International Journal of Academic
Research in Education and Review
Vol. 1(1), pp. 12–19,
A Tapestry of Special Educational
Needs (SEN) in Mainstream Schools of London Boroughs
Shamaas Gul Khattak
Doctoral Student, Middlesex University
Accepted 16 September, 2013
This study focuses the issues and arguments about SEN and its
provision in mainstream schools. The objective of the study is to
evaluate the effectiveness and management of SEN to explore the
impediments in its affective way. The study based on qualitative
research paradigms for which in-depth semi-structured interviews
were selected tool for data collection. The sample includes the
headteacher, deputy head, SEN Co-ordinator (SENCO) and teaching and
teaching assistants (TAs) who were randomly selected from one of the
middle schools in London Borough. The methodology is content and
themes analysis to express the views and experiences of the sample
about SEN children, their attitudes, models of disabilities,
definitions and types of SEN and the support providing in their
school. Furthermore, critical discussion of the findings and the
methodological issues germane to the research findings elaborated
analysis of teacher’s perceptions towards mainstreaming SEN
students. The study concludes that lack of funds/resources,
inadequate SEN component in initial teacher-training curriculum and
untrained supporting staff make SEN provision ineffective in the
Key words: SEN, inclusion and exclusion, management, learning
A great deal has been written about SEN because since the last
decade it has emerged as a key educational issue. This study
explores various aspects of the SEN provision and related issues to
co-related research findings with one or other aspect of the
existing research studies. This study is also a combination of mixed
findings of contemporary research studies. The selection of this
topic was due my personal interest and curiosity about SEN and its
provision in mainstream. Because SEN are of immense importance –
often the most critical factor contributing to the quality of
children lives in childhood. It is essential, therefore, to ensure
that the characteristics of SEN provision enable individuals to
optimise their abilities and to overcome, minimise or circumvent
their learning difficulties. The purpose of the study is to
investigate the process of inclusion and the supporting attitude of
schools within the existing frameworks of SEN. Many influences have
shaped the nature of provision for SEN. They include philosophical
and political standpoints, location, history and tradition, parental
views and the very different and changing needs of children. They
have resulted in an ever widening range of provision across schools.
What matters is that the provision made is suited to the
individual’s age, stage of development, and educational, social and
emotional needs. The starting point in making decisions about
educational placement is consideration of mainstream provision in
the individual’s own area. Most pupils with SEN in England attend
their local schools. Where the quality of the individual’s
educational and social experience is in doubt in such a setting, or
where it is not feasible to provide the exceptional levels of
support required, then other, more specialised forms of education
will be necessary. However, the overriding concern must be to ensure
that the SEN provision takes account of all-round needs and that the
individual is not socially isolated. This study is worth by
exploring the variation, elaboration and adaptation needed from
professionals to ensure continued effective provision to meet the
very wide and increasingly complex SEN now found in schools.
Furthermore the study highlights key features of SEN practice in
mainstream and provides a stimulus for further consolidation,
development and research.
Aims and Objectives of the Study
• To evaluate the meanings and understandings of SEN in mainstream.
• To ascertain types of SEN and how the students cope with their
• To triangulate the role of teachers, TAs and SENCO in an inclusive
• To map-out common impediments in effective inclusion.
The federal government has defined thirteen categories of
disabilities these included:
autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, mental
retardation multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other
health impairment, serious emotional disturbance, special learning
disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury,
and visual impairment (DfEE, 2001:13).
Keeping in mind the above list of disabilities, the main research
question and framework of this study was structured to investigate
whether the existing provision of SEN is effective, according to the
requirements of SEN students? Furthermore how to promote a
successful inclusion in mainstream?
This literature search conceptualises; definitions, features of
policies and practices and their implementation in the mainstream
schools. SEN were defined as physical or mentally disabilities under
the Education Act 1944, children with SEN were categorised by their
disabilities defined in medical terms. Many children were considered
‘uneducable’ and were labeled in categories; ‘maladjusted or
‘educationally sub-normal’ and given SEN in pirate schools.
