|Disability Studies Quarterly
Summer 2004, Volume 24, No. 3
Copyright 2004 by the Society
for Disability Studies
Childhood disability and ability:
(Dis)ableist geographies of mainstream primary schools
Geography Division, School of the Environment
University of Brighton, UK
Abstract: The ideological and material location of disabled children's school education has shifted in many nations, in light of recent international initiatives, such as the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994). Within the context of the United Kingdom (U.K.), children with mind-body differences are increasingly educated within mainstream schools (Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, DfES, 2001a). These changes have led to a spatial convergence of the "special" and "general" education institutions. In this paper, empirical findings are presented from a qualitative study of two "physically inclusive" mainstream primary schools. It is shown that the education institution is underpinned by normative assumptions of "appropriate" childhood development, whereby childhood is viewed as a period of preparation for "productive", conforming adulthood. Such norms are (re)produced through the everyday spaces of the school. Children who do not concur with these expectations are frequently "Othered". Importantly, this paper demonstrates that these norms of childhood development are socio-spatial constructions, which vary between schools. Consequently, children with similar mind-body characteristics are differently diagnosed as (dis)abled within the two schools. These findings challenge biologically reductionist understandings of "disabled" and "non-disabled" identities; stressing that space is integral to which children are diagnosed as "disabled".
The rising global significance of "inclusive" education (e.g. UNESCO, 1994) underpins transitions in the education of disabled children in many nations. The everyday interpretations of inclusive impulses vary at the national and sub-national scale, according to pre-existing policy, historical frameworks, and socio-cultural / economic contexts. A rather simplistic (although useful) distinction can be drawn between nations with a history of "special" education, and those without such a tradition. On the one hand, "special education institutions" exist in many "Minority World" nations in the Global North, onto which "inclusive education" is superimposed. On the other hand, nations in the Majority World (and Southern Europe) often have a limited history of special education (or indeed universal education) and may be able to implement "inclusive" education as the model for the education of disabled children (Armstrong et al, 2000). The United Kingdom (U.K.) context represents a useful example of the former type of nation. Here, "inclusive" education for disabled children is interpreted through a pre-existing education institution, which has historically been divided into "special" and "general" components, with distinct spatial expressions. Consequently, in common with many minority world nations, in the U.K. context "inclusive education" is typified by the de-segregation geographies of many disabled children's primary school education. Hence children with a range of mind-body differences are increasingly considered to be "in place" within mainstream, as opposed to segregated special, schools. Importantly, the historical legacy of "special" education is evident in many institutional practices of inclusion, and the physical residue of segregated special schools. Indeed, despite clear policy and geographical shifts, the relative benefits of segregated, "special" education provision compared to "inclusive" education within mainstream schools, continues to be debated (Holt, 2003b; Kitchin and Mulchay, 1999). On the one hand, appeals for "inclusion" have been couched within wider human rights remits, asserting that "special" education excludes disabled people from full participation in society. There are two key aspects of this exclusion. First, it is contended that special schools often do not provide formal academic accreditation. This is one tenet of disabled people's marginalization/exclusion from formal labor markets, which results in a host of marginalized positionings (Gleeson, 1999). Second, it is suggested that special schools negatively signify and reinforce difference (Morris, 1991; Thomas, 1997). In addition, some authors argue that the everyday experience of special education is impoverished, for example limiting access to the whole curriculum, and constraining opportunities for the construction of children's cultures (Alderson and Goodey, 1998).
Although many disabled adults (often "special school survivors") and disability activists advocate "inclusion" in principle, it is becoming evident that the practice of "inclusive" education is problematic. In many contexts, including the U.K., an oft-cited critique is inadequate funding. The rise of the inclusion agenda has been synchronous with a neo-liberal shift in governance within many Minority World counties (Bangely and Woods, 1998; Mousely et al., 1998). Further critiques of practices of inclusion have emerged from cultural perspectives. For instance, Cook et al. (2001) claim that "inclusion" is an oppressive practice, when young people are moved between schools without their preferences being sought. They also express concern that "inclusion" presents limited opportunities for disabled children to develop a positive disabled identity and / or community. Evidence is beginning to emerge that disabled children experience various levels of exclusion in mainstream schools (Valentine and Skelton, 2003) and are often labeled as "Other" through negative representations of difference (Watson et al., 1999). Indeed, Davis and Watson (2001: 673) argue that:
...disabled children encounter discriminatory notions of 'normality' and 'difference' in both 'special' and 'mainstream' schools, and ... these experiences relate not simply to the structural forces that impinge on schools and teachers, but also to the everyday individual and cultural practices of adults and children.
This paper explicitly contributes to these debates, by emphasizing the importance of spatiality to how the "structural forces that impinge on schools and teachers", and the "everyday individual and cultural practices of adults and children" are played out in specific school spaces. It is emphasized that schools are porous spaces, located in space and time and within a host of social relations that emanate from within and beyond the school space. Further, it is highlighted that agents within the school interpret these "structural" impulses heterogeneously, and in ways which often sub-consciously reproduce dominant identity positionings. Finally, it is shown that space is central to the construction of children's identities as disabled or non-disabled.
