Contested spaces and special educational needs: Policy and practice, rights and reality

Year: 2021

Author: Forde, Deirdre, Purdy, Noel

Type of paper: Symposium

Pre-recorded presentation link: A philosophy of inclusion, underpinned by fundamental principles of human rights and equal opportunities for all, has become central to the education of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in Ireland. Ireland has a distinct and complex history regarding the education and social inclusion of children with SEN.  Recent decades have seen significant policy developments to support children with SEN, including a policy shiftaway from separate educational provision for children with SEN towards increasingly including these children in mainstream schools. This policy shift began in the early 1990s, when a combination of national and international factors interacted to produce a redirection of policy and practice towards a more inclusive stance in relation to children with SEN. Prevalence rates of SEN estimate that one quarter of the pupil population in Ireland present with SEN (Mc Coy, Banks, and Shevlin 2016). Nonetheless,  the identification and assessment process is often a difficult and complex process.  Current provision for children in the early years in Ireland, like special education, has also undergone significant changes since the late 1990’s, largely due to a range of policy initiatives, many underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Nonetheless, major shortcomings have been highlighted with regards to SEN provision both North and South of the border. North of the border, a number of recent reviews (NIAO, 2017; NICCY, 2020; Purdy et al., 2020; NIAO, 2020) of the SEN system have all highlighted major deficiencies, shortcomings and failings with frequent demands for an ‘urgent review and overhaul of the SEN processes in place’ (NIAO, 2020, p.3). In Southern Ireland, newly reformed processes have been deemed “not fit for purpose” (PSI, 2020). There have been repeated calls for major reform to the current SEN system to enable it to meet its obligations under the UNCRC in both jurisdictions (NICCY, 2020; PSI, 2020). This paper will explore the architectural symbolism of a contested space between human rights, policy and practice. It will highlight the indifference to international law which is reflected within national policy but not fully implemented in practice by each state. It will become evident that whilst the landscape of universal policy and human rights has promised much to children with SEN there exists a contested space between the plethora of policies introduced, the ensuing obligations and the lived realities of children with SEN.