A child is disabled if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from a
mental disorder of any kind or is substantially and permanently
handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity (Legislation,
Furthermore, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE,
1994:11) defined; A person has disability, if he has a physical or
mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse
effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
At time, only the physical or sensory challenged children were
considered SEN and the other learning disabled children were kept in
mainstream without noticing their special needs. However the limited
and specific meanings of the SEN become more comprehensive and broad
with the passage of time. The Code of Practice (DfES, 2001)
describes; children who have a disability which prevents or hinders
them from making use of educational facilities. However children who
speak English as a second language, their language problem is not
considered to be learning difficulty. The SEN students include all
learning difficulties groups, not just physically and mentally
disabled children, whether those children are facilitated with SEN
in special school or in the mainstream. SEN has been variously
defined, described or explained by different people at different
times. Their explanations are based on their individual, personal
and professional experiences and their cultural backgrounds. These
definitions of SEN are useless unless the provision can be
implemented which is only possible if an effective implementation of
SEN polices are developed in schools.
SEN Policies and Practices
The SEN policies can be traced back to the Education Act 1944 when
efforts were started for SEN provision in state schools. The SEN
concept in the mainstream was not introduced because the government
did not realise its need and importance. Although the Handicapped
and Pupils and School Health Service Regulations 1945, the Underwood
Report of 1955, the Plowden Report 1968 and 1970 and Handicapped
Children’s Act carried out their struggle for the effective
provision of SEN in the state special schools with special children
of physical/sensory or mental disability.
The Warnock Report 1978 and the Education Acts 1981 changed the
typical concept of SEN students and introduced the idea of SEN,
‘statements’ and ‘integrative’ which later became known as the
‘inclusive’ approach, based on common educational goals for all
children (Farrel, 2011). The introduction of SEN Children Assessment
Statements (CAS) encouraged the government to revise their SEN
policies in the mainstream but did not give additional funding for
the new processes involved in statements of SEN children or SEN
teachers training in special schools (Legislation, 2005-6). The CAS
and improper SEN teachers training programme block its effective
implementation in mainstream because parents complained the
ineffective long, time-wasting lengthy assessment procedure delay
the education of SEN students. However, the increased number of SEN
students increases the LEAs workload so their assessment tests
criteria change every year (Ofsted, 2007). Additionally initial
teacher training (ITT) failed to develop teachers’ skills and
confidence to help SEN children to reach their full potential in
mainstream (Golder et al. 2009).
The government inherited the existing SEN framework and sought to
improve it through the SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 and 2002,
and the 2004 SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement which
claimed to set-out the government’s vision for the education of SEN
children. The government substantially increased investment in SEN
but these policies worked well in their own frame of time and
targets, with major insufficiency of practical involvement of
mainstream SEN qualified teachers (Ainscow, 2013). Warnock et al.,
(2010) argue, teachers are ‘policy makers in practice’ and the
importance of teachers’ professional judgments in SEN implementing
is a sense creating, education policy for successful implementation.
The SEN teachers should have a major role in the development of a
SEN policy to promote effective inclusion an increased academic
performance of SEN students in inclusive settings, while Norwich
(2013) found low-self-esteem and question its ineffectiveness due to
inflexible curriculum is one of the issues of SEN provision.
Curricular changes are introduced in order to benefit students with
learning difficulties. This requires school staff, in particular
teachers, to be more reflective and analytical of their current
practice (Warnock et al., 2010). In general, the current situation
gives teachers neither the time nor the confidence to make a bridge
between the students in the mainstream, the Code of Practice (DfES,
2001) was being introduced to increase the flexibility of the
National Curriculum. However this flexibility is minimal (Ofsted,
Successful SEN includes: specifically trained professional
educators, special curriculum content, special methodology and
special instructional materials (UNESCO, 2010: 24). The
determination and coordination of headteacher, class-teacher, SENCO
and TAs in school general policy is vital and greatly influenced on
SEN provision. Additionally appropriate funds, resources, TAs’
support, regular and partnership of parents, school and Local
Educational Authority (LEA) boost SEN provision. Farrell (2011)
criticises inadequate resources, and funds for the SEN students,
low-payment for SEN teacher’s professional development and refresher
courses jamming this effective inclusion. Moreover most of the
schools rely on unqualified TAs or learning support assistants (LSAs)
who have no specific qualifications or training to support SEN
students (Ainscow, 2013). It entirely depends on school management
how effectively they use their TAs/LSAs.
