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‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir

5 January 2013

Prepare for big words and boredom...

Given the disproportionate amount of blog-space devoted to my giggling at students' malapropisms and unintentional innuendos (coupled with the more pertinent fact that I am struggling to get around to penning any new updates despite my mind frothing, as always, with pedagogical insights of Gandalfian profundity...) here is something a little different.  A while ago I was required to write a something on what, aside from the perennial bug-bear of impotent leadership teams and the mud-gloop clarity of government initiatives, perhaps constitutes the average teacher's most prickly companion: the notion and practice of educational inclusion.  

Prickliest of all, for fairly obvious reasons, is the inclusion of children who present with serious behavioural difficulties where, of all Special Educational Needs, best intentions and grim classroom reality tend to most sharply conflict.  It's not exactly light reading and is fairly heavy on inclusive social theory and the etiology of BESN and such-like but there may be a few of you out there sufficiently interested to plough on through. Essentially, I argue that inclusion for kids with BESN/EBD (Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties) or whatever you fancy calling it has been scuppered by its social origins which mark it as unique amongst other, biologically or bio-cognitively determined educational needs.  This has meant that it's still not (rightly or wrongly) perceived as a disability and hence, at classroom level, as an element of SEN by many educational practitioners.  Until this is addressed, and the notion of inclusion is re-imbued with the sense of radicalism that initially defined it, schools are unlikely to receive the financial support necessary to effectively include and educate EBD kids and herald the social transformation that inclusion originally demanded.  A more detailed outline is in the second paragraph of the abstract - if that whets your appetite then the main body is likely worth a read.  If not, I won't hold it against you...



The notion and practice of educational inclusion is widely accepted to have stemmed from the practice of ‘mainstreaming’ or ‘integrating’ pupils with disabilities or impairments into mainstream schools.  Such practice related reciprocally to the discursive shift from the medical to social model of disability; the semantics of the social model became prevalent in policy documents, and the concepts of ‘removing barriers to learning’ (DfES, 2004) and ‘meeting needs’ (DfES 2003) became common parlance and practice within British schools.  Although the achievements of inclusion as a progressive social movement are not in dispute, critical consideration of prevailing inclusive discourse is vital if we are to carry out Slee and Allan’s (2001) ‘cultural vigilantism’ in order to avoid complacency and stasis.  Thus, we must ask uncomfortable questions and develop a critical perspective that Foucault characterised as an ‘ethic of discomfort’ (Rabinow & Rose, 2003: 26) if we are to establish ‘ways in which we can improve things’ (Graham, Slee and Roger 2006: 1).

This paper seeks to broadly delineate the current discourses on inclusion at both the informal level of the educational practitioner and the formal level of the inclusive theorist.  In particular, I am concerned with the contested position on BESD (Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties) within inclusive discourse.  Broadly, I will posit that BESD have created some significant contradictions and tensions within inclusive discourse which are likely rooted in the unique nature of BESD as a category of disability.  The etiology of BESD binds it to wider discourses of social inclusion and societal inequity which challenge the transformative expectations of educationally inclusive discourse and mean that, rather than heralding the ‘radical change to the fabric of schooling’ (Graham and Slee, 2008: 277) that it originally envisaged, inclusive discourse is increasingly being used to justify (and hence maintain) the inequitable status quo.  Further, critical consideration of inclusion’s apparent failings with regard to children with BESD is vital if inclusion is to re-emerge as a combative discourse ‘of protest’ (Graham and Slee, 2008: 227) which challenges the exclusory tendencies of both education and wider society.


Whilst in the UK the origins of educational inclusion are usually traced to Warnock’s (1978) Education Report on Special Educational Needs, the emergence of ‘inclusion’ as a socio-political concept (with education as a key component) did not occur until the 1990s.  The Salamaca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) marked a significant, international step towards inclusion predicated upon a sense of rights and entitlement for all children which were then embodied by the then British Labour government in their commitment to the principles of inclusive education through a raft of policies and reformative measures (e.g. DfEE, 1997; DfES 2001; 2003; 2005).  Inclusion assumed the position of a normative ‘fundamental good’ (Dunne L, 2008:2) yet, despite official propagation of inclusion as a valued social end-point, inclusive policies and the guidance on inclusion and inclusive practice therein seemed, and can still seem, ‘quite nebulous and vague’ (Dunne L, 2008: 1).  Nonetheless, inclusion still has key discernible characteristics and it has become part of the practice or ‘truth’ (Dunne L, 2008:2) of schooling to the extent that, according to Reiser (in Wilce, 2006) ‘it isn’t even an issue any more’, at least in terms of its normative discursive underpinnings. 

