Project Description

How has Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) research and policy shaped practice?

The written enquiry on the subject is to investigate and reflect upon how a specific Government/Brough’s Special Educational Needs and Disability research and policy has shaped the practice with a focus on a specific learning difficulty – dyslexia.

Introduction

There is an ongoing conversation as to what a suitable response is to the challenges presented by the various issues surrounding Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) education, and to what extent inclusion should occur (Florian, 2010).  It should be noted that throughout this assignment the use of the term ‘inclusion’ and its derivatives is with reference to the policy and/or practice of incorporation of SEND students into the mainstream school system,  where the use of ‘mainstream’ is to mean non-selective schools that do not require fees.

This debate over inclusive versus special education is highly relevant to schools since ‘the two concepts remain strongly evident in policy and practice’ (Florian, 2010). Note that in this assignment the use of ‘special’ within the context of education is to mean the specialised education of SEND students either outside the mainstream system or of the specialised provision for supporting SEND students within it.

SEND policy

SEND policy in the UK today is reflective of a government-level commitment to inclusion (Shaw, 2017), which includes the requirement for schools to arrange for the internal coordination of SEND, to identify and address the specific needs of students, and for the provision of ‘rigorous interventions designed to secure better progress, where required’ (DfE SEND Code of Practice, 2015). Note that the use of the term ‘interventions’ here and throughout this assignment is to mean special support, such as specialised teaching or extra classes.

Lines of enquiry

In this assignment, I shall be looking in particular into the learning disorder, dyslexia, the theories surrounding it, its characteristics, and the teaching practices that can be used to support students who experience it.

All members of staff of the school that I have observed (School-X), along with the school authorities (Governing Body and LA), must ensure that every pupil has an equal opportunity to achieve their potential in all areas of the school curriculum (School-X SEND Policy, 2019). Through the process this enquiry, it is my hope to better understand how School-X has taken on its SEND duties, the effectiveness of its implementation, and to what extent that effectiveness may be challenged by School-X’s limits in resources.

Relevance of the topic

I view this topic as highly important to any trainee teacher, since it provides an opportunity to look at the background to the structures and practices in place in schools today. Furthermore, I feel that the topic of inclusion is crucial to the personality of our schools and classes. By improving my understanding of the debates that have helped characterise formal education, I believe that I will be better placed to take on and adapt to its challenges and opportunities.

Literature Review

Key SEND research and policy developments

The Salamanca Statement (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 1994), agreed upon by the 92 countries and 25 international organisations that formed the World Conference on Special Needs Education of 1994, called upon policymakers around the world to commit towards inclusive schools that would provide for the educational needs of all children, regardless of their disabilities or conditions (Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, 2018).

Among its beliefs and proclamations, the Salamanca Statement affirmed that “those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child-centred pedagogy capable of meeting these needs” (UNESCO 1994, viii).

It is within the context, then, of this endorsement of inclusive education by the international community that, since the 1990s, the UK has been working towards improving access to mainstream education for students with disabilities and others identified as having special educational needs (Florian, 2010).

Historically, the education of all pupils was brought into the public consciousness with Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which stated that:

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

Later, the Warnock Report (1978), reporting on the education of UK children with disabilities, was a crucial moment in the history of SEND in the UK as it promoted moving away from a system of specialised learning settings for disabled children towards one of inclusive learning within the mainstream school environment (Shaw, 2017).

Government policy soon responded to this with the Education Act (1981), which introduced the term ‘special educational needs’ (Shaw, 2017) and, with it, the requirement for local education authorities (LEAs) to identify and assess pupils who may require the LEA to decide on suitable educational services for them. This radically changed the approach in the UK of education for children with special educational needs (Douglas Silas Solicitors, 2007).

Further developments were made in the UK with respect to inclusive education with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) (2001), which, legislating against the discrimination of disabled children in education, introduced legal rights that covered areas such as the use of libraries, teaching, accommodation, admissions, examinations, field trips, and learning equipment and resources (Shaw, 2017).

