disabled children and young people with more equitable educational opportunities and a steady improvement in educational outcomes, which show a faster annual increase in achievement of GCSE grades A-grades, A-C and equivalent over the last six years by disabled people than non-disabled people” In addition, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) highlights that not all disabled pupils and students have learning difficulties. Similarly, pupils and students deemed to have learning difficulties or SEN are not disabled.

In light of the above finding, as well as the overwhelming data demonstrating that the majority of the of exclusion in primary and secondary are pupils suffering from ADHD and autism, specific effort has been given to address the inclusion of these in mainstream educational provisions. In addition, the Gibraltar Educational Schooling Structure limits the contact of mainstream teachers with pupils with severe/profound and multiple needs, as well as multi-sensory impairments. These pupils enrol in special school environment. Being exposed to pupils with ADHD and autism (in the organisation) will also aid in supporting some answers with research evidence. Increasing knowledge in these groups will also is beneficial for CPD purposes.

5.0 Behaviour, Emotional and Social Needs and Autism

Young people with emotional and social development difficulties and autism are the fastest growing categories of SEN. This is having repercussions for schools, and more so for pupils. In addition as the parent representative group Network 81 describe: “the lack of understanding of conduct disorders, behavioural, and emotional needs is quite unbelievable. Many children are labelled as ‘naughty’, ‘badly brought up’, and ‘defiant’ by teaching staff who group all ‘bad’ behaviour together”. This serves to highlight a possible issue where pupils are being misunderstood and labelled by those who may impact significantly their future – teachers.

Furthermore, The House of Commons Report (2006) states ‘it is widely recognised that there is a strong correlation between exclusions and children with SEN-particularly those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and autistic behaviour’. The Committee finds it unacceptable that such a well known problem continues to occur and quite frankly from a teacher point of view, one can only agree. This indicates that schools need better guidance and staff training, particularly with Autistic and social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. This leads to the inevitable argument on whether SEBD pupils should be included in mainstream educational provisions. In order not to fall into the generalisation trap, one has focused on the main groups of exclusion at the current moment. These are pupils suffering from ADHD and autism. An evaluation of the 3 strand mentioned prior will determine whether inclusion should be possible or not.

5.1 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD has been a topic of heated discussion within the educational world. For some, it is considered to be a medical condition, characterised by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (APA, 2000). However, according to others (e.g. Humphrey, 2009) there has been no biological marker identified that can reliably distinguish between children with and without the condition. Estimates though suggest that between 2% and 6% of students are affected by ADHD (Cooper, 2005) and still growing.

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From a mainstream school provision, and more so from a teacher’s perspective, it is generally accepted that students with ADHD are considered among the most difficult to include effectively. Lack of knowledge about disorder end up with teacher’s frustration towards students (SCOtENS, 2008). It is therefore important to consider what we mean when we say we are helping to ‘include’ them. Mainstream teachers report a lack of appropriate training as a key barrier to success in this area (West et al, 2005). If inclusion means meeting the child’s needs in mainstream schools and settings, have the child views sought and taken into account and having full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education as suggested in The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (2001), then it must go beyond general questions of the presence of children with SEN in such schools, and as Norwich and Lewis (2005:2) explain, ‘we need to address the question of classroom teaching and curriculum in considering inclusion and inclusive practices’.

There is the suggestion that the needs of such learners dictate that they require distinct kinds of teaching in order to learn the same content as those without special needs. If not, pupils with ADHD are more likely than others to experience social isolation, with fewer reported friendships and greater levels of rejection (Bagwell et al, 2001) inevitably leading to disruptive behaviour. Norwich and Lewis (2005) argue that pedagogic needs can be addressed by thinking about the needs that are specific to all; thinking about those needs that are specific to a certain group (such as students with ADHD); and thinking about those needs that are unique to the individual. The strategies are based upon the principle that by creating a better fit between the school environment and the student, we are creating opportunities for pupils to succeed. The question now lies in determining whether these strategies can be implemented in mainstream provisions and whether they will conflict with good and appropriate educational strategies that other children in the class already experience.

Students with ADHD often experience difficulties in mainstream classrooms and schools because the emphasis on meeting common needs mean that their specific group needs are not being addressed (Cooper, 2005). However, these common needs may come about due to the National Curriculum. One of the major concerns about the National Curriculum has been that it does not address the breadth of education necessary to meet children’s and young people’s educational needs. So is the curriculum in its present form a contributory cause of poor behaviour? A further concern about the National Curriculum is the current approach to assessment. Research from the perception of students themselves suggests that many experience ‘confusion, anxiety, blame and guilt’ (Hughes, 2005) in relation to their education, which is not exactly surprising considering the struggles they need to deal with.

However, as a mainstream teacher, one is fully aware that change in the National Curriculum cannot be proposed and overcome easily therefore an alternative strategy must be investigated to create a better fit between school environment and the student. The strategy may lie in pedagogy.

