6th April 2001 at 01:00

SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL PROVISION: Meeting the Challenges in Schools. By Janice Wearmouth. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;14.99

Meeting Special Needs in Mainstream Schools: A Practical Guide for Teachers, second edition. By Richard Stakes and Garry Hornby. David Fulton pound;14

Both these books focus on meeting special educational needs in mainstream schools, but their differences are more striking than their similarities.

In Special Educational Provision: Meeting the Challenges in Schools, written for aspiring and practising SENCOs, Janice Wearmouth reflects on the complexities and dilemmas, the competing interests and opposing frameworks that characterise the entangled and at times bewildering world of special needs in mainstream schools. Her book encompasses some of the anticipated revisions to the Code of Practice and is packed with useful information. There is detailed coverage of legislation, of SENCOs' responsibilities; how to prepare for an inspection; and carefully considered discussion of inclusion.

This well-written, accessible book is underpinned by a multitude of references to research findings, to government documentation, and to the academic literature on SEN. There is an assumption that the reader is an intelligent professional who seeks clarification and insight, and sufficient information to make sense of complex issues. It is highly recommended to all those interested in SEN issues, particularly to SENCOs and would-be SENCOs.

In contrast, Meeting Special Needs in Minstream Schools: A Practical Guide for Teachers has a whiff of the 1970s about it. We are back in the pre-Warnock days when many believed that children could be labelled as having this or that condition, and that for each category it was possible to list a few teaching strategies. Under the heading "Moderate learning difficulties" the authors comment: "These children have below average intellectual ability with IQ scores of around 50 to 70 or 75 points." Even those who defend the use of IQ tests prefer to use them diagnostically to profile children's cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and are wary of referring to an overall IQ score.

There is something suspiciously circular about the way the authors use terms such as "moderate learning difficulties" - we are informed that children described in this way are those with low IQs, short attention spans and difficulties understanding instructions. If we search deeper for reasons why some children have these problems we come back to where we started - because they have moderate learning difficulties.

The deficit model tends to be rather predominant, with references to dyslexic children, gifted students (those who are "well above average intellectual ability" - is that helpful?), and ADHD, which we are told is usually hereditary, though no evidence is cited - indeed, references to research evidence are generally thin on the ground.

Anthony Feiler is a lecturer in education (Special Educational Needs), University of Bristol

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