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Inclusion Now Articles Issue 46

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Residential Special School Review

Journey to Activism: Shaun Webster MBE

The GLA and Disabled Londoners

What Makes a Good School?

Perceptions of Inclusion


IQ Testing and Disabled Children

Quiet Riot - Freedom Fighters

Nottingham Community Circles

Legal Question: Grammar schools

Editorial [audio]

Inclusive education is certainly a hot topic at the moment. The front cover of this issue shows some of the several hundred photos we received in response to our campaign against proposals to increase the number of grammar schools. And as we write, the government has launched a review into residential special schools, on the basis of a report by the Council for Disabled Children which expressed considerable concern about these institutions. We need your help to respond to the review, so please talk to us/email us/write to us if you have experience of residential special school or college.

Our legal question also addresses the legality of selective education as so many of us have been wondering how grammar schools can possibly not be classed as discriminatory.

And other articles illuminate some of the background to these public debates. Both Shaun Webster and Colin Newton talk about how segregation and stereotyping of disabled children can lead to low expectations and unmet potential. Colin explains how IQ testing fails to capture potential and favours those who are already doing well in life, and Shaun's story illustrates this from a personal perspective. Yet he has learned to overcome these low expectations and make up lost ground.

We also have a really interesting article from researchers at Edge Hill University, exploring how inclusion is perceived, and how we can know whether it has taken place - you can read more about this and comment on the article on our blog at

We hope you enjoy this edition of Inclusion Now, and please let us know if you have any comments.

Jess Cahill

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Residential Special School Review [audio]

The Government has announced an independent review of residential school provision shortly after the Department of Health's publication of Christine Lenehan's "These are Our Children" – a damning report of the placement of disabled young people with complex needs within assessment and treatment units and psychiatric inpatient hospital care settings.

Evidence revealed that 21% of disabled young people aged 18-21 years old in NHS mental health inpatient care have transferred directly from previous residential placements, including residential special school settings. Residential special school and college placements were not left unscathed by the report, which raised their lack of expertise and inadequacy of provision to meet the needs of their disabled children and young people.

The report dispelled the myth that residential school was a parental choice. Lenehan found placement was one means of diverting a crisis as a result of the local authority's failure to provide early years intervention, SEN provision and out of hours support facilitating the child's rights to family life and local mainstream education.

In light of the criticism, the Department for Education has commissioned Lenehan to conduct an independent review of residential special schools. It will focus on the role and quality of residential special school and college provision covering

So the remit assumes that residential special schools continue to be part of the solution rather than a barrier to preventing institutionalisation of the next generation of disabled people. It fails to ask the fundamental question: do we need these residential special schools and colleges if there is availability of great local inclusive education provision? The question would recognise that separation of disabled children and young people from their families and communities is often a traumatic experience, and can be a lonely path to lifelong institutional care and warehousing of disabled adults. If we want to stop disabled people entering mental health in-patient care or assessment and treatment units we need to close down institutionalised provision.

We must clearly tell the review that we need a programme of closure of segregated education provision. We can be sure that if residential special school and college survivors and their allies do not speak up the Government will have the green light to not only continue funding but also expand residential special school and college provision.

What do we need from you?

The review of residential special schools and colleges closes 17th March - please tell us your stories. We need to tell the Department for Education about the long term negative impact residential schools have in promoting disabled people's civil and human right to full participation in society. We are focusing on the following sections of the review:

We are providing additional guidance on how to complete the review questions so that members and supporters are able to respond in their own words whilst letting the Department for Education know that the only way forward is to close residential special school provision down. Our full briefing is here. Please contact ALLFIE if you need a paper copy.

Simone Aspis


The Journey to Activism [audio]

"What happened at school made me angry but through my campaigning work ... I've learnt to use my anger for turning bad into good." Mike Lambert interviews disability campaigner, Shaun Webster MBE, about his time at school and his views on inclusive education.

These days Shaun Webster is an internationally recognised campaigner for the rights of people with learning disabilities. His work for Leeds-based human rights organisation, Change, has focused on employment, independent living and self-advocacy. He's also worked with Lumos (a European children's' charity founded by JK Rowling) to campaign for the closure of long-stay institutions and aid the reintegration of young people with learning disabilities into their communities. In 2015, Shaun received an MBE for his services to people with learning disabilities and their families.

But, as Shaun starts describing his early schooling, I soon realise that his successes haven't come without a struggle. "I was sent to special school when I was seven", he explains. "Before that I attended my regular, local primary school. They told my mum, I wasn't keeping up and I was struggling. And I stayed in that same special school till I was 16."

"How did you feel about that?" I ask.

"I didn't understand why I had to move. I was scared and really upset, because I was losing all my friends. But, at the time, I just had to go with it. Later, maybe in my early teens, I began wondering why I had to go somewhere different from everyone else."

"What started you wondering about that?"

"The special school was on the other side of Rotherham. I had to go by a special coach that picked me up. I remember, we had to drive past this other, big school and all the kids would take the micky out of us on the coach. They'd call us horrible names, like "retard", "basket" and "thicko". I was angry and I decided to teach myself the regular bus route to school. But the first time I went to school on my own, I got in trouble for doing it."
We both laugh.

"What subjects did you do at school?" I ask.

