According to the Alliance for Inclusive Education, inclusive education ‘is education that  includes everyone, with non-disabled and disabled people (including those with  ‘special educational needs’) learning together in mainstream schools, colleges and  universities’ (2021). Learners are regarded as having special educational needs (SEN) if they have a disability or learning problem that affects their ability to learn and fully  participate (UK Government, 2021). This essay will reflect on current policies and  practice in education in reference to learning differences, disabilities and inclusion in  Wales. 

The Warnock report (1978) was pivotal in shaping the education system in the UK,  promoting the integration of those with special education needs within mainstream  settings. It was the first comprehensive review of SEN in England, forming the basis  of legislation for the Education Act 1981 (UK Government, 1981). Prior to Warnock’s  report, the 1944 Education Act (UK Government, 1944) categorised children with  special needs by their disabilities as defined by medical terms that focused on their  deficits rather than potential. Children with learning difficulties were referred to as  ‘ineducable’, ‘educationally subnormal’, ‘mentally deficient’ and other more derogatory  terms that have no place in current policy and practice (Education and Skills  Committee, 2006). From an international perspective, the Salamanca statement also  made a huge impact on education systems around the world, promoting the idea of  inclusive education for students with SEN in regular classrooms to combat  discriminatory attitudes (UNESCO, 1994).  

Provision moved away from the segregation and labelling of children with disabilities,  instead introducing statutory statements of SEN and promoting a more inclusive approach. The 1981 Education Act put duty of SEN provision on local education  authorities (LEAs) and gave parents more rights including the right to appeal decisions  regarding their child’s SEN with the LEA and thereafter, the secretary of state for  education; however it was criticised for not setting out clear direction on putting its  mandate into practice and made no mention of children with special needs who were  not statemented (Whalley, 2006).  

Whilst Warnock (1978) advocated moving away from the medical model that labelled handicaps, some argue that in doing so, she inadvertently put all children with special  needs under the umbrella label of SEN, thus making them lose their identity (Lauchlan  and Boyle, 2007). Many argue that the medical model is inhumane, with the individual  seen as a problem that needs to be fixed rather than societal attitudes. This can affect  the way people with learning difficulties and disabilities think of themselves. In  contrast, the social model of disability examines barriers put up by society that can  affect how they participate in society. The medical model is adopted by healthcare  professionals, and according to Wasserman and co-authors (2016), this is perhaps  done without considering how social and environmental factors can limit people with  disabilities.  

Terzi (2004) critiques the social model of disability stating extreme versions of the  model misunderstand the relationship between impairment, disability and social  circumstances; the role of impairment is downplayed and disadvantages that are not  caused by social attitudes and practices are ignored (Terzi, 2009; Terzi, 2004;  Shakespeare, 2006). Anastasiou and Kauffman (2013) and Rudnick (2017) argue that  there is a false dichotomy between the two models, and they are not mutually exclusive: both medical impairments and social circumstances must be considered for  the benefit of the individual. More recently, the human rights model has been put  forward, and focuses on basic human rights and dignity. Whilst it complements the  social model, it also factors in a person’s medical characteristics, but only when necessary (Lawson and Beckett, 2021). 

Allowing students with severe and complex ALN to be taught in mainstream education  settings follows the social model of disability, as this drives ambitions of tackling the  barriers to learning and thus helps them achieve enjoyment in their education  alongside their peers. There are several benefits for mainstream schooling for children  with ALN such as social skills development which can allow them to form lifelong  friendships, improved academic attainment, and increased acceptance of people with  disabilities by society (Jenkinson, 1997). However, other studies suggest this is not  always the case with students who have learning difficulties being taught in isolation  from the classroom within mainstream settings as reported by Glazzard (2011). 

In Goodall’s (2018) case study of learners on the autistic spectrum in Northern Ireland,  the young people interviewed recognised the merits of the social model but  experienced attitudinal barriers in mainstream schooling that left them feeling  excluded; barriers to learning included several factors such as lack of support,  teachers misunderstanding them and failing to adapt teaching pedagogy to include  them and make the curriculum accessible, and bullying by their peers. Goodall  therefore argues that it would be better for these young people to be provided  specialist education with similar learners where they are more likely to feel accepted  and included (Goodall, 2018). Whilst inclusive schooling is the ideal that we are all striving for, depending on the severity of a learner’s difficulties, mainstream education  may not be appropriate for everyone.  

From the 1990s, tensions between parents and local authorities over provision for SEN began to emerge. Whilst Warnock’s initial recommendations for statementing learners was aimed at securing resources for the 2% with complex disabilities who had recently  had their entitlement to education recognised, it was assumed that local authorities  would be responsible for meeting their needs; however, provision was poorly managed  with resources not being guaranteed in order to secure better outcomes for many of  these learners (Lamb, 2019). Between 1992-2002 the number of statemented children  expanded rapidly as SEN statements were seen as protection by families of children  with disabilities to secure their needs in education; there was a danger that  statementing was regarded as a routine means of meeting wider learning difficulties.  A government commissioned audit carried out in 1992 recommended that LAs needed  to increase the capability of mainstream schools for SEN provision because if  provision could be improved there would be a reduced need for statutory protection of  resources (Audit Commission, 1992). In 1993, Warnock actually retracted her previous  argument for statementing of children with disabilities, concluding statements should  be completely abolished (Warnock, 1993), and further stated that her framework from  1978 had been misapplied and that placement of pupils with severe and complex  needs has been a ‘disastrous legacy’ (Warnock, 2005).  

