Special Educational Needs as a Social Justice Issue

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This essay explores the influence of special educational needs on educational attainment at the end of Key Stage 4 and the implications of this for social justice by including findings of the education system on the impact and achievement levels of pupils. Begin to analyse why special educational needs is a social justice issue and the statistics which reinforce education inequality in the UK by drawing upon key ideas. Next, I will explain why I chose this particular theme for my essay, by discussing and reflecting on my practice and experience in academy. Various definitions of special educational needs will be discussed and why inclusion has a particular interest in education studies. In contrast, will be using and reviewing ‘The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’ and ‘Every Child Matters’ (2004) in relation to special educational needs. After, I will be looking at the history of special educational needs through the eyes of Matheson (2008). This essay will be summarising some inclusion issues and relating it to the different legislations. Also, I will go on explaining the barriers to equality and giving examples from reports. I will begin my literature review based on various theorists on special educational needs from Bourdieu and capitalist from Matheson (2008) and a review from the national and international approaches. From research about special educational needs I will be able to identify the current government policy which has an impact on social justice and evaluating in detail the past perspectives. Finally, I will conclude my essay by summarising my core argument with opinions.

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Special educational students are those who have a disability which may slow their education process. The issue of social justice, when it comes to special educational needs stems from the idea of many academia to separate those special needs students from the rest of the class, whether it be in a mainstream school but separate lessons or in a special educational, school. Therefore many are fighting for justice to abolish this social injustice of segregating those students as they have a right to a mainstream education and to be able to interact with everyone else rather than just other special needs students.

From ((Disability Rights Commission, 2002)

‘’45 per cent of disabled people said they had experienced problems at school as a consequence of their impairment’’ (Disability Rights Commission, 2002)

‘’1 per cent of all children in England are in special schools (DfES, 2005)

‘’17 per cent of disabled pupils attend special schools. The remainder attend mainstream schools’’ (DfES, 2005)

‘’26 per cent disabled people reported negative experiences in mainstream education, in part because of poor facilities and negative attitudes of other people’’ (Department for Work and Pension’s report into attitudes toward disability in Britain (Grewal, Joy, Lewis, Swales and Woodfield, 2002))

These statistics show that the majority of special education needs students attend mainstream school, yet 26 per cent find there are not adequate facilities or staff to deal with their disability appropriately; showing the inequality they receive which needs to be addressed. In addition, out of those who have come out of education with a disability 45 per cent felt their experience was hindered because of their disability. This addresses the idea that the social injustice of special educational needs should be dealt with.

Therefore, I have chosen special educational needs as the theme of this essay as I personally felt I would be able to relate back to this from my academy days, where I chose to study childcare and education. In this course I was able to work alongside children from birth to seven years. I had the opportunity and experience to work with special needs children in one of my placements.

Working alongside special needs children was incredibly rewarding and extremely inspiring because it gives a sense of achievement for the child who lacks the confidence of a normal child. I also enjoyed supporting the children and being a good role model towards them. In this particular placement, I learnt how to handle the child’s emotional, behavioral and intellectual progress which helped the child reach their goals by developing their abilities in learning. Also, through my experience I got to work alongside different professionals in order to help the individual child improve their learning, for example one of the professionals that I was working alongside with was; a speech and language therapist.

The term ‘special education needs’ is defined by “referring to children or a child who has learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age. Many children will have special needs of some kind at some time during their education”. (NI Direct, 2013) This means teachers need to support the children who they feel are under-progressing for a particular subject and give the extra support needed. In another article, it states that special educational needs mean “children who have difficulties that could affect their ability to learn”. (GOV.UK, 2012) This means children who have learning difficulties will find it hard to manage with work given as they need that extra support given. According to (Winzer, 2002) defines special educational needs as an ‘instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of children and youth who are exceptional’. This quote symbolises that all children are unique and special, and those who need extra help should have that help tailor-made to suit their issues in order for them to progress. Therefore schools, classrooms and teachers should be fully equipped and prepared to deal with special educational children, so as not to leave them to fall behind when in a mainstream school. The schools could also find ways to adapt activities and lessons to accommodate the special educational needs child.