We did history, maths, English, cooking and woodwork. I was good at history and maths. They never taught us any science, and I would have liked a turn at that. I didn't get on with English. I couldn't read or write properly and I felt very isolated in English. Two weeks before I left school, when I was 16, they said they'd found out I was dyslexic."

"So you never received any specialist dyslexia support?"

"No. Then, I went to college for two years, and I didn't get any dyslexia help there either."

"Looking back, do you think there were other important things you didn't receive at school?"

"There were no lessons about life skills, living independently or anything like that. The only thing we did was cooking. I know people need to cook, but I would like to have been taught how to look after myself."

"What are you thinking of?"

"I'm thinking of things like opening a bank account, paying rent, budgeting my money, transport issues and having a job. None of that happened. And there was no careers advice, like in other schools. They had sex education, but it was a joke. They didn't expect people like us to have sex or relationships. They never thought we could have different sexuality, like gay, lesbian or straight. So, there was no proper explanation about that or about condoms."

"It sounds like there was a whole bunch of things they never expected you to do - like travel independently, live independently, have a job, have a relationship, become a parent and a grandparent - all of which you've done."

"That's right."

"Following school, you went to college for two years. How was that?"

"I liked the woodwork but, really, it was about as big a waste of time as school. At the time, my dream was to mix with other people without learning disabilities. I thought, maybe if I had the right support, I could join in some mainstream classes. But I never got the chance and, because students with learning disabilities worked in a separate unit, I felt very isolated."

"Did you finish education with any qualifications?"

"No. No qualifications and I couldn't read or write. For a long time, I was very angry and bitter about that."

"Have you been able to make any progress with reading and writing since leaving college?"

"Yes. In my work now, I write emails and use Twitter."

"How did that happen?"

"It didn't happen until my early thirties, when I started working at Change. Before that, I'd given up all hope and thought I'd never read or write. To begin with, I was quite shy and scared of the office work. But they gave me one-to-one help when I needed it, always on my own terms, and I never felt judged by anyone. I started doing little tasks, step by step, and over time I became more confident and they encouraged me to push myself. When I first tried writing emails, I felt very scared and thought, there's no way I'm doing this. But Change made me think I could do it. At first, someone would check every email before I sent it but, these days, I mostly don't bother. I also now have some speech software from Access to Work that helps with my dyslexia."

"So it was Change who provided the support you should have received at school?"

"Yes. What happened at school made me angry but, through my campaigning work at Change, I've learnt to use my anger for turning bad into good."

"Where did you acquire the life skills that have enabled you to live by yourself?"

"Mostly through an organisation called KeyRing. They met with me, identified my weaknesses and helped me, step by step, with things I couldn't do. The way KeyRing works, they give a lot of support at first but, in the long-run, they want you to live independently, as part of the community."

"Finally, what advice would you give to parents wondering how to educate a child with a learning disability?"

"Parents need to find out which local schools provide one-to-one support and promote inclusive education. Don't think about special schools. Look at other options, where the child will receive a proper education and won't be isolated. And above all, never give up."

Mike Lambert, ALLFIE trustee


The GLA and Disabled Londoners [audio]

Joanne McCartney, Deputy Mayor for Education, answers Allfie's questions

Q: Can you explain what powers the Mayor has over education in London?

A: Whilst the Mayor has no statutory powers in education, we are working closely with London Boroughs, schools, the London Economic Action Partnership, employers, London's wealth of voluntary and community organisations (such as ALLFIE) and young people themselves to act as a catalyst for change.

Q: What do you think are the challenges and opportunities ahead for education in London and in particular disabled children and young people with SEN?

A: Whilst London schools remain the best performing in the country with the gaps between disadvantaged children and their peers narrowing faster than anywhere else, there are still groups of children that academically perform worse than their peers. This starts from when children begin school and widens as they move through the school system. We recognise that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, or those with an education, health and care plan are one of the groups that perform significantly worse than their peers and have higher rates of exclusions. We need to ensure that schools have access to specialist provision and support for these groups. The proposed government national funding formula will mean that London schools will lose out and this will impact on those with additional support needs the most. City Hall is submitting a response to the government consultation on the national funding formula in which we will refer to its impact on disadvantaged groups, including children with disabilities.

Q: We know that it is your aim to ensure that there is a 'good school place for every child in London', please tell us what plans you have to encourage those good school places to be inclusive of disabled children and young people with special educational needs (SEN)? (Sadiq stated his commitment to inclusive education as part of his mayoral campaign)

A: Local Authorities have worked extremely successfully over the last few years to increase school provision, particularly primary schools. The school population is now moving through to secondary and the Mayor's immediate priority is to ensure there is sufficient secondary provision. The Mayor will work with a range of partners to ensure we have enough schools in London. We will work with Teaching Schools and other networks and forums to disseminate good practice; this will be inclusive of disabled children and young people with special educational needs.

Q: What is the Mayor's plan to ensure that apprenticeships under his remit or responsibility are inclusive of young disabled Londoners? (Sadiq stated his commitment to inclusive apprenticeships as part of his mayoral campaign)

A: Ensuring that learners with disabilities get the support they need to access training opportunities is key to the Mayor's aspiration to be a Mayor for all Londoners. The Mayor made a specific commitment in his manifesto to protect and support the development of schemes which expand opportunities for people with disabilities to work and gain skills. City Hall is realising this commitment through a programme of activity funded by European Structural and Investment Funds targeting people with health conditions and disabilities.