In achieving the necessary ‘learner aware pedagogy’, the problem for the classroom teacher concerned with the SENs of a pupil lies in identifying the ‘nature’ of the learning difficulty or disability, and assessing the implication for its consequences (Levine, 2002b). The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice refers to the ‘awareness’ as the point at which a teacher has a ‘concern’ about an individual pupil (DfES, 2001). A crucial prerequisite for any teacher’s subsequent decision for action is a clear understanding of the ‘nature’ and the ‘consequences’. It is important then to recognise that a given ‘learning difficulty’ or ‘disability’ may or not ‘prevent or hinder’ an individual from making use of ‘educational facilities of a kind provided in schools’ (Education Act, 1999). Once the teacher is aware action may take place to meet their needs.

Pedagogy takes an important role as it represents the interaction between the learner and the teacher with respects to curricular aims and objectives. This issue therefore concerns the central operation in education, and, in principle, should specify the optimal circumstances in which successful learning and teaching can take place Research into the typical learning styles of students with ADHD suggests that they learn more effectively when they are able actively to experiment and are presented with concrete examples that are visual in nature (Cooper and Ideus, 1996). In addition, students with ADHD are said to be somewhat verbose, talking at inappropriate times; an aspect that can be exploited by designing lessons that allow increased opportunity for verbal participation. Research also shows that this kind of approach can lead to decreases in disruptive behaviour (Levine, 2002b). This strategy will welcome pupils with SEN as full members of the group and will help to value them for the contribution they make. This will develop their feeling of belonging and their ability to participate in a mainstream school environment. Better staff-student relationships and a positive classroom ethos is also said to be essential when dealing with pupils with ADHD. Such a change may be difficult to achieve but recent research by Ghanizadeh, Bahredar and Moeini (2006) demonstrated that more tolerant and positive attitudes towards students with ADHD are associated with levels of knowledge of ADHD among teachers. This suggests that training to increase teacher’s knowledge of ADHD may need to be a priority if inclusive practice is to consolidate.

Breaking down tasks into small, manageable chunks will also facilitate to accommodate the shorter attention span of such students. In addition by highlighting key information where possible will help students who experience difficulties in selective attention (Levine, 2002a). Over time, students can be taught to practise drawing focus to key information themselves (Humphrey, 2009). These strategies are said to help to create a better fit between the class environment and the students and are things that staffs in school do that give meaning to the concept of inclusion. However, many of the strategies proposed are appropriate and should be an integral part of any lesson regardless whether children with SEN are present or not.

Another approach as a tool to promote and achieve inclusive practice is what Humphrey (2009) refers to as Cognitive-behavioural approach. Cognitive-behavioural approaches emphasise the use of reinforcement principles to alter thoughts or cognitions related to ADHD behaviours. Simple examples of the application of such techniques in the classroom include teaching children to use self-testing strategies (e.g. when reading, students are encouraged to stop at key points and ask themselves questions about what they have just read) and use self-reinforcement (such as giving themselves praise for achieving targets, such as staying on task for a period of time). A review of cognitive-behavioural approaches by Ervin, Bankert and DuPaul (1996) concluded that they can be successful in achieving behaviour change, but they are more effective when combined with behavioural contingencies in the natural environment.

Startling statistics show that up to 75% of students with ADHD are prescribed stimulant medication, with Ritalin being the most important commonly used drug (Department of Health, 2003). If specialist knowledge and understanding is important in promoting inclusive practice, teacher’s knowledge with regards to the use of medication within this group is essential. It is crucial for teachers to understand the role it plays in student’s lives, and the implications it may have for education. Teachers may take an active role here in monitoring the effects of medication observed in the classroom (Cooper and Ideus, 1996). Having an understanding of the effects of stimulant medication will enable the teacher to plan for specific pedagogical strategies in a way that takes these factors into account and allow full access to education.

Stimulant medication takes effect very quickly, but its influences may not last throughout the school day. For instance, their effect on behaviour (in terms of activity levels) typically lasts longer than its effects on cognition (in terms of attention). As a result, even though students may not be up and out of their seats or blurting out answers, they may still not be accessing the curriculum because they are struggling to maintain their focus on the material presented. In addition, even though medication may be effective in managing the core difficulties experienced by those with ADHD, it is less useful in alleviating ‘secondary’ problems such as social isolation and academic underachievement (Dogett, 2004), therefore limiting the active participation of the child in both class and school environment.

