04 SES 13 A, What is Special? Implications and Case Studies From a Review of 55 Countries
This symposium presents research from an international study conducted in 2011 for the National Council for Special Education, Ireland. The research had four phases. Following a systematic search of the literature and detailed analysis of the notion of the continuum, a search was made of electronically available material dealing with the policy background of 55 administrations within 50 countries. 10 countries were subsequently selected and a detailed questionnaire and 7 vignettes were provided to an individual or small group of academics, researchers and administrators in each country. 3 countries were then selected as sites for a case study; Italy, Norway and Japan. A visit was also made to Ireland. 144 people were interviewed in groups or individually, encompassing practitioners, parents, teacher trainers, advisory services, support groups, health practitioners, policy makers and children. Over 20 educational settings were visited at kindergarten, primary and lower secondary levels, as well as various administrative and resource centres. The analysis of the data from all sources was subjected to a thematic analysis derived from grounded theory (Corbin and Strauss, 2008).
The four papers presented in this symposium draw on each of the stage of this research process, focussing upon a central theme which emerged from the data; how we can define the term ‘special’.
The notion of ‘special’ has a long history. It has been represented broadly as the nature of education which makes it “specially well adapted to meet a child’s needs” (Department of Education and Science 1965, p1, cited in Tomlinson 1982, p73); for many teachers their understandings of special are underpinned by a notion of the child’s nature, built into the child and constructed through individualised provision for individuals (Adams, Swain and Clark, 2000). Within this paradigm special involves classification by experts, creating an identity, positioning and maintaining that individual as the other by which the non-experts identify themselves (Hausstätter, 2008). Special is also represented as an approach, “a continuous from of special teaching for children who need either special environment, special medical treatment, special methods of teaching or a special curriculum.” (Gulliford, 1971). As Corbett (2001) suggests, advocates of special focus upon time and space within a protective environment, with reduced class-size and specific practitioner expertise. These notions of the special result in institutions, categories of learner, and delineated bodies of expert knowledge, which serve a function of positive discrimination and/or social control (Potts, 1998). These levels of complexity however have been stripped away by other theorists, researchers and policy makers. Within the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education special is that which defines segregation (Donnelly, Meijer & Watkins, 2011), whilst to Norwich and Lewis (2007), its defining nature is intensification.
This symposium will touch upon all of these notions of special as they emerged from across the range of data sources involved within the international study. From across all these sources only two clearly defined and universal themes emerged which apply to special alone; special means time or space that is additional or alternative relative to that available for the majority of learners within a community of provision.
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