The London Assembly Economy Committee (which I am a member of) recently published a report 'Apprenticeships: An un-level playing field' which highlighted that, despite a small increase in Londoners with a learning difficulty or physical disability accessing apprenticeship opportunities over recent years, progress in making apprenticeships a genuine route in to work for people with disabilities has also been too slow. We have made a number of recommendations on how the Mayor can support accessibility and diversity of apprenticeships during his mayoral term.

We encourage applications from disabled candidates and operate a guaranteed interview scheme for those disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria. We also monitor our recruitment process at each stage of our annual apprenticeship campaign. There has been an increase in the percentage of candidates with a disability applying for an apprenticeship and successfully starting an apprenticeship in the last few years.

Q: The Goverment's Autumn Statement announced the devolution of some FE education and Adult skills funding to the GLA – please tell how you think this could be used to encourage FE and Adults Skills providers to be more inclusive of disabled learners?

A: The GLA is presently working through the readiness conditions for the devolution of adult skills funding which is expected to take place in 2019/20. Skills devolution forms just a part of the Government's wider Growth Deal agenda. London has just completed the Skills Area Review process in advance of devolution, and the GLA will now be working with partners to conduct a pan London review of SEND education provision.

Q: Do you share the Mayor's commitment to working with voluntary sector organisations and if you do how might you work with the Alliance for Inclusive Education?

A: The Mayor has made it clear that supporting Deaf and Disabled Londoners to access services and opportunities in the capital is a priority. He has committed to being an advocate for Disabled people living in London and I'm pleased to say his team recently met with a group of the capital's Disabled People's organisations. We're setting up a new disability stakeholder group and look forward to working together with voluntary sector organisations including the Alliance for Inclusive Education to positively progress inclusive services and opportunities for Disabled Londoners and visitors to the capital.


What Makes a Good School? [audio]

As we see our world becoming more divided and people segregated, the need for tolerant, diverse and inclusive schools is greater than ever. Yet you may, like me, be wondering if there are any truly inclusive schools out there – willing and able to provide a meaningful education for all?

As a parent of three children, one of whom is disabled, as a school governor and as an education advocate, I wear a number of hats giving me more than my fair share of school experiences – both good and not so good… I have gleaned a few things along the way which I hope might be useful to you whether you are a parent, an ally, or a practitioner which I am going to explore here;

What is a good school?

I have often been asked the question in relation to my children's school: 'Is it a good school?' My response has always been 'It depends on what you think is a good school.' "If 'good' means the top academic results then it isn't, but if by 'good' you are looking for a school that will try its best to educate well and meet the needs of a diverse group of children – then it is a good school."

I believe a good school is an inclusive school – one that welcomes all children, values each and every one of them as individuals and also enables them to be part of a supportive community.

Some hallmarks of a good school are: a diverse intake, tolerant values, robust equality policies and evidence they work hard never to exclude any child. It is a school that wants to work with you as a parent or practitioner and values your partnership. A school that makes sure students have a meaningful voice in the school. Most of all it is a school where my children and all children can be happy and achieve in the way they want.
Looking at these hallmarks – a 'good' school' is a far cry from the Ofsted outstanding benchmark! However holding this view of 'good' as a governor in this education climate is hard.

Schools are increasingly forced to conform to tougher and tougher attainment measures which, by their very nature, are exclusive. I see it every day – where the children that are unable to conform are at risk of exclusion. I often feel there is little I can do. I am the one parent governor at the school and am part of a dying breed as academies are not required to have any parent governors at all!

I am a minority in a governing body which does not govern in any meaningful way – we really rubber stamp what the head teacher has already decided! You may well ask why I am continuing to be a governor? Well, it does give me insights into the challenges schools face. It also allows me to understand what my children's school are doing and where they are going and It helps me to build relationships with key people at the school – and relationships are very important.

So what can you positively do as a parent In this climate?

My first piece of advice for parents of children who are perceived as different or difficult – terms which I reject, would be to intentionally and proactively build relationships with staff at your child's school. I would also advise that you become an ally to your child and realise that you know them best; you are the expert in them! Remember too that the school needs to work with you in a child-centred way – the law requires it and you can remind the school of your expertise, offer your support and of course promote your child. Indeed schools generally want to work with parents, Ofsted requires them to and where schools involve parents well the children do better and are happier.

Also be very clear that as a parent of a child that has been labelled, you have been oppressed and isolated – by the prejudice which says your child is the problem. My advice would be to reject this assumption and remember it is the barriers that prevent your child from being included that are the problems – it maybe the environment, or it may be attitudes but it is never your child that is the problem.

To conclude:

Finally - remember and remind the school that you are on the same side – wanting the very best for our children, for all children.

Lucy Bartley


Perceptions of Inclusion [audio]

We are four researchers working within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University who wish to share some findings of our ongoing research that had two stages. In the first stage of the research, school children took photographs of their understanding of inclusion in and around school. In the second stage, some of the images taken by the children were then shared with children and adults working in the field of education, to elicit their responses and interpretations of inclusion.

