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Specific learning difficulties - module recap

Defining SEND, specific learning difficulties and their conceptual orgins

Georgina Spry

on 5 January 2016

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Transcript of Specific learning difficulties - module recap

Module CD7704 Recap
What are specific learning difficulties?

Why is the related term 'SEND' argued about?
Does the use of medical discourses cause some problems?
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
An example of this is the case of thalidomide.
The Tragedy Model
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.
The Eugenics movement was popular in the UK from around 1910 but didn't gain parliamentary support.
However in Scandanavia, the US and Germany it influenced social policy and legislation
Essentially, the Eugenics movement supported the idea that the mentally, physically and morally defective should be sterilised to prevent them from spreading their deficits among the population
An excerpt from a 1950 pamphlet disseminated by the Human Betterment League of North Carolina, a private group that promoted the sterilization of the state's "mental defectives." George H. Lawrence, superintendent of public welfare for Buncombe County, was the group’s founding president. Image courtesy of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation websit
The 'special educational treatment' they received was to be based on the single categorisation applied to them by medics.
1945 - 1970
Special Schools

Schools for mental defectives were renamed 'special schools' and the word 'defective replaced by subnormal/

In 1947
, 12,060 children were in Educationally Subnormal (ESN) Schools
In 1955
, 22,639 children were in ESN schools with another 39,000 awaiting a place. Many of these were being considered because their ordinary schools were not providing well enough for them.

What was meant by

ESN children were identified as those who were 'retarded by more than 20 percent for their age but were not so low grade as to be ineducable or to be detrimental to the education of their children' (DES, 1977)
Evelyn King had a physical impairment that limited her ability to walk and her speech.

In 1951, age 5, she was given an intelligence test and classified medically as an imbecile.
She was sent to a mental hospital
1970 Ineducable no more

1970 Education (Handicapped Children Act) finally brought all children within the framework of education.
1871 - 1987 - The creation of Special Educational Needs

Module Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:
•Demonstrate an analytical and evaluative consideration of one specific learning difficulty drawing on appropriate theoretical approaches.
•Explore the potential barriers to learning an individual with a specific learning difficulty may face
Session Learning Objectives

To be able to explain the current legal definition of SEND and SpLD
To be able to identify the medical and charity/tragedy model of SEND and its relationship with SpLD
The term SEND represents a very diverse range of learners some of which have specific learning difficulties
In current policy and legislation, SEND is applied to a continuum of difficulty.

Some children's learning difficulties will be signifcantly greater than others to a more exceptional degree

Other children's learning difficulties will still be significant but to a less exceptional degree.
In summary, the term SEND is applied to a very wide and heterogeneous group of learners with very wide and heterogeneous levels and types of difficulty.
In principle, it is supposed to be a mutable term with a mutable state.
It is supposed to help us think flexibly about learners and recognise the way in which we must continually adapt our practice around the actual needs of our learners without making any assumptions.

Categoric terms in policy: their relationship with exceptionality

Profound and multiple
learning difficulties
Pupils who experience profound and multiple learning difficulties 'have' severe and complex learning needs, in addition they have other significant difficulties, such as physical disabilities or a sensory impairment. Pupils require a high level of adult support, both for their learning needs and also for personal care. Their ability to communicate is at a very early stage and may be pre-intentional.
Global delay in all areas of physical, intellectual and social development. Rate of progress is less than half the rate of other children of the same age. These children will have a statement of special educational need (or an EHC in the new system).
This includes children who have difficulties in all areas of learning. They make slow progress when compared to their peers and are usually in mainstream.
Pupils with SpLD may 'have' a particular difficulty in learning to read, write, spell or manipulate numbers. Pupils may also have problems with short-term memory, with organisational skills and with co-ordination. Pupils with SpLD cover the whole ability range and their strengths, difficulties and experiences vary hugely. Specific learning difficulties include dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia . However, the term SpLD is usually applied to learners who do not have global difficulties. Their difficulties are in the context of a broad range of strengths. Children with SpLDs are invariably in mainstream.
Sensory Impairment
Physical Impairment
Speech Language and Communication needs
Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Cognitive needs
Social, emotional and behavioural needs
There are many 'categories' of SEND but this module will explore the usefulness and accuracy of these
1981 - Education Act
Term 'special educational needs' used.
The aim was to create a more global and flexible term so as to bring an end to labels and categorisation.

Educational provision was to to be mapped around the complex, unique and multilayered nature of the whole child (rather than focusing on their impairment).

