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.


The educational reforms of 1944

In 1944, significant reforms to the education system were brought into effect. Most of these reforms were directed at mainstream education and the provision of free education for all. The 1944 Act also addressed certain aspects of education for children with special needs. However, its approach to, and definitions of children with special needs was not as liberating as its prescriptions for education in gen­eral.  The act still focused on a medical model of dis­ability.  It established eleven categories of ‘handicap’, and children falling into these categories were described in terms of the ‘treatment’ they could receive.  Special schools were still seen as the most appropriate way to educate children with special needs, although limited recognition was given to the provision of education  in mainstream schools. The 1944 act still referred to children who ‘suffered from a disability of mind or body’, and so clearly focused on special schools’ as catering for ‘handi­capped’ children.


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 schools. Warnock argued that this 18 per cent had always been there, but that there had not been a consistent effort to integrate these children in the system.

However, legislation is gradually catching up with these recommendations. The Warnock Report formed the basis of the 1981 Education Act’s poli­cies (enforced in 1983) on special educational needs (SEN), which introduced a quite different approach to the definition of children with SEN:


A child will have a special educational need if s/he has a learning difficulty requiring special educational provi­sion. The ‘learning difficulty’ includes not only physical and mental disabilities, but also any kind of learning dif­ficulty experienced by a child, provided that it is signifi­cantly greater than that of the majority of children of the same age.


The Act went Further in stating that the education of children with SEN should be carried out in ordinary schools where possible. The Act therefore empha­sized an approach that is in favour of inclusion and integration, rather than separation and isolation. This approach advocates that children with special needs should be treated as individuals, and that the particular resources that each child needs should be allocated to that child — for example, that the child should have a learning support teacher with them in the classroom, rather than being taken out of the class.


Recent educational reform

More recent educational reform (such as the Educa­tion Act of 1993) has continued to push for an inclusive approach. There are now legal require­ments that oblige schools to provide for children with learning difficulties (in line with a Code of Practice established in 1994). All schools had to publish their SEN policies before August 1995, and name a SEN Co-ordinator (SENCO) on their staff (Child, 1997). The 1994 Code of Practice is cur­rently under review and a new Code is due to be published in 2001. Similarly, sixth form colleges and colleges of further education have to appoint an inclusive learning co-ordinator, and find ways of improving education and training for those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and of widening participation among people under-represented in further education (FEFC, 1998).



The medical model is now criticized for being de­humanizing, and treating children like objects (Lewis, 1 999). It groups vague symptoms together and assumes they can be treated in the same way. Some, however, draw attention to the value of some parts of this model. For example, Bailey (1998) argues that this kind of model includes the rigorous approach of a scientific analysis to the problems, in order to establish causes and treatments.


Definitions of learning difficulties

In its broadest sense, the term ‘special needs’ can be applied to any student who requires some sort of special educational treatment as a result of difficul­ties in one or more of the following areas.


   Social—emotional: students with ADHD, autism and so on.

   Physical: students with sensory deficits (visual or hearing impairments), cerebral palsy, epilepsy and so on.

   Intellectual: students with learning difficulties.


Social—emotional and physical difficulties can have a lasting impact on an individual’s education, but these kinds of problem tend to be diagnosed and treated by professionals working outside the educa­tional system (for example, clinical psychologists), although specialist educational units do exist for children with such difficulties.

The term ‘learning difficulty’ is used to define a number of conditions. Most descriptions of learning difficulties highlight four groups of characteristics (LeFrancois, 1997).

1  There is a noticeable difference between expected behaviour and actual behaviour, in terms of per­formance in tests and so on.

2  There is an uneven pattern of academic achieve­ment that cannot be explained by other factors (such as disinterest).

3  Learning disabilities are often noticed in the use of written or spoken language or numeracy.

4  Problems associated with learning disabilities do not result from other problems, such as impaired hearing or vision.


Historically, the various terms used to describe dif­ferent degrees of learning difficulty (mild, moder­ate, severe and profound were related to specific IQ levels. This approach tended to label individuals, and to ignore their actual abilities and difficulties. More recently, there is recognition that all students can have difficulties with their learning, but that cer­tain students have difficulties that require special help. Students with learning difficulties are gener­ally categorized as follows.