Inclusion within education settings has, through policies and social justice campaigns, become integral to much school policy and practice. It is often associated with belonging, participation and respect for others (CSIE 2015). Yet what is understood by the term 'inclusion' remains open to interpretation. In order to investigate in some depth what different people might understand about what inclusion means and what it might look like in practice, we embarked on a research project to explore the views and interpretations of both school children and adults working in education.

In the first part of our study, a photo-elicitation research method was used whereby children in four schools (two primary and two secondary) were given disposable cameras and asked to take images that they believed represented inclusion or exclusion. The children were asked to explain either verbally or in writing what the photographs they had taken meant to them. This offered a window into their worlds and their understandings of inclusion for us and for their teachers. They were also asked to give a small amount of information about themselves, such as gender, age, and whether or not they identified as having an educational need. The photo-elicitation method was chosen because we felt it encouraged the active engagement of children and young people in research rather than conducting research upon them. It was felt that children's perspectives and experiences around inclusion might be heard more cogently than through traditional research approaches, such as interviews or observations. Using an approach in which children produce photographs and annotate them as they choose is, we felt, suitable for children as it provides involvement and ownership. Such an approach also assisted those who communicate differently or who have a preference for visual rather than verbal communication.

In the second part of the study, thirty of the photographs taken by the children were selected by the research team and anonymised via software that 'cartoonises' the image. These altered images were then shared with children in four different schools (two primary and two secondary), groups of trainee teachers and other adults working in the field of education during conferences, workshops or teaching sessions. The groups of adults were shown the photographs and asked for their views about whether they thought the images taken by the children represented inclusion or exclusion and to discuss and explain their reasoning. They were not informed of the children's interpretation until the end of the discussions. The intention of this process was to consider how personal experiences of school life, as pupils or teachers, might influence how they interpret practices intended to be inclusive. The aim was to go beyond defining forms of inclusive practice and instead find a way for trainee teachers and other adults working with children to 'hear' children's voices, and access the 'multi-voiced-ness' of children's lived experiences relating to inclusion.

To provide a flavour of what is emerging from our research, two of the many images taken by the children are shown.

Baking image

[The photograph shows a young boy with a cupcake baking tray in front of him. Two adults, one behind and one next to him, are cooperating around him to put cake mixture into the tray.]

Photographer: 9 year old boy who self-identified as having moderate learning difficulties, based in a primary school. He said: "This image is of inclusion – with grown-ups to help if you can't do it yourself"

Examples of responses to cartoonised image.

Boy aged 9 with a moderate learning difficulty attending a mainstream primary school: "This is exclusion, adults always take over and we can only watch and then they say 'look what X has done' but I haven't."

Adults: "This concerns me. The adults are doing the activity and the child is doing none of it himself".

"Boy looks needy and not happy with the whole experience".

"The boy is getting one to one help from his teacher".

"(I see) Unhappiness, no acceptance of what child can do, smothering".

"Inclusion – Child in middle is being helped and they are trying to involve him".

The 9 year old boy who took this photograph saw this as inclusion. The comments by the adults, however, tended to show a discomfort with the image, revolving around the children and ownership of the baking activity. The positioning of the two adults and the two children and how this was framed in the image seemed to them to imply exclusion. Some interpreted the boy in the centre as receiving personalised support, while others showed concern, suggesting that the teacher was 'smothering' the child or taking over control of the task. Concern revolved around the relationship between the adults and children and the level of engagement each had in the task depicted.

Mobile phone image

[The photograph shows two older girls looking at something together on a mobile phone.]

Photographer: Twelve year old female pupil in a secondary school, who did not identify as having educational needs. She said: "Using your mobile phone to keep other people out. Secrets."

Examples of responses to cartoonised image:

18 year old female student: "Inclusion – looks like friendship, not forced or organised".

Adults: "Inclusion as both engaged".

"Exclusion: girls together sharing something on screen of the mobile. Looks to me like they are finding amusement in something not particularly nice on the phone."

"Don't know what they are doing on phone, could be bullying could be asking more friends to come out".

"Inclusion –Both girls appear relaxed and happy in each other's company".

"Mobile phones – exclusion for poorer children".

There were similarities with how this image and the previous baking image was perceived. With the mobile phone example, responses identified the image as either inclusive, with friends sharing something, or as friends excluding, or even gaining amusement from possibly bullying others. The differing suggestions appeared to be predicated on the same aspect of the image; the assumed intimacy between the girls, portrayed by their physical closeness and body language and an assumed distance between them and other pupils not in the picture. Perhaps these differing interpretations also point to a wider issue of how mobile phones, and the social media accessed through them, mediate relationships between people.

We are not suggesting one view is more accurate or has more value than another when it comes to 'seeing' or capturing inclusion. Our interest is in understanding why those involved with the research, both children and adults, can offer different and often contradictory views around inclusion and what they feel it is, or ought to be. The children and young people interpreted the image through the lens of their own experiences and commented accordingly. This certainly seems to be the case with the second boy who commented on the baking image by saying "exclusion - look what (name) has done, but I haven't". With the adults, rather than put themselves into the position of those in the image, their discussions circulated around space, place, positioning or a modification of presence. For example, there were many comments such as 'it would be inclusive if x moved here…'. The use of photo-elicitation created the opportunity to access different points of view about what constitutes inclusion or exclusion, or something in between. However few made explicit references to whether practices were fair, equal or just.

