4. The British Scene – School Without Walls



The term special educational needs or special needs education originated with the development of special education in Britain. The concept of special educational needs was introduced, for the first time, in the Warnock Committee report in 1978. The Committee had been appointed ‘to review educational provision in England, Scotland and Wales for children and young people handicapped by disabilities of body and mind’ (DES, 1978). A brief history of special education in Britain until the concept of ‘special educational needs’ introduced by the Warnock Committee follows.

The Education Act of 1870 had established the principle of mass education in England and Wales. Later, in 1893, the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act laid the duty on local education authorities to provide separate education for the blind and the deaf, thus laying the foundation for a system of special schools separate from regular schools for the non-disabled. Subsequent acts in the following years created the legal framework for increasing numbers of children with disabilities getting into schools, primarily separate special schools. These included (see Tomlinson, 1982):

  • Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act 1899: Local authorities urged, not required, to make provision for special instruction.
  • Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act 1914: Local authorities were required to make provision for mentally defective children.
  • Education Act 1921: Enabled local authorities to compel parents of ‘certified’ children to send them to special schools.
  • Education Act 1944: Local educational authorities had a duty to ascertain children suffering from ‘a disability of body or mind’ and to provide ‘special educational treatment’ in special schools or elsewhere.
  • Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1970: This Act brought the last group of children—those with severe disabilities—into education.
  • Education Act 1976: Suggested laying a duty on LEAs to provide education in normal schools when it was practicable. This section was never implemented.

The development of education for the disabled in Britain is different from the Indian situation in many ways. While the system of mass education as a responsibility of the welfare state was accepted in Britain way back in 1870, the same could be achieved in India only after the county became independent in 1947. When Warnock wrote her report in 1978 nearly hundred per cent of children up to the age of 16 were in school, regular or special, in Britain. India has not achieved this status even for the non-disabled till 2001. Second, the system of special schools as a separate and parallel mode of education for the disabled, medically categorised into several groups, had been created by various legislations, which was to be rectified by the Warnock Committee. As Warnock (1982) herself wrote:

We wanted to deflect people from thinking of special education as a peculiar form of education, carried out in special institutions. We wanted to ensure that educationalists and teachers concentrated not on what was wrong with children but on what, positively, they must have, if they were to benefit from education (which, after all, for the most severely handicapped had only recently become their right). Finally we wanted to go beyond the faction-dominated, highly political question of integration, the question whether there should be just one local school for all children, by raising the more pragmatic question, apparently less ideological, of how to ensure that all children, whether at school or at home, in special school or in hospital, could get what they needed (p. 56).

Incidentally, a similar system of special schools has not grown in India, though there are a couple of thousand special schools for different disabilities mostly run by voluntary organisations. Third, though Warnock prefaced her report by stating that ‘education for the handicapped began with individual and charitable enterprise’, the premise has been questioned by Tomlinson (1982). She refers to the ‘economic and commercial interests’ of the industrial society which required people to be ‘productive’, interests of the political ruling class to ‘maintain order and control’ since ‘defective people’ were identified as ‘potential troublesome groups in the society’ and ‘the vested interests of the professional groups, particularly the medical men’ in the initial years and the ‘other professional vested interests’ subsequently as the major factors for perpetuating a segregated or special system of education. What commentators have brought out is that schooling of the disabled had not been guided by any spirit of rights or equity, much less a consideration for charity or humanitarian. ‘In the nineteenth century the established educational ideology [in England and Wales] indicated that there were qualitatively different sorts of people, who were to be offered qualitatively different sorts of education’ (Barton and Tomlinson, 1984, p. 44).

When the Warnock Committee was set up, statutory categorisation of children largely by medical professionals had been institutionalised, and the number of categories had increased over the years from two in 1886 to eleven in 1970. The Warnock Committee recommended the abolition of statutory categorisation and replaced it by introducing a new term—children with ‘special educational needs’—without exactly defining it. But the committee did give a framework for understanding the concept of special educational needs.