   Moderate learning difficulty (MLD): students who can be taught in mainstream schools with some learning support.

   Severe learning difficulty (SLD): students who require a much higher degree of specialist sup­port — usually within special units or schools.

   Profound and multiple learning difficulty (PMLD): students with very serious intellectual difficulties, combined with sensory and other physical impairments.


There is also a category for students with difficulties that are not related to general impairments in intel­lectual ability.


   Specific learning difficulty (SPLD): these refer to conditions such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.


Identifying learning difficulties

The 1994 Code of Practice describes five stages through which school children will pass if they are suspected of having a learning difficulty.


  Stage 1: if teachers feel that a certain child may have SEN, they place the child on the school’s SEN Register, and try to help the child as best they can within the classroom. In some cases, ini­tial recognition of a potential learning difficulty may come from a parent.

  Stage 2: if the individual teachers feel they are failing to provide the support and help needed by the child, they refer him/her to the SEN Co­ordinator (SENCO), who takes responsibility for the child’s special educational needs. The SENCO draws up an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to monitor the level of difficulty experienced by the child and to see if the school’s interventions are helping.

  Stage 3: if the SENCO feels that the child is not being helped enough, s/he will use specialist sup­port from outside the school (educational psy­chologist, speech and language therapy. family consultation centres, hearing advisory service. visual impairment advisory service and so on1. These outside agencies contribute to the IEP.

  Stage 4: if, following two reviews of the IEP, it is still felt that the child is not making appropriate progress, the school applies to the LEA for statu­tory’ assessment of the child, in order to obtain extra resources and help.

  Stage 5: if the child receives an SEN statement from the local education authority (LEA), then there are mandatory requirements, and extra funding, for the school to provide special help for the child (for example, annual review of needs and learning support assistants in the classroom).



  An SEN statement is a formal recognition that a child has a special need as a result of some kind of learning difficulty. It is useful to the child to be statemented in this way as it means that the child will receive extra support; without a statement, the LEA will not provide any funds. In practice, the special help received by statemented children often consists of a learning sup­port assistant (LSA). The LSA is an adult who spends a specified number of hours a week in the classroom with the statemented child. However, it is not always the case that this is the most effective way of support­ing a particular child.

  In marginal cases of learning difficulty, it can be quite hard to get a child statemented, and parents often have a long fight to achieve this. As a result, parents who have the resources for this (for example, they are middle-class with a high level of cultural capital) are more likely to get their children statemented and therefore more likely to obtain special educational provision.


Who has special needs?


As of January 1999 approximately 250,000 pupils in schools in England had special educational need (SEN) statements. Sixty per cent of students with statements were educated within mainstream schools (ONS 2000).

In 1998/1999, two out of three pupils in special schools were boys (The Standards Site 2000).

In 1997/1998 the exclusion rate for students with SEN statements was seven times the rate for students without statements (ONS 2000).

Daniels et al. (1996) in studying twenty junior schools in one inner city LEA found ‘worrying imbalances’ in gender and racial backgrounds in regard to certain categories of SEN. The researchers found that male and female black students were more likely to be allocated to the learning difficulty group rather than the reading difficulty group; whereas similar numbers of white students were allocated to the learning difficulty group and the reading difficulty group. Further researchers noted that black males were more likely to be categorised as having emotional and behavioural difficulties than white males. It is stated that further research is needed to determine to what extent teacher assumptions regarding ‘black and white masculinity and femininity account for these gender differences’ (Arnot et al. 1998, p. 65).



