04 SES 14 A, Impacts of Labelling Students with Special Educational Needs – Theory and Empirical Evidence
The practice of classifying children with difficulties in learning into predetermined disability categories has a long tradition in special education. Without these classifications, special needs teachers and special schools would not exist (Norwich, 2014). In countries with a tradition of a separating school system, the formal diagnosis of a special need was – and still is – a necessary condition for referring students to these special schools. However, the categories are strongly criticised, particularly with regard to their potentially stigmatizing effect (e.g. Algraigray & Boyle, 2017; Arishi, Boyle & Lauchlan, 2017; Boyle, 2014; Lauchlan & Boyle, 2007; Norwich, 2014). In the light of inclusive education, comprehensive studies need to evaluate why teachers continue to formally diagnose students, what impacts the categories have on students and teachers and how potential risks relate to the possible benefits.
With the implementation of inclusive education, which originated in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) enacted in 2006 and now ratified by more than 160 countries, students with special needs have the right to equally access the general education system. Since then, many countries experience a continuously increasing number of students diagnosed with special needs (e.g. European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, 2017, 2018). This trend is mainly attributed to the financing models for special needs education that are prevalent in these countries (e.g. Goldan, 2019). In the current debate on the effectiveness of labelling, this is one of the main pro-arguments: the formal assessment of special needs categories is important because it entitles students and schools to receive additional resources in order to provide for students with higher needs (e.g. Arishi et al., 2017; Norwich, 2014).
Critics of formal diagnoses generally refer to this practice as 'labelling' and emphasize numerous risks associated with the deficit-oriented, classifying and stigmatizing attributions of special needs categories (Algraigray & Boyle, 2017; Boyle, 2017; Lauchlan & Boyle, 2007).
The aim of this symposium is to address the issue of labelling students with special educational needs categories, theoretically as well as empirically.
The first presentation by Brahm Norwich will give insights into the research and theorising about labelling as a practice. It captures important arguments that need to be considered in the pro and con of labelling. The second paper by Janka Goldan and Lena Nusser presents empirical evidence from a German large-scale study, indicating that the label ‘learning disability’ does not lead to slower competence development in mathematics. In the third presentation by Hannu Savolainen, Jukka Sivola and Pirjo Savolainen from Finland, the focus is on effects of special education support. The authors compare the results of different empirical strategies to investigate the effects of special education by using longitudinal data from Finland. The fourth paper by Marianne Kvande explores the effects of special education on academic achievement and task motivation using longitudinal data from Norway. Next to their empirical findings, a review of the most well-designed studies related to selection into SE, and the effects of SE on children’s academic achievements will be presented and discussed.
Algraigray, H. & Boyle, C. (2017). The SEN label and its effect on special education. Educational and Child Psychology. 34(4), 70-79. Arishi, L., Boyle, C. & Lauchlan, F. (2017). Inclusive education and the politics of difference: Considering the effectiveness of labelling in special education. Educational and Child Psychology. 34(4), 9–19. Boyle, C. (2014). Labelling in special education: Where do the benefits lie? In A. Holliman (Ed.), The Routledge International Companion to Educational Psychology (pp.213–221). London: Routledge. Goldan, J. (2019). Demand-oriented and fair allocation of special needs teacher resources for inclusive education – Assessment of a newly implemented funding model in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. International Journal of Inclusive Education. DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2019.1568598 Lauchlan, F. & Boyle, C. (2007). Is the use of labels in special education helpful? Support for Learning, 22(1), 36-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9604.2007.00443.x Norwich, B. (2014). Categories of Special educational needs. In L. Florian (Ed.), The SAGE handbook of special education (pp. 55-71). Los Angeles: SAGE.
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