Conference Papers

Special Educational Needs and inclusion: is the education system providing meaningful education for all?

Autism is a very common Special Educational Need (SEN); children with Autism attend both mainstream and special settings, depending on where they are on the spectrum. This study is based on the ideals of inclusion in modern English schools, discussing their practices and ethos they have, with the aim to discuss how inclusive they really are. The meaning of inclusion has changed over time and the question is if the school system is indeed inclusive, or if settings are using the term ‘inclusion’ for practices that are simply the opposite.

These ideas are mainly underpinned by using a highly interesting case study: that of 7 year old autistic twins, who go to two different settings. One of them attends a mainstream school and the other one a special school. The children’s mother was interviewed about her and her children’s experiences with both settings. Through this case study, school practice from both setting is scrutinised, since both seem to fail to support the children’s needs and provide a meaningful education. Multiple and critical mistakes are made and examples of bad practice in both settings is discussed. The discussion also lends itself to the mainstream/special school debate, especially in light of the most recent Code of Practice and government plans to re-open special schools.

Further framing the mainstream/special school debate, research based on the experiences of individuals with dyslexia is also used, as a way of showcasing different school practices and how they are experienced by the people that they affect. The second study, also interview-based, is only used to further strengthen the point about exclusion within an ‘inclusive’ context. The data from both studies is used to argue that although many schools claim to be inclusive and to educate children of varying levels of SEN, in reality practices can be very disabling for both the children and their parents, contributing to a very negative educational experience.

Lithari, E. and Sturgeon, L. (2016) 'Special Educational Needs and inclusion: is the education system providing meaningful education for all?', paper presented to The 12th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 30 June-01 July, viewed 13 August 2020, <>

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