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Special Needs in England: The Movement Away From Inclusion
BBC's Mike Baker: The issue of special needs is rising up the political and educational agenda in England again. We may even be at another turning point: after almost 30 years of movement in one direction, the pendulum could be about to swing back from inclusion towards segregation
Turning point for special needs?
By Mike Baker, BBC News education correspondent


The issue of special needs is rising up the political and educational agenda in England again.
We may even be at another turning point: after almost 30 years of movement in one direction, the pendulum could be about to swing back from inclusion towards segregation.

First, we had the unusual sight of special needs education becoming an election issue. Tony Blair was tackled by a mother who felt her son's special school was under threat from a government policy, which was tilted in favour of educating children in mainstream schools.

Then the Conservatives picked up the issue of the closure of special schools and have kept pushing it since the election.

The most significant event, though, came this week with the news that Lady Warnock, the architect of the current policy of inclusion, has changed her views.

She now believes that, although it may have been right at the time, inclusion has been taken "too far", driven by political correctness rather than a judgement of what is always best for the child.

Some of the media reaction to Lady Warnock's about-turn seemed unfair

Until recently special needs was more likely to make the news if a child was being denied mainstream schooling. Now it is the other way round: the protests are more often about the threat to special provision.
Some of the media reaction to Lady Warnock's about-turn seemed unfair. The Daily Mail derided her as a "monstrous ego" who had established the principle that all children, however disabled, "should be taught in mainstream schools".

Yet she has never said all children should be taught in mainstream schools. Her Committee of Inquiry, and the subsequent legislation, said that provision should be in the mainstream "wherever possible".

That recommendation needs to be set against the situation at the time. When the Warnock Committee was considering this issue in the late 1970s, the widespread view was that some children were "uneducable'.


To see how much things have changed since then, you need look only at the language. The Warnock Committee was asked to inquire into the education of "handicapped" children.

Of course, political correctness can be a straitjacket for common-sense thinking, but the label "handicapped" did indeed limit horizons and expectations.

Campaigners for inclusion see it as a basic human rights issue

However what was a necessary corrective in the 1970s may no longer be appropriate for the early 21st Century.
Lesser people may have sat back on their laurels (or prejudices), but Lady Warnock was courageous enough to examine her own past thinking and declare it inadequate for today's circumstances.

She has also stepped into a minefield. Campaigners for inclusion see it as a basic human rights issue and are, understandably, passionate about it.

Some even believe all special schools should be closed: the 2020 Campaign, organised by the Alliance for Inclusive Education, wants the closure of all special schools by that date.

For the most part, though, a more pragmatic approach seems appropriate.

When inclusion fails it is sometimes because it is just wrong for the child. Other times it is because the mainstream school has not tried hard enough, or lacks the resources, to make it work.

Physical needs are (with the right resources) more easily met than emotional and behavioural needs.

The former need not impact negatively on other children, the latter often does.

Integration problems

Indeed a recent Ofsted report into special needs found that it was provision for pupils with social and behavioural difficulties that most tested the inclusion policy.

It identified a 25% increase in the numbers of pupils in referral units - to which children can be removed from mainstream classes - between 2001 and 2003.

Over a slightly longer period, the Audit Commission noted an increase in the numbers of pupils identified with emotional and behavioural problems, particularly in the autistic spectrum.

Perhaps now parental choice will be extended more widely to parents of children with special needs

These are children for whom inclusion often does not work because they can find social integration difficult.

So total inclusion or total segregation seems unwise. In response to Lady Warnock's criticism that inclusion has gone too far, the government insists that it is neither pro- nor anti-inclusion.

Certainly, the key legislation - the 1981 Act - gives a number of opt-outs from inclusion. These include: parental wishes, the efficient use of resources, and the effect on other children.

Nevertheless, successive governments have come down firmly on the side of inclusion.

Whatever it may say today, the government's Green Paper in 1997 explicitly stated its aim of getting "more children with special educational needs in mainstream schools'.