Special educational needs be seen not in terms of a particular disability which a child may be judged to have, but in relation to everything about him, his abilities as well as disabilities— indeed all the factors which have a bearing on his educational progress (DES, 1978).

While considering ‘all factors’ which might have a bearing on the educational progress of children, the committee expanded the scope of children with special educational needs from around 2 per cent who could have been in special schools to ‘the assumption that about one in six children at any time and up to one in five at some time during the school career will require some form of special educational provision.’ But did the committee take into account social deprivation as a factor hindering the educational progress of a child and thereby contributing to special educational needs? Clough and Corbett (2000) state:

Looking back on the days of the committee, when everyone felt that a new world was opening for disadvantaged children, the most strikingly absurd fact is that the committee was forbidden to count social deprivation as in any way contributing to educational needs…. The very idea of such a separation now seems preposterous (p. 4, emphasis mine).

In the Indian context if the concept of SEN linked with educational progress was to be extended, the factors leading to low achievement of a vast majority of children leading to their ejection and dropping out from the school system cannot be discounted. In that case, the proportion of SEN children would not remain confined to 20 per cent as assumed by the Warnock Committee about twenty-two years ago in Britain. Majority of children would be identified as having special educational needs, with 55 per cent children dropping out at the elementary level (MHRD, 2001a).

Warnock did not question the concept of segregated or special education; rather the committee recommended ten types of special school provisions:

  1. Full time education in an ordinary class with any necessary help and support.
  2. Education in an ordinary class with periods of withdrawals to a special class or unit or other supporting base.
  3. Education in a special class or unit with periods of attendance at an ordinary class and full involvement in the general community life and extra-curricular activities of the ordinary school.
  4. Full-time education in a special class or unit with social contact with the main school.
  5. Education in a special school, day or residential, with some shared lessons in a neighbouring ordinary school.
  6. Full-time education in a day school with social contact in an ordinary school.
  7. Full-time education in a residential special school with social contact with an ordinary school.
  8. Short-term education in hospitals or other establishments.
  9. Long-term education in hospitals or other establishments.
  10. Home tuition.

The committee also suggested a framework for the assessment of special educational needs and gave detailed guidelines on the identification of children with SEN.


The 1981 Education Act gave legal shape to most of the recommendations of the Warnock report. The 1981 Act and subsequently the 1993 and 1996 Acts have defined special educational needs, learning difficulty and special educational provisions as follows:

  1. A child has special educational needs if he/she has a learning difficulty, which calls for special educational provision to be made for him/her.
  2. A child has a learning difficulty if he/she:
    • has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age;
    • has a disability which either prevents or hinders the child from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools within the area of the local authority;
    • is under age five and falls within the definition at (a) or (b) above or would do if special educational provision was not made for the child.
  3. Special educational provision means:
    1. in relation to a child who had attained the age of two years, educational provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of his age in schools maintained by the local education authority concerned;
    2. in relation to children under that age, educational provision of any kind.

The definition of SEN clearly underlines two factors. First, it is not just a question of disability. Disability is relevant to the extent that certain provisions not otherwise available generally to the children would have to be provided for that child. Second, it is linked with ‘learning difficulty’, which means a child has ‘significantly greater difficulty than the majority of children of the same age.’ This concept of learning difficulty may not work in the Indian context at all, since majority of the children in elementary and higher school classes face ‘learning difficulties’ in terms of accessing curriculum and academic achievements. In a nutshell, the concept of SEN has less to do with impairment of body organs or handicap due to social or economic factors. It is a variable of educational provisions available in schools and the performance of ‘majority of children’.

