Education Inclusion

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Special Educational Needs

A history of special education

In the early part of the 20th century, ideas about the provision of education for children with special needs were based on a medical model of 'defects'. This model focused on difference rather than normality, on illness rather than well being, and particularly on the 'problem' with the child (Lewis, 1999). Children were given medically diagnosed categories with the emphasis on deficit rather than potential. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that education for children with special educational needs originally took the form of separate, special schools for those who were thought to need them. Psychometric testing by early psychologists (such as Cyril Burt) also confirmed this type of approach to disability and difference.

Education through the 1960s and 70s

In the 1960s and 70s, work with children with special needs moved towards an approach favoured by behaviourist psychologists. This approach stressed the need to use operant conditioning techniques. Behaviourists rejected the medical model and advocated an approach that dealt with only what they could observe. Some criticized this as a major weakness. However, this work was very important because it stressed the possibility of modifying the problems of children with special needs and placed the responsibility of that modification with the teacher (Lewis. 1999).

Behaviourist techniques were seen as very effective in helping with particular difficulties — self-help skills, for example. But they were seen to be less effective in helping children with tasks that involved more understanding. As Lewis argues:

Neo-behaviourists attempted to meet some of the criticisms of behaviourists' approaches by giving some place to 'cognitive mediation'. This attempted to explain how, for example, memory of failure might inhibit a child from reading words correctly despite being consistently praised when they were read correctly. It was recognized that children were responding not to some neutral event in teaching but to their perceptions of that event. So for an adolescent with learning difficulties, receiving praise from the teacher for correct answers might be perceived as embarrassing rather than encouraging. Thus positive reinforcement might be counterproductive' (Lewis 1999, p. 47).

The 1960s and 70s paved the way for a new approach to special needs. Attitudes to special education in general started to change, and in part the behaviourist initiatives made the teaching of children with learning difficulties seem more accessible to teachers in mainstream schools. These ideas helped to promote the possibility of inclusion of children with special educational needs.

The Warnock Report

The Warnock Report in 1978 was based on the findings of a committee set up to review the provision for children with mental and physical disabilities. The report made 225 recommendations, one of which was to abolish the use of categories, which it saw as damaging and irrelevant. The Warnock Committee advocated a continuum of special needs, rather than discrete categories. The Committee's research suggested that only 2 per cent of the school population required separate educational provision, but that there were another 18 per cent of children who would require special provision in normal ...
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