The Special Needs and Disability Act 2001 strengthened the right of children with special needs to attend mainstream schools.

The Conservatives now highlight the closure of special schools under Labour, but the statistics show that they also steadily closed them when they were in power.

In 1984 there were 1,548 special schools serving 118,500 pupils in England.

Since then the number of special schools has fallen by 400 (just over 90 of these have closed since 1997) and they now serve 29,600 fewer children than 20 years ago.

Fewer special schools, and fewer places, means a decline in the choices available to parents.

Parental choice has been the mantra of politicians when they talk about children without special needs.

Perhaps now parental choice will be extended more widely to parents of children with special needs, allowing them to make the choice between special or mainstream schools.

We welcome your comments, although we cannot promise to respond individually. We will publish a selection later in the week.

Assessing Pupils with Special Needs in Mainstreaming Schools
by John Alban-Metcalfe (Trinity and All Saints University College)



This paper presents an overview of the principal changes affecting pupils with SEN since the Warnock Report of 1978. In particular, attention is focused on the recently published Code of Practice, which guides teachers, parents, and members of other professions in the procedures for the identification and assessment of pupils with SEN, and for making appropriate educational and related provision. Three areas of current and future need are identified.


The identification and assessment of pupils with special needs in England and Wales has been the subject of recent Government legislation (Education Act, 1993) and a Code of Practice (1994) (see Friel, 1995; Alban Metcalfe, 1996 for a full discussion). However, in order to understand current practice and the principles upon which it is based, it is first necessary to recognise the influence of certain educational and political factors. Chronologically, the Education Act (1981) was enacted in order to implement many of the recommendations of the Warnock Report (1978), particularly in relation to integrating pupils with special educational needs (SEN) into mainstream schools, to promote greater parental involvement in assessment and educational provision for their child, and to encourage greater multi-professional cooperation.

Subsequently, the 1986 Education (Schools) Act, which gave greater autonomy to schools and, thereby, reduced the influence of the local educational authorities (LEAs), and the 1988 Education Reform Act, which established a National Curriculum, coupled with statutory testing of all pupils at ages 7, 11 and 14 years, have caused mainstream schools to be less willing to accept pupils with SEN. Specifically, the 1986 Act gave schools the right (and duty) to manage themselves, and to control all aspects of their budget, using funds allocated to them by the LEA - referred to as Local Management of Schools (LMS). In addition, if they so wish, schools have the right to receive their funding directly from Central Government (grant-maintained schools).

At the same time, LEAs retain the responsibility for pupils with SEN. Thus, LEAs employ teams for the support of pupils with a hearing or visual certain impairment, teams that support pupils with general learning difficulties, and in some cases teams that support pupils with other specific disabilities. These teams comprise teachers who are specially trained, and who are responsible for making detailed assessments of pupils' needs, monitoring pupil progress, and making educational provision as and where required. In some LEAs, schools are allowed to buy services from one of a number of organisations, including special schools and voluntary organisations. However, LMS has considerably reduced the power and influence of LEAs over educational arrangements in their areas, with a consequent reduction in the Advisory Service (including Special Needs Advisors) whose source of income comes from contracts from schools for advice or training.

Voluntary organisations play an important part in meeting the needs of children with special needs in pupil assessment, educational and related provision (whether in their own schools and homes, or in other settings), production and distribution of educational resources, parent guidance and advocacy on parents' behalf, funding and conducting research and the collection of statistical data, forming professional and parental associations, and as pressure groups supporting children's and parents' rights.

The aim of the Governments educational reforms was to improve standards in schools by introducing market forces into the school system, and by encouraging parental choice and competition between schools. In order to inform parents, it was proposed that league tables would be published both of results in the standardised tests, based on attainment in the National Curriculum, and public examinations at age 16 and 18 years, and of school attendance.