The identification and assessment of children with special educational needs in the UK is being done under the Code of Practice issued by the government as required under the 1993 Education Act. The Code sets five stages for the identification:

  • Stage 1: Class or subject teacher identifies a child's special educational needs and, consulting the school's SEN coordinator takes initial action.
  • Stage 2: The school's SEN coordinator takes lead responsibility for gathering information and coordinating the child's special educational provision, working with the child's teachers.
  • Stage 3: Teachers and the SEN coordinator are supported by specialists from outside the school.
  • Stage 4: The local education authority considers the need for statutory assessment and, if appropriate, makes a multidisciplinary assessment.
  • Stage 5: The local education authority considers the need for a statement of special educational needs and, if appropriate, makes a statement and arranges monitoring and review provisions.

The Code has an inherent mechanism of pushing a child from the responsibility of the teacher, once the child shows a symptom of falling behind the ‘majority of children’ and thus experiencing learning difficulty. While in the first stage the child remains with the class or subject teacher who is assisted by the SEN coordinator of the school, in the second stage the responsibility shifts to the coordinator. Until Stage 3, the child remains with the school, though the specialists come into the picture. But, at Stages 4 and 5, the child's responsibility goes out of the school and the local education authority takes over, who constitutes a multidisciplinary assessment team to consider a statutory statement (Stage 4) and finally for making a ‘statement’ in regard to the child (Stage 5). The entire process has become bureaucratic, generates a lot of paper work, and has also become somewhat traumatic for children and parents. The statement gets challenged in the tribunals and more often than not the tribunal gives an order against the issuance of the statement. Most children with statements get pushed out of their classes and at times even from the school, though the principles underlined in the Code are sound and they do not recommend the issuance of statements and placement of children out of the mainstream schools. Some of the fundamental principles are:

  • There is a continuum of needs and continuum of provisions, which may be made in a wide variety of forms.
  • Children with special educational needs require the greatest possible access to a broad and balanced education, including the National Curriculum.
  • The needs of most people will be met in the mainstream, and without a statutory assessment or ‘statement’ of SEN.
  • Children with SEN, including those with statements should be educated in mainstream schools, where appropriate, and after taking into account the wishes of parents.
  • Even before he or she reaches compulsory school age a child may have special educational needs requiring the intervention of the LEA as well as the health services (Adapted from DFE, 1994, Para 1.2.).

The Warnock report was considered a progressive step since it abolished the medically determined categorisation of children with disabilities and brought in the principles of ‘integration’ thereby implying the education of the disabled and those with ‘learning difficulties’ in mainstream schools with provisions for additional or special support. The report may have been influenced by discourses on the abolition of the system of selection at age eleven created by the 1944 Act and arguments supporting comprehensive schooling where all would have equal opportunity to access similar curriculum. The report did state that ‘the aims of education are the same for all children’ and recommended integration where possible. Three types of integration were suggested in the report: locational (children in the same place), social (children sharing social and extra-curricular activities) and functional (children sharing teaching and curricula). The third form of integration could be said to be pointing towards the concept of ‘inclusion’. Lauding the report, Lunt and Norwich (1999) observe:

The Report emphasized a continuum of special educational needs, with no dividing line between the ‘handicapped’ and the ‘non-handicapped’, with pupils' needs changing over time, and as a result of their experience and interaction with the environment. Special educational needs were not to be considered absolute, and only within the child, but were to be thought of as an interaction between characteristics of the child and those of the environment, and a major aspect of which was the school and its teaching and learning (p. 3).