Overview of some specific types of learning disabilities


In addition to global learning disabilities an individual could receive a diagnosis of a specific learning disability — for example, dyslexia or a condition such as autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Individuals would receive a diagnosis from a combination of doctors, psychologists (educational or clinical) and psychiatrists. Medical reports and diagnostic tools such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV, and International Standard Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, ICD-10, would be used. It is crucial to note that many conditions are in fact syndromes. A syndrome is a group of related symptoms or behavioural traits. This means that even individuals with the same condition will not have identical symptoms or behavioural traits. To complicate this situation, one individual will often have more than one type of disability. Professionals refer to this as co-morbidity. For example, one student might have dyslexia with ADHD. To complicate the issue further there might be additional physical or sensory disabilities, medical conditions, such as epilepsy, or mental health issues, such as depression. The reality is that this complexity in diagnosis means that intervention strategies need to be targeted to the individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. It is also crucial when talking about individuals with learning disabilities or special educa­tional needs that we realise that an individual is first and foremost an individual in their own right and that their own unique personality will be apparent.


Strategies for educating children with special needs


A key element in stage 2 of the Code of Practice is the development of individual educational plans or IEPs. An IEP is appropriate for all students with special educational needs and as such IEPs should be considered as a key intervention. There has been much guidance and commentary in regard to what constitutes an effective IEP. Ramjhun (1995) discusses the features of a good IEP. An IEP will identify the child’s current level of attainments. The IEP will then set targets. The targets must be related to the areas of difficulty, and be specific, measurable, achievable and teachable given current resources.

Targets need to be related specifically to success criteria or indicators, which can be objectively measured. The nature of resources or provision needs to be set out and methods of monitoring specified. Monitoring methods include: record keeping, arranging various meetings to co-ordinate the provision of IEPs, and of course reviews of IEPs.


Evaluation of IEPs


First we can say that the targets need to be achievable so that the child feels that they are progressing, which in turn would be reinforcing or motivating. However an IEP is an incredibly time-consuming process, especially when you consider that IEPs will need to be constantly monitored and reviewed. Yet constant monitoring is essential in order to determine the extent of progress and continuing need. Dyson (1996), after carrying out research with SENCOs in the former Cleveland LEA, commented that schools might consider a value added criterion when it comes to deciding whether to draw up an IEP; that is, to only consider doing so if the educational benefit to the child could not be secured in a less time- and resource-intensive way.



Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)


Andrew Bondy and Lori Frost developed the Picture Exchange Communication System in the early I 990s when they were working with the Delaware Autistic Program. Although originally the pro­gramme was used to foster communication with young autistic children, it is now used with older children and adults who have a range of communication difficulties. The aim of PECS is to give a means of communication to individuals who previously have had none. The system revolves around the concept of exchanging pictures for desired objects. To begin with, the teacher needs to establish what the child finds rewarding. Several objects (crisps, a carton of juice, and various toys) are placed on a table and the child is observed in order to deter­mine what his or her preferences are. Once preferences are established, pictures of preferred objects are made into cards. The next stage of the programme involves the child being shown the picture of the preferred object and the preferred object itself.  To receive the preferred object the child must give the picture card to the trainer. Once the child has done this, they receive the preferred object. To begin with, the child might need some physical guidance and prompting. This is the first exchange. From these small beginnings other picture cards are intro­duced. Eventually children are encouraged to use picture cards in combination to form sentences. Children using this system will carry around personalised books of picture cards, which include a Velcro strip to which they add picture cards (backed with Velcro) to form sentences.

Bondy and Frost (1994) summarising work with eighty-five autistic pre-school children over five years found that:


   Almost all children learned to use one picture to communicate a request within one month of starting the programme.

   95 per cent of children learned to use two or more pictures.

   76 per cent of the children developed some speech through the training programme.


In summary, the programme not only offered a practical form of communication to those who had none but, for many, speech developed with the use of this programme.



Social skills training


Many individuals with global learning disabilities and individuals with autism or Asperger syndrome will benefit from social skills training.  This issue becomes increasingly important as the individual prepares to leave school and enter the adult world of work and further training.  Social skills programmes would cover such areas as greetings, appro­priate eye contact, welcoming visitors, accepting correction, speaking with authority figures and conversation skills. Most programmes cover the following components. The individual by themselves or in a group will receive specific instructions in regard to a specific skill. The teacher will demonstrate the social skill. Next there will be role-play where the individual practises the skill. Then there will be feedback, possibly more role-play and rehearsal. Howlin and Yates (1996) reported the following benefits after a social skills programme aimed at adults with autism:


   Speech became less repetitive.

