Key Developments in Special Education

Subject: Education
Pages: 11
Words: 2808
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: Bachelor


Inclusion in education is an essential subject that must be addressed by the government to ensure the equality of opportunities for all people. Individuals with disabilities face unique challenges in education since it may be difficult for them to achieve the same level of academic performance as other students. Ensuring that the educational system in the country responds to the needs of children and adults with disabilities helps to ensure that all individuals can attain high-quality education, thus contributing to their future personal and professional growth.

Throughout the years, the British education system has undergone significant changes and reforms that made it more inclusive of students with special needs. However, there are still some areas for improvement, and future initiatives should seek to foster inclusivity and innovation in special education. The present paper will begin by analyzing the various interpretations and models of inclusion to provide a brief analysis of key developments in special education and review their impact on students with disabilities.

Interpretations of Inclusion


In order to provide a theoretical framework for special education, scholars have created a variety of models of inclusive education. Each model offers a foundation for teachers and schools seeking to build inclusive classrooms. According to Catapano (n.d.), there are three key models used in schools to encourage inclusion: team teaching, itinerant teaching, and blended learning. In team teaching, which is also referred to as the Collaborative Learning Model, one teacher who specializes in regular education on the subject is always supported by a special education teacher (Catapano n.d.). This model allows ensuring that students with special needs or disabilities receive the attention and help they require to achieve the same level of performance as other students.

In itinerant teaching, a special education professional visits the class regularly to provide assistance to students with disabilities (Catapano n.d.). This model offers the same benefits as team teaching while also encouraging students to become more independent in their learning. Consequently, itinerant teaching would not be the best form of inclusive education for students who have severe disabilities and require support most of the time.

Lastly, blended learning involves technology-supported classes and exercises, where IT tools are used to provide for students’ differences in abilities (Catapano n.d.). This type of education is particularly useful for students with learning disabilities since there is a great variety of applications available to support them in school. Students with hearing or visual impairments also benefit from technology-assisted learning due to the opportunity to use audio description, sign language interpretations, and other assistance tools.

Integration and Inclusion

When discussing the concept of inclusion in education, it is essential to differentiate between integration and inclusion to avoid confusing the two terms. Harman (2016) states that both concepts are used to describe classrooms that provide opportunities for students with special needs. Nevertheless, these concepts represent different approaches to teaching children with disabilities. On the one hand, integration focuses on altering the curriculum or teaching methods to fulfill the needs of special students (Harman 2016).

In many schools, this means using an individual approach for each student and providing teaching that takes into account their strengths and areas for improvement. Integration is facilitated using formal support structures, and teachers in integrative classrooms usually have special education in teaching students with disabilities (Harman 2016). Thus, while integration helps disabled students to succeed in education, it is an individual approach rather than a collective one.

Inclusion, on the other hand, aims to make disabled students part of the classroom. Teaching that promotes inclusion seeks to provide high-quality education to all students, regardless of their abilities (Harman 2016).

As a result, it is a comprehensive approach to transforming the entire school rather than to teaching an individual with special needs. As part of this process, inclusive education aims to equip mainstream teachers with skills to provide informal support to all students, thus achieving high-quality education for all learners (Harman 2016). As the following sections of the paper will show, the initial progress in special education has made the British education system integrative. However, recent and current developments aimed to build on this achievement to facilitate inclusion.

Key Developments

First Special Education Institutions

The history of special education in the United Kingdom is complicated due to the various forces that had an impact on it. First of all, historians note that from the religious viewpoint, disability in children was widely perceived as a punishment for their parents’ sins (University of Bristol n.d.). Thus, the needs of disabled children and adults were marginalized in communities where religion played a significant role. The first educational initiatives for children with special needs were charitable acts by monks and teachers rather than organized government programs (University of Bristol n.d.). Nevertheless, due to close ties between England and other European countries, special education developments in Spain and France soon spread to the United Kingdom.

As a result, the first educational institutions for disabled children opened in England in the 18th century, and a famous school for deaf children and students with learning deficiencies was founded in London in 1783 (University of Bristol n.d.). Over the next few decades, more schools opened throughout the country, thus improving access to special education. Despite these developments, the marginalization of individuals with disabilities remained a pressing concern due to their exclusion from the regular education system. This prevented disabled children from becoming an integral part of the community and encouraged the stigmatization of disability.