The paper is divided into four principal sections. The following section outlines the methods and methodology of the research. Section Two theorises schools as specific institutional spaces, connected to, and comprising a component of, wider general and special education institutions. The third section considers (dis)abling everyday spatialities of the two mainstream schools. Although schools are not homogenous spaces, this paper strategically emphasises commonality within the case study schools (although see Holt, forthcoming). Such a focus facilitates an exploration of the influence of schools' location in time and space on representations of normality and difference. The final section offers a discussion and conclusion.
Methods and methodology
This paper presents empirical findings from in-depth qualitative research in "physically inclusive" primary schools (with students aged 7-10). This research aimed to investigate how (dis)ability is reproduced through everyday practices within the institutional spaces of two mainstream primary schools, "Rose Hill" and "Church Street". The two case-study schools are within the same relatively "inclusive" metropolitan Local Education Authority (LEA). The case-study schools are "physically inclusive", with a high proportion of students diagnosed as having "Special Educational Needs" (SENs). However, these schools express differing social and spatial contexts. For instance, students at Rose Hill are drawn from mixed socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, whereas students at "Church Street" are almost exclusively white, and broadly "working class". At least one third of the students at Church Street reside in socio-economically disadvantaged households. Rose Hill is targeted by the LEA for the inclusion of children with physical disabilities, and consequently has a relatively high proportion of students with physical disabilities (and / or learning disabilities). The school receives limited extra finding to provide "special" facilities. Rose Hill is regarded as a well-resourced, successful school, achieving high academic standards. By contrast, children with a variety of mind-body differences attend Church Street, which had a severe financial deficit, and was in 195th place out of 197 schools in LEA league tables during the period of study (see Dyson, 1997, for a critique of such league tables).
In-depth case studies were undertaken in order to examine everyday practice within the schools. Not all practice is rationally reflexive and consciously motivated, and Jackson (1983) contends that people's expressed and actual actions do not always coincide. Case studies therefore facilitate the examination of various interpretations of everyday practices. The research involved a multi-method qualitative approach, including ethnographic research, semi-structured interviews with adults (22) and 44 children: 22 defined as "disabled" and 22 not so labeled. A participatory technique was also used to inform conversations with children. Although I do not reject the role of quantitative research (and would decouple quantitative methodology from positivist epistemology; Philo et al., 1998), my epistemological position is that in-depth qualitative techniques produce valid knowledge. Using qualitative techniques necessitates a re-consideration of the meaning of valid research, which sees Objectivity and Truth replaced by the "slippery" questions of reflexivity, positionality, interpretation and narrative (see Holt, 2004; Marcus, 1987; Rose, 1998). I am not suggesting that the research presented in this paper represents a Universal Truth (and I would be highly skeptical of such a claim. Such objectivist claims are totalizing discourses, which conceal knowledges "Other" than that (disembodied) Knowledge gained from "scientific" studies by those who claim to be capable of acquiring a removed gaze of "Others" (Haraway, 1988)). Instead, the findings presented here aim to tease out some of the myriad practices of (dis)ablement as played out in these spatial contexts. This focuses attention on how "notions of normality and difference" are reproduced in mainstream primary school spaces. Such an investigation may begin to suggest ways towards educating children without reproducing (dis)ableism.
Normalising children and constructing the "Other"
The physical inclusion of children with mind-body differences into mainstream schools represents a spatial convergence of the "special" and "general" education institutions which were formerly more distinct. Rather than being dismantled by recent moves towards "inclusion", the special education institution continues to enact power by labeling and diagnosing children as "special"/"disabled", through medical and pseudo-medical educational practices. Thus the special education institution can be theorized as a: "...spidery network of dispersed intentions, knowledges, resources and powers" (Philo and Parr, 2000: 516; Holt, 2003b). A residue of physical spaces of containment for disabled children (special schools) facilitates the continued exclusion of some children on the grounds of their individual mind-body characteristics, emphasizing the partiality of "inclusion" (Booth, 2000). Such segregated spaces also serve a "normalization" purpose to children in mainstream schools; highlighting the consequences of failing to conform to normalized expectations of behavior or learning (Copeland, 1999).
The survival of the special education institution, which crosscuts both mainstream and special schools, emphasises the normative underpinnings of general education. The special education institution provides resources and "specialist" knowledge to educate children defined as "special/disabled" in contrast to the socio-spatially constructed "norm". The "norm" against which disabled children are contrasted is the "normally developing child" (Aitken, 2001; James et al., 1998). This representation of childhood posits children as developing sequentially towards "becoming" adult. Representations of normal childhood development contain suggestions of appropriate adulthood, as through this gaze childhood is constructed as a period in which children acquire the skills perceived necessary to become productive adults. "Normal development" is hierarchical, as children are expected to grow in competence in tandem with physical maturation. Falling below this norm is constructed negatively. However, rising above this norm is viewed positively, as children have exceeded age-related expectations. Such children are represented as closer to "becoming" fully valued adult actors, as dominant discourses devalue children as adults' "becomings" (Holloway and Valentine, 2000a; Valentine et al., 1998).