   Improvement in conversational skills including offering information and asking questions.


However, Howlin and Yates (1996) note that there are problems in generalising skills acquired in the group setting of a social skills class to the outside world. Howlin (1997) tells the story of Jerome, who within the context of a social skills group received instruction on how to initiate and maintain conversations with young women. Even with training Jerome found it difficult to meet women, until he came up with a solution.


His solution for finding the best place to meet as many single women as possible was a simple one — inside the local ladies lavatory! When arrested by the police, he clearly had no perception of why this behaviour had got him into trouble.

(Howlin 1997, p. 92)


Another way of improving complex social skills involves the creation of social stories.





Dyslexia has been defined as: ‘a disorder manifested by difficulty in learning to read, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural opportunity’ (Critchley 1970, p. 11).

In terms of a cause it was first speculated that dyslexia could be attributed to deficits in the visual system as certain children with dyslexia were prone to reversing letters, such as reading a ‘b’ for a ‘d’. However, more recent research (Shaywitz 1996) has argued that dyslexia should be seen as a deficit in language processing involving, in particular, problems with phonological decoding. Phonemes are the distinctive linguistic or sound units that in combination create words. Knowledge of the association between verbal sounds and the corres­ponding written form is a skill necessary for reading and writing. For example, the word cat is made up of three sounds, kuh —aah tuh, but is spelt cat. There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet and these letters in combination form the forty-four sounds that the English language employs. The difficulty in reading and spelling is that words are often not spelt the way they sound and that different letter combinations represent the same sound. For example, Hardwick (1997) states that the ee sound can be spelt in ten different ways. They are: e (me), ee (see), ey (key), ea (eat), ie (thief), ei (seize), e-e (cede), eo (people), i-e (magazine) and ae (encyclopaedia).

Ellis (1993) postulated a simple model for reading which can be applied to individuals with dyslexia. Ellis’s model utilises the following components:


   Visual Analysis System: recognition of shapes and position of shapes.

   Visual Input Lexicon: word-by-word recognition or internal dictionary for word form.

   Semantic System: recognition of word meaning.

   Speech Output Lexicon: sound recognition for whole word.

   Phoneme Level: knowledge of distinctive speech sounds that comprise words.

   Speech: ability to produce speech.


What Ellis (1993) is proposing is that all of these components are necessary to the reading process. If there is difficulty in one of the components it does not imply that reading is impossible but that it becomes more difficult as alternative or less optimal pathways need to be taken. This view could be used to explain the difficulties faced by dyslexic individuals. This view would also imply that there could be several reasons why an individual was having difficulty with reading.

In order to understand dyslexia, consideration of the stages of normal reading development is needed. At the earliest stage, words are identified on the basis of visual appearance. The child is making no use of letter—sound correspondence and will make mistakes such as confusing black for back, as both words are of similar length and start and end with the same letters. Children then progress on to the second stage of reading which involves the use of phonics.

Just to complicate the issue it is worth noting that controversy exists as to whether there is such a condition as dyslexia. Dyslexia is diagnosed due to the discrepancy between overall intelligence or ability and specific scores on reading and spelling tests. This view implies that students who are good at most tasks but not reading and spelling will receive a diagnosis of dyslexia, but those students who are poor at all tasks will not be considered dyslexic even though they might have the same problems. However, Aaron et al. (1988) argue that the cause of developmental dyslexia is poor grapheme—phoneme (letter—sound) decoding skills, whereas the cause of general reading delay with overall low levels of ability is poor comprehension. On a practical level, what is important is that, if a child is having difficulty with reading or spelling, intervention is given.


Effects of dyslexia


In some ways the effects of dyslexia are stated within the definition as an inability to read and write. Certainly ours is a literate society, with the consequence that an inability to read and write would put an individual at a great disadvantage. Magazines, books and information on computers are all presented in a written format. We need to read to fill in forms: forms to enrol for courses; forms to open a bank account; forms to apply for a job, a driving licence, a passport— the list is endless. In addition to difficulties with reading and spelling, some individuals with dyslexia will experience difficulties in regard to maths, remem­bering, following complex instructions, telling right from left and attending to tasks. Though the effects are in some ways apparent there can be additional effects.


