The problematic of partnership in the assessment of special educational needs
This thesis investigates the positioning of partnership in the process of assessing a child's special educational needs. It looks at partnership in parent-professional relationships and in relationships between different professionals. Two case studies provide the empirical basis of the research: one of the first two years of an LEA parent partnership project, the other of a child, David, whose 'special educational needs' were in the process of being assessed. The reasons for choosing case studies, the kind of knowledge this would be expected to generate, and issues of validity are discussed. This thesis looks at whether an educational psychology service can act in partnership with parents by analysing a variety of data from an LEA Parent Partnership Scheme. It also investigates the meaning of partnership for the stakeholders of a child's statutory special educational needs assessment by looking at the views of everyone involved in one child (David)'s statutory assessment. The people interviewed are the child, the mother, the named person, the head teacher, the class teacher, the special education needs coordinator, the educational psychologist, the clinical psychologist, the senior clinical medical officer, the occupational therapist, and the acting principal educational psychologist. They are asked their views of the child's situation, what they think assessment is really about, what their role is in the assessment, what kind of partnership they experience in the assessment, what kind of partnership is possible, and where power is located in the assessment. Two case studies raise many questions about conceptions of 'professional', 'need', 'objectivity' and 'partnership'. Five key areas are identified from the results of the two case studies for further discussion. The first two areas each take a different unexpected finding with the aim of an explanation: 1) David's Mother's achievement of her aim of a statement emphasising David's learning difficulties rather than behavioural difficulties, despite the school's insistence on the latter; and 2) The discovery of David as lacking agency in the assessment process. The explanation incorporates the descriptive and the theoretical. Engestrom's activity theory assists an understanding of the boundary crossing accomplished by David's Mother in the realisation of her goal. The last three areas theorise about, respectively, partnership, power and statementing. The basis of multi-disciplinary assessment is challenged. Instead of one multi-disciplinary assessment in one case there are as many assessments as there are participants. Statementing is suggested to involve the painful negotiation of different discourse within a complex power structure. Implications for professionals working with children deemed to have special educational needs are discussed and policy changes are considered. Methodological issues for the position of the researcher, as insider practitioner, outsider practitioner and outside researcher is reflected upon.