Yet discourse on inclusion has never been as normatively coherent as Reiser assumes.  Although the widespread acceptance of inclusion as an intrinsic good and its propagation through policy is likely to have ossified critical reflection of inclusive discourse to some extent, a number of important documents were published which challenged hegemonic inclusive discourse prior to Reiser’s sanguine assertion.  Warnock’s influential pamphlet Special Educational Needs: A New Look (2005) referred to inclusion as ‘…possibly the most disastrous legacy’ of her own ‘1978 Report’ (p.20).  Whilst this has been misrepresented by some as a ‘U-turn’ on Warnock’s part, it was hardly a novel thought: Warnock had raised her ‘misgivings about the more hard-line inclusionists as long ago as 1993’ (Warnock in Terzi, 2010: 117).  Furthermore, as Hornby (2012: 1) observes, the works of Kauffman and Hallalan (1995), Vaughn and Schumm (1995) Jenkinson (1997) all, in different ways and in different contexts, critiqued the idea of inclusion as an axiomatic discourse.

In part, educational inclusion has followed the historically familiar pattern of a radical theory gaining normative acceptance through academic argument and socio-political pressure fostering policy shifts and, gradually, to borrow from Foucault, the practice of inclusion has come to ‘form the object’ of which it speaks (Foucault, 1972: 49).  In accordance with Graham and Slee’s (2008) notion of ‘cultural vigilantism’, this paper will seek to explicate and critique current discourses on inclusion with specific reference to the inclusion of children with BESD (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties) of whom there are currently 158000 in mainstream education in the UK (Nutt J, 2012).   Specifically, I am concerned with children whose behaviour constitutes, to borrow from Kauffman et al. (2012), the ‘chronic…violation of social and cultural expectations’ and how this particular set of needs is understood by prevailing inclusive discourse.  As my research will indicate, the inclusion of children with BESD is creating significant tensions within inclusive discourse and appears to be reshaping discursive boundaries regarding what educational inclusion can and should entail.

I will attempt to explain some of the latent factors of influence which underlie BESD’s apparently strained position within inclusive discourse with reference to discourse on disability which remains foundational to that of inclusion.  I will identify particular ontological problems with the concept of BESD as a disability and suggest that current discourse/s on educational inclusion can, in part, be defined by the inclusive contradictions that this poses.  Overcoming these contradictions can be considered inclusion’s ‘final frontier’ and how (or indeed whether) this can be achieved will doubtless determine the nature, boundaries and influence of inclusive discourse on educational practice in the near future.


Discourse cannot comprise of merely one text; discursive statements must appear intertextually in order that, cumulatively, they ‘constitute the 'nature' of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern’ (Foucault in Weeden 1987: 108).  It is also vital to consider both formal and informal elements of discourse to understand its totality and any variations therein.  In an effort to demarcate the current boundaries and norms of inclusive discourse as it is understood beyond the field of formal academia, data was gathered from a selection of ten educational practitioners – five secondary teachers and five primary school teachers.  As Dunne has observed, ‘communities of practice are linked to discursive networks that frame the possibilities for what people can (and cannot) speak about’ (Dunne L, 2008: 4).  Discourse in this context is thus understood to be ‘more than simply the meaning people give to language.  It constitutes people’s internalised values and the way they behave’ (Preece J, 2009: 3). 

In an attempt to explicate current discourses on inclusion, two simple questions were posed, neither of which predisposed responses towards any mention of BESD over and above that of other needs:

·       What do you understand by the term ‘inclusion’? 
·       Do you view inclusion as ‘a good thing’?

Which were followed by an open-ended qualifier:

·       Explain your responses with relevance to SEN.