   Reading and spelling are basic prerequisite skills needed in order to progress through the key stages of the National Curriculum.

   A competence at reading and spelling is needed if the child is to achieve their academic potential.

   If diagnosis is not made, secondary negative effects could occur. Teachers might label the child as lazy. The child, in trying to make sense of their inability to succeed at a task that their peers are mastering, might label himself or herself as stupid. This in turn could lead to lower levels of self-esteem and possibly to disruptive behaviour.


It has been argued that diagnosis needs to be made as early as possible so as to prevent the child from experiencing failure.



Specific strategies for educating children with dyslexia


In relation to dyslexia there are a number of educational interventions. These include structured written language programmes and multi-sensory teaching. Structured language programmes include the ‘Alpha to Omega Programme’ and the ‘Bangor Teaching Programme’. A structured programme sees learning to read and spell as the acquisition of skills. The skills are cumulative in that basic skills need to be laid down before more complex skills can be taught. In terms of a written language programme the sequence of skill acquisition would be as follows: letters, sound/symbol correspondence, blends (combinations of sounds), regular words, polysyllabic words and syllabic division. The teacher would need to assess what skills the child has and start from there.

Multi-sensory techniques involve the teaching of phonics, but with an approach that uses the inter-relation between sensory modalities, i.e. the connections between auditory, visual, kinaesthetic and tactile modalities. Let us take the word cat. The individual hears the word cat (auditory), sees the word cat (visual), says the word cat (auditory), prints the word cat (kinaesthetic) and feels the word cat (tactile as it is written in wooden two-dimensional letters). The rationale is that if there is a weakness with one modality then there is a need to find an alternative way of learning which capitalises on existing strengths in other modalities (Thomson 1990).

‘Teaching Today’ (Dyslexia in the Primary Classroom 1997) gives the following examples of multi-sensory teaching:


   Have children look in a mirror when reading words so that they can see how sounds are formed by lip and tongue movements. This task is useful for auditory discrimination, such as distinguishing the sound f from th.

   Tracing the letter shape on the table, in sand, in the air or on someone’s back helps to establish what arm and hand movements correspond to what letter. This process is enhanced if the child does the movement with a blindfold on.

   With eyes shut the child holds a wooden letter to feel and identify the letter.

   Running around big shapes and letters in the playground establishes a whole-body feel for the shapes involved.


Further ideas are suggested by Hardwick (1997) and include:


   Having students make their own tapes of spelling words to learn. For instance, the child presses the button on the tape machine and first hears themselves saying eat, then the child pauses the tape machine, writes the word eat, pushes the play button again and hears themselves spelling eat. They then pause the tape machine and check their spelling. This process can be repeated.

   Flashcards can be used. On one side of the flashcard write the target word, for example, my. On the other side of the flashcard have the child write a sentence with the word my in it, that is, something personally meaningful to them — for example, ‘My favourite animal is a hedgehog.’ Then have the child draw a picture, perhaps of a hedgehog. It is hoped that the personally meaningful sentence and the visual picture will serve as a reminder of what the word looks like (Hardwick 1996).


Research, to date, has served to identify which factors lead to successful teaching for dyslexic children.  It has been shown that students with dyslexia do improve with:

  Multi-sensory techniques.

  Individualised instruction based on careful assessment.

  Small-group or one-to-one teaching.

  Early identification.

  Understanding and encouragement.

  A structured approach based on phonetic principles.

  Teaching to strengths and offering remedial teaching aimed at weakness where appropriate.


  Help with organisational skills.

  Exciting classroom experiences and constructive support.


Students with dyslexia do not improve with:

  Unspecific methods, i.e. more reading or spelling.

  More attention.

  Being left to grow out of it.

  Training in visual or auditory skills alone (unless focused on written language).

  Patterning or other neurological exercises to develop laterality.

  Punishments or threats.

