What is SEN?
SEN stands for children with special educational needs. The SEN Code of Practise defines special educational needs as:
Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty
which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.
Children have a learning difficulty if they:
a) have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of
children of the same age; or
(b) have a disability which prevents or hinders them 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 education authority
(c) are under compulsory school age and fall within the definition at (a) or (b)
above or would so do if special educational provision was not made for
Children must not be regarded as having a learning difficulty solely because
the language or form of language of their home is different from the language
in which they will be taught. (SEN Code of Practise, 2001)
Special educational needs can be physical disabilities such as facial deformities that effect speech and language, mental disabilities such as down syndrome or cerebral palsy which can affect the rate of learning and the cognitive development of a child which in turn affects their learning. Special educational needs can also include dyslexia, ADHD, autism and genetic medical conditions. All of these have an effect on how a child is able to learn, at what rate they learn new information and how much they can learn at one time. The many different educational needs are wide ranging and therefore the support which they receive also has to be carefully planed in order to ensure they receive the right support from the right people to maximise their learning opportunities in the classroom and at home.
Children with SEN have the right to be taught in an ordinary mainstream school with provisions in place to support their learning. However, where these needs can not be met within a mainstream school then these children should go to a school specially set up to help support these children and their learning according to Ofsted. (The special educational needs and disability review, 2010.)
Why is inclusion of children with SEN important?
Including children with SEN in mainstream schools is important because it helps develop their social development as well as supporting their learning alongside children who do not have special educational needs. The Salamanca Statement which was put together to improve education and inclusion around the world argues that regular schools with an inclusive orientation are ‘the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all’. The Salamanca Statement goes onto suggest that schools can ‘provide an effective education for the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.’ (The Salamanca Statement, 2013).
What does inclusion mean for the school?
There is a lot of emphasis on the school as a whole to make sure the building is accessible, there are places for children with SEN and there is support available for them once they start school (Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001). However, the class teacher is probably the most important person when it comes to inclusion within the classroom. The classroom teacher has arguably the hardest task when it comes to inclusion as they have to make sure their lessons are accessible for all the students in the class, that all activities are suitable for all pupils. The teacher also has to be able to cater not just for physical/mental disabilities but also for the different needs of the class as many children may be considered to have special educational needs because they are simply struggling with their learning. The teacher therefore, has to be able to differentiate the tasks and the learning within each lesson, which can be a very hard thing to do especially when you have a wide range of needs abilities in one class. Being able to have an inclusive classroom requires a lot of hard work from both the school and the class teacher in both the layout of the classroom to the planning of each lesson. It is important for teachers to create the right environment in their classrooms, Booth, Ainscow & al. (2000) believe that “creating a secure, accepting, collaborating, stimulating community in which everyone is valued” is the key to creating an inclusive classroom where all pupils can progress in their learning.
Classroom Cultures can help children with SEN
In the classroom culture it is also important that other children learn to support and work with children with SEN to help develop their social skills. It is also important to educate children on the needs of some of their classmates to create an accepting environment in order to promote learning. Vygotsky believes that children who work together develop skills faster and this enables them to progress in their learning (Vygotsky 1978). Vygotsky believes that interaction between children is key to their cognitive development and this can be applied to children with SEN. This then suggests that children with SEN who interact with other children in their class can greatly improve their cognitive skills and therefore could help improve their learning.
This picture shows the learning process when social interaction is involved according to Vygotsky.
Student Teachers and SEN
As a student teacher I have seen how important inclusion is in the classroom, it can improve children’s learning when they have special educational needs. Having other children around them who do not have special needs is a big benefit to them as it encourages understanding of the different needs children may have and encourages an effective learning environment. I am currently working in a year 1 class with several children who have SEN and the class is very accepting of them and their needs. It is really inspiring to see children helping others who need more help than they do, recognising others needs. It is also inspiring to see children in the class treat children with SEN like any other child, they include them in playground activities, classroom activities and are friends with them just like any other child. This is real inclusion to me, when children do not see other children who have SEN as SEN children, as different, but just as another child in the class who they are friends with. We can all learn lessons from children and they way they include everyone in their lives and activities without seeing anyone as different or as someone who has different needs to them.
Improvements to be made so inclusion in schools can improve
We have come a long way on the journey to being totally inclusive rather than exclusive. However, there is more to do to make sure our schools are properly inclusive and all children are supported in their learning no matter what their needs are. Ofsted have suggested that although most schools have targets in place for children with special educational needs, their reviews and other progress reviews are not going far enough to challenge these pupils. Instead Ofsted suggest these reviews are often neglected and pupils are not being moved on in their learning. (The special educational needs and disability review, Ofsted). Ofsted have also suggested schools are not using effective assessment tools to assess the progress of their children with SEN (The special educational needs and disability review, Ofsted). Therefore, it is reasonable to say schools still have a lot to do in order to become totally inclusive and being able to offer all children the support they need.
• Booth, T, Ainscow, M, Black-Hawkins, K, Vaughan, M and Shaw, L (2000) Index for Inclusion. Developing learning and participation in schools. Manchester: Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education.
• Ofsted, The special educational needs and disability review, A statement is not enough, 2010.
• SEN Code of Practise, 2001
• Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001
• UNESCO, The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, 2013
• Vygotsky, Social Development Theory, 1973. http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/constructivism.htm
• Picture 1, Google Images