According to Matheson (2008) states that special educational needs define as “pupils are thought to have special education needs that are unable to reach their learning potential without either additional or adaptions to their learning” (Matheson, 2008 pg.159). This means they believe that children who under progress is thought to have some sort of learning difficulty. Most children have a learning difficulty in reading, writing or sometimes in numeracy; this could be a form of dyslexia. There are children are the opposite and is very capable in their education to the best of their ability this term is called ‘gifted and talented’. It is clear that the facilities for special educational needs are about accepting the child individually and supporting them throughout their learning through adaptations that assist rather than restrict.

Special educational needs links to the legislation UNCRC (United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child) because according to this legislation it states in articles 23 ‘if a child is disabled, either mentally or physically, you have the right to special care and education to help the child develop and lead a full life’. This article is defining that if a child has a disability then it is important that the practitioner supports throughout their education and develop to fulfil their targets. From article 2 it signifies ‘children have the right to protection against discrimination. This means that nobody can treat the child badly because of their color, sex or religion, if the child speaks another language or has a disability’. Linking to special educational needs this means all children including SEN (special educational needs) should have the right to protection and safeguarding. When linking this legislation to the relationship between social justice and education, this means…

Another legislation that relates to special educational needs is ‘Every Child Matters’ (2004). This legislation was created from the UK government for England and Wales to help every child and support them in certain circumstances. This framework is covered from birth to age 19 and is in partnership with multi-agencies which work together to achieve the best for the child. This could be children’s centers, youth clubs, schools, early years and many more. For example; one of the themes for ‘Every Child Matters’ is Economic well-being, this included targeted and specialist support.

From looking at Matheson’s (2008) theory about the history on special educational needs, this was first noticed from the nineteenth century when the channel of communication on education created two models which was called ‘Social Model’ and ‘Medical Model’ these are the models form of disability.

The ‘Medical Model’ is where certain people are seen as a disabled people because of their impairments, this is seen as people labelling a person based on their medical needs of what they have and cannot do. Before the tradition was that people, who had a condition wrong with them usually was left to out, this causes for the person to not reach their full potential and it stresses out the person because they might start to focus also on what they cannot do as well. This is implies that people who have an condition usually feel that it is wrong or is abnormal as specialists try and cure it as soon as they find it out from their health. From the Tassoni; book it states “The medical approaches stress the importance of curing and nowadays try and prevent disability”, (Tassoni et al 2007, pg.496). According to Matheson’s theory he states that the “‘Medical Model’ is an interpretation of a child’s behaviour in terms of internal biological differences, categorising ‘syndromes’ and ‘conditions’ as defects within the child. The perspective disregarded any external factors such as poverty, health or life experience as having any bearing on the nature of the disability” (Matheson, 2008 pg. 157) .This diagram shown below illustrates the ‘Medical Model’.

Whereas, the ‘Social Model’ people are seen as they cannot socialise properly because of the condition they have. Sometimes people judge people in wheelchair before they meet them and think they will not be able to understand what they are saying; this may lead to them being isolated and “It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people.” (Scope 2012), it is important for them to become inclusive in society so they won’t feel left out and this will help build their confidence and their self-esteem in case they do come across to share their life experiences. According to Matheson’s theory he suggests that “The Social Model’ saw disabled children as tragic figures, deserving of pity. This was a disempowering perspective that categorised them as passive recipients of philanthropy” (Matheson, 2008 pg.157). This diagram shown below illustrates the ‘Social Model’.

In 1872, the ‘Foster’s Education Act’ was published and this discoursed the basic education for children because there was no provision that was made in these acts for disabled children or children with learning difficulties. However, the Departmental Committee did investigate whether the education system was able to adjust for any of these children that was not categorised in this act. The Departmental Committee came to an agreement that the best place for ‘special needs’ children was in a retreat, where they will be able to attend easily special schools that will help the special needs children. The committee also decided to remove and exclude special needs children from the education system completely.

