After the 1944 Education Act, intelligence tests formed the basis of the 11-plus examination, used to decide whether a child should proceed to a grammar, secondary modern, or technical school. Within these schools, and in larger primary schools, pupils were also streamed according to ability.
The result of this selection was that most working-class children ended up in secondary moderns and most middle class children in grammar schools. To some educationalists this reinforced that intelligence is derived genetically, while to others it indicated that the whole basis of selection was unfair. The nature/nurture debate – of whether it is environmental or hereditary factors (or both) that determine educational and occupational success – continued to be waged.
The system of selection at age 11 was challenged by the movement towards comprehensive schools and the abolition of the 11-plus by most local education authorities in the 1960s. In many schools, mixed-ability teaching replaced streaming. This was an attempt to break what was regarded as socially divisive and unfair system of selection which labelled so many working-class children as failures.
In 1969, arguments about intelligence and ‘race’ were sparked off when Jenson published a paper in the USA which claimed that operation Headstart, a compensatory education scheme, had failed to improve the education achievement of ghetto, mainly black, children – because of the belief that intelligence is genetically determined and cannot be changed by educational reforms. Jenson went on to argue that this justified a different basic education for black children and others with low intelligence quotients (IQ’s). For his evidence Jenson drew on statistics drawn up by Burt.
The 1988 Education Reform Act
After 1981, further Conservative educational reforms restructured education in fundamental ways that affected provision for pupils with special educational needs. The ERA 1988 set up the National Curriculum and local management of schools (LSM). Since then there has been a debate about whether the effects of these changes have worked against or in favour of the progress made by the 1981 Act.
Assessing the possible effects in a complex matter. There is a sense in which a common curriculum for all pupils, including those with special educational needs, can be regarded as a real progress – an entitlement curriculum. It could mean that discriminatory practices that excluded many pupils with special educational needs from mainstream schools and their curriculum disappear.
However, the effects of the market and LMS may work against progress made a common curriculum. Bowe et al. (1992) looked at the effects on this on SEN policies in the schools in their study of the effects of the 1988 Act on schools. Figure 6.3 maps out the various constraints and possibilities affecting the working of the Act in relation to a school’s SEN policy.
Formula finding by local educational authorities means that statemented students have quite high ‘price tags’, but the other 18 per cent of non-statemented pupils do not work (Warnock, 1978). Some schools responded like the one below:
‘The deputy head in charge of finances asked me whether I could get more children statemented so that we could get more money for the school.’
This means that pupils with special educational needs are seen not in terms of their needs but in terms of their worth in formula finding. Under the pressures that the legislative changes have brought, school are then faced with hard choices. Should they attract statemented pupils and risk their school having an image of catering for the ‘less able’? Or should they try to attract more able pupils without special needs who are more likely to stay on in the sixth form and therefore attract extra funding?