In the 1988 Act, it was made explicit that all pupils with SEN have the right of access to a broad and balanced curriculum, as articulated in the National Curriculum. However, as far as individual schools are concerned, the presence of pupils with SEN is likely to have the effect of reducing their position in the examinations league tables, with the consequences that that might have in terms of parental perceptions of the school. Thus, the emphasis in the recent changes can be seen to be towards the needs of adult working life at the expense of liberal educational values based on social justice and maximising human potential (Desforges and Lindsay, 1995).

The prediction that this kind of climate would result in schools being less willing to educate pupils with SEN is now being fulfilled, and research by Brahm Norwich provides evidence that recent legislation is beginning to affect placement of pupils with SEN. Between 1991 and 1992, the special school population rose for the first time since 1982 (Times Educational Supplement, 1994). Although there is wide variation between LEAs in the proportion of pupils placed in special schools, forty-two authorities were found to have reduced the level of integration.

A further factor in making optimal provision for pupils with SEN has the way in which the 1981 Education Act worked. Specifically, the areas of difficulty encountered were:

- lack of an agreed definition of what constitutes an SEN;

- confusion over the respective responsibilities of parents, schools, LEAs, District Health Authorities and Social Services Departments in identifying, assessing, and meeting SEN;

- lack of clear accountability by schools and LEAs for the progress made by pupils with SEN;

- lack of clear accountability of schools to LEAs for any additional resources received for meeting the SEN of their pupils;

- wide variations and inconsistencies between LEAs as to which pupils should have a Statement of SEN written about them;

- wide variations and inconsistencies between LEAs in decisions whether to place pupils with SEN in mainstream or special schools (Audit Commission Report/HMI, 1992; House of Commons Select Committee, 1993).

Thus, for example, there is evidence, cited in the Audit Commission/HMI (1992) report, that level of deprivation in an area is an indicator of the incidence of SEN. However, in their study of twelve LEAs, they found no evidence of a correlation between level of deprivation and the number of statements issued.


Consistently with the 1981 and 1993 Education Acts, the majority of pupils with SEN, including those with specific learning difficulty/dyslexia are educated in ordinary schools, though many of those who have a Statement of SEN are in Special Schools. Up to 1984, the DES published information about the schools in which pupils with SEN were educated; since then such data as are available come only from sources such as voluntary organisations with interests and expertise in particular types of impairment, and are incomplete. Furthermore, pupils who are 'more able or gifted' are not considered to have SEN.

As far as integration policy is concerned, the 1981 Act emphasis on integration into ordinary schools is qualified in the Education Act (1993) which states that:

The conditions (for choice of educational provision) are that educating the child in a school which is not a special school is compatible with

(a) his receiving the special educational provision which his learning difficulty calls for,

(b) the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated, and

(c) the efficient use of resources.

The 1981 and 1993 Acts are frequently analysed for evidence of shifts in the official government attitude to integration. The issue is complicated by the fact that, in the intervening years a range of important changes in education were introduced, most notably the National Curriculum in 1988. Those who claim an official shift point to the fact that the 1981 Act specified the conditions necessary for a pupil with SEN to be educated in an ordinary school, while the 1993 Act listed the conditions for a corresponding pupil to be educated "in a school which is not a special school".

Code of Practice

The Code of Practice can be seen as an attempt to redress the balance between the conflict of economic aims and the aims of meeting pupils' educational needs. The Code recognises explicitly that, "there is a continuum of special educational needs and that such needs are found across the range of ability . . (and) that the continuum of needs should be reflected in a continuum of provision" (p. ii), and seeks to give practical guidance to LEAs and schools as to how each should each should meet their respective responsibilities to pupils with SEN. The fundamental principles of the Code include that, "it is essential that schools, LEAs, the health services, social services, voluntary organisations and other agencies work very closely with each other, and that all work closely with parents" (p. iii). What the Code of Practice aims to do, then, is to provide greater clarity and consistency in the way in which pupils' SEN are identified and recorded, what kind of special educational provision is made, and the way in which both needs and provision are reviewed systematically.

The underlying assumptions are made,

(i) that as many as 20 per cent of pupils are likely to have SEN at some time during their school career (cf. Gipps, 1988);

(ii) that approximately 15 per cent will have SEN at any one time;

(ii) that about 2 per cent will have needs such that a Statement of SEN will have to be written.