This study is based on qualitative research paradigm as multiples of
realities exist in any given situation by the individuals involved
in the research situation (Miles and Huberman, 1994). This is the
naturalistic/constructivist approach, also known the interpretative
approach or the post-positivist or post-modern perspective.
Semi-structured interviews technique was the tool chosen for data
collection according to the nature of enquiry and socio-cultural
constraints. The methodology for the interview data was content and
theme analysis, a technique that inferences by objectively and
systematic coding of the interview scripts into categories
(Chadwick, et. al, 1984). The school was randomly selected for nine
intensive interviews; headteacher, deputy-head, SENCO, teachers and
TAs. The small sample size was decided due to the small scale
project however it does not invalidate qualitative research because
issues raised and discussed in the interviews in order to focus more
sharply on the perceptions of the interviewees (Miles and Huberman,
1994). The interviews were coded according to respondents and
subject; HT; DH; CT1; CT2; CT3 SENCO; TA1; TA2; TA3; for reference
to identify the interviewees. The interviews were transcribed in
verbal and non-verbal thoughts of my interviewees.
Data Analysis and Discussion
The study explored three aspects of interviewees’ lives; their
personal beliefs, values and expectations; classroom experiences and
interpretation and professional training and its impact on their
professional development. The codes were pattern, descriptive and
interpretive main-codes and sub-codes as shown in Table 1.
The pattern codes described the interviewees’ perceptions of
disability derived from their values and belief systems and
individual experiences. The descriptive codes described the types of
learning difficulties and support; the interviewees’ identified and
provided to the children that they considered the causes of learning
difficulties additionally their evaluation and provision of National
Curriculum and Code of Practice. Grouping the codes according to the
areas of agreements and exceptions, the following broad themes were
1. The teacher’s perceptions of SEN
The teachers perceived disability in terms of medical conditions,
visible physical/sensory or mental conditions that required
medication and left permanent impairment. These were discerned
certain models of disability described by Sandow (2004), the
medical, magical and moral models respectively. Four interviewees,
explained disability in terms of a ‘within child’ syndrome or
It is in a child nature, when a child developed his/her nature then
none of the teachers can change it because nature does not
change.CT1. PD- CF .
A child nature could be moulded by
individual attention and conducive learning environment with his/her
peers, because learning difficulties might be a result of social
deprivation, parental indulgence, poor teaching and inappropriate
curriculum (Dyson, 2012). The interviewees
recommended special schools for severe SEN children.
2. Definitions of SEN
The definitions were based interviewees’ training, experience and
individual perceptions. These were combinations or influenced by old
and narrow concepts of SEN.
SEN children, who are slow learners or mentally/sensory
disabled/handicapped or need help during lesson. DH, DEF- SL, DEF-SI,
However, the SENCO had understanding; It is a kind of support/help
for children who having any type of learning difficulty/ies. SENCO,
DEF-SATAs and teachers lacked of understanding their responses.
Their perceptions of SEN were contradictory, restrictive and narrow.
Although they agreed upon emotional and behavioural difficulties
affected child’s learning. Similarly Croll and Moses (2009) argue
that the mainstream teachers lacking awareness about SEN and its
provision that reflects through their lesson plans, class room
management and resources.
However majority of children experience
temporary learning difficulties which can be quickly remedied by
additional help from the class-teacher or with the assistance
specialist TAs and/or some curricular adaptations.
3. Types of Learning Difficulties
a. Slow Learning: (SL)
The sample referred slow learners as SEN students; These
children cannot go at the same rate so we arranged secluded class
for all subjects SENCO. TLD-SL
The slow learners always stay behind from their peers (Halliwell,
2011). Schools arrange this group or one-to-one support within
school hours. Halliwell argue that the content of the curriculum
should specifically design to meet the needs of SL with delayed or
seriously disrupted general development.
b. Reading Writing and Mathematics Difficulties (RWM)
The study found children with specific learning difficulties in
reading, writing, and mathematics:
Some students mostly girls, find science and mathematics are
difficult subjects. HT. TLD-RWM.
