The aim of this essay is to contextualize the evolution of special education for disabled learners and inclusive education, placing a particular accent on the role of the 1978 Warnock report on their development in the UK since. This will take into account both further legislation on the matter, originated from the Warnock report, and public and social initiatives supporting and facilitating the integration of people with special needs in society.
This analysis will not only revolve around the British status quo on special needs and inclusive education, but will also delve into international examples and practices, used as a comparison and possible source of inspiration. In the next pages, the particular case of Canada, a country in the forefront for the implementation of inclusive and special needs education, will be source of much material for discussion and comparison.
This study aims at producing a critical overview of the history of special needs and inclusive education in the UK, based on both legal and practical example of its evolution. It will also propose comparative material potentially helpful to develop and ameliorate the nation’s current views and practices on the subject.
2. Special Needs and Inclusive Education: A Brief History
As discussed by Hodkinson and Vickerman (2009), the idea of creating, or even being in need, of a special type of education for children with disability had never been considered before the advent of the industrial era. The industrial revolution, however, changed all this, as Britain was transformed almost overnight from a largely agricultural society to an industrial one (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009, 32-52). This meant that, especially in an urban environment, the structures which would have been in charge of taking care of special needs children education's, namely the church and families, may no longer have been entirely available for this duty. For families, cramped, often unsanitary living arrangements and strenuous working hours meant less time was available to care for their disabled children, in an environment, the city, where the all-round support parishes and religious institutions provided in the countryside (Lee and Ralph, 2004, as cited in Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009, 56) was not as easily available.
In the 19th century, however, with industrialization well rooted into the strata of society, brought about the growth of specialized institutions, often run by humanitarian charities, to care for the less fortunates and their education. The presence of institutions and schools catering to disabled children did not solve the issue. In truth, the very idea of “special needs” was grossly based on medical definitions of defect and abnormality and focused on the idea the child had a “problem” or lacked “abilities”(Lewis, 1999), rather than on those of inclusion and assessing the child's abilities simply as “different.” With this type of background, it is not surprising that the earlier attempts to provide education to special needs children revolve mostly around special schools ,which ultimately segregated, rather than integrate, the child.
Things changed for the best in 1944, with the implementation of the Education Act, which mostly catered for mainstream education and “established a general duty upon local education authorities to provide education within primary, secondary and further education, based upon each pupil's age, aptitude and abilities” (Hodkinson and Vickerman, 2009, 64). Although an advancement in many a way, the Act still presented issues, mostly related to the definition of special needs and the fact it was still largely based on medical characteristics (Sturt, n/d). Children with special educational needs were still considered better off in segregated institutions and special schools,