It follows from this that the majority of pupils regarded as having SEN do not have a Statement written about them. Thus, in 1990-1, 168,000 pupils in England and Wales (2.1% of the school population) had a Statement. Of these 1.3% attended a special school or special boarding school, and a further 0.8% received extra help from their LEA, either in a mainstream class or unit in a mainstream school. In addition, 14% of pupils, who were identified as having SEN, but did not have a Statement, were educated in mainstream schools (Audit Commission/HMI, 1992).

Schools are not entitled to extra provision to meet the needs of this 14% of pupils.

An important feature of the Code is that the process of identification and assessment takes place through five stages (as proposed by the Warnock Report). However, where the 1981 and 1993 Education Acts and the Code of Practice all fall short of what Warnock recommended is in that the profound financial and human resource implications were not accepted by the Government.

The main purpose of the Code of Practice is to specify the roles and responsibilities of mainstream schools, special needs support services, and LEAs in identifying and providing for a sizeable minority of pupils. In so doing, it

(i) outlines the processes that schools and LEAs must follow in identification and assessment, and in making suitable provision;

(ii) specifies the rights of parents;

(iii) provides for a new system whereby parents can appeal against decisions made with respect to educational provision for their child.

Five Stage Assessment Process

The Code makes it explicit that there should be the five stages of assessment, each of which is, or may be, associated with intervention in the form of appropriate educational and other relevant provision. Of these, three are school-based (see Appendix 1). The stages are:

- Stage 1: Initial identification and assessment. This is conducted by the class teacher, who immediately informs the parents, and may gain additional information from them. On the basis of discussions, appropriate provision is devised and conducted within the classroom, and subsequently reviewed by the class teacher. As the result of the review, it may be concluded, either (a) that the pupil has made sufficient progress so as no longer to be in need of special provision, or (b) that the special provision should continue in its present or modified form, with new targets set, or (c) that the class teacher will need additional advice and support, in which case the process moves to Stage 2.
- Stage 2: Involvement of the school's SEN coordinator (SENCO). The SENCO takes over responsibility, but works in association with the class teacher and the parents, and, jointly with the class teacher, formulates an Individual Education Plan (IEP), sometimes on the basis of advice from outside agencies. The parents are informed of any decisions made, and the class teacher implements the IEP - again within the classroom. The pupil's attainment is again reviewed, after a specified period of time, when, as in Stage 1, one of a number of conclusions may be reached. These are, either (a) that the pupil has made sufficient progress so as no longer to be in need of an IEP, or (b) that the IEP should continue in its present or modified form, with new targets set, or (c) that the school will need additional advice and support, in which case the process moves to Stage 3.
- Stage 3: Involvement of appropriate support services and LEA informed. The SENCO consults appropriate support services, and informs the LEA and the parents. On the basis of this further support and guidance, again jointly with the class teacher, the SENCO formulates an appropriate IEP, and informs the pupil's parents of what it contains. As in Stage 2, the IEP is implemented by the class teacher, and attainment is reviewed. Following this review, the decision may be taken, either (a) that the pupil has made sufficient progress so as no longer to be in need of an IEP, or (b) that the IEP should continue in its present or modified form, with new targets set, or (c) that the LEA be requested to carry out a Statutory Assessment, with a view to determining whether or not a Statement of SEN should be made, in which case the process moves to Stage 4. (It should be noted that, if at any of the above stages, sufficient educational progress is not made, the head teacher may request that a Statutory Assessment be made.)
- Stage 4 Statutory Assessment. This involves consideration by the LEA, working cooperatively with the pupil's school and parents, and with other agencies, as to whether such an assessment should be made. If it is decided that an assessment is warranted, the LEA is responsible for having it conducted within a period of 16 weeks, at the beginning of which parents must be informed of the name of a particular individual - the Named LEA Officer - who is responsible for arranging the assessment and for the writing of any subsequent Statement. The LEA must also identify a Named Person, who can give the parents information and advice, and who should normally be independent of the LEA. In assessing the pupil's needs, information is elicited from the parents, using specified headings (see The Parent's Checklist, Appendix 2), from the school, and from other relevant professionals in health and social services.
- Stage 5 Writing a Statement of SEN. This is a process which is undertaken by the Named LEA Officer, and must be completed within a further 10 weeks period.

