There is a story of a famous professor who, though he had written a number of significant papers about quality in education, had not visited a school for over twenty years. A new young colleague persuaded him to visit a local school that had acquired a reputation for the excellence of its work. On the journey back from the visit the young lecturer asked the professor to comment on what he had seen. After a moment's silence the professor replied, 'I'm just thinking, would it work in theory?'
In many ways my own work addresses the same question. Perhaps the major difference between me and the famous professor, however, is that I continue to spend significant periods of my working hours in schools. Over the last few years in particular, I have been involved in a series of initiatives in schools, in this country and abroad, that have provided me with endless opportunities to reflect upon and engage with questions about how schools and classrooms can be developed in response to student diversity (Ainscow, 1995a). How far these experiences represent what others regard as research in a formal sense is a matter of debate. What they have stimulated is a process of learning as I have sought to find meaning in and understand what I have experienced.
This chapter provides some personal reflections on all of this, leading to an argument that what is needed is a much greater recognition of the power of practitioner research and theorising in the special needs field. I will argue, however, that such a move requires significant changes in thinking in the field about the nature of educational difficulties and how they should be investigated. It also has major implications for the ways in which researchers go about their business.