The Teacher Training Agency has recently introduced a profile of teaching competence that lists (under the rubric of professional development) the ability to identify and meet the special educational needs of all pupils as a necessary competence for all newly qualified teachers. This all-encompassing statement assumes that there exists a coherent view of what a 'special educational need' is, and that there exists a coherent set of procedures, or techniques which can be defined (and taught to newly qualified teachers) to meet such needs. The idea of a 'coherent view' assumes a theoretical perspective and it is the overall aim of the book to explore issues in what such a theory would look like and its implications for practice and research. In this chapter I would like to explore the idea that a 'coherent view' of special education requires us to move beyond simple linear causal models of 'children who have problems' towards an understanding of the complexities of how a school (or more generally, how an educational process) is constituted and its function in meeting 'needs'.
At the core of any understanding about special education is a notion of 'intervention'. If we address the idea of 'special', the multiple connotations of this word all contain a germ of change-there exists an educational context which is 'special' (out of the ordinary) which implies that practitioners (educators, special educators) must undertake some action to make the 'special' 'ordinary' (Dessent, 1987). Implicit in this underlying assumption, I would argue, is that 'special' equals 'bad' (a pathology) and the direction of change is from 'bad' to 'good' (remediating a pathology). An alternative view sees 'special' as 'different' which does not imply change at all but rather a celebration of that difference. The two positions have validity in the way that children (or more generally, learners, if we are examining educational practice) are viewed, in that both positions are represented by different constituencies in the special educational world. Crucially, however, whichever view is held by the practitioner will affect what is done in practice for any given individual learner. Do we intervene