04 SES 11 C, The Irresistible Rise of the Special Educational Needs Industry
Over the past thirty years, inclusive education has become the dominant paradigm in the field of special educational needs across the developed and developing world, reflected in the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Educational Needs, the Dakar Framework for Action: Education for All and the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention includes a commitment to promote inclusive practices for disabled adults and children across all fields of social policy, including education, training and employment.
The focus on inclusion has tended to deflect attention away from changes within the special education sector and the use of official and unofficial forms of school exclusion, which is the focus of this symposium. The symposium draws on the work of an international research network funded by the Leverhulme Foundation, focusing on special educational needs and policy change in six jurisdictions (the USA, New South Wales, Scotland, England, the Netherlands and Sweden). Network partners are engaged in an analysis of (i) the nature and extent of variation across developed countries in the use of special schools and classes; (ii) the permeability of the boundary between mainstream and special settings; and (iii) the discourses underpinning the use of special settings in different contexts. The network is also conducting an analysis and critique of official statistics on the use of mainstream and special settings and their underpinning discourses reflected in policy and legislation. Of particular interest is the discursive use of official statistics within a globalised context. Special educational needs (SEN) policy, with its emphasis on inclusive education, may be seen as a travelling policy, with an overall homogenising tendency. At the same time, SEN policy is embedded within particular national and local contexts, thus adopting specific vernacular forms.
In this symposium, network participants from the Netherlands, Sweden, England and Scotland will explore the extent to which the universal focus on inclusion has been accompanied by a tendency to identify a growing number of children in mainstream schools as having special or additional support needs. This expansion in the SEN population coincides with the steep rise in youth unemployment across Europe, and, it is argued, plays a part in legitimating the social exclusion of certain sections of the population, particularly young men from socially deprived backgrounds.
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