There have been many legislative changes to education over the years, in particular relating to additional learning needs (ALN), or special education needs and differences (SEND) as it is known in England. The legislation is designed to make education accessible to all, taking into consideration and promoting equality, inclusion and diversity and is applicable to both schools and colleges. This assignment will look to critically analyse this legislation and its implementation in schools and colleges in the UK.

The 1944 Education Act stated that “Local Education Authorities must provide education in special schools or otherwise and special education treatment for pupils who suffer from any disability of mind or body” (Newth A, 1946) Terminology used at that time to describe such individuals, was derogatory by today’s standards and included terms such as ‘uneducable’, ‘maladjusted’ and ‘educationally sub-normal’ and as such were given ‘special education treatment’ in special schools. 

With very little changes in terms of education reform since the 1944 Education Act, the Conservative Education Minister in 1974, Margaret Thatcher, commissioned a report into the education of those with special educational needs (Norwich B, 2019). This report was later known as the Warnock report and is still to this day used as a basis for teaching those with additional learning needs. 

Warnock’s report concluded, in 1978, that the type of language used to describe learners with additional needs (in line with the Education Act 1944)  was unhelpful and not in line with the socio-economic changes that were taking place during the 1970’s, nor were they conducive to the aim of “considering the most effective use of resources to prepare young people for entry into employment” . Warnock concluded that terms such as these often became lifelong labels for those who had to endure them, creating a knock on effect with regards to their employment and contribution to society. (Webster, R. 2018) 

Educational reforms began to take place following the Warnock report in 1978 and was used as the framework for the 1981 Education Act (updated 1988) which radically changed the way individuals with additional learning needs were educated. These changes included the introduction of statementing and making Local Education Authorities responsible for ensuring the inclusion of those with additional learning needs into mainstream schools. (select committee for education and skills, UK Parliament, 2006).

It also introduced the rights for parents/guardians to have a say in their child’s education and where that education should take place, including the ability to appeal decisions made by local authorities and schools, thus empowering both the student and parent which was a huge social development at that time. (Gillard, D. 2012). 

Statementing is still carried out in education today but according to a report by Ofsted (2010), those who had been statemented still achieved less well than their peers and were more likely to be excluded or absent from school, thus suggesting that statementing is questionable as to whether it makes any difference to those individuals. If schools are unable or unwilling to put the support required for these individuals in place, then no amount of labelling of learning disabilities will make any difference to the overall education of the individual. Webster and Blatchford’s (2013)  observations concluded that those with statements often experienced separation from their teachers and peers and were often supported by Teaching Assistants away from the classroom. This is arguably going against the ideology of inclusivity and raises the question of whether a ‘statemented’ child is labelled for life which is the opposite of what Warnock was trying to achieve when she argued against derogatory labelling of individuals.

Warnock’s report (1978) sparked the closure of many special schools and during the 80’s and 90’s the number of students with additional learning needs going to special schools reduced considerably as they were integrated more into mainstream education. Warnock’s recommendations included that those with special needs should be given the support required to enable them to attend mainstream education and that changes should be made within mainstream schools to accommodate them. Yet with a lack of funding and appropriate training for teachers to support those with additional learning needs, the education system, according to Warnock, got progressively worse for those with additional learning needs.

There have been a number of studies carried out looking at the social impacts of the inclusion of those with additional learning needs into mainstream school, and according to Avramidis (2009) some of these findings have been positive, including some children being able to form and maintain positive relationships with their peers in an inclusive environment and feeling part of a “social network”. 

On the other hand, other studies have found that students with additional learning needs often lack the social skills required to interact with their peers successfully and have been left isolated. (Avramadis, E. 2009). This suggests that everyone’s experiences are different which agrees with Glazzard (2011) that mainstream education can be effective for those with mild learning disabilities such as dyslexia and autism but not necessarily effective for those with more severe learning disabilities where their needs are so vastly different to others mainstream that them being in the same environment is actually damaging to everyone’s experience and education. 

In agreement with Glazzard, Warnock (2008) also later acknowledged that, although the ideal is to treat everyone equally, in real terms this is near impossible and that in actual fact, the desire to treat everyone the same and inclusively can actually be taken too far. Warnock also acknowledged that, since her report, the right for SEN students to be included had become problematic, to the point that heads and governors had been “liable to a criminal charge if they excluded a disruptive child from a mainstream school against the wishes of the parent”. This put heads and teachers in an extremely difficult position. 

Glazzard (2011) also found evidence that suggested that a lack of funding, training and resources were a significant barrier in the effective implementation of the inclusion of learners with additional learning needs into mainstream schools. He found that teachers were expected to meet the needs of their learners without adequate training or the resources required to teach such students and that often, funding even for teaching support was minimal. A government report into SEN support: a rapid evidence assessment (2017) highlighted that in the main part, teaching assistants spent more time with learners with additional needs than the teacher but that they required much more training and support from SEN specialists for this to be truly effective. This questions the quality of teaching that learners with learning needs are currently receiving, as the poor pay may attract less qualified individuals to the job, who are then left to teach some of the nations most needy children. 