In this article we have only shared a snapshot of our research and a few comments relating to just two photographs. We hope to gather further views from both children and adults. We are interested in hearing the reactions of Inclusion Now readers to the images and comments. Are the images inclusive? Do you agree or disagree with the views offered? Moreover: what is inclusion? Can it be captured? How do we know inclusion has 'happened'?

You can read a fuller version of this article with larger pictures at and comment there.

We have a small amount of funding to extend this project and are able to offer workshop sessions with groups of children in schools around the UK to gather further views and experiences about inclusive education. If you would like to discuss hosting a workshop, or anything in relation to this research please do not hesitate to contact us via Dr Clare Woolhouse

Clare Woolhouse. Linda Dunne, Fiona Hallett and Virginia Kay, Edge Hill University


Interview [audio]

Richard Rieser talked to mother and daughter, Carly and Honey Jones, about their joint experience of autism.

Q: Tell us something about you and your family, particularly you and Honey?

A: My daughter Honey and I have , I guess, an average mother and daughter relationship. We enjoy spending time together and have lots in common. However we have something else in common that maybe other mothers and daughters do not; we are both Autistic.
In fact Honey was the first Autistic female I had met: my own daughter.
So little was known about Autistic women and girls when I was growing up that I wasn't diagnosed until I was 32; my daughter and her younger sister were diagnosed as Autistic at 2 and 6 years old.

Q: Tell us something about autism, how it affects you and people's reactions?

A: The way our Autism affects us is actually a great deal more than people may assume from the outside looking in. Outwardly we may seem to be "mild" in our Autism presentation but a mild diagnosis does not mean a mild life experience – in many cases it means the non-autistic person's experience of us is milder perhaps?
For Honey it means a great deal of anxiety and being misunderstood – it meant having to choose at 13 to have the human right to an education or her human right to health - not both, as both for an Autistic female is near impossible in the current educational system.
For me it means anxiety, a need to second guess every action and for a predictable outcome, all the while being not so capable at predicting an outcome at all? It means a great deal of social isolation and loneliness, but it also means concentrated interests and intelligence (without any exams to prove it as I couldn't cope at school either!).

Q: Why do you think it is important for Honey to be included in mainstream education?

A: It is so vital that Honey and indeed her sister and other girls like her have the access to participate in mainstream education; there is a whole wealth of subjects taught at secondary school level that have very little to do with academia; friendships, routine, time management, health education, sex education, conflict resolution, all of which Autistic females and males can go without when school isn't equipped, trained and experienced in how autism looks and how to support, understand and most importantly RESPECT the wonderful asset Autism is.

Q: What have been the challenges?
A: The challenges Honey had at school were totally avoidable – sadly her mistreatment was not in full by other students, who would be perhaps too young to understand Autism, but by those who should have known better and protected her; a handful of educational staff. On one occasion in 2008 a teacher made a dunce hat out of red cardboard, wrote in black marker "I will be polite to everyone I meet", and forced her, then only six, to wear it for a full school day.

Q: What were the high and low points of Honey's inclusion?

A: I moved Honey to a local school with an autism unit attached to it. This was a perfect situation as although Honey did not require the unit full time she could dip in and out of the unit's support, and the whole school had an autism ethos as all staff were trained and had hands-on experience of autism - rather than read a book once! Unfortunately my daughter aged out of that ideal school situation and moved to secondary school which was just awful – it ended up with a very anxious child unable to learn – and some teachers being told some home truths after months of them proclaiming they knew all about autism only for one staff member to severely punish my daughter for "not looking at him when he was talking".

Q: What needs to change?

A: There needs to be more research, understanding and action to bring our educational systems into the future and to ensure inclusion really does mean all. No child should have to choose between their health and education. Home education has helped my daughter, but it isn't the answer. It is elected exclusion, as inclusion was not an option open to her. Autism training by autistic adults in schools is a must. In fact it should be done yearly for both students and staff as a legal requirement.

A stop gap is the Olley Edwards academy, set up in Jan 2015 for home educated Aspergers /Autistic/ PDA children who did not flourish emotionally in school and are therefore home educated. The academy's aim is to prevent isolation and seek inspiration and friendship in activities and small meet ups for those unable to attend larger events.

Carly and Honey run a website to help other families with autistic members
Email Carly Jones.


IQ Testing and Disabled Children [audio]

"We have to provide an IQ score so that the CAHMS team can allocate their resources. They keep asking us...." (Principal Educational Psychologist - 2008- Unnamed UK Local Authority)

Intelligence testing began in earnest when in 1904 the French government commissioned psychologist Alfred Binet to find a method of differentiating between children who were 'intellectually normal and those who were inferior', in order to put the latter into special schools where they would receive more individual attention. In this way the disruption they caused in the education of intellectually normal children could be avoided. Sound familiar?

This was a natural development from Darwinism and the Eugenics movement that dates back to 1869. Sir Francis Galton promoted the idea that for society to prosper the 'weakest' should not be allowed to have babies, as this would affect the genetic stock of future generations. He and his many followers were contemptuous of any impact education might have on raising the achievement of the 'least able' (Thomas and Loxley, 2007).