The report, subsequent policy development and its implementation have received a lot of criticism from British educationists and commentators. There is a plethora of literature and research evidence, some of which have questioned the concept of SEN itself. While questioning the basis of the concept Galloway et al. (1994) have discussed the import of the three words used in ‘special educational needs.’ Referring to the meaning of ‘special’ in the Oxford dictionary— ‘of a peculiar or restricted kind’ — they wonder why it should be applied to mainstream schools. According to them, Warnock extended the term to ‘include the large minority of low achieving and mainly working-class pupils’. Far from being special, there is a powerful argument that children's needs were absolutely normal, and that the challenge of the school system was, quite simply, to start meeting them. As regards ‘educational’, ‘at first sight, it appears less contentious’ since it replaced the medically based categories of the 1944 Act. Actual needs of children may not be ‘educational’ most of the time. For instance, they argue, children's work at school may get affected due to ‘stressful circumstances at home’ and ‘these may concern the need for stability, a supportive relationship with a teacher, a sense of achievement from extra-curricular activities, and so on. To say that the child has special educational needs may be, at best, misleading.’ On ‘need’, they observe, it implies something is ‘wanted’. A child is removed from the class as a consequence of his/her identification of needs, say on account of behavioural and learning difficulties. It may imply teachers ‘want a less disruptive life, or that they want other children's education to benefit from the child's removal. In other words, the “wants” implied in the concept of special educational needs may not refer to the child in question.’ Corbett (1996) feels that the use of the term ‘need’ ‘sends out signals of dependency, inadequacy and unworthiness’ and it assumes that some children require provision that is different from that which is generally available.

According to Vlachou (1997), the term was not adequately defined in the report. Its ‘vagueness’ and ‘ambiguity’ ultimately led to its definition and interpretation so as to include those who did not have any impairment, thus ‘reducing the exploration of the social context of learning’. Hence, the term cannot include ‘children living in poverty and therefore at the risk of significant educational underachievement’.

The identification of children with special educational needs has become ‘labeling’ and ‘discriminatory’ (Mittler, 2000). Ainscow sees the very concept as a ‘barrier’ to inclusion. He says:

I think the concept of special educational needs, particularly as it is seen in this country, becomes another barrier. I don't think it has a productive contribution to make to the inclusive education agenda. If anything, it is one of the major barriers to moving forward (Clough and Corbett, 2000).

The very definition of special educational needs presumes two things. First, a child will have ‘learning difficulty’ due to a ‘deficit within’ him/her. Second, the learning difficulty may be overcome with the availability of a ‘special educational provision’ not otherwise available in the school for that child. The concept implies that education is not ‘constructed to include all children’. Besides, such a ‘within-child-deficit’ model does not question the school, its curriculum and its pedagogy, and the society at large that might have created ‘learning difficulties’ for the child (Galloway et al., 1994; Vlachou, 1997; Mittler, 2000).

According to Booth et al. (1998) the suggestions made in the report are still guiding the policy and practice in schools, and it is still believed that children's educational difficulties can be resolved by identifying a large group of them and labeling them as having ‘special educational needs’. The report has been ‘severely impeding the introduction of an inclusive philosophy into special education’ (ibid.). Booth (2000) prefers to replace the term ‘special educational needs’ with ‘barriers to learning and participation’, and as maintained by him, a version of this has been adopted for the framework for legislation in South Africa and in the 1998 UNESCO document.

Four years after submission of the report, Warnock (1982) reflected on the concept of SEN and observed in regard to the role of curriculum in the discourse on education of the disabled and those with educational difficulties:

We assumed that the goals of education were single and unified. And so, of course, they can be made to seem, provided that they are defined broadly enough. But can these single broad aims be embodied in one single, simple curriculum? We assumed that a special need could be defined in terms of the help a child must have if he was to gain access to ‘the curriculum’. To meet a child's special need was to readapt him to the curriculum. Only occasionally did we think that the curriculum must be changed to suit the child (p. 61).

On examinations, she continues:

In a school system dominated by examinations, these children are isolated by their inability to take, let alone to pass, examinations…(But) I do most profoundly believe that examination can come in different forms; and that if our curriculum was varied and more imaginative, and above all if it were less predominantly academic, then so would the examination be (ibid.).

Finally, Warnock makes a significant statement when she says ‘I for one have grown tired of my old dress. I am sick of special needs. It is time to move to the next idea’ (ibid., p. 62).

