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Dominant discourses of SEND and their impact on practice

The relationship between models (social, rights, medical, charity) on classroom practice (teachers and learners)

Georgina Spry

on 18 January 2018

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Transcript of Dominant discourses of SEND and their impact on practice

The idea of discourses
The study of language and how it is used is sometimes referred to as the study of discourses.
The language we use helps us make sense of something and influences (very profoundly) our thinking and actions.
medical model of SEND
arises from a professional medical perspective where the job is to diagnose and treat an illness, condition or disease.
In the case of SEND, this discourse
has been transferred into education.
What kind of words and phrases are in use discourses of a medical model is operated?
CONSIDER & Discuss
- Which terms are used in both medicine and education? write them down.
To what extent is medical discourse used when people talk about Special Educational Needs and Disability? Give examples of what you have heard when people talk about SEND using terms like these?
Does the use of medical discourses cause some problems?
Many people (e.g. Florian, 2007; Hart et al., 2005' Rieser, 2001) argue that the use of medical language (and medical ways of thinking) has negative effects on classroom practice and on the education system.
Rieser, R. (2001) ‘The struggle for inclusion: the growth of a movement’ in Barton, L. (ed.) Disability, Politics and the Struggle for Change, London, David Fulton.
Medical approaches to impairment may promote a concept of people as individual objects to be treated, changed or improved so that they can be made more normal
Adopting the discourses of medicine in the field of SEND (called the medical model of SEND) may give rise to the view that people are individual objects to be treated, changed or improved so that they are made more normal.
An example of one of the negative consequences of a medical model is represented in the case of thalidomide
The Tragedy/charity
Disabled people can feel disempowered and angry about being portrayed as helpless charity cases
'If we had rights and sufficient resources we wouldn't need charity'

Where the discourses of the tragedy/charity model are at work, what might be the consequences for learners?
While schools for deaf children and blind children were founded as business ventures for more well off families, there was little general interest in the education of disabled children.
Large residential asylums, workhouses and infirmaries were used. These continued to be built until the 1950s and used till the 1980s. Adults and children categorised as physically, morally or mentally deficient were sent there to be cared for and sometimes educated.
The departmental committee on Defective and Epileptic Children debated such things as segregation, use of teaching assistants, diagnostic labels, the best placement et cetera.
The committee decided that 'imbeciles' were best in asylums, 'feeble minded' best in special schools and 'idiots' ineducable and hence outside the remit of the education system.
1989 - Egerton report
Concluded that the state should provide separate special schools for deaf and blind children but some
educators argued that these children made more progress in ordinary schools.
Quite often decisions were made on the basis of what was most value for money.
Some people who were effected by thalidomide are angry at the way doctors tried to normalise them through the use of prosthetics. They felt that they were being forced to adopt a 'normal' appearance to make it easier for society.
The history of SEND has been dominated by a medical model, segregation and discrimination.
Much current educational policy supports a social model but the medical discourses are far from extinct.
Richard Reiser (2006) argues that the medical model (when it dominates) leads to the following
educational responses.
In his view, these translate into a negative experience for learners with special educational needs.
Discussion in pairs:
Taking each of these
educational responses in turn consider what
consequences these might
have for
teaching and learning
and for
teachers and learners

This might lead learners to feel that they are not normal or welcome

It might lead teachers to think that the child with the 'deficit' needs fixing and as such is of less value.

During this session we will examine four dominant discourses in SEND

The medical model of SEND
and the closely related
tragedy/charity model
social model of SEND
and the closely related
rights model
The purpose of this exploration is to enable
reflection on:

how these discourses might impact on
classroom practice

what the
consequences for learners
(with the label of SEND) may be
DISCOURSE 1: The medical model of SEND
Using the template,
begin to think about the
helpful and unhelpful consequences of the
medical model
and the
tragedy/charity model
for classroom teaching and learning
The following video relates the experiences of disabled
people during the 1940s and 50s.
What discourses were dominating?
What were the consequences of the dominating discourses?
What are the consequences of a dominating medical or charity/tragedy discourse?

