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The overall aim of this paper is to explore and determine whether all, some or no children with special educational needs should be included and educated in mainstream schools. I found it interesting how this debate has been continually growing for more than thirty years among policy makers, educators and parents, bringing in a lot of controversy and different interpretations to the term “inclusive education’.
The history of special education in the United Kingdom dates back to the 1760s, when charitable institutions opened for blind, deaf and learning disabled children. Following on throughout the nineteenth century, there were religious and charitable institutions that educated children with a variety of disabilities and impairments. For example, “in London during 1899 some 2000 “mentally retarded” pupils were taught in 43 locations” (Safford, 1996). In the 1890s, the Government’s interest in special education was conveyed through legislation, which required school authorities to make provisions for blind and deaf children to have the right of education, from the ages of five to seventeen. Further legislation was provided by 1918, for the education of “physically defective and epileptic” children to be compulsory. Despite the efforts, the general education system inclined to reinforce the isolation and seclusion of children with disabilities and it was considered that it was best for children with “defects” to be separated from “normal” children.
The Education Act (1944) categorised all children with special educational needs by their disability and labelled them as “maladjusted” or “educationally sub-normal’. It established eleven categories of “handicap” and a partial acknowledgement that there may be certain benefits to mainstream schooling. Despite that, it was not until many years later that students with disabilities were accepted as individuals who had the right to a suitable education of their own. Until the 1970s many children with any form of disability “were excluded from the full rights of citizenship (Borsay, 2005), were considered “uneducable” and taken away from their homes to spend their lives in institutions. It was not until 1971 that the “rights of the disabled child to an education were formally acknowledged” (Tilstone and Layton, 2004).
It was The Education Act of 1970 that made local education authorities accountable for the education of all children, ensuring that no child was deemed to be “uneducable’. As a result of this “children with impairments most frequently found themselves in special schools, segregated from mainstream education” (Wall, 2011). These certain choices about the education and placement of disabled children resulted in an ostracized population and society that has been “institutionalised, segregated, uneducated, socially rejected, physically excluded and made unemployed” (Oliver, 1996, Carrington, 1999, Vlachou, 1997). This segregation of children with impairments was highly criticised, and it was argued than “any form of segregation on the basis of disability of learning difficulties is morally wrong” (Lindsay, 2003), and integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools was seen as the best move to make to end the segregation, gaining equal opportunities and the right to an education for all. Erving Goffman (1968) questioned the assumption that the separation, of part of the public into segregated institutions, was actually a good thing and pointed out that these types of institutions present themselves “as the rational and humane solution to peoples difficulties, but they in fact operate merely as society’s “storage dumps’.
However, the conceptualisation of special educational needs were altered by the Warnock Report (1978), which is classed as one of the most significant changes in legislation, as it advocated a shift away from viewing special needs in “deficit” terms, and the Education Act of 1981, after they introduced the concept of an “integrative” (inclusive) approach of integrating children with special educational needs into a common and equal educational framework for all children regardless of their ability or disability. Warnock also drew a distinction between different forms of integration. The Warnock report stated that some children “may move from special to mainstream schools” (locational integration), mixing together for leisure experiences not worrying about abilities (social integration) and joining together socially and intellectually (functional integration) (DES, 1978). Two key international developments for human rights and equal opportunities were the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) and the Salamanca statement (UNESCO, 1994). These developments state that “the fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have’.
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