Elementary Education Acts of 1893 and 1899

In the 1890s, two significant pieces of legislation facilitated the development of special education in the United Kingdom. Firstly, the Elementary Education Act of 1893 targeted blind and deaf children and obliged educational institutions to provide education to children aged 7 to 16 who had these disabilities (The National Archives n.d.). Secondly, the Elementary Education Act of 1899 provided the same conditions for defective and epileptic children (The National Archives n.d.).

This piece of legislation offered legal foundations for the compulsory elementary education of children with physical and mental disabilities, as well as for epileptic children. Decreased marginalization of children with disabilities was among the key outcomes of these Acts, as they enhanced educational opportunities available to disabled children. From the viewpoint of children with special needs, this was a positive development that enabled them to attain education regardless of their socioeconomic background. It also provided a foundation for disabled people to enter certain careers, although their professional development was still restricted.

Handicapped Pupils Regulations and the Education Act of 1944

The next two critical pieces of legislation arrived towards the end of World War II when the UK government recognized the need to reduce the segregation of children with disabilities. According to Borsay (2012), the Education Act of 1944 stated that students with special needs could be taught in mainstream education institutions, provided that they will benefit from it. Teachers were allowed to pay more attention to students with special needs, and more facilities for mixed education were made available by the Handicapped Pupils Regulations of 1945 (Borsay 2012).

The legislation also attempted to address the widespread stigmatization of mental disability by replacing the term “mental deficiency” with “educational subnormality” (Borsay 2012). It was expected that these developments would have a positive impact on the experiences of disabled students. However, in reality, the stigma surrounding disability was too strong, and the accommodations made by schools were not sufficient to prevent bullying and other negative experiences. As a result, more and more disabled children and youth received education from special schools or asylums, which affected their opportunities for social integration.

Warnock Report 1978

The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People, also known as the Warnock Report, marked another milestone of special education development in England. Published in 1978, the report contained the critical information on the state of special education in the country and considered the needs of disabled students that should be met with future educational reforms.

According to Webster (2018), the report laid the foundation for national policies of inclusion in education. The report presented the idea that mainstream schools should create an inclusive environment and provide additional assistance to children with special needs (Webster 2018). This was a revolutionary notion that sparked the shift towards an inclusive educational system that would benefit all students, regardless of their background and abilities. The Warnock Report formed the basis for the Education Act of 1981, which implemented these recommendations, as well as for the SEND Code of Practice, adopted in 2014.

The report was also pivotal in changing the social perceptions of disability and addressing stigmatization. Webster (2018) notes that the report proposed replacing labels used to describe disabled children, such as “ineducable” and “mentally defective” with the term “individuals with special educational needs”.

As a result of the report, this approach became popular on a global level. This signified a shift from an old-fashioned view of disability as a medical condition, which reflected the society’s new values of diversity and inclusivity. For disabled persons, the report was instrumental in improving the quality of special education and enhancing their prospects at social integration. With reduced stigmatization of disability, it became easier for persons with special needs to receive education and enter a career.

Influence on Current Practice

The developments discussed in the previous sections have changed the way special education was carried out and perceived by society. They have established the idea that students with disabilities are to be treated as an integral part of society and that the educational system should seek to fulfill their needs. In addition, legislative acts on special education passed in the 20th century brought education of students with disabilities to the forefront of political and social action. These changes were used to develop the policy further and resulted in new regulations and legislation. They have also influenced the practice of special education providers, increasing their role in mainstream school and requiring compliance with legislative developments.

SEND Code of Practice 2014

The primary regulatory document that guides special needs education today is the SEND Code of Practice, accepted in 2014. The Code establishes regulations regarding the education of individuals with special needs from birth to 25 years of age. The document focuses on transforming the educational system in the UK to facilitate inclusion and enable students with special needs to receive the same academic opportunities as others, in accordance with the recommendations of the Warnock Report. The Code states that it is essential to focus on the academic outcomes and ambitions of individuals with special needs to ensure that they succeed in the future life (Department of Health & Department of Education 2015).

The document also supports the autonomy of students with special needs by increasing their participation in decision-making. While encouraging independence, the regulation provides students with complex needs with more reliable support structures by engaging special education providers in mainstream education (Department of Health & Department of Education 2015). Such measures help to ensure that all students with special needs receive the assistance they need based on their abilities.

The changes to educational practice established by the Code consolidated the principles stated in the Warnock Report and the Education Act of 1981. They facilitated the shift from integration to inclusion by ensuring that British schools are capable of providing high-quality education for all students.