However, a shift in the conversation surrounding SEND occurred in 2005 when Warnock effectively U-turned on the essential crux of her 1978 report and came out in favour of special schools for children with severe learning disabilities (Shaw, 2017).

Four decades on from the 1978 Warnock report, it is this tension between the merits and otherwise of mainstream inclusion and specialised schooling that lies at the heart of the most crucial debate within SEND research and policy today.

In part, this is fuelled by the other great tension within SEND today, neatly summed up within a Government Policy Paper (2011), which stated that, on the one hand, “Every child in our country deserves a world-class education,” before going on to concede that, “We cannot get away from the intense fiscal pressures we face as a country.”

Defining dyslexia

With respect to dyslexia, the effect and significance of these crucial issues, i.e. inclusion versus special learning, and the limits on LEAs and schools to fully provision for world-class education, of course, relate to the specifics of the learning difficulty.

There appears to be a general consensus on the defining features of dyslexia. For example, the Jim Rose report (2009) summarised the nature of dyslexia with the following:

  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
  • Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
  • Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
  • A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention. (Rose, 2009)

Similarly, Margaret Snowling (1987) has written that:

‘Dyslexic children are subject to a range of cognitive deficits, but for the purposes of reading and spelling it is probably their difficulty with phoneme segmentation and phonological memory which sets them at the greatest disadvantage’.

On the other hand, Peer and Reid (2016, pp. 11) pointed to some of the differences in opinion:

‘Our studies…. clarified that there are problems in phonology, motor skills and speed, in line with the major theories of dyslexia, but that no one theory was a complete solution.’

The value of early interventions in dyslexia has been well established (Snowling, 1987) and there is evidence to show that 67.5 hours of individual intervention is required for dyslexic children to reach their peers’ level (Torgesen et al, 2001, described by Peer and Reid, 2016). Meanwhile, there is strong support for a muti-sensory approach to classes to help children compensate for their disorder (Politt, Pollock & Waller 1994; Snowling 1987).

Provisioning for inclusion

The need for schools to carefully provision for these learning challenges is surely intensified by the sheer volume of children who are likely to be affected by dyslexia, which, according to the British Dyslexia Association, is 10% of the UK population.

Yet, it could be argued that establishing a fixed process for supporting learners with dyslexia in an inclusive environment is as much complicated by its range of severity as it is by its prevalence. As Snowling (1987) observes, it is ‘naïve to think that every dyslexic child compensates in the same way, individual resources will differ as will motivation to succeed.’

At the same time, while the SEND Code of Practice (2015) makes clear that ‘[schools] should regularly review and evaluate the breadth and impact of the support they offer or can access [and] collaborate with other local education providers to explore how different needs can be met most effectively,’ it also states that ‘these duties are anticipatory.’

Meanwhile, as mainstream schools seek to effectively foster inclusion for a range of learning abilities, they must do so within practical fiscal limits. As Peer and Reid (2001; 41) observe in reference to secondary school league tables:

‘The clearest common factor relating to those at the top of each list was additional funding.’ Interestingly, however, they identified ‘the state school standing out the most’ as doing so as a result of its organisation and day-to-day practices, painting a picture of a school that commits to a longer school year and day, regular written reports for parents, and much interaction between staff and students, while relieving teachers (and parents) of other commonly held obligations.

A Reflection on the Policies & Practices of School-X

Ethos and policy

School-X lays out clearly in its written SEND Policy (2019) that its underlying philosophy is firmly in-line with the principles of equal opportunity and inclusion that are set out in the DfE SEND Code of Practice (2015). In doing so, School-X provides a clear definition of SEND students, explaining how those students can be identified by the difficulties they might experience with the curriculum and the ‘Lack of adequate progress’ that it anticipates of children who would require special educational provision.