In responding to the first question, participants tended to reflect the language of previous inclusive policy and some respondents made explicit reference to it.  It was noted that ‘every child matters’ and the rhetoric of the ‘removal of barriers to learning’ was repeated in a number of responses.  Examples were provided of inclusive practice being used, in accordance with Foucault, to explain the theory:

Inclusion is ensuring that every child learns to the best of their potential and making sure that you, or the school, does whatever it can to make that happen.  For example, I give the two ‘slower’ kids in my class extra time to finish their work and make sure that I always put their work on the wall so that they’re proud of it and feel included.

Inclusion is differentiating my teaching for whatever learning needs my pupils have and accepting them all into my classroom irrespective of their difficulties.

Inclusion is making all of the pupils feel safe, supported and able to learn.

Inclusion was noted by many to be ‘a good thing’ but, in all cases, this came with qualifications which were often stringent in nature:

Overall, it’s a good thing – for Dyslexic kids and so on who maybe wouldn’t have been in mainstream before, it’s got to be good and you can’t imagine them outside of the mainstream.  But there are obviously other kids for whom it just doesn’t work.

There are one or two who are included quite well now as they are young but you can see that they’ll become a bit of a nightmare as they get older and their ‘influences’ get worse.

Mimicking Dunne’s (2008) research, there was also perception that what was ostensibly ‘inclusion’ was something else altogether and that it could lead to paradoxically exclusive circumstances:

I deal with one boy with BESD all the time.  He’s never in lessons because he can’t behave but because of ‘inclusion’ we just keep him [rather than exclude him].  It’s ridiculous.  He’s here but he might as well not be a lot of the time.

Inclusion here is seen to be something of a shallow illusion (in some respects) which creates a sense of ‘an illusory interiority’ (Graham and Slee, 2008: 278) in which the practice of ‘othering’ clearly persists.  This points to a clear discrepancy between the act of inclusion and the more meaningful prospect of actually being inclusive.  Similarly, there was an evident contradiction between many respondents’ inclusive aspirations and their experience of inclusive practice:

We have one particular pupil who we include as far as possible but given how he can behave sometimes he’s got to be out of lessons pretty often to allow everyone else to learn.  As far as we can work out there’s no other way.

It’s great for most kids but for kids with a severe BESD we just can’t get them to function ‘normally’ for long enough in the classroom.  There are a couple where specialist provision would surely be better.

This supports Dyson’s (2004) finding that whilst there is general agreement concerning inclusion in principle’, there is much less agreement ‘about how far this principle can be realised in practice and, insofar as it can, about what the impacts might be on the achievements of pupils with SEN and on their peers in mainstream schools (Dyson 2004: 10).  Indeed, this gives the lie to Reiser’s aforementioned assertion that ‘inclusion isn’t an issue anymore’; that is, whilst the issue of whether to include appears relatively normatively stable as regards most children of need, issues of whether this can actually be carried out adequately seem to remain as prevalent now as they were at the time of Dyson’s research.  If we accept Foucault’s premise that practice influences the nature and boundaries of the theoretical discourse that preceded it, this points to a discursive curtailing of inclusion’s original ‘in your face’ (Corbett and Slee, 2000: 136) transformative roots.  In the (albeit limited) data that I have gathered, this was nowhere more true than in the case of including children whose SEN was identified as BESD.

Largely, this was explicitly linked to the impact that the behaviour of pupils with BESD can have on those around them.  Indeed, if there is an area of ambivalence for the most avowed inclusionist, it is likely to be with regard to the inclusion of BESD pupils rather than with regard to including others with less disruptive needs (Garner P, 2000: 2).  Ironically, this question becomes all the more pointed when we consider it in the context of the wider inclusive agenda: there are many other pupils with many other types of SEN who are now being included in mainstream education directly alongside those with BESD.  If it is already problematic trying to justify the disruption that the inclusion of children with BESD may cause to the education of average ability children, it surely becomes more so if their behaviour impinges on pupils who already have intrinsic learning needs of their own.  As one respondent to my survey lamented regarding her most behaviourally challenging pupil:

I’d love to include him, I really would, but how!?  If ‘Every Child Matters’ then every child should matter, not just him.  If he kicks off, how can I include the girl with learning difficulties or the boy with Asperger’s who are also in the class?

