The social experience for pupils with moderate learning difficulties in units attached to mainstream schools
This study is an investigation of the views of school experience of primary aged pupils `included' within special units for children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) in one Local Education Authority (LEA) located in the North East of England. The investigation is intended to illuminate aspects of what the author regards as a number of under-researched areas within the current policy context of inclusion. Through interviews with the pupils themselves, teachers and their mainstream peers the author seeks to paint a picture of the social experience of school of the pupils in the units and to evaluate the model of provision in terms of its effectiveness in delivering positive social outcomes for its intended beneficiaries. The author also seeks to account for the nature of social relationships between unit pupils and their mainstream peers, an issue which had been of concern to the researcher herself, a former unit teacher, and her pupils. In case studies of two units, managed in partnership by a special school and two local primary schools, the author explores the views of a group of twelve Key Stage 2 pupils attending the two units. The unit pupils' perspectives of that experience, and in particular of their relationship with mainstream peers, are triangulated against the views of mainstream pupils, unit and mainstream staff and the researcher's observations. A second aspect of the research is the exploration of the social context in which pupils' relationships occur in each of the units. By relating comparative findings on the social contexts to the similarities and differences in outcomes for the two groups of pupils the author seeks to establish a link between the social context and pupils' friendship links with mainstream peers. The author concludes that her findings confirm the hypothesis, supported by the earlier work of Sinclair-Taylor (1994) in her study of a unit in a mainstream secondary school, that the organisational response to the perceived needs of the pupils in the unit creates divisions between them and their mainstream peers and confers low status upon the members of the unit. This, in turn, negatively impacts upon the mainstream pupils' perceptions of unit members as potential friends and leads to their marginalisation. The author goes on to suggest that the particular model established in the two units, bases of the special school within mainstream primary schools, and the separate roles and responsibilities towards the pupils in the unit which developed for the unit and mainstream staff were a contributory factor in the lack of ownership of unit pupils by the mainstream school and their marginalisation. The author maintains that her findings have general implications for those adopting units as vehicles for the development of inclusive practice and for partnership work between special and mainstream schools.