On the nature of that special provision, School-X talks about the identification and assessment of students, communication with parents, adapting the curriculum, support teaching and bespoke training, and referring to external groups where necessary. So as to order to provide oversight, awareness and support, there is a SEND team, headed by the SENCO.

School-X states that ‘All teachers are teachers of special needs’ and on the matter of inclusion, expresses its belief that:

• the needs, rights and entitlements of individual students are the focus of both an educational and social environment;

• staff are entitled to an effective and supportive environment, consistent quality training, an effective learning environment and good quality advice;

• the family and community should work together.

School-X specifies the use of Quality First teaching (Waves 1) and Waves 2 and 3, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015), as part of its graduated response to student needs.

Putting policy into practice

As evidence of the additional resources that the school looks to offer, I observed dyslexic children using a ‘line reader’ in classes to help them with books and worksheets. I also saw that the School’s Hub was very well designed to help give students the support that they need to progress.

The SENCO explained to me some of the other practical details of SEND support and facilities within the school. I was told that School-X has the capacity to take on a maximum of 19 children who have been formally diagnosed with dyslexia.

While the SENCO explained that all these children have additional special educational needs, which relate to other conditions, such as ADHD or coordination difficulties, that number of 19 children does not reflect the British Dyslexia Association’s statistic on the prevalence of dyslexia, i.e. 10% of the UK population are believed to be dyslexic ( British Dyslexia Association).

It is fair to say that this narrow figure is an expression of the practical limits that School-X has in terms of its resources. It may also be true that this figure hints at the practical limits of inclusion itself within the context of ‘the intense fiscal pressures’ (Government Policy Paper, 2011) described earlier.

Another member of the SEND team told me that of the 19 children, all are provided with an independent strategy and tailored support, such as an iPad and extra-tutoring time, which must be important for any child that is ‘subject to a range of cognitive deficits’ (Snowling, 1987). This additional planning and provisioning reflects the Rose Report’s (2009) assertion that ‘Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities [and that] it is best thought of as a continuum’, as well as the school’s own policy of ‘Helping to facilitate a wide range of teaching and learning styles’ (School-X SEND Policy, 2019).

In the classroom

One of those students (Student A) told me that the extra time they are given to complete homework and other projects was essential for them or they wouldn’t be able to be a part of normal classes. Another pupil (Student B), who may have experienced some motor skill impairment told me that they found using an iPad ‘really great’ for completing some projects.

Although Student A and Student B appeared very positive about the support they receive, it should be remembered that they were speaking about that support in slightly unnatural circumstances – i.e. they were being asked directly about it by an adult stranger (myself). That said, my sense was that these were honest responses and that they were happy for the support that helped enable their inclusion in normal class activities.

Elsewhere in the school, I was unable to observe specific examples of dyslexic students either being identified as dyslexic or being offered special equipment or support, which is not to say that there were not cases of this.

While multi-sensory teaching methods can be used to support phonic learning by helping the dyslexic student develop their use of other processing skills (Pollit, Pollock & Waller 1994), I was unable to identify specific examples of this kind of approach within the classroom. However, when I asked Student A about things they enjoyed about classes, they talked about when the teacher plays music, which may have been a reference to a multi-sensory teaching activity.

Conclusion

On the matter of inclusion

In the Warnock Report’s (1978) study of special education in the UK, Warnock argued for a broad policy of inclusion, advocating the education of children with disabilities in mainstream schools (Shaw, 2017). Nearly 30 years later, Warnock re-examined the value and nature of inclusion in schools, saying that ‘inclusion in mainstream schools may not always be a good’ (Warnock, 2005, as reproduced in the 2nd edition 2010), after all.

Among Warnock’s numerous arguments for this reversal was the concern that children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to bullying, leaving them, in stark contrast to the good intentions that underlie the principles of inclusive teaching, with a sense of being excluded. In School-X, however, I saw no evidence of such feelings of isolation or stress. Instead, the students I spoke to appeared relaxed and content to talk about their school lives with me.