In 2001, the SEN and Disability ACT came into force and endeavored to reinforce the Government’s commitment to inclusivity for children with additional learning needs in mainstream education and that reasonable adjustments should be made by schools and colleges to achieve this. This was then followed by the Equality ACT in 2010 ensuring nine protected characteristics which to this day are still protected against discrimination by law. (Equality Act 2010 guidance available at

Despite the equality act 2010, a faith school in England, according to the National Secular Society (2019) was failed by OFSTED and warned by the government after findings that pupils were being segregated by gender from the age of eleven, with no legal justification for it, only to teach and treat the female pupils differently to the male. Whilst genders may be segregated, as sometimes happens at private schools, the opportunities and curriculum should remain the same regardless of gender. 

This school still decided to teach in this way which suggests that the government should have more robust measures in place for identifying breaches of the equality act and acting upon those breaches accordingly. If there is little in the way of reprimand for breaches, then this is possibly something that will continue to happen in the future. According to Bolloten (2013) Schools’ only requirement is to have ‘due-regard’ to these requirements and so there is no clear guidance as to what the ramifications are for schools who do not comply.

Today, England schools also now have the 2014 SEND reforms which came into effect in 2018. These reforms are known as the Additional Learning Needs transformation in Wales and follows the lead set by England. The Wales reforms will come into effect in 2021 having been delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Snap Cymru states that the main changes that will affect the Wales reform is that the term ‘Special Educational Needs’ will now be replaced with’ Additional Learning Needs’ and that learners up to the age of 25 will now be supported. Statements will now also be replaced with ‘Individual Development Plans’ and each region of Wales will be appointed its own transformational lead who will hold overall responsibility for overseeing strategy implementation, working closely with local authorities and other multi disciplinary teams.

In terms of adult basic skills learners, this change does not go far enough. Although learners up to the age of 25 will now be supported in terms of individual development plans, learners older than this will not be eligible for the same treatment. In a world where we should be inclusive and equal, supporting people only up to the age of 25 does not sit well within this legislation, remembering that one of the protected characteristics of the equality act 2010 is not to be discriminated against because of age. 

According to a report carried out by the UK parliament (2019), adult learning is limited and underfunded across the UK, in particular for learners with ALN/SEN. The finding of the report suggests that more needs to be done to support adult learners with ALN/SEN including community learning provision. The adult basic skills teams offer free learning for all and offer a wide range of community based learning, however, the team are not specifically trained to teach those with additional learning needs. Part time adult learners are also not eligible for the support of the additional learning needs team at the college and as such, these barriers to learning often remain for many adult learners despite the college striving to “tackle the different barriers to equal opportunities that different people face so that everyone has a fair chance to fulfil their potential” within their Strategic Equality Plan 2020-2024. 

The new ALN transformation in Wales, according to Gov.Wales (2020) , has been given a budget of just £20million to implement. This is in comparison to the over £200million so far invested in the England SEND reforms since 2014 and the further £700 million announced for investment during 2020/2021, according to a major government review into special needs education (2019). 

Despite the enormous amount of money ploughed into the SEND reforms since 2014, in 2019, the UK government announced a major review into support for children with special educational needs in England following problems in delivering the changes that the 2014 reform set out to address. As the Welsh government seeks to implement its reform on a budget of just £20 million, it remains to be seen how effective this will really be judging by the problems England appears to have encountered despite the huge amount of funding the reforms have been given.

In conclusion, there is a huge amount of legislation that the education system must adhere to, but in practice, applying and implementing that legislation is sporadic and in some circumstances, impossible to achieve. Despite investment and reforms, there still appears to be a lack of funding, support and training for teachers. 

Whilst equality and inclusion has been highlighted here as a problem in education, it is also a wider problem in society and must be addressed at many levels. 

Whilst governments have strived for years to include those with additional needs into mainstream education, they have often failed to treat those individuals fairly or equally by forcing them into an education establishment that cannot cater for them. It is also important to remember that the other mainstream students must also be treated fairly but the pressure on teachers to meet every individual’s need, without adequate training and support, puts all learners’ education at risk. 

Through good communication and assessment between parents, teachers and multi-disciplinary teams, individuals must be given the opportunity to learn where they feel most comfortable but at the same time, in an establishment that is able to cater for their needs effectively, and unfortunately, at times, this will not be in mainstream education. Head teachers should be supported in being able to make this decision without fear of prosecution as they are, after all, responsible for all learners’ wellbeing within their school. Of course, if changes can be made to accommodate the learner and they are going to receive the best educational experience for them, then of course they should be able to attend mainstream school. Each learner should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and not a one size fits all approach.

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