  Inappropriate labelling. (Thompson 1990)


What is still not known is what teaching method is suitable for a particular child with dyslexia. Dyslexic children, though sharing common difficulties with reading and spelling, will have their unique cognitive profiles outlining weakness and strengths. The question remains as to whether to teach to strengths only or whether to try to compensate for weakness. In terms of Ellis’s theoretical model of read­ing, if the phoneme level is damaged, will intensive teaching time result in improved phonological awareness, or should teaching time be used to teach reading via a method that capitalises on strengths? This issue was raised in an interesting case study (Brooks 1995) where an 11-year-old boy with severe specific learning difficulties/dyslexia was systematically tested after a variety of intervention programmes aimed to improve spelling. The boy, referred to as RG in the case study, was assessed as having a reading age of 7 years and 6 months and a spelling age of 7 years and 5 months. Further tests revealed that RG had weak­nesses in phonological skills and auditory memory. To assess various teaching interventions, sets of words of similar difficulty were taught by different teaching strategies and the success of each teaching strategy was measured by words learned. The teaching strategies included:


   Look and say: the teacher says the word and shows the word on a card for ten seconds.

   Tracing: the student is shown the word and asked to say the word and trace the letters of the word as if writing them (Fernald 1943).

   Simultaneous oral spelling: the teacher writes the word. The student is asked to write the word, copying from the teacher’s writing and at the same time naming each letter of the word as the student writes the word. The student is then asked to name the word and to check that the word has been written correctly by comparing it with the teacher’s version (Bryant and Bradley 1985).

   Words in words: the student is shown the word on a card and the teacher draws attention to any meaningful parts of the word. For example, damaged contains dam and age.

   Phonics: the student is shown the word. The teacher sounds out the word. The sound corresponding to each phoneme is represented by a letter. The teacher repeats the word. The student is asked to sound out the word as the teacher has done and then to say the word. For example, c-ar-t makes cart.

   Rules: the teacher shows the word on a card and indicates any rules from the Cowdery Scheme. For example, it is appropriate to spell skittles with sk rather than sc as the rule states that sk is followed by the vowels, e, i, ory (Cowdery e tal. 1983).

   Baseline: word cards are shown to the student. The student is required to say the word then spell the word without the card being present. The student receives no instruction and is not told whether they are correct or not.


It was found that some methods produced better results than others did. For RG the Look and say, Tracing, Words in words and Rule conditions produced significant improvements in spelling over the Baseline, Phonics and Simultaneous oral spelling conditions. The method of Words in words produced the maximum amount of words learned. It would seem that the method of Words in words, instead of focusing on what the student found difficult - that is, being aware of phonemes - capitalised on his strengths. Brooks, commenting on this case study, states that the results have implications for how individuals with dyslexia are taught. The use of a structured approach to teaching, re­inforcement and monitoring was not sufficient alone to produce significant improvements. To ensure effective learning an investigation was needed to determine what method worked best.

Dyslexia is a condition that affects many adults and children within this country. There is currently more awareness of the condition and current research is being geared to early diagnosis and intervention and to establishing what types of intervention work best for what individuals.


Real Life Application:

Research puts dyslexia test on new footing

A simple new test has been designed to screen for dyslexia. It has been developed by Kathleen Kelly, a teacher at a special school in Oldham, and involves children counting while standing on one leg.

The British Dyslexia Association estimates that between 6 per cent and 10 per cent of the school population have dyslexia which, left undiagnosed, can cause severe frustration and anxiety. Kelly’s test can differentiate between children who have dyslexia and those who may be suspected of hav­ing dyslexia, but in fact have difficulties associ­ated with learning English as an additional lan­guage. Her research is based on previous evidence that shows that dyslexic children may have problems with ‘automatic’ tasks, such as bal­ancing. In a trial involving 210 eleven-year-old children the test was 98 per cent accurate in diag­nosing dyslexia, as opposed to difficulties with English.

The test takes about ten minutes and can be used on children who are eight years and over. It involves testing a child’s ‘wobble factor’ under timed conditions, then comparing this to a second balancing test in which an individualized count­ing task is also included. The counting is to dis­tract the child from the effort of balancing. The results of the test are then followed up, as it cannot recognize the severity of the condition.