Over the course of the next few years, the UK government took steps to enhance the  statutory assessment framework, leading to the 1994 SEN code of practice in England  (Department for Education, 1994) which was consolidated in the 1996 Education Act (UK Government, 1996) that gave parents further opportunity to have more say and  to challenge decisions made by local authorities (LAs) over their children’s education  via the SEN tribunal. Timpson, then Children and Families Minister, recognised a need  to address growing parental concerns over the arduous assessment process which found families ‘battling against a complex and fragmented system’; new reforms were  further developed in England giving children and young people aged 0-25 years old with SEN more rights and protection; the aim was to facilitate a more joined up system  that will help children and young people achieve their best and give parents and  children with SEN more choice in making decisions that will ensure their needs are  fulfilled (Department for Education, 2014). 

The revised framework outlined in the Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND)  code of practice 2014 (Department for Education, 2015) incorporated the Equality Act  2010 which prevents discrimination on the grounds of disability, one of the 9 protected  characteristics in the act, since many learners with SEN also have a disability that  education establishments must make reasonable adjustments for where practicable (UK Government, 2010). Concerningly, a recent study by the Education Policy Institute  (Hutchinson, 2021) highlights serious inconsistencies in SEN provision across  England despite the new reforms, with suggestions of rationing of support in certain  areas, which go against promoting inclusiveness and are an infringement on children’s  rights to quality education. There is also an argument that England’s latest SEND reforms puts more emphasis on outcomes and success for children instead of learning  for enjoyment (Wall, 2014).

The new ALN code came into play in September 2021 (Welsh Government, 2021a) and covers all children and young people aged 0-25 with additional learning needs in  Wales, with the new system taking a more unified approach that means greater  collaboration between schools, the health board and local authorities. It integrates the  previously separate arrangements by schools and colleges through statutory  Individual Development Plans (IDPs) that are portable across different education  establishments and cover all learners with an identified ALN, unlike England’s  Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPS) that only cover more severe and complex  needs (Welsh Government, 2021b). Both the SEND code of Practice 2014 and the  Wales ALN code take on a rights-based approach; Wales’ ALN code pays due regard  to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) and the United  Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), factoring in 

the individual’s needs and wishes and putting the child, young person or their parents,  if they lack capacity, at the centre of planning and provision of support (Welsh  Government, 2021a). According to Knight and Crick (2021), the new ALN reforms in  Wales do not focus on inclusive education for every learner, instead paying more  attention on support frameworks for learners with ALN; however, with the new Welsh  curriculum (Welsh Government, 2021c) providing more autonomy and agency for  teachers to adapt their content and delivery in compulsory education, Knight and Crick  (2021) argue that there is now more scope for using differentiation and promoting  inclusive classrooms in Wales. 

Good practice for ensuring inclusive classrooms includes building a positive learning  environment where students feel socially and emotionally connected alongside  individualisation and differentiation, but these require flexibility in use of resources and  curricula as well as knowledge and understanding of inclusive education from teachers  (Lindner and Schwab, 2020). According to Dewsbury and Brame (2019), inclusion in  Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is being  pursued because of the attrition gap between students from disenfranchised identities  and other backgrounds; scientists from under-represented backgrounds can be  promoted as role models in class so all learners can witness what is achievable. Multi sensory approaches to learning are also important and in science classes learners are  given hands-on experience during investigations alongside other modes of learning  such as quizzes, with the Royal Society of Chemistry providing further information on  how to make practical science learning more inclusive whilst considering health and  safety (2018). 

Whilst the college strives to provide inclusive education taking on board legislation  such as the Equality Act 2010, there are clear challenges in providing inclusive  education for all. For inclusive education to happen, Norwich (2008) puts forward that  learning aims and general pathways must be the same for all learners, i.e. teachers must have the same expectations for all learners, but that differentiated approaches  must be taken. Catering for numerous learners with diverse needs is challenging and  there are huge concerns over increasing workload for teachers due to funding cuts resulting in fewer learning support assistants and reduced opportunities for professional development (NASUWT, 2021). This is in addition to the mounting  concerns over huge waiting lists for assessment of learners with SEN and inconsistencies in offers of support across England.  

In conclusion, it is a moral and legal duty of governments to provide all children with  quality education and the Warnock report (1978) along with the Salamanca statement (UNESCO, 1994) played a huge role in shaping current policy and practice. Whilst  there is an emphasis on providing inclusive education, there is an on-going debate on  whether providing this in mainstream education is suitable for learners with severe and  complex learning difficulties and disabilities. The ALN reforms in Wales follow the  principles set out in England’s SEND code of practice but aim to be more transparent  in facilitating assessment of learners with ALN. Lessons need to be learnt from the  English system which is currently facing a crisis due to inconsistencies of provision  and shortages of funding. Welsh Government have allocated £20 million for the ALN  transformation; however, this is unlikely to be enough since England’s reforms have  cost over £600 million thus far (Keer, 2018). Welsh Government will therefore need to  ensure that adequate funding is available for supporting learners with ALN across  Wales and ensure a fair and timely system of assessment and provision of resources so they can access equitable education.

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