They considered these subjects as stereotypes that the boys are more
interested than girls. The school has a number of boys with learning
difficulties in these subjects. Most SEN arise from curricular
difficulties, such as gaining access to the curriculum or problems
in grasping and retaining concepts and skills in areas such as
English language, mathematics, science and the expressive arts. The
causes of such difficulties are most likely to lie in a mismatch
between delivery of the curriculum and pupils’ learning needs (Halliwell,
c. Speech and Language Difficulty (SpL)
The assumption for language difficulty was seen in terms of English
language because the school is situated in a mixed-racial cultural
population; lack of proficiency in English language is a major
problem, rather the children’s lack of proficiency in their
mother-tongue is more disturbing difficulty. HT TLD-SPL
Nevertheless, the Code of Practice (DfES, 2001:3) declared children
must not be regarded SEN solely because the language of their home
is different from the language in which they will be taught.
However, the teachers and TAs put them same category of SpL
They can’t read English reading books how their reading skill will
improve. CT1. CT2. TS2. TLD-SPL
However some schools have SpL units and therapist/specialist to
assess child’s SpL.
d. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulty (EB)
Bullying, aggression, disruption, withdrawal and restlessness were
some of the identified EB. Some teachers were keen to investigate
the causes with school councillor; I have pupils with certain
emotional and behavioural problems. Majority of these pupils from
broken homes, there main concern is poor concentration. CT1 TLD-EB.
SEN may arise from delays or
disturbances in emotional and behavioural development family life
which may affect the individual’s capacity to learn.
e. Difficulty due to Exceptional Ability (GAT)
The interviewees were eager to provide data of their GAT children;
These children are challenging if the work is not set according to
their calibre. CT3. TLD GAT.
There was good balance management of the class work; GAT
children are all rounders. We encourage them by giving more
challenging work not to feel them dejected. CT1. TLD-EB.
Thus GAT students were more challenging for teachers and TAs because
they have top set one group rather than specific GAT. Halliwell
(2011) recommended that the content of the curricular areas or
courses is expanded to ensure that abler pupils are suitably
stimulated and challenged to reduce their disruption. Most of the
interviewees were more comfortable, discussing general type
education issues rather than specific SEN issues.
.4. Types of Support Provided to SEN Children
a. Home School Partnership (HSP)
The interviewees emphasised the idea of HSP in addressing learning
We celebrate open days and invite parents to discuss about their
children plan accordingly. CT3 TSP-HSP.
However, Norwich (2013) dealt a comprehensive discussion about the
importance of home, school and LEAs relationship to make SEN
provision more effective. ‘The schools’ LEA failed in developing
successful co-ordination because only schools’ efforts are not
enough for successful inclusion,’ the sample complained.. Thus the
interviewees did not show any positive attitude to develop home,
school and LEA partnership.
b. Counselling (C)
The interviewees believed on counselling therapies to restore the
children’s self-esteem and confidence, thereby reducing/eliminating
children’s learning difficulties.
We have the facilities of school counselling for children with
emotional and behavioural issues. CT1. CT2. TSP-C
A child statement is the only required document that gives a picture
of his/her SEN. The LEA sends a child’s with statement and requests
the school counselling for support therefore most of the schools
rely on LEA’s statements only. Additionally Halliwell (2011)
suggests that the Individual Educational Plan (IEPs) should be
prepared with short and long term goal to be attained with
indications of: expected time-scale; approaches to learning and
teaching; assessment and recording; staff involved; resources;
learning contexts; and involvement of parents.
5. Special and Specific Intervention Programme
a. Reading Recovery Programme (RRP)
We have special intervention reading-classes under the supervision
of SENCO, teachers and TAs such as guided reading. SENCO. HT. TSP-
We divided students in groups; gifted, advanced, average and SEN.