Has England moved to the next idea? Before this question is examined, it may be worthwhile to see the comments on the Code of Practice, an instrument legalised with the 1993 Education Act and used for the identification and assessment of children with special educational needs, which may, or may not, lead to the issuance of a statutory ‘statement’. The Code has made ‘greater impact than any other single initiative taken by the government since the Warnock Report.’ It was intended to promote inclusion by setting the principle that all teachers had the responsibility of teaching all children by making suitable educational provisions (Mittler, 2000). However, it was apprehended right from the beginning that it would put a ‘heavy burden’ on teachers. In course of time, it has created a ‘huge bureaucracy’ and a new class of professional service, i.e., special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs). Though the Code advises consultation with parents, in practice the opinions of the specialists prevail. It also suggests that schools should not automatically assume that a child's learning difficulties always result mainly from ‘problems within the child’. However, the procedures detailed in it are contrary to its declared principles. It, in effect, attributes the learning difficulties of a child to deficiency in him/her and thereby limits inclusion practices in a school. The focus is on the child who gets ‘registered’ during the process of ‘assessment’ and there is little concern about the teaching and learning environment in the school (Galloway et al., 1994; Booth et al., 1998; Evans, 2000; Mittler, 2000). The practice of Individual Education Plans (IEP) and the position of SENCOs ‘act in an exclusionary rather than inclusionary direction’. ‘The Code has worked less inclusively for children with behaviour difficulties because the pressure to remove them from school is very strong and has the support of the government.’1

The Code is under revision as a result of the commitment made in the ‘Green Paper’, published in 1997, titled ‘Excellence for All Children:Meeting Special Educational Needs’ (DEE, 1997). The paper lays some programme goals, such as the number of children requiring statements should move down to 2 per cent, higher inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools, more collaboration between special and mainstream schools, revision of the Code and reduction in paperwork. The consultation document suggests that the revised Code will have a more ‘inclusive approach’, but at the same time it anticipates that there would be only minor changes (Booth et al., 1998). The proposed changes include reduction in existing school based assessment from three to two—‘school action’ and ‘school action plus’—but more guidance on IEP, SENCO's work, target setting and partnership with parents (Mittler, 2000).


There has been a series of Acts that have influenced the education system as well as special education in England and Wales in the 1980s and 1990s. Major legislations were enacted in 1981, 1988, 1993, 1996 and, most recently, in 2001.

The 1981 Education (Special Education) Act was a follow up of the Warnock Committee report. The Act had the following main sections (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 31):

  1. Categories of handicapped replaced by the concept of special educational need, defined as present when a child has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his/her age, or has a disability which prevents or hinders the use of educational facilities normally provided.
  2. Local authorities to have the duty of identifying and assessing children with special needs, and for making and maintaining a statement of special educational needs for some children.
  3. Parents to have rights to appeal against statements and to request assessments.
  4. Children with special needs to be educated in ordinary schools providing that their needs can be met, the education of other children is not affected, and there is an efficient use of resources.

The 1988 Education Reform Act is said to be the most important piece of educational legislation having far reaching consequences. The Act introduced a ten subject National Curriculum for all children between ages five and sixteen to be assessed at four key stages, KS4 being the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). It provided for ‘open enrolment’, changing the school admission procedures to ensure that schools enroll students up to a ‘relevant standard number’ and providing for parental rights to choose schools. By introducing ‘local management of schools’, schools were delegated their total budget through a formula worked out by each LEA and approved by the secretary of state. Governors were given powers to manage the school budget and hire staff (Tomlinson, 2001, p.48). It has been observed by commentators that the 1988 Act made substantial impact on the education of children with special needs, though the Act was meant for the general education system. The introduction of the National Curriculum, assessment arrangements and fixation of attainment targets by the secretary of state, local management of schools, open enrolment and opting out brought in the elements of competition and market principles into the education system (Lunt and Norwich, 1999; Evans, 2000; Tomlinson, 2001).