Statements of SEN
A Statement of Special Educational Needs must include the following information:

the LEA's assessment of the SEN;
the provision that is required, in terms of facilities and equipment, staffing arrangements, curriculum or otherwise;
specification of the school that would be appropriate - either by type or by name;
any necessary health or social services provision;
all written advice, submissions or evidence obtained in making the assessment.
Statements must be subject to an Annual Review, with reports from all parties involved in implementing the provision, and with parents involved and informed of any changes made. Any maintained school named in an SEN statement will be required to admit that pupil.

The 1993 Act also established an SEN Tribunal, which is designed to give parents access to a quick and independent system of appeal against LEA decisions about Statutory Assessments and Statements. In practice, it would normally be expected that a Statement would be written about a pupil with a severe or complex learning difficulty, though an LEA could refuse to write Statement on the grounds that a school is making adequate provision for a pupil without a Statement of SEN being written (Friel, 1995).

School's Duties

Under the 1993 Act, all schools are required to delegate responsibility for SEN to one member of the school's Governing Body, to appoint one member of staff to the post of SENCO, and to have written policies (which must be published in the school's prospectus, and be available to parents) on:

the objectives of the school's SEN policy;
arrangements for coordinating provision for pupils with SEN;
admission arrangements;
any specialism for pupils with SEN or any special unit;
the name of the SENCO;
information about arrangements for the identification and assessment of, and provision for, pupils with SEN;
information about staffing policies and partnership with organisations beyond the school.
The role of the SENCO is defined as,

liaising with and advising fellow teachers, coordinating provision for pupils with SEN, maintaining the school's SEN register and overseeing records of all pupils with SEN, liaising with parents of pupils with SEN, contributing to the in-service training of staff, and liaising with external agencies (Code of Practice, 1994).

SENCO's Duties

During the mid-1980s, the Government funded a number of training courses for SENCOs, and these, together with the more recently the need for teachers to work cooperatively in order to come to terms with the requirements of the National Curriculum, have led to a much higher level of teacher cooperation. In some cases, this cooperation has led to the formation (most commonly in ordinary schools) of 'teacher support teams', either with a given school or, in a small number of cases, between two or more schools. The focus of attention of teacher cooperation is often the systematic planning of implementation and delivery of the curriculum, including different ways in which class teachers, SENCOs and learning support teachers with particular expertise can be effective in meeting individual learner needs. Among such learner needs are those of pupils with emotional and/or behavioural difficulties, particularly those whose conduct constitutes a challenge to the teacher, and can be a major source of teacher stress. What teachers often need is the advice and support of colleagues, complemented by the formulation and implementation of whole school policies (referred to above) (Alban Metcalfe, 1995).

Other forms of SEN cooperation include links between special schools and ordinary schools, whereby the wealth of expertise that some special schools have developed - in educational assessment and provision - is made available to their colleagues in ordinary schools (Fletcher-Campbell, 1995).

Teachers' Duties

Class teachers have a core responsibility which includes identifying and assessing, and making appropriate educational provision for pupils with SEN in their class. This is seen being an integral part of,

the cycle of planning, teaching and assessment;
ensuring that learning activities are differentiated, and matched to meet the range of learner needs within their class.
In so doing, teacher not only provide for the needs of pupils with SEN, but also, by matching educational provision to learner need, they prevent other pupils from developing difficulties in learning. As, the National Curriculum Council (1989) noted,

The interaction between the pupil and the school, including the curriculum, can also lead to learning difficulties.

For this reason, as is widely recognised, the vast majority of pupils who have difficulties in learning are among those who do not have any form of disability.