However, it can be argued that the teacher will find hard to manage
four groups at a time because there are usually one TA per year. TA
job is to assure task completion and signed students’ Reading
Records (Ainscow, 2013). There is no proper timetable for Reading
recovery programme the students supported by SENCO or TA (Halliwell,
2011). Nevertheless this situation is varying from school to school
and their individual class room and staff management.
b. Individual Support Programme(ISP)
The school adopted ISP for specific subject learning difficulties.
We arranged separate booster sessions for SEN students like reading,
writing or mathematics and science. TA1. TA2. TA3. SENCO TSP-ISP.
This one-to-one support is very worth while for individual
improvement. The school had very positive response from the students
and their parents. It positively affected a child’s academic
progress. A child’s dependency is eliminated and a sense of
self-confidence and reliance and habit is developed (Halliwell,
c. Ability Setting and in Class Support (AS)
The teachers acknowledged that children learn at different levels of
The class teacher allocates TAs for individual or group support,
sometimes in one lesson there are 2 to 3 TAs. HT. SENCO. TSP-AS.
The teachers allocate TAs according to the needs and abilities of
the children. However (Ainscow, 2013) criticised that the mainstream
schools over or misuse their support staff because most of them are
inexperienced and unqualified for SEN support.
d. Withdrawal (WIS)
Withdrawals of students from classroom make the classroom management
easy for teacher. However; withdrawal students are supported
by TAs in a reserved room. CT1. HT.DH.WIS
This constant withdrawal of SEN students put negative impact on
their learning, sharing and team work abilities (Halliwell, 2011).
To minimize this practice an effective lesson plan is vital with
combinations of varieties of tasks according to the calibre of SEN
students within the classroom. Although very few SENCO support
class-teachers in lesson planning their main focus are SEN support (Ainscow,
6. Causes of Learning Difficulties
a. Lack of Parental Awareness and Lack of Interest (LPA)
Lack of parents’ involvement and interest in their child’s education
is the main cause of learning difficulties they always complaining
lack of time and other engagements.
Most of the parents do not understand the importance LPA in their
child education. They always lacking of time and even don’t turn-up
on parents-meeting. HT. DH. CLD-LPA
The rights and responsibilities of parents should respected and they
are actively encouraged to be involved in making decisions about the
approaches taken to meet their children’s SEN. Parents can do much
to support the work of the schools when the teachers involve them in
assessing and reviewing SEN; making decisions about the content of
the curriculum; and monitoring and reporting on progress as observed
at school (Dyson, 2012). However, sample teachers and TAs were
disappointed with parental response.
b. Environment Influence Peer-group
Children home and social environment contribute a significant role
Peer groups and environment affect the child’s performance and
ability. CT3 CLD ENV
Home and social environment have positive or negative effect on a
child’s abilities usually children from split families have negative
impacts. The study found more negative aspects in terms of parental
attention and interaction with students’ families.
c. Inadequate Provision of Educational Resources (IER)
The interviewees complained about lack of educational resources to
prepare their lessons.
Sometimes the borough delays the provision of resources, or the
school lacks funds. HT. CLD IER.
This is one of major issues now that LEAs have failed in the
provision of teaching and learning resources to schools on time (Ainscow,
2013). As a result, the school has struggles for an effective SEN
provision. There was an impression among the teachers and TAs that
it is the responsibility of the head and deputy to make this supply
possible in time.
e. Inadequate SEN Funds (ISF)
ISF obstructed the way of successful SEN provision.
First we were getting individual SEN funds per child but now it is
for the school therefore its insufficient for SEN students. HT, DH,
However, the concerned school’s LEA mostly delays the provision of
funds and resources that causes ineffective SEN provision and
management (Ainscow, 2013). Both the head and deputy were not happy
with the present allocation of funds, resources and revised polices
of its provision. The government revised their strategies due to
increased number of SEN students every year. The interviewees were
in favour of individual SEN student funds. Frederickson and Cline
(2009) further supported the argument that teachers in the
mainstream are confident in their ability to implement inclusion
effectively. Nevertheless, the main barriers are the inadequate
funds and educational resources.
f. Poor Teaching (PT)
A poor teaching methods increase children’ learning difficulties.