It was hoped that this might reduce the dominance of the medical model

Did it?
People who had experienced the effects of thalidomide were angry about attempts to normalise them. For example, prosthetic limbs were designed that had cosmetic rather than adaptive purposes.
Read the two information sheets about learning difficulties
Which information sheet are the following statements most true of?
Disabled people's voices can be heard
There is a focus on conditions
Learning difficulties arise from something different within the person
There is a focus on deficits and problems
There is a rejection of labels
There is emphasis on the way that the environment creates or reduces difficulties
1. What is the meaning of the term 'SEND' (
eeds and
2. How does the idea of a
continuum of learning difficulty/disability
relate to special educational needs?
4. Why are there criticisms
of the label 'SEND' and other
categoric terms (like Down Syndrome,
PMLD, SLD, dyslexia)?
5. What is meant by 'disability'?
6. Why are there criticisms of the term 'disability'?
2. In policy, how does the concept of a
of learning difficulty/disability relate to the concept of 'SEND' and where do
'specific learning difficulties'
fit in?
The problems with the term 'SEND'

Many critics of the term 'SEND' note its medical and deficit overtones.
The term places the 'problem' within the child and the focus is on the
'resources' to meet the 'needs' rather than the extent to which the child's difficulties might be caused by the environment (inappropriate teaching, negative attitudes, labeling, stereotypes, inaccessible buildings)(Hart, 1996, Slee, 2010).

This relates to a key question for this module -
WHERE ARE THE BARRIERS TO LEARNING? Within the child's 'condition' or in the environment? What does the classroom practitioner need to know and understand about these barriers to learning?

Another criticism is that policy and legislation provides little guidance on what is actually meant by 'significantly greater difficulty' and this leads to confusion about what level of exceptionality relates to what level of resource.
'SEND' might not be an easy fit with 'inclusion' since it separates out a group of learners and in so doing, risks marginalising them.
What is the legal definition of disability?
Equality Act, 2010

physical or mental impairment
that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

What do ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ mean?
‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial - e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed

Problems with this definition

Critics of this definition argue that the concept of an 'impairment'
should be separate from 'disability'

For example, a learner 'with' a cognitive impairment will experience the consequences of the impairment differently in different contexts. If the learner is in a classroom with well matched learning experiences and an effective teacher, the impairment will be less disabling that if in a classroom with a teacher who labels the child and has inappropriately low expectations.
It is argued that an impairment is the difficulty, illness, deficit experienced by an individual (such as autism, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, Down syndrome) but that the extent to which this impairment is a disability depends on the environment.

The session has explored the following definitions of key terms as they are represented in policy and legislation:

Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) is defined in terms of 'significantly greater difficulty' and 'disabilities that might hinder access'. Policy creates a system for resourcing the 'additional' or 'different' educational support that might be needed.

Disability is defined as a significant or long term impairment that impacts on the enactment of daily tasks or activities

Problems with both terms have been noted: specifically in relation to their tendency to focus on deficits rather than capabilities and to place the focus on the individual rather than the environment

HART, S., 1996. Beyond special needs: Enhancing children's learning through innovative thinking. London: Paul Chapman.
SLEE, R., 2001. Driven to the margins: disabled students, inclusive schooling and the politics of disability. Cambridge Journal of Education, 61(2), pp. 385-397
CORBETT, J., 1996. Bad mouthing: The language of special needs London: Falmer.
GREAT BRITAIN. Parliament. Equality Act 2010: Elizabeth II. Chapter 15. (2010) London: Stationery Office.

3. Where do
specific learning
fit into this
continuum? What is meant by
specific learning difficulties
in this
module? (It is different from the meaning
of the term in policy).
How do these categories represent
a continuum of exceptionality?

To what extent are these categories
helpful or unhelpful?
‘long-term’ means 12 months or more - eg a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection
A disability is defined as..
The Module and Assignment
What is meant by the term 'special educational needs'?
Who has 'special educational needs?'
What is meant by 'special educational needs'?
Who has 'special educational needs?'

Defining special educational needs and disability
In England these terms are defined in policy and legislation. Section 20 of the Children and Families Bill (Great Britain, 2014), presents the following definition of special educational needs:

(1) A child or young person has
special educational needs
if he or she has a
learning difficulty
which calls for
special educational provision
to be made for him or her.