In 1921 the first release of ‘Education Act’ was produced and this required from the local authorities that the statistics of children not progressing to a certain level that the records of children’s education should be separated from the children who are progression as this will make the progress easier. This accounted of 10% of the child population out of which 1% of children attended special educational schools. In the 1950’s and the early 1970’s an increasingly number of special educational schools was opened.

In 1970, the ‘Education Act’ finally brought all children into the education framework and agreed that they should be equal to all children and not discriminate the child because of a particular disability they may have and for them to have a right to education. The committee also removed the separate categories that children were grouped into because of their disability, this enabled the children to have respect gained from other non-special needs children because they were all treated the same and not in a separate levels because they was not progressing. The consequences for the committee for this were to have a better understanding in the children that have complex learning difficulties. Some approaches that were agreed were mainly focused on behaviorist methods (Matheson, 2008 pg.158). From researching the different behaviorist methods they came to a conclusion to create a whole new teaching range of skills based on the behaviorist method in the curriculum.

According to Matheson (2008) he stated that “this new interest in special education was reflected in the setting up of the Warnock Committee in 1974 to review provision in the United Kingdom. The Warnock Report, (1978) and the resulting of the first produced 1981 Education Act that it informed, was a watershed in the history of special education. For the first time it created, the concept of a special education need and appropriate ‘provision’ rather than a ‘condition’ and treatment”. (Matheson, 2008 pg. 158) This means that later on the committee decided to not label children that has a disability with ‘disabled’ but with the term ‘children with learning difficulties’, as this also helps the child individually feel like they are not being labelled by other children or staff members and will feel comfortable and settled in the society.

Inclusion started from the ‘Social Model’ they excluded the special needs children from the perspective views of the society rather than understanding and resolving the situation of the individual child’s need by labelling them disabled. This means the society was not able to accommodate the individual child’s need because they felt they will not be able to handle special needs children. In contrast, this was taken and followed up for human rights by the legislation ‘United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child’ (UNCRC) (1989).

In 1994, ‘the education committee agreed teachers should include of children and not base it on their diverse backgrounds; race, gender, religion/ culture or if they are special needs. All children should have the right to be treated equally’ (Matheson, 2008 pg. 164).

If schools are open freely to educate the children then they should promote and educate diversity within the school environment and consider a variety of teaching approaches to meet the needs of the child. However, according to Hornby’s theory suggests that ‘there should not be a separate curriculum to teach special needs children they should be taught and learnt from the same curriculum non-special educational needs children are taught from’ (Hornby and Kidd 2001).

Inclusive approach means where practitioners include all children in an activity and not base it on their religion, culture, age or gender. The benefits for an inclusive approach with special needs children are that the children will feel motivated because they will be getting involved in the activities and feel excited to take part each time, as they know they will always be included so they will give it their best. Those children will also increase their confidence because of inclusive practise since they will be able to take part in activity no matter what stage they are at so it will boost their confidence because they will know they have a good opportunity to do the activities and may get better each time. Inclusive practise will make children feel more wanted in an early years environment because for example if a child cannot speak well they could feel left out of activities if they don’t understand instructions or if the practitioner makes them do an activity not with the rest of the class, but this way they will always be involved which will make them feel happy and excited. Also this will help with interaction with other children because if the children with learning difficulties were kept to one side, or always taught separately they would never get the chance to talk or play with other children in their groups which could make them very depressed and unaware of how to interact with other children, for example sharing toys; which could make the situation worse. If the child feels they are not being included because of discrimination, then the child may feel less motivated and their self-esteem and confidence will become low because they will have fewer interactions with other children and they will most likely find it difficult to communicate.

The advantages for supporting a child with special needs in a mainstream school are one-to-one support which is where they have a dedicated practitioner who will be by their side throughout lessons for extra support, to explain things, to answer any questions they may have and to give them that extra help when needed. Also an advantage is there is specialised equipment in schools and facilities to help their learning. Another advantage is that it will make them feel they fit in with everyone and that they are wanted in class by not separating them from everyone else they can carry on as normal and go through everything with other children their age.