Operating within limited budgets

Meanwhile, Peer and Reid’s (2001) suggestion that funding is the crucial factor in a school’s success makes natural sense; a school’s funding will dictate how much it can invest in equipment, the special resources it can offer, the extra staff training it can commit to. As a mainstream school, School-X is likely to be typical in its funding, just as it is with its range of students, staff and resources. Again, the students I spoke to seemed grateful for the extra attention, tools and time that they were afforded.

The effectiveness of SEND policies a practice

With respect, then, to the matter of inclusion versus special schools, and the extent to which local authority funding may inhibit a school’s ability to offer its SEND students a constructive educational experience, my interactions with School-X’s students and staff would indicate that the system works; that children with disabilities are being accommodated well into mainstream schools; that the SEND Code of Practice (2015) is being absorbed properly into individual mainstream schools’ SEND policies; and that these are being effectively implemented.

Of course, though, a brief look at a single school cannot speak to the condition of an entire local area, which may include tens of secondary schools, each with their own challenges, administrators, staff and policies, let alone an entire country. Furthermore, that maximum figure of 19 SEND students raises questions about what is occurring at a larger level with children with disabilities; what happened to the 20th child? The very fact that a school has to place any limit at all on how many children of a certain group it can take on, could in itself indicate some compromise of the principle of inclusion.

A Personal Response

When, however, I think over the literature on SEND, inclusion and teaching methods, and about my experience observing School-X, speaking to its teachers and children, my main thoughts are about the act of teaching, and what it means to be a teacher.

One idea that resonates strongly is that phrase from the School-X SEND Policy (2019), which states that ‘All teachers are teachers of special needs.’ Place this idea against the figures of dyslexia among the population, i.e. 10% (British Dyslexia Association), and we build a picture of a classroom that really is inclusive, not just of children with dyslexia or coordination difficulties, but of all kinds and degrees of abilities and disabilities – because, simply, that is the makeup of the people around us.

References

British Dyslexia Association. Available at: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk (Accessed: 27 October 2019).

Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (2018) ‘The UNESCO Salamanca Statement’. Available at: http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/unesco-salamanca.shtml

Commonweal (2019) ‘C3: SEND Policy’.

Department for Education (2015) ‘Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years’. (pp.91-110) (PDF) Available at: Click to access SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf

Douglas Silas Solicitors (2007) ‘Warnock & SEN’. Available at: https://www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk/warnock–sen.html (Accessed: 28 October 2019).

Florian, L. (2010) ‘Special education in an era of inclusion: The end of special education or a new beginning?’. The Psychology of Education Review, pp22-25.

HM Government (2011) ‘Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility’. (PDF) Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/61964/opening-doors-breaking-barriers.pdf (Accessed: 29 October 2019).

Peer, L, and Reid, G. eds (2001) ‘Dyslexia: Successful Inclusion in the Secondary School’. London: David Fulton.

Peer, L, and Reid, G. eds (2016) ‘Multilingualism, Literacy and Dyslexia: breaking down barriers for educators’. London: Routledge.

Politt, R., Pollock, J., and Waller, E. (1994) ‘Day-to-day dyslexia in the classroom’. London: Routledge.

Rose, J, (2009) ‘Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties’ (PDF). Available at: http://www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk/media/downloads/inline/the-rose-report.1294933674.pdf (Accessed: 28 October 2019).

Shaw, A, (2017) ‘Inclusion: the role of special and mainstream schools’. British Journal of Special Education. 44(3), pp. 299-303.

Snowling, M. (1987) ‘Dyslexia. A Cognitive Developmental Perspective’. Oxford:  Blackwell.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (1994) ‘The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action’ (PDF).

(Warnock, M, (1978) ‘Special Educational Needs: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People’.

Warnock, M. and Norwich, B. (2010) Special Educational Needs: A New Look. (pp.32-43) London, Continuum.