(2) A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she—
(a) has a
significantly greater difficulty in learning
than the majority of
others of the same age, or
(b) has a
which prevents or hinders him or her from making use
of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in
mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

Hence, special educational needs are identified when the child requires a level of provision in education, health or social care which is
‘additional to or different from, that made generally for others of the same age’
(Great Britain, 2014, section 21:1). The definition places some focus on difficulty and disability. It is also concerned with the system that might secure for these learners, the additional support and resources they need.
1. Which learners have 'special educational needs'?
What is the legal meaning of this term?
At one end we have
difficulties in
learning and/or disabilities that are profound and exceptionally significant

In current policy (Children and families Act, 2014) special educational needs are seen to exist along a continuum of exceptionality.

At the other end we have difficulties in learning and/or disabilities that are much less significant and more usual.
More exceptional special educational needs
Significantly more resources needed to meet needs.
An Education, Health and care Plan
Placement in special school
More intensive level of adaption (to teaching,
resources, environment)
Support beyond school budget and staff
Less exceptional special educational needs
Fewer resources needed to meet needs
Adaption of teaching, resources and environment is less intensive.
Support within school budget and

Where learners might have difficulties
in learning that are not significantly greater than their peers they do not need different or extra provision
and hence do not have special educational needs.

This causes much tension in the system. What one person might regard as 'significant' another may regard as 'insignificant.'
Currently in England:
19% of learners aged 2-16
are identified as having Special
educational needs.
3% of learners aged 2-16 are
identified as having very exceptional
needs with most of these placed in
mainstream schools.

This 19% represents a very diverse
group of learners spanning this whole

In principle, the extent to which learners
experience significant difficulties should
change through their life course, moving up
and down the continuum. In principle, the level
of adaption an resource should move too.


One of the important questions being asked by this module (and embedded in your assignment) is why some learners have difficulty.
Where do the barriers to learning come from?
Is it because they have a
cognitive/biological/neurological/physical/social/emotional impairment
is it because the education system itself creates barriers to learning?
KEY QUESTION: What creates barriers to learning among those learners who 'have' a specific learning difficulty?
What reduces barriers to learning?
Sensory Impairment
Physical Impairment
Speech Language and Communication needs
Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Cognitive needs
Social, emotional and behavioural needs
There are many 'categories' of SEND but this module will explore the usefulness and accuracy of these
Down syndrome

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
Autistic spectrum disorder
IN this module specific learning difficulties
refers to any learning difficulty that has a name
and which is applied to a group of learners such as
ADHD, autism, dyslexia. However, it will take a cautious
approach to overgeneralising the specificity and
usefulness of labels and categories in order to
defend the individuality, uniqueness and
potential of all learners.

lets be specific
specific learning difficulties
See you next session!
This module aims:
1. To critique characteristics in developmental cognitive neuro-diversity and their potential applications to education.
2. To develop knowledge and understanding regarding a range of specific learning difficulties.
3. To critically engage in theoretical frameworks and literature to reflect, evaluate and analyse practice

Learning Outcomes
Students who have successfully completed this module will:
1. Analyse in depth the extent of the effectiveness of strategies for improving outcomes for learners with SpLD.
2. Critically reflect on and contextualise potential applications of theory to educational practice.
3. Analyse and evaluate the impact of legislation, statutory guidance and policy.
4. Critically evaluate existing systems within the setting and the implications for practice.

Assessment Information

Assessment of CD7704

The assessment for module CD7704 is a compulsory part of this module.
The assignment is composed of one component, with two elements as outlined below.
Strict penalties are applied where work is submitted late and this may result in a fail grade in the module.
Failure to submit work for assessment will result in the failure of the module.

Assignment Title

A professional portfolio and critical commentary outlining an intervention strategy and outcome(s) for a learner or learners with a Specific Learning Difficulty.
A professional portfolio and critical commentary. 4000 - 5000 words
Element 1 A professional portfolio (Nominal 2000 words)
Element 2 A critical commentary
Module Learning Outcomes to be assessed: 1- 4.
100% of the marks will be awarded for the portfolio and critical commentary combined.

Learning Outcomes:
1. Analyse in depth the extent of the effectiveness of strategies for improving outcomes for learners with SpLD.
2. Critically reflect on and contextualise potential applications of theory to educational practice.
3. Analyse and evaluate the impact of legislation, statutory guidance and policy.
4. Critically evaluate existing systems within the setting and the implications for practice

Assignment Guidance

You should read widely before beginning writing.
You must make reference to your reading in the assignment. The sources you choose to refer to or cite should be capable of withstanding academic scrutiny.
Recent (published within the last five years) books and journal articles are preferred.
The use of e-journals / e-books is also strongly recommended.
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