An Analysis of the Concept of Special Education With Particular Focus on Mainstream Secondary Schools in Scotland

Hannah, Kathleen (2001) An Analysis of the Concept of Special Education With Particular Focus on Mainstream Secondary Schools in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Uncertainty about the future of special education in recent years has given rise to discussion amongst its leading thinkers about whether the field should have a coherent theoretical analysis of its own. In particular, the concept of special educational needs has become problematic. Although special education appears to define a special group of pupils and a set of alternative practices, it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between what is 'normal' and what is 'special'. Such tensions are common to all schools, however, they are of particular concern in Scotland's mainstream secondary schools as a result of confusion relating to the roles of learning support staff and their separate status, a perceived lack of resources, pessimism regarding the prospects of pupils with learning difficulties and inadequate training for subject teachers. Through a descriptive survey, this research investigated the extent to which stakeholders in special education such as policy makers, secondary school teachers, learning support teachers, parents and pupils shared the same perceptions of educational difficulty, whether stakeholders believed that special education would benefit from a theoretical analysis of its own, the extent to which current principles or values such as inclusion and entitlement remained valid and, finally, how stakeholders envisaged future trends in special education. In general, the study found consistency amongst stakeholders in some respects but significant variations in the emphasis placed on major 'goals' and 'values' by different groups. Stakeholders could not agree on the roles and functions of leaming support teachers and there was little understanding of fundamental principles associated with the field such as inclusion. In relation to the validity of specific issues in special education, stakeholders also disagreed on basic assumptions. Overall, 'inclusion' remained a popular goal amongst parents, although empowerment was regarded by many teachers and policy makers as equally if not more important. There was a clear perception that special education is under-resourced and that initial teacher traimng for subject teachers is inadequate as a means of preparing them to address the needs and aspirations of a wide range of learners. Stakeholders also shared the perception that pupils were not valued equally by secondary schools, regardless of ability and, notably, a very substantial number of stakeholders in special education regarded the field as problematic. Although many respondents felt ill-informed, in general, about special educational needs policy and practice, there was support for a theoretical analysis which might help to clarify the relationship between policy and practice, providing that it did not further alienate special education from the education system as a whole. It was felt that goals in special education needed to be more objective and less idealistic if they were to be realised in practice. Finally, with regard to future trends in special education, all groups clearly acknowledged the need for a major review of initial teacher education and staff development to take account of the needs of a broad range of learners. Many felt strongly about the need for a review of the legislation relating to special educational needs and the increased involvement in policy making of pupils, parents and subject teachers. All groups were unanimous in their support for a new principle to underpin practice which promoted tolerance and value of differences amongst young people in mainstream secondary' schools. The importance of conducting the process of theoretical analysis with all of those most concerned with special education has been stressed throughout this study. Based on the responses and shared perceptions of stakeholders in special education, this research has attempted to reconceptualise special education in a way which places special education within the education system as a whole. It combines three new theories in education. 'Difference' theory, emphasises difference over sameness and promotes critical reflection and exploration of assumptions and norms which are often taken for granted and mistaken for absolute truths in education systems, 'Communicative Virtues' which, linked to difference theory, offers the opportunity to adopt a more imaginative and creative stance towards educational difficulties by assuming that these can arise in a variety of contexts and that, in certain conditions, we can all experience difficulties and thirdly, the theory of 'Multiple Intelligences' which is compatible with 'difference' theory in that it promotes differences in terms of 'abilities' rather than 'deficit' models of children in education. A management model based on a combination of these three theories, together with an outline of their practical implications for secondary mainstream schools is discussed in the concluding chapter.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Fiona Skelton
Keywords: Special education
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-75765
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 18:14
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 18:14

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