For students, this meant improved experiences in education and enhanced opportunities for academic success due to increased autonomy, inclusion, and support. The provisions of the Code also improved the range of opportunities available for special education providers, since all schools are now expected to make accommodations for disabled students. The report shows how society’s values and views on disability have changed over the past decades by focusing on eliminating alienation and stigmatization.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

The Disability Discrimination Act, which was signed into power in the United Kingdom in 1995, included further provision for promoting inclusion. This act was mainly focused on eliminating discrimination against disabled persons in employment and in the provision of goods and services (“Disability Discrimination Act 1995” n.d.). The Act also instituted a National Disability Council, which was tasked with addressing significant issues affecting disabled persons throughout the country.

This piece of legislation improved the experiences of people with disabilities in the U.K. by allowing them to develop professionally without any restrictions. From the perspective of disabled people, this also meant improved independence and increased integration into the society, which prevented isolation and alienation and reduced the stigma associated with disabilities.

National Curriculum and Inclusion

The national curriculum is a critical regulatory piece for U.K. schools, as it defines the government’s expectations with regards to education at different levels. Following the developments in education for disabled persons, the national curriculum was complemented with a chapter on inclusivity in educational settings. There are two main sections of the chapter: setting suitable challenges for students from different backgrounds and with varying levels of educational attainment and responding to students’ needs and overcoming barriers to learning (Department of Education 2013). With regards to disability, the chapter reinforces the SEN Code of Practice and the equal opportunities legislation.

The first part of the section also stresses the importance of challenging every student academically to provide a sense of accomplishment and enhance the learning process. These developments to the national curriculum improved the experiences of disabled students in schools by giving them an opportunity to learn and achieve academic success on the same level as other students. It also eliminated discrimination in education, thus making it easier for disabled students to be part of the school community.

Current Developments

Despite the past developments that promoted and supported the inclusion of people with special needs in education, there are still issues to be addressed. The United Kingdom is currently home to over 1.2 million students with special needs, who make up 14.6% of the country’s entire student population (Department of Education 2018). A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) indicates that some of the key concerns with regards to special needs education in the United Kingdom are the low higher educational attainment level of disabled students and the lack of financial compensations for claims of disability discrimination or harassment in education.

These gaps reduce disabled persons’ access to justice and excellent professional opportunities. The Global Disability Summit, held in the U.K. in 2018, resulted in a Charter for Change, which included these issues among the key priorities. Therefore, current developments in the field of inclusion and disability education are focused on enhancing higher education attainment levels among disabled persons while also establishing laws to award financial compensation for disability discrimination and harassment in educational settings.

From the perspective of people with special needs, the first step will enhance their prospects for future career development and socio-economic independence, since high-paid jobs require a higher education degree. The opportunity to file a disability discrimination claim and receive financial compensation, on the other hand, will assist special needs students by preventing discrimination in education.


All of the key developments to special needs education had one primary goal – to allow people with disabilities to become a legitimate part of the society by providing them with access to the same opportunities available to others. There are two key takeaways from the discussion presented in the paper.

First of all, the legislative and regulatory changes examined in the essay show the shifts in social values and views. Compared to the 18th century, when disability was largely stigmatized, and people with disabilities were excluded and alienated from their communities, society has made significant progress towards inclusion in all aspects of life. Although cases of discrimination still occur, the vast majority of people in society are accepting of people with special needs and show no prejudice towards them.

Secondly, the developments in education have changed the experiences of disabled persons and the opportunities available to them in life. People with disabilities are no longer shunned or rejected by society and the government. They are able to live regular lives that involve attaining education, building a career, and developing friendly or romantic relationships with others. In school, they can achieve academic excellence by responding to challenges and studying independently. Educational processes are tailored to the needs of students, and thus they are also able to receive help and support when needed.

There are no barriers to achieving a high level of education, as persons with special needs can study at all academic levels, from school to Ph.D. These changes promoted the inclusion of disabled persons into society by enabling them to study and work with other people. Increased inclusion also reduced the incidence of discrimination in work and education, which had a positive impact on the welfare of disabled persons and reduced the stress associated with social integration.


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Catapano, J n.d., Teaching strtegies: models of inclusion. Web.

Department of Education 2013, The national curriculum in England. Web.

Department of Education 2018, Special educational needs in England: January 2018. Web.

Department of Health & Department of Education 2015, Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Web.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 n.d. Web.

Equality and Human Rights Commission 2018, Progress on disability rights in the United Kingdom. Web.

Harman, B 2016, Inclusion/integration: is there a difference?. Web.

The National Archives n.d., Special services in education. Web.

Webster, R 2018, Why the Warnock report still matters today. Web.

University of Bristol n.d., Session 2A – history of deaf education. Web.