In addition, inflexible staff and lack of inventiveness in some schools have been reported by OFSTED (2004) as factors affecting the development towards effective inclusion. From a personal perceptive ine can concur with OFSTED;s statement. Within ones organisation, teachers overall consensus is one of frustration and guilt when dealing with pupils with SEN in not being able to help them. An SEN register is distributed to every teacher with pupils name and their areas of need well into the 1st term. This result with the teacher suddenly realising that pupil ‘X’ and pupil ‘Y’ might be experiencing a range of difficulties due to their needs not being taken into account, resulting in disruptive behaviour. In addition, an organisation where teacher’s SEN knowledge and understanding is limited brings in another issue. Teachers find themselves wondering what can be done to help these pupils with limited success. Within the organisation there is a SEN Coordinator position, but in the past, when approached and asked for am expert opinion, the answer was ‘you can look it up in the internet and find out further information’. This barrier is significant as Wedell (2008:131) rightly states “Consultation with the school’s SENCo may be required, and this may extend to the involvement of support services from outside school, as indicated in the successive stages of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice’ all in effort to make sure the students actively belongs and participates in mainstream school settings. This is currently non existent within the organisation. Furthermore, learning support classes are timetabled for children with SEN, but these take form more as a homework club rather than a structured learning support session. Teachers have no influence in what get taught in these classes resulting in the possibility of pupils doing something that not necessarily links with what is being taught in mainstream class. The students find themselves in an inclusive mainstream setting in curriculum subjects and in a segregated setting with regards to learning support. This may result in confusion and frustration, especially with pupils who are said to benefit from being provided with a clear structure to each day lesson and task. With regards to medication, throughout the 4 year career in teaching, there have been a number of students diagnosed with ADHD. However, up until today, there is no awareness or knowledge whether they were on medication or not. Overall, within the organisation it is clear that it is unrealistic to expect teachers and other members to be able to properly fulfil requirements such as differentiating the curriculum for all children, including those with SEN, without receiving the appropriate support and training to enable them to do so. In some cases as mentioned above, the teacher may require a detailed knowledge of child development psychology to equip them to do so to the greatest effect and of equal importance, to understand why the pupil acts and behaves the way they do.

5.2 Autistic Spectrum Disorders

According to Jordan (2008:1)’ education can be, and perhaps should be, an effective treatment’ for autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in the sense that, there is so much that individuals with ASD have to learn that is just intuitively grasped by the non-autistic, learning may best be enhanced through high-quality teaching.’ But education is more than just another treatment. It is the way that citizens are taught the values, understanding, knowledge and skills that will enable their full participation in their community in a way that welcomes full their values and contributions they make.

The first battles for those with ASD were fought for the same purpose as the battles for any special educational need: the right to be included at all. As with SEN there was recognition that degree of autism can occur across the full ability range. ASD inclusion has been based on the entitlement view of education as the only way of becoming a full member of society. The bases of most programmes for inclusion for pupils with ASD were not inclusion at all, but form of integration (Jordan and Powell, 1994). As previous research demonstrates (Ainscoq, 1999) the issue with regards to ASD pupils has been that the content and the teaching approaches of the National Curriculum in mainstream schools were not changed to accommodate children with ASD It was assumed that the content was of equal relevance to all children, requiring modification and ‘breaking down’ curriculum content into smaller steps (which is often effective for some children with learning difficulties) is not appropriate for children with ASD, where the development and learning patterns are different.

There is even problem with the main purpose of mainstream education, which in terms of inclusion, is surely to gain from co-operative and collaboration with typical peers. Yet many of the supports to enable inclusion of children with ASD serve to make the child more isolated from peers, and support assistance are seldom given training (or a role) in enabling such children to have positive contact with their peers (Jordan, 2008), thus being more an organisational constraint rather than a pupil’s. Jordan (2008) also state that is a child is different, or has ‘special needs’, extra resources are provided to enable the child to have access to other children, even though the success of those resources in bringing that about has never been tested. So is inclusion possible for pupils with ASD?

In order to include ASD students there needs to be a flexible education system. Teachers must know about learning and teaching and about the diversity that exists in teaching. If educators teach in a way that attains diversity, then more children with different SEN will be able to manage in mainstream settings becoming full members of the group. This will also benefit disruptive students and those with ADHD, dyslexia and so on. Once again the statement made by OFSTED (2004) that effective inclusion was frustrated by rigid timetabling and inflexible staffing is relevant. Rigid class grouping is associated with high pupil-teacher rations, which clearly make it difficult to give personal attention to individual pupils. In addition, successful learning opportunities in inclusive settings will require radical school reform, changing the existing system and rethinking the entire curriculum of the school to meet the needs of all children (Mittler 1994), what Norwich and Lewis (2005) explain as the curriculum dilemma. In addition, and similar to ADHD, the current approach to assessment needs to be addressed if inclusion is to prosper as the House of Commons Report for Children, Schools and Families (2008:3) reports that:

“we find that the use of national test results for the purpose of school accountability has resulted in some schools emphasizing the maximization of test results at the expense of a more rounded educational for their pupils”

Inevitably, one must be aware that there will be some individuals with ASD whose autism is so severe that they will need specialist support, but that does not need to be in a segregated setting if inclusion is desired. Resources based are the best model (Hesmonghalgh and Breakley, 2001), where the child with ASD belongs to his peer group teacher but has support staff with expertise and a ‘haven’ in which to recover when needed (Jordan, 2008). This is a perfect example on how a child with SENs may have their needs met in a mainstream provision (following point 1 of the SEN Code of Practice) and is not segregated.

Pupils with severe ASD will need special support and it is here where there is a role for specialist schools. Special schools should be seen as centres of excellence, pioneering new ways of working with ASD and dealing with the most extre

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