Extracts from Humphries, S. and Gordon, P. (1992) Out of sight: Experience of disability 1900-1950. London: Nortcote and Channel 4.
The social model of SEND

Goodley (2001) argues that learning difficulties have
come to be seen as an inherited and unchangeable part of a person's genetic and biological make-up.

Goodley (2001) suggests that this is because of the powerful and enduring influence of the discourses
of the medical model on education.
Shakespeare (2006) notes that when the discourses arising from the medical model are dominant, it is:
less likely that learning difficulties will be attributed to teaching approaches or contextual factors

more likely that they will be attributed to an individual child's deficits, impairments or 'condition'
'Barriers make us disabled as well'

Daniel Docherty
Docherty, et al., 2005, p.35, cited in Sheldon et al., 2007, p.226
The discourses of the
social model
position disability and learning difficulties in context.
Hence, rather than locating the cause of the learning difficulty
the learner, it emphasises the role of
the environment
inappropriate teaching, curricula and learning environments in CREATING learning difficulties.
'Barriers' is a central concept within the social model and forms part of its discourse.

Disabling barriers are exemplified by Swain et al. (2003)

Fear of difference
Uninformed assumptions about the lives of disabled people and
those with learning difficulties

Inaccessible buildings
Inaccessible public facilities (e.g. transport)
Inaccessible spaces (classrooms, playgrounds)

Segregated services
Discriminatory practices
From the perspective of the
social model
, the terms we use (such as ADHD, autism or even 'learning difficulties') are social constructions.
For example, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may not exist in and of itself. Rather it represents our cultural preference for learners who are attentive and passive rather than those who are impulsive and inattentive.
In an education system that requires sustained attentiveness, stillness and compliance, a personality type that does not 'fit' comes to be seen as 'wrong' and in need of diagnosis and correction
From the perspective of the social model, this 'learning difficulty' has been created by the barriers in the education system.

Hence it is not so much the learner that needs 'fixing' but the teaching style, curriculum or
The Council for Disabled Children published their inclusion policy with a declaration of support for the social model (CDC, 2008)

They saw it as an important tool for understanding children's experiences

Watch the video closely and note down specific
examples of when the teacher uses the
of a social model.
rights model

Shakespeare (2006) and Tergaskis (2002) argue that
the social model triggered a campaigning
approach to disability rights with campaigning goals like:

Involving children in decision making
Removing physical barriers
Challenging the language used to label and categorise
Tackling attitudinal barriers
Fighting discrimination

Discourse of the rights model
Discourse (language) of the social model

Removing barriers
Disability as a social construction


Goodley, D. (2001) Learning difficulties, the social model of disability and impairment: challenging epistemologies. Disability and Society, 16 (2), pp,207-31

Cohen, D. (2006) ‘Critiques of the “ADHD” enterprise’ in Lloyd, G., Stead, J. and Cohen, D. (eds) (2006) (pp. 12–33).

Docherty D., Hughes, R., Phillips, P., Corbett, D. (2005). This is what we think' in Godley, D. and van Hove, G. (eds) Another disability studies reader: people with learning difficulties in a disabling world.

Shakespeare, T (2006) Disability rights and wrongs. London: Routledge.

Tegraskis, C. (2002) Social model theory: the story so far. Disability and society, 17 (2), pp. 457-70

Reiser, R. (2006) Does language matter? Inclusion now (2), pp.16-17

The medical model tends to operate the view that what is not 'normal' or what is 'broken' needs fixing - this after all, is the job that medics are tasked with. However, for educationalists (teachers, teaching assistants and other professionals) it might not always be helpful to think this way.
David Cohen (2006) suggests that the diagnostic criteria and assessment tools for ADHD ignore:

our cultural obsession with performance enhancement
that particular types of temperament are being pathologised
that a diagnoses reframes the symptoms of ADHD as a cause of difficulty when the cause may actually be ineffective schooling
Anti- discrimination
Attitudes and belief systems:
Models of SEND and their
discourses (language and ways of thinking)
1. The discourses of the medical model of SEND
2. The related discourses of the charity model of SEND
3. The discourses of the rights model of SEND
4. The discourses of the social model of SEND
4. We will continually relate this to
practice and barriers to learning.
Discourse 3: The social model
oppression: majority over minority
Return with the table complete, ready to share with others.
Full transcript