Article by          Karen Thornton adapted from the Times Educational Supplement, 25 June 1999


Dyslexia and non-native English speakers

The application described above is interesting and very relevant in the light of other evidence, which suggests that children whose first language is not English are not being diagnosed with dyslexia. In an article in the Times Higher Education Supple­ment (11 June 1999), Karen Thornton cites the opinions of Lindsay Peer, Education Director of the British Dyslexia Association. Peer argues that many children who are trying to learn English, and who are also dyslexic are not being diagnosed because their problems are put down to their difficulty with English. These children are missing out on vital sup­port, as they may also be having difficulty with their first language as a result of their dyslexia. Thornton notes that the Department for Education and Employment is funding a review of research into dyslexia and multilingualism.


Inclusion or segregation

Whether to include or segregate children with SEN into mainstream schools is still a contentious issue, and one that is not easily resolved. There is certainly a trend towards inclusion both within this country and internationally at the present time. Many theo­rists believe that inclusive education for children with SEN should be thought of as a ‘right’, whereas others believe that it may mean that the teaching of SEN children becomes less effective.


Continuum of provision

Public policy in Britain supports the inclusion of as many SEN children as possible in mainstream schools. The recent Green Paper on SEN (DfEE, 1997) states that there should be a continuum of provision, including special schools where they are needed (Hornby, 1999). The Green Paper states that:


We support the UNESCO Salemanca World Statement on Special Needs Education. This calls on governments to adopt the principle of inclusive education, enrolling all children in regular schools unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise (cited in Hornby, 1999, p. 52).


A recent American study of 1,000 school districts (Lipsky and Gartner, 1998; cited by Hornby, 1999) showed that there were seven important factors that were necessary to make inclusion a success.


1  Visionary leadership

2  Collaboration

3  Use of careful assessment

4  Support for staff and students

5  Appropriate funding

6  Parental involvement

7  Effective models to adapt the curriculum and teaching practices in appropriate ways.


Initiatives and criticisms of inclusion

The kinds of initiative that are likely to work are obviously very costly. In Britain there are different schools of thought about the best way to include children with SEN. Some theorists would argue that total inclusion is important, whereas others, such as Marston (1996) found that students who were taken out of classes and taught in special groups for some activities did better than those who received support in classes.

One of the criticisms of full inclusion is that it focuses on the process of the education rather than the outcome, and on the curriculum of mainstream education rather than the curriculum of SEN (Hornby, 1999).

Some studies have focused on the attitudes of SEN children and their parents to inclusive educa­tion. The majority of parents supported inclusion if there were sufficient resources provided alongside the programme. Kidd and Hornby (1993) carried out a survey in which they questioned 29 sets of parents of children who had ‘moderate’ learning dif­ficulties. These children had been transferred from special schools into mainstream schools. Kidd and Hornby found that 65 per cent of the parents and 76 per cent of the children were ‘satisfied’ with the transfer. However, they found that there was a dif­ference in how happy the parents were depending on what kind of inclusion the children experienced. Some 47 per cent of parents of children included in mainstream classes were happy, compared to 92 per cent of parents of children placed in units in main­stream schools (Hornby, 1999).

As early as 1978, Warnock distinguished between social integration (integration in leisure time), loca­tional integration (where a separate unit is located on a mainstream school site) and functional inte­gration (where children are included in mainstream schools) (Child, 1997). The trend towards inclusion is growing, but there is still a ‘substantial propor­tion’ of children in segregated units, and there is still some way to go before there is enough evidence about the outcomes of inclusion to draw valid con­clusions.



Although inclusion is seen as a very positive strategy by some educationalists, it is considered idealistic and impractical by others.


  Some critics have argued that social and academic inclusion happens at the expense of good and appro­priate education for the other children in the class; in other words, if a student with special needs is taught within a mainstream class, s/he might need extra attention from the teacher, or may be disruptive or difficult in the class, and this could harm other chil­dren’s education. On the other hand, it can be argued that the other children in the class benefit a great deal from working with students with special needs and that inclusive education helps to remove stereotypes and ignorance (see the Real Life application below).