Binet's work led to the development of the Binet Scale, a new approach to assessing mental ability. However, Binet himself cautioned against its misuse or misunderstanding. According to Binet, it was designed only to identify children requiring special education, not as "a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth." Binet noted that "the scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence."

Since, according to Binet, intelligence could not be described as a single score, the use of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) (a notion coined by Terman in 1916) as a definite statement of a child's intellectual capability would be a serious mistake. Binet feared that IQ measurement would be used to condemn a child to a permanent "condition" of stupidity, damaging his or her life chances:

'Some recent thinkers…[affirm] that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we must try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing.' (Binet)

Binet's scale had a profound impact on educational development. However, the educators and psychologists who championed the scale and its revisions failed to heed Binet's caveats.
Cyril Burt, the first educational psychologist for London in 1913, was less cautious than Binet. A Social Darwinist, he was convinced of the inherited basis of intelligence and fond of psychometrics. This gave great impetus to segregated education based on categorisation of children. Burt's reputation is now linked to his fraudulent invention of data about inherited intelligence based on non-existent twin studies but at the time his influence was enormous.

When medical officers were largely responsible for selecting pupils for UK special schools the most important item in the selection process was the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Although such decisions are now a result of a Full Statutory Assessment in which parents' wishes are significant, substantial numbers of educational psychologists across the UK still use psychometric tools. Despite being modernised to include tests such as the WISC-R and the BAS (British Ability Scales) their core constructs remain unaltered.

This is surprising as the shortcomings of such tools have been long known and debated among educational psychologists. Yet scores are still demanded particularly around those for whom measurement is the most difficult. There is a wealth of literature critical of the role and negative impact of IQ testing (Leyden, 1978, Lokke et. al, 1997; Leadbetter, 2005, Farrell and Venables, 2008) and yet educational psychologists still spend much of their time undertaking formal special education evaluations using psychometric assessment including IQ tests (Shapiro et al., 2004 and Farrell and Venables, 2009).

Test scores are appealing, offering the immediate and seductive appeal of a spuriously precise, defined result in a complex educational world.

Why are such tests so problematic?

The tests were primarily designed for white, middle-class children and are unfair and invalid when used on children from different backgrounds. Attempts to create culturally neutral tests have proved unsuccessful; no test has been found that does not reward some cultural groups over others. Intelligence may be as great in different groups, but questions may need to be approached differently due to differences in cultural background. The tests have been challenged in court for racial and cultural bias, but there have been no definitive rulings on them.

So much caution has to be applied when administering and interpreting such assessment processes with different cultural groups that major validity questions are raised on every occasion. It has been shown that test outcomes can depend on familiarity with the test materials, the procedure and the examiner.

"No one would believe until I demonstrated it with controls that the IQ scores of pupils from an open air school could be lifted 10 points or so by thawing them out on the hot water pipes for half an hour before testing." (Head of Special School-quoted in Galloway and Goodwin, 1979)

In one US experiment, asking 99 school psychologists to independently score an IQ test from identical records resulted in IQs ranging from 63 (mild learning difficulties) to 117 (gifted) for the same individual. In addition, differences in the interpretation of test scores for entire groups have been documented (Ropers and Menzel, 2007).Anxiety is also known to affect test scores. If being tested makes you anxious you will score lower.

IQ tests only capture a few aspects of many different 'intelligences' or 'systems of abilities' omitting, for example, creative and practical intelligence, social, emotional and moral intelligence, and lateral and radiant thinking. Wisdom is not considered. IQ tests are 'static' ('What has the child learned?') rather than 'dynamic' ('What does the child achieve when given guided feedback?) - they measure not intelligence but a child's attainments in arbitrarily selected skills. They only measure a sample of situations in which so-called intelligent behaviour is revealed and do not capture the complexity of real-life situations. Intelligence tests have been criticized for their limited ability to predict non-test or nonacademic intellectual abilities.

Critics assert that potential is gauged by simply adding up correct answers, ignoring how a child has arrived at them; but research has demonstrated that the child who answers wrongly may understand as much about a problem as the one who answers correctly, perhaps by guessing.

A central criticism of IQ tests is that they are used to distribute limited resources and provide rewards: special classes for gifted students, admission to college, employment or the opposite with special education placement. Those who do not qualify for resources based on test scores may feel thwarted and resentful. Negative assumptions have been initiated, aspirations lowered and self-fulfilling prophecies created. Unfortunately, intelligence test scores have become associated with self-worth.

At worst such assessments have been used to wrongly place pupils from ethnic minorities in special schools and units. The PLASC and School Level Annual School Census (2002) revealed Black Caribbean pupils were over represented in Pupil Referral Units (5.8% compared with 1.5% in mainstream schools). Even more relevant was that 3.6% of Pakistani pupils were in special schools. Would this have anything to do with factors such as poverty? Or are some pupils still being assessed and doing badly on culturally biased tests?

Dyson and Gallannaugh (2008) have also considered the disproportionate presence of students from different social groups in the UK special needs system and argue that it reflects broad educational and social inequalities.

