In Chapters 1-3 it was argued that parent-professional interactions during assessments of children’s special educational needs take place within a wider social context of competing and frequently conflicting interests. Professionals, including teachers, doctors, psychologists, and members of other caring and administrative professions, cannot simply take on a neutral role; they have their own professional interests in the assessment process and its outcomes. They are also engaged in negotiations with both parents and other professionals about ownership of clients, service strategies and resource priorities: negotiations which give meaning to the way in which the ‘needs’ of all participants in an assessment come to be understood. In these negotiations the power of participants to influence how and what consensus is reached in the assessment is not equally distributed. In consequence, the scope parents have, within the official procedures, for achieving outcomes not supported by, or in opposition to, professionals will be limited.
Children may be bound by constraints similar to those operating on their parents, and this is so despite recent attempts to give children a voice in decision-making about their special educational needs (DBS 1989a; DFE 1994). In Chapter 5 evidence was reviewed which suggested that children’s experiences of the assessment process are often ones of bewilderment and confusion. A case can clearly be made for providing more information as well as better-quality information for children. However, in this chapter it will be argued that there are forms of control implicit in the assessment system and that these forms of control operate to reproduce the power of professionals over their clients.
The assessment of special educational needs by professionals, together with the ‘objective measures’ used to identify children’s needs, can be understood at different levels, each of which may be seen as authentic but which, none the less, have contradictory implications. There is no reason