The aim of this book is to subject the concept of ‘partnership’ in special educational decision-making to critical scrutiny. Much has been written about partnership but, although some of this has been supportive of the principle and some critical of its practice, there have been few attempts to combine a systematic empirical analysis with a theoretical critique. It would be arrogant and probably a long way from the mark to suggest that this book represents a definitive account of the concept in these terms but in a more humble fashion I have attempted to move down this path. In doing so, it soon became clear that the book would be as much about power as it was about partnership.
The power to define the needs of others, which is implicit in the activity of professionals involved in the assessment of special educational needs, stands somewhat awkwardly in relation to the humanitarian principles frequently used by professionals in theorizing their own practice. Power necessarily stands in relation to something else. It exists as power over something or someone, and it is the dependency of this ‘other’ that conversely defines the limits of power. In this sense power is also dependent upon the unmet needs of those who lack power. Thus, power is only meaningful in so far as it creates the dependency of the powerless. This implies that there is a contradiction in the professional-client relationship in special education assessments between benevolence and control which the concept of ‘partnership’ does little to address. Essentially the contradiction arises because professionals have the power to select children whose needs will receive ‘special’ attention. Once identified as ‘in need’ these children relinquish or are deprived of the power to define their own interests legitimately in opposition to the political and social interests which have created their dependency. The inclusion of children and their families into this decision-making process through