Key themes arising from the literature review

In searching the literature, a number of themes pertinent to all teachers were identified. These are listed below and explored in more depth throughout the review.

Teachers generally endorse the principle of inclusion and the ‘right’ of individual children to be educated alongside their neighbourhood peers. As inclusion has become further entrenched in educational policy and practice there is an emerging view that this ‘right’ to be included may be superseded by the ‘right’ for SEN pupils to have an education that can meet their needs.

Educational inclusion is set within a political and societal context
Inclusion cannot be considered in isolation as it sits within a political and societal context and relates to wider considerations of the purposes and priorities of education.

Inclusion is a construct open to much interpretation

Interpretation is strongly influenced by the context in which it is discussed. Inclusion within education has be defined in relation to:

  • an ideology and/or aspiration: usually linked to human rights agenda
  • a place: usually mainstream vs special
  • a policy: normally from central government
  • practice: ‘inclusive teaching’
  • personal experience: pupil experience of feeling included.

There is not inevitably a coherent relationship between these differing perspectives and definitions.

The purpose of inclusion for individuals is not always clear
Consensus view has yet to be achieved, leading to problems as to how inclusion should be evaluated, eg should it be judged against a reduction in special schools? A reduction in exclusions?

More SEN school leavers engaging
in educational, community and work activities? An individual pupil or parent ‘experiencing’ beneficial effects of inclusive practices? Rates of academic progress? Should inclusion be judged
in relation to short or long-term outcomes?

Does inclusion relate to individuals or groups and is it only about SEN and disability?
Inclusion has tended to be viewed as primarily concerned with individuals with SEN, disability and behaviour problems. Inclusion is also regarded as concerned with inequalities for groups of children, including SEN but also gender, race, social background and attainment.

National and local policies for ‘SEN’, ‘inclusion’, and ‘standards’ do not always share aims and procedures.

Special schools
In spite of popular perceptions that inclusion is about the closure of special schools, the reality is that policy has been consistent in recognising the need for some children to be educated in special schools. There are, however, changes in the role of special schools, with increasing emphasis on supporting mainstream inclusion and building capacity within the wider workforce.

National and local variation in policy and practice for SEN and inclusion
Considerable variation in the response at local, regional and national levels. Differing experiences and impact of inclusion on pupils, parents and teachers are further influenced by:

  • limited statutory guidance for SEN and inclusion, allowing for interpretations leading to wide variation in provision and practice
  • teacher training in England and Wales has mandatory standards for achieving qualified teacher status, which make reference to SEN, however more detailed study is optional. Individual ITT providers may cover the SEN component of SEN-related standards in a variety of ways and in differing degrees of detail
  • use of support staff for whom qualification in SEN are desirable but not essential
  • differing roles of support services
  • use of a ‘relative’ definition of SEN allows categorisation as SEN in one school but not necessarily in another
  • varying teacher attitudes to inclusion
  • variations in the type, availability and demand for training.

Policy dilemmas
Teachers are required to juggle policy initiatives that require them to concentrate on individual outcomes and also group outcomes. Teachers have to make decisions about whether individual differences in learning, such as behaviour difficulties, take precedence over the learning needs of the class.

Primary/secondary differences Differences in the incidence and pattern of type of SEN, in policy and provision for SEN and inclusion, exclusion rates and outcomes data. Behaviour represents

a considerably greater problem in secondary schools.

Classroom practice
National guidance materials for teaching of pupils with SEN are prolific. There is limited data on how frequently accessed and used by practising teachers, and how these materials impact on teacher competence and confidence and pupil outcomes.

Early identification and intervention for SEN
In spite of early identification being central to SEN policy initiatives, this has yet to become the norm for teachers and their schools and remains an issue for teacher training, funding, parental partnership and systemic development.

Categorisation of SEN
Coexistence of a medical (‘normative’) model for identifying SEN alongside a social (‘relative’) model leads to variations in identification between schools.

‘Medical’ model attributes difficulties in learning to deficiencies or impairments within the pupil, whereas ‘social’ model looks at the barriers that may exist in the nature of the setting or arise through the interaction between pupils and their contexts.

Using a ‘relative’ definition of SEN allows categorisation of child as having SEN in one school but not necessarily in another.

Pupils with whom it is difficult to establish the reciprocal relationship that underpins teaching and learning (ie pupils with extreme behavioural problems, autistic spectrum disorders and speech, language and communication problems) can present particularly significant challenges to teachers.

There can be a significant problem, particularly in secondary schools, in balancing the ‘right’ of pupil to be included with the ‘right’ of others to learn. Distinction between ‘low level’ and ‘challenging behaviour’ may be helpful in applying preventative measures at an earlier stage. There is no shortage of national guidance and books on behaviour management but teachers need time to access, implement and evaluate these resources.

Teacher attitudes
This is an important factor which should not lead to a simplistic interpretation that a positive attitude is all that is necessary. There is a need for further empirical evidence as to how attitude influences and is influenced by experience of practice.