Many intelligence tests produce a single score. This is inadequate in explaining the multidimensional aspects of intelligences. Two people can have identical scores, yet one may have obtained the score due to strong verbal skills while the other may have obtained it due to strong skills in perceiving and organising various tasks.

Linda S. Siegel (1992) proposes we abandon the IQ test in the analysis of the disabled child. According to most definitions intelligence consists of logical reasoning, problem solving, critical thinking, and adaptation. However, examining the content of IQ tests, they test virtually none of these skills.

Siegel gives a detailed analysis of the subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R), often used in diagnosing learning difficulties. In each subtest of the Verbal scale, performance is in varying degrees dependent on specific knowledge, vocabulary, expressive language and memory skills, while in the Performance scale, visual-spatial abilities, fine motor coordination, perceptual skills, and in some subtests speed, are essential for scoring.

According to Siegel it is a paradox that IQ scores are required of disabled people, many of whom have difficulty in one or more of these skills. They may end up with a lower IQ score than a non-disabled person, even if they have identical reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Most tests are carried out against the clock. If you are slow because of movement differences or learning style you will do worse. If doing things is hard for you because of any kind of physical impairment or difference then you will score less well against a 'typical 'population.

Another assumption is that an IQ score should predict reading ability. However, many individuals have low IQ scores and are very good readers, making a nonsense of this way of thinking.
IQ scores and psychometric test results are clinically focused on the child or young person's deficits especially if they have additional support needs. They provide one answer to the vexing question 'What is wrong with you?'

"I scored relatively high in an IQ test when I was a child. Since then I have done many many many very very very stupid things in my life. I still wonder what that test has to do with intelligence or understanding at all." (Alex Wien, Austria, 2009)

Many people assume intelligence tests measure inborn intelligence that will never change, when in reality they are based on an individual's interaction with the environment and can never exclusively measure inborn intelligence - if such an entity even exists. People continue to learn throughout their lives and no-one has proved the existence of fixed potential, a ceiling that lasts a lifetime.

Anne Donnellan (1994), recommended adoption of the "Least Dangerous Assumption." When faced with a disabled child who does not appear to be learning, educators can either assume that she is incapable of learning and segregate her from her peers, or keep on exposing her to learning. Whether the child in fact learns nothing, or simply cannot communicate what she learns, the latter is by far the least dangerous assumption.

Intelligence testing is still widely relied on in allocating scarce resources in the special educational needs system in the UK and SEN tribunals are over-fixated on the percentiles scored in the WISC Test. An inclusive approach which respects disability equality is based not on labelling and attachment of scores but on the needs of the child in a mainstream inclusive environment, identifying supports and reasonable adjustments to help them be involved and progress in their learning at a challenging pace that suits them.

With the Government drawing up legislation for selective education this will again be based on IQ type testing to select the most able. In the 50s and 60s educationalists learned to their cost that selection by ability was grossly unfair as children developed in different ways and at different rates. By the age of 18 often those who had failed the 11+ exam outperformed those who had passed, and the test results had little relation to life success. Let us not make the same mistakes again.

References for this article can be found at

Colin Newton, with concluding paragraphs by Richard Rieser

Quiet Riot - Freedom Fighters [audio]

24 – 26 June 2016 was a weekend to remember. 'Freedom Fighters' from the UK and Ireland joined in the Freedom Fighters Festival in Amsterdam. The festival focused on raising the public conscience about the way disabled people continue to be denied their freedoms. In particular the freedom of people who do not use speech to use alternative ways to communicate in the world.

With a gathering of like-minded individuals, we were immersed in fascinating discussions, invited to listen to an amazing variety of insights into how education, housing, employment, independent living could work in the interest of everyone, and this included the struggles people had about getting out of institutions and living their lives independently. A common theme throughout this weekend was the crucial role of good and effective personal support. It was reassuring to witness many examples of personal support working in mutually respectful relationships.

It was necessary to remind all participants that despite the failings of State Governments the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2006 Article 4, clearly states that governments should "ensure and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms".

And yet, ten years on, we continue to hear how many disabled people are denied fundamental freedoms that so many non-disabled people take for granted. Those attending the Freedom Fighters Festival were a group of individuals fighting for a society in which justice and freedom are part of a collective struggle.

The festival was organised by Thiandi Gooff and her two mothers, Trix and Jose, women from Inclusion Netherlands, who involved many different groups, communities and individuals into the Freedom Fighters Festival, recognising the value of creating inclusive communities for all people in those communities.

Thiandi is a member of the group Quiet Riot, a group of young people who do not use speech and yet have so much to communicate. As part of the festival, the group launched 'Quiet Riot Collected: Facilitated Fables', a collection of their poems and prose, with challenging, triumphant, celebratory sub-texts and revelations of discrimination. The book was orchestrated by a founder member of the group Maresa McKeith who collected contributions from Quiet Riot members. In total 11 contributors participated, sharing some 43 poems.

Members of Quiet Riot were able to present their poems with the support of their PAs. One such poem was 'Walls of Families: Auschwitz' by Maresa, which recounts the experience of 'a boy looking at the wall of pictures', and 'the invisible thousands'. Maresa takes the reader on a journey being "unborn, looking forward to life but tested as 'not required''', asking a fundamental question about choice and concluding with the haunting passage that "there are still too many poems that will not fit on a memorial wall".