The disadvantages for supporting a child with special needs in a mainstream school are that they may feel uncomfortable as there is an assistant always to help and looking over at them, whereas the other children in the class will not have that. This could also lead to bullying by the other children because they will notice the special treatment the child is getting. Also a disadvantage is that it may take longer to communicate and socialise with the rest of the children in the class, so it could leave the child with a learning difficulty feeling upset or embarrassed. Another disadvantage is that the staff at the school may not be able to support the specific need of the child in question, perhaps because of not having the correct facilities which could make it very difficult for both the practitioner and child, and may become difficult on a day to day basis for example complete wheelchair access to all parts of the school. Finally, some members of staff may not be highly qualified enough to deal with the situation which will create a disadvantage to the child’s learning, as they will not be receiving the correct attention they need to help them progress in learning.

There are three barriers to achievement for children with special needs which Environmental, Institutional and Attitudinal. One barrier to achievement for children with special needs is Environmental. These are things in the environment which can prevent them from achieving and progressing. This could be in the places they visit for example if a student is in a wheelchair it is important that the school they go to has wheelchair access to all areas so that the immobilised child will be able to go to every classroom/hall and participate in all the activities along with the other students. They will then be able to attend every class and progress just like everyone else, if there was no wheelchair access this would be an environmental barrier to their achievements as they would not be able to take part in some lessons. The practitioner in a setting can overcome this by ensuring that there are wheelchair ramps fitted all around the school and that all areas are easily accessible by the special needs children, and perhaps an assistant to help them make their way around the school. The next barrier to achievement is Institutional. This is where people in charge of institutes such as clubs/ schools put in place rules which prevent children with special needs from attending or have practices that put them behind everyone else. For example if a school which visually impaired students attend, do not purchase text books in Braille then the students will not be able to participate in a reading activity. This will prevent them improving their vocabulary and literacy understanding and put them at a big disadvantage to everyone else. A practitioner can help a special needs child to overcome this barrier by ensuring the institute which they work for, purchases all the correct equipment necessary for children with disabilities to learn from. Also they can ensure they are up to date with specific disabilities that they have to personally deal with. That way they know how to approach each child’s individual situation and meet their needs to help them progress.

The last barrier to achievement for special needs children is attitudinal. This is when the attitudes of individuals prevent them from interacting with disabled children in a positive manner because of their own thoughts/ doubts/ feelings. For example in an after school club the organiser may have a bad attitude towards children with a disability because they are scared of how to deal with them and meet their needs. Therefore they may not welcome those children into the clubs or be reluctant to let them join into activities by saying it’s too dangerous. Another example would be if a teaching assistant in class becomes over-patronising with a special needs child. This is because the child can feel frustrated that they are trying to carry on and may feel normal but keep being reminded of what they cannot achieve and what is wrong with them which can prevent them from progressing. Practitioners can overcome this in a setting by making sure they know all about different disabilities and how to give support to those children, they can also attend equal opportunities training to broaden their thinking. “All teachers should expect to teach children with special educational needs (SEN) and all schools should play their part in educating children from their local community, whatever their background or ability”. (DFES, 2004) This means that when teachers accept their role in society they must plan for supporting a special needs child whether they actually have to face it or not. This will make sure they are well prepared and have an open mind about those children to not their views get in the way.

This also links to labelling children who has special needs such as being called inappropriate names such as ‘idiot’ or ‘Imbecile’. This will affect their education experience if other non-special needs children start calling them by hearing other children saying that because they will feel like they are not wanted and they will become less motivated in lesson and this will lead to less progressing and then this will lead the children not coming to schools caused of labelling. Also, when special needs children or children with learning difficulties get called these ‘labelling’ names this could lead to become into bullying. By putting labels on children with learning difficulty is the same as putting children into their separate category from non-special needs and it is referring to the children to something less than a human.