For pupils with SEN, the introduction of a National Curriculum for all pupils, with its specific, criterion-referenced curriculum goals has had a number of important beneficial effects. These include,

(i) that teachers have a clear framework of curricular progression for guiding teaching-learning activities;

(ii) that this framework has raised the level of expectations of all pupils;

(iii) that it is used to monitor and assess pupil progress.

In order to achieve a match between educational provision and pupils' needs, there has been great emphasis both on effective teaching, particularly through 'differentiation' of learner tasks as a way of meeting learner needs (Lewis, 1991), and on the quality of techniques and practices in assessing, recording and reporting on pupil attainment and behaviour. Indeed, one of the emphases of SENCO courses of the 1980s was on the quality of assessment and record keeping, and techniques of task analysis and task matching. Assessment of pupils with all kinds of SEN has become synonymous with curriculum-based assessment, in which the basis is what pupils actually do and learn, rather than on attempts to assess their 'ability'.

Current and future needs

It is evident that, in many ways, the Code of Practice is of real practical value to pupils, parents and teachers, and the way in which it has been drawn up has many positive features. At the same time, it is not without its critics (e.g. Desforges and Lindsay, 1995; Friel, 1995). Three major areas of concern are,

(1) the need for a higher level of competence among SENCOs, who are key persons at all stages of identification, assessment and provision, and also other key personnel in schools. The Government-sponsored training courses for SENCOs were of very limited duration (usually 20 days); what are needed are systematic, funded programmes to develop further the competence of SENCOs, coupled with training of those staff (head teachers and senior managers) who are responsible for the management of schools;

(2) the need for additional funding, not just to meet the training needs identified above, but to enable SENCOs and class teachers to attend review meetings with parents and other professionals, as required in Stages 2 and 3 of the Code of Practice assessment procedures. One estimate is that for a school of 100 pupils, the cost of this could be of the order of £30,000 per year (Times Educational Supplement, 1994). Unless such funding is available, the costs will have to come out of other parts of a school's budget;

(3) the need to resolve the tension between the ethos of competition between schools, and the desire for inclusive education, based on the principle of social justice and supported by the Code of Practice. Many of the principles of the Code rely upon cooperation between schools in order to provide optimal provision for pupils with SEN (Alban Metcalfe, 1995; Desforges and Lindsay, 1995; Fletcher-Campbell, 1995).


Alban-Metcalfe, J. (1995) A formación permanente na educación especial. Quinesia: Revista de Educación Especial, 20, 57-78
Alban Metcalfe, J. (1996) Special Education in England. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 11:1, pp. 125-143
Audit Commission/HMI (1992) Getting in on the Act - Provision for children with special educational needs: the national picture, London: HMSO
Desforges, M. and Lindsay, G. (1995) Implementing the Code of Practice. British Journal of Curriculum and Assessment, 5, pp. 16-21
Fletcher-Campbell, F. (1995) Cara a unha escola adaptada para tóda las necesidades. Quinesia: Revista de Educación Especial, 20, 101-114
Friel, J. (1995) Children with Special Needs: Caught in the Acts. London: Jessica Kingsley
Gipps, C. (1988) Warnock's Eighteen Per Cent. London: Falmer
House of Commons Select Committee (1993)
Lewis, A. (1991) Primary Special Needs and the National Curriculum. London: Routledge
National Curriculum Council (1989) Curriculum Guidance 2 - A curriculum for all. York: NCC
Times Educational Supplement, 2 September 1992
Times Educational Supplement, 18 February 1994
This paper draws extensively on ideas presented in the arcticle, 'Implementing the Code of Practice' by Martin Desforges and Geoff Lindsay (1995).

For citations use as follow:

Alban-Metcalfe, John(1996). Assesing Pupils with Special Needs in Mainstreaming Schools. The European Electronic Journal on Inclusive Education in Europe, 1.

Working Toward Inclusive Education

The National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN)

ChildCare Link

Service Families Task Force

Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995

Noonan Syndrome

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