The 1993 Education Act gave a fillip to market forces by making provisions for creating funding authorities to carry out ‘value for money’ surveys of schools, laying down procedures to name ‘failing schools’ that were ‘failing to give an acceptable standard of education’, and providing for the setting up of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) for pupils excluded from school or otherwise not in school. In respect of special educational needs, the Act retained the LEAs’ prime responsibility for children with special needs. Most importantly, it provided that a Code of Practice should be issued to LEAs and schools for identification of and provision for children with special educational needs and those requiring ‘statements’. It also required the setting up of a Special Educational Needs Tribunal for hearing parental appeals against decisions of LEAs.

The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act defined disability with focus on physical and sensory disability, though majority of children identified as SEN since the 1981 Act had learning difficulties and behavioural problems. The Act did not adequately address the rights of SEN children to get education in mainstream schools.

The 1996 Education Act reminded LEAs about their responsibility (and not ‘duty’) to provide suitable full-time or part-time education for children who were excluded or otherwise out of school either in schools or at PRUs or with home tuition. It also addressed the growing number of cases where parents of children identified with special educational needs were making requests for private education (Tomlinson, 2001).

The deficiencies in the 1995 and 1996 Acts have sought to be rectified by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2001. The Act strengthens the rights of children with SEN to be educated in mainstream schools where parents’ wants and the interests of other children are also protected. The modified Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 reads as follows:

  1. If no statement is maintained under Section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school.
  2. If a statement is maintained under Section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school unless that is incompatible with
    1. the wishes of his parents, or
    2. the provision of efficient education for other children.

By putting these two riders the Act has left scope for the exclusion of a child from mainstream schools due to non-educational or non-curricular considerations, though under the 1988 Education Act, children with statements could have their curriculum modified or even allowed to drop out from following the National Curriculum and assessment under it.


A study on inclusion would require the examination of factors leading to exclusion of children from mainstream schools. Children in England face three forms of ‘exclusion’. Technically, exclusion refers to expulsion on account of disciplinary action, and does not consider other forms of exclusion. Meanwhile, there has been a rise in disciplinary exclusions, and it indicates that the ‘tolerance level’ of schools to students is changing (Booth et al., 1998). Parson (1999) argues: ‘The Education Reform Act, 1988; a fixed entitlement curriculum, testing and published league tables are likely to push exclusions up…. “Excluded” children are not considered deserving of education, while they could be considered as even more in need of education.’

The second form of exclusion is on account of societal and economic factors. In the UK, nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, which is three times as many as in 1979. Such a social and economic background leads to ‘academic underachievement’ and needs appreciation in the programme, such as curriculum development and teachers’ training (Mittler, 2000). Notably, social deprivation contributing to educational needs was not taken into account in the Warnock report, as admitted by Warnock herself in 1999 (cited in Clough and Corbett, 2000). Britain has been facing the problem of exclusion and isolation of ethnic minorities, at times giving rise to tensions and conflict. But, since the publication of the Swann Report in 1985, the focus has moved ‘to issues concerning the education of all pupils’ since the ‘acceptance of all groups as part of the British nation is becoming socially, politically and economically more important’ (Tomlinson, 1990).

Third, and most importantly, the labelling and categorisation of children as ‘SEN pupil with or without statement’ leads to their exclusion while they may remain physically available in the school system. There is little ‘discussion and virtually no research’ into how children perceive their labelling and how far the public identity imposed on them by way of ‘assessment’ affects their self-esteem and self-identity. They are unlikely to be found favourable with employers (Galloway et al., 1994).


Market driven economy and consumer ethos are replacing the industrial society. There was a movement towards ‘inclusion’ in the 1960s and 1970s in England and Wales following the ‘comprehensive conceptualisation’ to replace the ‘selection’ based grammar schools. The operation of market has introduced a new framework to evaluate education in terms of ‘efficiency, economy and effectiveness’; what has been missing is equity (Evans, 2000). As a result, ‘competition and differentiation’ continue in the school system, and ability continues to be ‘narrowly conceived in terms of the cognitive with success via competitive, formal examinations legitimating such attitudes and ideology’ (Barton and Tomlinson, 1984).