  It is also argued that children with SEN are themselves better off in segregated classrooms as this enables them to gain social support from others with similar difficulties, and it allows LEAs to concentrate its spe­cialist teachers and resources in one place. The objection to this is that the disadvantage of keeping children with certain difficulties together is that it makes it harder for them to integrate fully into society once they leave school. If specific teacher skills are required to deal with certain children, then it is easier (and cheaper) to train a few teachers and concentrate them in specialist units, but this is not necessarily bet­ter in educational terms; the attitudes and skills of teachers are fundamentally important. and there is a need to combat negative attitudes from inexperi­enced and untrained staff.

  At first glance it may seem that providing special schools and units for children with SEN is a more expensive option than integrating those children into mainstream classrooms. However, the cost of provid­ing specialist resources and proper training for teach­ers in all schools is much more costly than concen­trating on fewer teachers in special units. One criti­cism that has been made of recent practice is that children with SEN have been integrated into main­stream classrooms ‘on the cheap’, and that the train­ing and special resources have not been provided to an appropriate level.


Real Life Application:

Inclusive education is a ‘human right’

A human rights approach to inclusive education argues that the problems of inclusion do not come from the individual, but the discriminatory atti­tudes in society. The article argues that:

Issues of social justice, equity and choice are central to the demands for inclusive education... Special education entails a discourse of exclusion and this is seen as a particularly offensive aspect of provision.

From this perspective, no one should be left out of school. The article argues that special schools exist because of the limitations of mainstream schools. The article criticizes the government Green Paper because it argues that it does not make explicit where the funding will come from for the resources needed in inclusive education. The article concludes with a plea for inclusive education:

Inclusive education is about belonging. It is about citizenship with all the entitlements and responsibilities involved. It is about the enrich­ment of all children and the importance of estab­lishing a sense of community based on co-opera­tion, respect and the celebration of difference with dignity.

Adapted from an article (which reproduced extracts from a lecture given by Len Barton, Professor of Education at Sheffield University), in Socialist Teacher, no. 65, 1998

Strategies for educating children with special needs



In the UK, approximately 85 percent of deaf children attend mainstream
school. How well they cope varies hugely from one child to the next.

To investigate the coping strategies deaf children use, David Martin and
Yael Bat-Chava (League for the Hard of Hearing) interviewed the parents of
35 deaf children (average age 8.5 yrs; 20 girls, 15 boys), 31 of whom
attended mainstream school full-time, 4 part-time. The children exhibited a
range of hearing loss from severe to profound, meaning none of them could
hear without aids. However, all used speech to communicate, 85.7 percent
exclusively. Twenty-five of the children had cochlear implants (converts
acoustic sound waves into weak electric currents delivered to the immediate
vicinity of the auditory nerve) and 10 used hearing aids.

From qualitative analysis of the interviews, Martin and Bat-Chava found
that overall, and irrespective of their degree of deafness, the children
had successfully established relationships with their hearing peers.

However, they found that the coping strategies that best predicted
successful relationships with hearing friends differed greatly between the
girls and boys. For the girls, both inner (e.g. being able to play alone)
and outer (e.g. having the confidence to ask people to repeat themselves)
coping strategies predicted greater success with hearing friends. By
contrast, for boys, the strongest predictor by far was their ability to
perform in team sports.

Martin, D. & Bat-Chava, Y. (2003). Negotiating deaf-hearing friendships:
coping strategies of deaf boys and girls in mainstream schools. Child:
Care, Health & Development, 29, 511-521.

Journal weblink:


The League for the Hard of Hearing: http://www.lhh.org/


Gifted Children – Follow this link



subscribe-rd@lists.bps.org.uk . Click here to sign up for the BPS free digest service.  The article ‘Coping with Deafness’ is an example.

Susan Bentham, Psychology and Education, Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-22763-1

Karen Legge and Philippe Harari, Psychology and Education, Heinemann, 2000. ISBN 0-435-80655-6

Summary of notes