The legal requirements that support the actions to be taken into consideration if a child may have special educational need are; ‘Children Act 1989’, ‘Education Act 1996’, ‘Special Educational Needs’, ‘Equality Act 2010’ ‘National Curriculum’ and ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ (EYFS). These legislations are important to take into consideration when dealing with special needs children because it is important to make the children feel like they are entitled to all services and the accommodations required to meet their needs alongside with non-special needs children.

‘Children Act 1989’ is expected to ensure the best ways to look after special needs children; this is supporting the children by working in partnership with parents, practitioners and other professionals. This act also identifies that children should have the freedom and their opinions heard by making sure every individual has the equal rights and that no child should be discriminated for their needs. ‘Children Act 1989’ is carried out in schools and hospitals as this is important for their welfare to be cared and looked after as well. “The ‘Education Act 1989’; has the right for children to express their feelings and wishes; and to ensure children are consulted and kept informed” (Care and Law, 2013).

On the other hand, ‘Education Act 1996’ is aimed to make sure that the local authority gives every special educational needs has the right to have an education along with the non-special needs children. This act also identifies the local authorities’ responsibility to make it happen. This act requires that they should identify the child’s special needs to help them with their education and how to progress and develop, they should continuously observe and asses the children throughout their learning, the teacher should identify what needs are to be met and how will the circumstance be resolved and what resources will the practitioner need to assist the child’s learning. (Complete national overview, 2012) “To ensure that teachers in the institutes are aware of the importance of identifying and providing for all pupils with SEN” (Ask Wiltshire, 2012).

In contrast, ‘Special Educational Needs’ and ‘Disability Act 2010’ are to certify that special need children are not getting or being discriminated in learning. To help them have a healthier environment and to remove barriers. “The Special Educational Needs and the Disability Act 2001 were created to help establish legal rights for disabled and special educational needs in compulsory and post-16 education, training and other student services (About Learning Disability, 2013).

Equality Act 2010 means that no special needs pupils should be left out of activities in the setting and should receive assistance when carrying out of the tasks. Therefore, they can progress along with the rest of the class, as it is their right, and not to be left behind. It also means that the disabled individuals are not being discriminated against which would prevent no effect taken to help them in their education and would mean they are treated like the rest of the pupils. “The Equality Act 2010 is the law which bans unfair treatment and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in the wider society” (Home Office 2012)

The ‘National Curriculum’ is a compulsory framework where all institutes must follow the procedure. This framework sets out standards for each subject which is used in primary schools. The ‘National Curriculum’ covers ages five to sixteen years, where it is split into different keys for different age groups. Not all private institutes follow this framework. There are two different categories which forms this curriculum they are the ‘Non-Statutory Subjects’ and the ‘Statutory Subjects’. Also the whole curriculum was made to be accessible for children with special educational needs and this brought new opportunities which helped meeting pupil’s diverse learning needs. In relation to this framework the ‘EYFS’ also sets the standards for yearly years. This framework covers from the ages of birth to five years old. In relation to the ‘National Curriculum’ the ‘EYFS’ also helps special needs and non-special needs children to learn and develop. This framework is grouped into 6 themes which are; ‘Personal, Social and Emotional development’, ‘Physical development’, ‘Communication and Language, Literacy’, ‘Mathematics, Understanding the world’, ‘Expressive Arts and Design’.

In conclusion I strongly feel that it is a social justice that special educational needs students have a right to be taught alongside other non-disabled students in mainstream schools. Yet, in order for this to be effective I firmly believe the educational system in these mainstream schools must be accommodating and well-adapted to effectively deal with these students, so that they do not fall behind with their education. There must be strong support systems available for those students as their needs and emotions must be carefully considered at all times. The teachers who will be in charge of those students should be well trained and informed of how to successfully deal with the pupil, and should make an extra effort to allow for smooth learning for that child. If all areas can be covered to ensure this happens by the government, a special educational needs student can surely progress well in education and beyond.

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