The 1988 Education Reform Act also got influenced by the ‘increased economic competition that required national standards and skilled citizens’ generating the growth of marketing language in the educational world, such as providers, user of services, clients or consumers, cost-effectiveness, offer and demand (Vlachou, 1997). Evans (2000) anticipates that the market will increase the ‘existing inequality in access to education in terms of class, race and gender, as well as special educational needs.’ The environment of ‘competition and comparison’, judgement based on ‘selection’ and ‘ability’, and schools’ concern for ‘raising the standards’ are products of a market society and are in ‘conflict with the individual growth of the child’ (Barton and Tomlinson, 1984; Dessent, 1987; Vlachou, 1997; Evans, 2000). All the commentators agree that such an educational environment is detrimental to inclusion. Commenting on the existing reward system based on ‘competition and comparison between individuals’ Dessent (1987) observes:

The valuing of individual children regardless of background, abilities and disabilities would be at odds with an educational climate geared necessarily to competition and comparison between individuals. Within such a climate, children with special educational needs will always be losers. Success, progress and achievements are relative to the individuals and the reward system would need to reflect this (p. 122).

Evans (2000) finds a dilemma in government policy. It may have the intention of providing more support to children ‘who have difficulties in fitting into the system.’ At the same time, its emphasis on ‘excellence’ and ‘standards’ has created a climate of competition among schools. They may be interested in enhancing their position in the ‘market’ at the cost of the interests of children with special educational needs, who ‘will continue to receive a less favourable education in the English and Welsh system.’


There is ‘unprecedented popularity of inclusion’ in government documents (Booth, 1996). However, he does not find inclusion/ exclusion at the heart of education policy. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2001 on special educational needs and discrimination against disability does not make any major change in the policy in respect of special school educational needs. Booth et al. (1998) define an inclusive school as ‘one that includes, and values equally all students from its surrounding communities or neighbourhood or catchment area, and develops approaches to teaching and learning that minimises groupings on the basis of attainment and disability.’

Ability grouping is a common feature in England's schools. Using the above definition, they (Booth et al. 1998) say, ‘there are no inclusive schools in England.’ (p. 194). DEE officials, however, have a different view on inclusion. As one official observed2:

The Act will influence inclusive schooling because it gives rights (not previously held) to disabled people to access education. This will probably see more disabled children being admitted to mainstream schools. Its part of a process—the inclusion agenda, as we discussed, has been around for some time.

Government documents have been referring to ‘inclusion’ and asking for the education of more and more SEN students in mainstream schools without changing the system of identification and assessment as laid down in the Code of Practice. British literature and commentators have been consistently critical of the SEN policy and practices. They find the very concept as a ‘barrier to inclusion’. Competitiveness and market orientation are said to be other reasons for increases over the years in the proportion of SEN students and students with statements, as would be evident from Table 1, despite declared policy objectives by the government in its Green Paper, published in 1997. It may be noted that the proportion of children with statements increases as they graduate from nursery to primary, and then to secondary. Does it mean the school system contributes to children acquiring special educational needs?


Table 1 The Number of Pupils With Statements Expressed as Proportion of Pupils on Rolls


Table 2 gives the proportion of pupils with SEN without ‘statements’. In this case, the proportion increases substantially when children move from nursery to primary stage, but reduces marginally when children go to the secondary stage. There could be two possible explanations for the reduction at the secondary stage. First, some students get statements as is evident from the previous table, and the second, some may be achieving the desired ‘standards’ due to pressure to ‘do well’ and with help provided by schools.


Table 2 The Number of Pupils With SEN Without Statement Expressed as Proportion of Pupils on Rolls


Sources for both tables: ‘Special Educational Needs in England in National Statistics’, 16 May 2001 in http://www.dfee.gov.uk/statistics. (Except for 1993, all figures taken from the earlier releases.)