Of interest is also the number of challenging comments which appear on the back cover, one of which is by Blake Williamson who shares his experience of a "lifetime of effort" making reference to "one disability phobic act" which "makes you defensive and defenceless". Blake makes reference to a "disabling world" yet with his PAs is committed to challenging a "world made by non-disabled people" for a "more just society". As the Freedom Fighters Festival gathered pace, there was an opportunity to meet with Amsterdam's local politicians and ask questions about access, education, employment and living independently. The discussion was lively, informative and raised a number of acknowledged concerns as to how disabled people were often excluded from political participation.

Social events included visiting community centres, sharing meals, and attending an Opera concert in the park which was attended by hundreds of enthusiasts.

During the festival weekend, there was an organised march, accompanied by a brass band, consisting of like-minded individuals which mobilised residents from local communities to participate on a common theme relating to ending the segregation of disabled people, to human rights and social justice. In asking individuals for their recollections of attending the Freedom Fighters Festival Maresa responded that she was surrounded by "a focus to believe in each other" and being amongst people "who I identify with and don't have to explain myself to" in a "wonderful atmosphere of welcome and solidarity". Anthony Kletzander replied "it meant a really good opportunity to discuss the issues that affect people like myself and those like me". Raphael who contributed an untitled poem which uses the line of "freedom on hold", recounts his lasting memory of participating in the "poetry gig". For Paul-Thomas there were "lots of moments of light and music", consisting of "freedom and acceptance" and the "value of an active movement". For Thiandi there was a gratitude of having visiting friends and loving "the tolerance and respect and the music and the inspiration" and wanting to "organise it again".

The Freedom Fighters Festival was an important reminder of the way disabled people continue to fight for freedoms which have yet to be actively realised. The festival was embodied with a celebratory tone celebrating difference, pursuing change, acknowledging diversity and fundamentally about our reciprocal interdependence. As we return to the UK, awaiting political and social fragmentation, what a week to remember and remind us of our struggle for human rights and social justice!

Navin Kikabhai

You can purchase the book here.

Nottingham Community Circles [audio]

The purpose of community circles is to bring people from a local community together to share their skills, talents, gifts and resources. We believe that everyone needs community. They will be on the second Wednesday of the month.

New venue! St Judes Church Hall, Woodborough Road, Mapperley, Nottingham NG3 5HE
Phone: 0845 458 9595 / 0115 960 8254. Any questions please email.
Community Circles


Legal Question [audio]

Q: I am a parent of two children. My 13 year old non-disabled son has passed the 11 plus exam and is attending the local school, which happens to be a grammar school. I would like my 10 year old daughter, who has learning difficulties, to attend the same school. We believe my daughter will be disadvantaged by the 11 plus test to such an extent that she will fail the assessments. Can we challenge the use of the 11 plus test's content and marking arrangements (rather than arrangements made around administering them ie making papers available in large print on different coloured paper etc)? Can I challenge the use of the 11 plus test in the admissions process under the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds that it is biased towards non-disabled pupils?

A: The use of selection tests arguably cannot be said to amount to discrimination against disabled students, unless there is evidence that a particular disabled child is put at a disadvantage due to:

If there is evidence that the tests are biased against disabled candidates, that may give rise to a claim for indirect discrimination on the ground that it puts disabled candidates at a particular disadvantage. It is important to remember however that any discrimination challenge will need to show that a particular individual has suffered a disadvantage as a result of a discriminatory act or practice. It is not enough to claim that disabled individuals are likely to suffer a disadvantage as a result of it.

If a school had taken reasonable adjustments to remedy any disadvantage suffered by disabled candidates in being required to take the test, it may make it harder to argue indirect discrimination.

The duty to take reasonable adjustments means that schools should take pro-active steps to remedy any disadvantage before it is suffered by any disabled pupils.

Once made aware of a disadvantage that may be experienced by a disabled individual, the school would be expected to take reasonable steps to avoid this disadvantage which is likely to vary for each disabled candidate. Reasonable adjustments would normally be made in administering and/or sitting the test rather than its content or marking arrangements. This may include giving the disabled candidate more time to complete the test, providing them with a note taker, or other similar adjustments. It would be more difficult to identify reasonable adjustments that should be made to the content and marking criteria.

If it was clear that there were reasonable adjustments that the school should have made and did not, this may point to its failure to make reasonable adjustments. Where a candidate has dyslexia, it is reasonable that they should not lose marks due to this.

Ultimately, schools are not required to make any adjustments that they do not have the financial resources to make, only what is 'reasonable' in the circumstances.

If your child is disabled and you are concerned that they will struggle in future admission tests, you should tell the admissions administrator of your child's disability in advance, ask that reasonable adjustments be made for your child and explain what those should be. Evidence of your child's disability will be required to support your request, for example medical reports or any evidence from her current school. If you are concerned that reasonable adjustments have not been made, you should report this immediately to the school and admissions authority. You can also bring a challenge via the admissions appeals process based on discrimination principles.

If you are concerned that your child may have been subject to discrimination by a school, please contact education law specialists Simpson Millar LLP on 0808 129 3320 or online at

Serena Fassò

Serena is a Solicitor with Simpson Millar and specialises in Education, Community Care and Public Law.

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