Boys and Girls in the Primary Classroom

By Christine Skelton; Becky Francis | Go to book overview

6 Gender and special educational
needs

Shereen Benjamin


Introduction

The education of children considered to have special educational needs (SEN) has received a good deal of attention since the early 1980s. In England, the introduction of the first Code of Practice for SEN in 1994, followed by its updated version in 2002, has required schools and teachers to think about, clarify and, in many cases, enhance the provision they offer to children who are not making typical progress (DfEE 1994; DfES 2001). Recent policy moves towards the inclusion of children who would until recently have been educated in special schools, together with the requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2002 (which requires schools to work towards becoming fully accessible), have ensured that SEN issues remain high on the agenda. But surprisingly little attention has been paid to the ways in which SEN issues are gendered.

A recent survey of SEN provision in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries found that boys are consistently over-represented amongst those pupils considered to need specialist educational provision, both in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools (OECD 2000). This chapter starts with a brief review of this, and other, statistical evidence. But to begin to unravel the stories behind those statistics, we need to look at the links between SEN, and masculinities and femininities–what it means to be a boy or a girl–in primary and special school classrooms. The bulk of the chapter is given over to an exploration of how masculinities and femininities interact with understandings of 'ability', as well as with understandings around ethnicity and social class, in the complex processes through which boys and girls come to be identified as having SEN. The chapter draws on research evidence in the form of interviews and observations with children, parents/carers and teachers in four primary schools (three inner-city and one suburban) and an inner-city special school.

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