The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

Special educational needs: a new look

No. 11 in a series of policy discussions

Mary Warnock 2005

Published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain

Baroness Mary Warnock has a written a pamphlet about inclusion and statementing. I have extracted some key statements which might be of interest to members.

Key points:

  • Basic conclusion– inclusion and statements are not working and a commission is needed into the whole area of SEN provision
  • Small specialist school provision is needed
  • Bullying of children with SEN is inevitable in mainstream schools
  • Statements should only be passports to special schools
  • SEN should only be catered for in mainstream schools when it can be supported from school’s own resources


  • Inclusion must embrace the feeling of belonging - necessary for well-being and successful learning
  • In primary schools, things are not so bad as a rule, provided that the needed support is actually forthcoming
  • In secondary schools the problems become acute
  • Local Authorities who, at their best, used to know and care for the children for whom they were responsible are visibly withering away. Ministers say that they now have an ‘enabling’ function
  • Special equipment may make it possible that some children with sensory deprivation …can be taught in the ordinary classroom
  • The fact is that, if educated in mainstream schools, many such children are not included at all
  • To its credit, the government has recognised the need to deploy the expertise of teachers in special schools to support and soon, I hope, to train teachers in mainstream schools, who have the task of identifying and providing for children with special educational needs.
  • The idea of inclusion should be rethought

  • Statement is not a very bright idea
  • A crucial lack of clarity in the concept of a statement
  • Should be retained as a ‘safety net’
  • Criteria for deciding who should have a statement were never clear. Warnock group thought the figure of how many children would receive statements) would be around 2%. The actual figure was around 20%
  • Statement would confer right to special school place
  • We came to think not so much about what was wrong with a child as about what he would need if he were to make progress
  • 18% in m/s school needing extra help at some time in their school career or special equipment – 2% in special schools
  • Children with much the same needs may get entirely different provision number of children issued with statements varied enormously from one LEA to another statements regarded as essentially concerned with available resources, not with needs teachers not encouraged to give evidence which might involve their employers in expenditure they could not afford.
  • If the issuing of a statement were to be used as a passport to an appropriate special school there would be some purpose served by it.
  • The present system of statements must be re-examined and put to a different use if it cannot be abolished.

Differentiating children’s needs

  • Refusal to address genuine differences can wholly undermine our attempts to meet children’s needs
  • Embargo on seeing deprivation as a SEN around time of 1978 commission
  • The connection between deprivation and educational failure, though now widely recognised is extremely complex
  • Too often the price of (students with special needs and sometimes statements being admitted to mainstream schools) was that they were taught almost entirely by teaching assistants who were not fully qualified, and therefore they did not benefit from the best teaching.
  • SEN children increasingly tend to be lumped together indiscriminately
  • Mathematically gifted children undoubtedly have special needs


  • …children are not as vulnerable to bullying as they inevitably are in mainstream schools. Some see attendance at a special school as a badge of dishonour, and liable to expose their child to jibes and abuse
  • In secondary schools the problems become acute
  • … bullied and teased, or at least simply neglected
  • the tendency of children to bully those they see as different should be addressed
  • Inclusion in practice often means that children are physically included but emotionally excluded
  • School are full of people ..... who are even more prone to persecute the weak and gang up against the eccentric than are people in the world outside
  • ..... jokes of which he is the butt and which he cannot understand, still less find funny. At school such a pupil may be intensely vulnerable. He may be a fragile individual whom we have a duty both to protect and support
  • Need more protection from the rest if they are to learn

The solution?

  • The single most effective way to improve educational provision is to provide small maintained schools to which students could have access if and only if they had a statement. Statements should indeed be used as passports to such schools, and for no other purpose, so there would be no pupils with statements in mainstream schools. Some of the pupils in mainstream schools would of course have special needs, but only such as could be met within the normal resources of the schools and for the most part in the normal classroom…. Small schools are, of course, expensive. But they need not offer such a wide range of subjects as a large comprehensive school.
  • This would get rid of the anomaly that within the same school and the same class there may be some pupils with statements and some without them whose needs nevertheless appear to be much the same.
  • A new kind of specialist school that can cater properly not only for children with specific disabilities which render them unable to function in large schools… but also for children with needs that arise from social disadvantage.