This idea of BESD creating inclusory contradiction poses serious problems for inclusionists.  Indeed, in the case above, the needs of the BESD pupils are almost in direct conflict with the needs of an Aspergic pupil who requires a quiet, calm working environment in order to learn.  In such cases, the inclusion of BESD pupils can create ‘rights-based’ conflicts in the classroom, creating one of what Mowat has termed ‘inclusion’s conflicting imperatives’ (Mowat J, 2010: 631).

More broadly, as Jones (2003) points out, advocates of inclusion generally assert that ‘all children have the right to be educated alongside their peers in a “normal” environment’ (Ramasut,1989: 10).  However, it is surely possible to argue that behavioural problems, by their very nature, ‘disrupt the ‘normality’ of the mainstream-classroom environment’ (Jones RA, 2003: 6).  BESD is not entirely unique in this respect – the behaviour of an Autistic pupil for example, might, in a different way, also cause considerable disruption – but, to paraphrase Jull (2008), BESD is unique in the sense that the disruption (and, most ironically, the risk of exclusion based upon the initial inclusion) will be caused precisely because of the very SEN identified as requiring special provision in the first place, placing unique strain upon the principle of including BESD pupils are a desirable social or educational ‘good’.

Research suggests that BESD is not only under strain at the more informal end of inclusive discourse.  Indeed, it is often conspicuous by its absence within formal inclusive thought.

The Elephant in the (Class)Room: The Absence of BESD in Formal Inclusive Discourse

Given how prominently BESD pupils featured in teacher’s feedback, the paucity of BESD within formal inclusive discourses is both striking and concerning.  Whilst there is an impressive gamut of literature detailing ‘best practice’ for including pupils with BESD (see, for example: DCC, 2003; Joan M, 2008, 2009, 2010; Goodman and Burton, 2010) theoretical justification for the act of inclusion in the first place remains sparse.  The Association for Inclusive Education’s Manifesto (2010) provides an interesting, and surprising, example of this neglect.  The AfIE is an umbrella organisation for a number of pressure groups whose explicit purpose is ‘to end segregation and promote inclusion within the [British] education system’ (AfIE, 2010: 1).  The opening page of the Manifesto implies that they are seeking a legislative shift towards making ‘inclusive education available to all’ (AfIE, 2010: 2).  Throughout the document, there is repeated use of terms such as ‘disabled people’, ‘learning difficulties’ and ‘visually impaired’ as the argument for inclusive education is expounded.  The term ‘BESD’, however, does not receive even a solitary mention.  Similarly, in Clough and Corbett’s Theories of Inclusive Education – A Student’s Guide (2000) which seeks to provide an overview of inclusive discourse, the concept of Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties receives a meagre three mentions in the entire text. 

This neglect, it would seem, is predicated upon some serious underlying complexities with the very construct of BESD as an element of SEN and, at a more foundational level, as a disability. 

Despite the fact that many children with BESD are covered by the Disabilities Equalities Act (2005) and its successor, The Equalities Act (2010) Richard Reiser - previous director of Disability Equality in Education - fails to include a solitary mention of BESD or EBD on his website; indeed, he lists 11 types of ‘disability’ but BESD is not one of them (Reiser R, 2012).  Similarly, Jones observes that in Norwich’s (2000) ‘state-of-the-art’ review of the interaction between psychology and education with respect to SEN ‘does not index EBD, conduct disorders, or any other related keywords’ (Jones, 2003:3).  Indeed, Norwich ‘reviews social learning and Freudian theories, among others, but does not mention their influence on thinking about children’s behavioural and emotional problems.’  As Jones concludes:  ‘it is as if ‘EBD’ does not exist as a specialisation…’ (Jones R A, 2003: 3).

The fact that BESD is often missing from formal inclusive discourse can at least partly be explained by the challenging practical implications that its inclusion in the educational mainstream creates.  The fact that BESD is often ignored as a category of SEN, and indeed of disability, however, points to latent, unresolved theoretical problems regarding the way in which the construct of BESD is understood.  The root cause of these problems lie in the etiology of BESD which entangle it with a number of problematic socio-political complexities in ways that do not affect other elements of SEN so explicitly.