The system could be developed to raise the profile of the
profession, increase professionalism and competency and ensure good
A lesson is interesting, no matter how dull the child is there will
be an aspect of lesson that a child enjoyed. CT1, CLD PT.
The sample school has all qualified teachers. There is no proper
arrangement for their training or refresher courses to introduce
them to the new strategies and techniques to make their lessons more
interesting for SEN students. Their lesson plans mostly rely on the
availability of material and their knowledge. The teachers had PGCE
or GTP without specific SEN qualifications. Similarly TAs had no
proper training and qualifications only few have considerable
experience working with children but not with the SEN exclusively.
Schools rely on TAs for SEN provision (Ainscow, 2013). Interestingly
the school avoid hiring a supply-qualified teacher in teachers’
absence they give the class under the supervision of unqualified TA
or split the students into groups (5-7) and send them to different
6. Teacher evaluation and Implementation of National
Curriculum/Code of Practice
The National Curriculum and Code of Practice affect teaching
practice. In this regard, a theme that constantly emerged in all
interviews was that of teacher motivation, resources availability,
teacher training curriculum, funds for SEN students and professional
development. Most of the teachers were interested in the SEN
classroom arrangement and SEN lesson plans.
We need workshops and seminars and refreshers courses to merge Code
of Practice in National Curriculum. CT1 CT2 CT3 TA1 TA2 TA3, ITE-CPD.
Golder et al., (2009) recommend teachers in-service training
regarding necessary understanding and skills for SEN provision to
make a bridge between the National Curriculum and Code of Practice
for an inclusive setting. Therefore teacher-training curriculum in
colleges/universities should be revised to include generic broad
based SEN as a compulsory element in initial teacher training.
Further tailoring of the curriculum to meet individual needs is
possible through a degree of flexibility within programmes to enable
students to select subject areas of individual relevance.
This study concluded that teachers do not regard the SEN that helped
in identifying children with special needs. The study theorise lack
of funds, resources, SEN trained staff and partnership between
parents, school and LEAs blocking the effective provision of SEN.
Additionally it is vital to involve SEN qualified teachers from
mainstream for an effective review of inclusion policies and
practice. They are the real means or policy makers for the
evaluation and review of existing polices to be effectively
implemented in the mainstream. Every policy has been judged by its
effective provision in practical environments. Because we have to
start asking what is wrong with the school rather than what’s wrong
with the child!’(Ainscow 2013:17).
This small-scale research study has limited scope of generalisation
because the qualitative data analysed does not allow many strong
conclusions regarding differentiating the various SEN issues
described here. The sample hardly interpreted an accurate picture of
the present situation of policies and practices. Inclusion
represents a complex system of education and need more time and
practice to absorb each other. However, it may be concluded, that
inclusion has not gained much ground in the country since the mid
1990s, it seems that SEN needs more practical reforms and policy
organisation. Educational segregation provision in mainstream
presented mixed views, that a gradually increasing number of parents
want their children with SEN to attend a regular school.
Furthermore, inclusion requires a rethinking of the role of SEN in
mainstream; why some students are failing to learn, and the teachers
fail in effective teaching. The present polices of the schools are
mostly theoretical and formal documents. Overall, the research found
no evidence in the school of systematic discrimination or
unfavourable treatment of students with SEN in the classroom setting
or in admissions process. For students with SEN there were no
statements, schools simply did not have an opportunity to do this,
as information about pupils’ abilities and needs was not available
when the admissions criteria were being applied. All schools
respected the legal position of SEN students and arranged special
provision for such students. To conclude this discussion both
opponents and proponents of SEN can find scattered research to
support their respective views, since the current research is
inconclusive. Opponents point to research showing negative effects
of the provision of SEN, often citing low self-esteem of students
with disabilities in the general education setting and poor academic
grades. For those supporting inclusion, research exists that shows
positive results for both special and general education students,
including academic and social benefits. Currently, the issues of SEN
appear to be under discussion. The practical definitions of
government polices supporting the practice, schools need to continue
their search to find out the ways to include SEN students in the
mainstream schools successfully.
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