There are two streams of thoughts on the British style of inclusive education. The government thinks that they are promoting inclusive education. Its latest policy initiative is the creation of more ‘specialist schools’ which would be selective in admitting 10 per cent of its students and would be given an area such as arts, business, languages, science, sport or technology in which it is expected to excel. It is hoped that such specialist schools will raise the general standard across schools. The venture would have a strong partnership with the private sector, but is not getting support from the teachers union. As one representative said, ‘The specialist status defies a school, as the government is effectively saying that it is better than one down the road. This is a two-tier system.’3 The other stream of thought has been well articulated by Prof. Sally Tomlinson:

As long as teachers are told to be inclusive, not given higher resources, but also urged to get more mainstream children to higher educational ‘standards’ they resist. This is probably more of a problem in western countries where segregation has been widespread and accepted for over 100 years. Current policies do not satisfy teachers in either mainstream or separate schools, nor academics who urge more extensive forms of inclusive education. Few people are giving much attention to changing the nineteenth century subject-centred curriculum to one that would be flexible and accessible to all children.4

There is a wide difference in perspectives between the government at the policy level and academics writing on this subject in Britain. Government documents indicate that they are moving towards inclusion by closing down special schools and bringing in more and more disabled children into mainstream schools. On the other hand, researchers and commentators almost unanimously agree that government policy (in Britain, at least) is not inclusive. ‘The practices introduced by the Code (of Practice), e.g., the IEP and the SENCO could act in an exclusionary rather than inclusionary direction.’5

My attempt to find literature to support the government perspective on inclusion in the UK did not succeed. ‘I don't know where you would find a view supportive of the Government on this matter except in its own propaganda!’6



The progress and status of special education, and now inclusive education, in England and Wales could be summed up as follows:

  • The process of mass education began in England about 130 years ago, unlike in India where it became a state policy about fifty years ago.
  • Alongside a system of regular schools, the institution of special schools developed in Britain bringing more and more disabled into separate schools; by 1970 all categories of the disabled got access to schools. No similar situation exists in India and there has been no state policy in place to establish a separate system of special schools for the disabled.
  • By the early 1980s nearly all children of age 5-16 were in regular or special schools in England. Similar goal of universalisation of elementary education is still eluding India.
  • While abolishing the earlier system of medical categorisation and segregated education of the disabled, a new concept and statutory definition of ‘special educational needs’ was introduced in the early 1980s. This has created, over the years, a new category of children labeled as those with special needs who may be required to remain in the same class or school or get ousted from there. India does not have such a rigorous ‘labeling’ policy. Children with disabilities are required to be educated in regular schools as far as possible.
  • Special educational needs in England is not confined to disability only; it is linked with educational attainment and educational provisions. In extreme cases, children are issued statutory statements, which are generally resisted by parents and get appealed against in legally constituted tribunals. The proportion of SEN children with or without statements has been increasing despite government's stated policy to reduce them. India does not have any such policy and all children have to be given education in regular schools, though in practice it does not happen.
  • There is a clear difference in perception on inclusive education in England between policymakers and educationalists and academics. In India, the concept and consciousness on inclusive education is in an emerging state.
  • In England though children with SEN do not feel ‘included’, yet pedagogy and curriculum is less teacher directed, and there is more group work and activity learning than in Indian classrooms. The SEN policy and the Code restrict teachers in moving towards inclusion. However, no such policy restricts teachers in Indian schools, though a lot needs to be done here in terms of correcting perspectives on curriculum and assessment of learning.
  • Schools in England have integrated various groups, by and large, in a neighbourhood common school system unlike in India where a multi-track system of schools is developing defeating the principles, of equal opportunity and inclusive education.

Inclusive education as emerging in both the countries can be presented as shown in Figure 6:


Figure 6 Inclusive Education in England and India