The strong association between a child’s social background and educational attainment is ‘one of the few truly dependable findings to come out of social scientific research time and time again over the past 100 years or so’ (Cooper P, 2006: 75) and the separation of social deprivation from educational need is now widely considered ‘preposterous’ amongst educational theorists (Warnock, 1999 in Clough and Corbett, 2000: 4).  In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is now commonly understood that a child’s Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties have clearly discernible social roots.  In this important sense, BESD is distinct from other SEN where need tends to be intrinsic and bio-cognitive in origin (although, of course, this is not to deny the significant role of wider society in creating and compounding disability or special need).  

All notions of disability are, to some extent politicised.  But once we accept the link between BESD and socio-economic deprivation, BESD assumes a deeply contestable political hue which other disabilities do not.  To posit that a child’s social background can not only disadvantage them but disable them is imbued with a certain sense of political radicalism (and an uncomfortable determinism) which remains largely unexplored.  The recognition of BESD as SEN deepens this underlying shift in our understanding of disability.  Given that a Special Educational Need is, both legislatively and in terms of educational morality, something that inclusionists agree should be met, categorising BESD as SEN carries the significant implication that schools should be instrumental in addressing at least some of the specific effects of socio-economic deprivation.  In this sense, approaches to how – and indeed whether – pupils with BESD should be included are in no small part determined by latent ideological approaches to social inequality.  It is this that accounts for the pervasive sense that, in including children with BESD, schools are not so much enabling the disabled but, to borrow from a recent article in the TES, attempting to ‘mend the crippled limbs of society’ (Nutt J, 2012).  Thus whilst the etiology of BESD relates to our normative position(s) on social deprivation, the drive to include children with BESD in mainstream education forces a reconstruction of our traditional normative position(s) on the role of schools within society in a way that other needs perhaps do not. 

As Jones puts it, ‘the ostensible problem — that which is in need of ‘educational’ response - is disorderly behaviour or disaffection, and the goal is the inculcation of disaffected individuals into the social-moral order of the school’ (Jones RA, 2003: 2).  In other words, the goal is not merely to include children with BESD in the mainstream social and educational environment, it is to transform their behaviour (that which is explicitly identified as their very Special Educational Need itself).  


Current discourses on inclusion amongst both educational practitioners and theorists can, in part, be defined by their attitudinal positions regarding pupils with BESD.  Practitioners demonstrate a principled adherence to inclusive rhetoric, indicating the role of policy in defining discourse, yet the practical difficulties of including children with BESD undermine teachers’ inclusive intent.  If, as Foucault claimed, practice can come to determine theoretical discourse, there is potential for BESD to be exorcised from discourses on inclusion.  Indeed, BESD already occupies a peripheral position within current academic and political literature on inclusion and is often notable for its absence.  I have sought to explain this with reference to BESD’s etiology which mark it as unique as an entirely socially constructed disability and inextricably link it to wider contested, discourses on social deprivation; it is also unique as an element of SEN in that schools are expected to explicitly address the need itself and attempt to lessen or completely remove its impact upon the child in question.

If, on the one hand, the concept of BESD is etiologically and socio-politically distinct from other Special Educational Needs and, on the other, the practicalities of including children with BESD do not sit comfortably alongside the drive to include other children of need, there is perhaps a case to reconstruct BESD altogether as a concept that is entirely separate from other Special Educational Needs and in doing so redefine the boundaries of inclusive discourse so that inclusion returns to its origins ‘as a call for radical change to the fabric of schooling’ (Graham and Slee, 2008: 277) and reconnects with its roots in the wider discourse of societal inclusion from which it has dislocated.  Delineating the exact nature of this change is beyond the remit of this paper.  However, if inclusion is, as many suggest, failing large numbers of children with BESD, the reasons for this failure must be fully and properly explored and the apparent limits of educational inclusion scrutinised, along with a reinvigoration of interdiscursive debates concerning disability, resource provision and the role of education in a society that remains characterised by socio-economic inequality.


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