The normally developing "model" of childhood locates processes of development within the individual, under-theorising the role of wider socio-spatial processes. This focus on learning as individual development rather than social dialogue has clear parallels to "individual tragedy" models of disability, which "locate" disability within the mind-body of the individual rather than considering the socio-spatial context of disablement. The power of "normally developing" representations of childhood lies in the "scientific validity" given to dominant, common sense representations of childhood. However, it is crucial to note that the normally developing child is a socio-cultural construct, which has become naturalised in dominating accounts of childhood, particularly within the education institution (Hill and Tidsall, 1997; James et al., 1998). For instance, Archard (1993) contends that laboratory experiments, which appear to prove age-related learning development, are actually adultist self-fulfilling prophecies, which merely show the differences between children's and adults' ways of knowing.
The normative underpinnings of primary school education have intensified concurrently to the rise of the inclusion agenda in the U.K. For instance 7 and 11 year old English school students undertake Standard Assessment Tests (SATs), the results of which are regarded by central government as synonymous with school "effectiveness" and published in LEA league tables. The normative organisation of the education institution labels children who fall outside of this norm as "special", or as Vlachou (1997) argues "abnormal". The wording of the recent Code of Practice, which provides guidance for implementing the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA, DfES, 2001a), emphasises the normative age-related underpinnings of the education institution:
Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty...which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. Children have a learning difficulty if they:
Thus, children with mind-body differences can be defined as "special" for falling (typically) below socially constructed age-related learning expectations. Children can also be diagnosed as "disabled" under medical-model definitions previously employed by the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (Chadwick, 1996). Within the English context 17% of students are identified as having "Special Educational Needs" (SEN) (DFES, 2003). Both the medical model and the pseudo-medical educational model of disability can be viewed as subsets of what Oliver (1993) labels the "individual tragedy model" of disability, as learning or bodily differences are presented as individual pathologies rather than situated in society. The following sections explore how these concepts of (ab)normality are interpreted within the two case-study schools to produce differing representations of (dis)ability.
(Dis)abling children in mainstream school spaces
Reproducing the normally learning child
Children in both schools were primarily organised into age-related groups (year groups, subdivided into "forms") for formal timetabled periods; reflecting the dominant, common-sense approach to organising children within schools in general (Hegarty and Pocklington, 1981). This organisation relies on an expectation that children will reach approximately the same stage of learning development at a particular age. Indeed, as emphasised above, children are often identified as having learning disabilities if they fall below their age group in learning terms.
Children at any particular age will represent a variety of learning capacities in relation to formal curricula. Such formal curricula are political acts, representations of the skills that national policy-makers consider that children require to become productive adults. Within the two case-study schools, this diversity of children's abilities was recognised, with children sub-divided into perceived "ability" groupings for the space-time of Maths and English; a practice known as "setting". Children's "ability" was measured by attainment along with teachers' perceptions. Previous studies have identified such measures as classed, racialized, gendered and (dis)ableist (e.g. Davis and Watson, 2001: Valentine and Skelton, 2003; Vlachou, 1997).
"Setting" was viewed positively by teachers, as an effective means of resolving external pressures for "results" with the reality of children with a diversity of capabilities. Establishing sets for English and Maths reflects and reproduces the political importance placed on these subjects at the national level of the education institution, demonstrating how national scale policies impact directly upon the classroom scale. This emphasises that decisions taken within the school are influenced by constraints and opportunities emerging from beyond the school space, particularly the neo-liberal tendencies of the education institution and normally developing representations of childhood.
The formal purpose of organising children into hierarchical cells was to reduce the diversity of children's learning capacities within formal curricula groups. However, as an unintended consequence, children were constructed as (dis)abled in learning terms. The quote below demonstrates that children were aware of, and often reproduced, the hierarchical notions of learning ability / disability that setting represents:
No [I wouldn't want to be in the bottom set] - Because in the bottom it's right easy work, and if you know it you don't learn ow't. [People who are in the bottom set] need it, because they're not good at it, you know, English and stuff (Joshua, non-disabled boy, Church Street).
Along with many children stating a preference for being in higher sets, children in the lower sets in Rose Hill experienced negative labelling. For instance, many of these children reported being called disableist names. As Nelson (a boy with learning disabilities and communication "difficulties") states:
I don't like Anita because she calls me stupid. She is [stupid]. My mum says... if somebody calls you something, then they're it, because they're calling you it! You're not – they are!
This interesting quote highlights that children, as social actors, can develop strategies for combating negative labelling and disableism. Importantly, children do not always internalise negative representations of themselves, and in this example, Nelson resists such labelling. Nelson explicitly discusses how his mother supports him in finding such strategies, emphasising the importance of children's home environment to their ability to resist negative practices within schools (see also Valentine and Skelton, 2003). Such findings highlight that schools are porous, rather than bounded spaces, where children utilise knowledge and experience gained in other contexts.
In contrast to the Rose Hill context, children in Church Street did not generally report such negative labelling on learning grounds. Such findings suggest that, although in general, setting can represent children as "able" or "not able" at particular curricula activities, such a spatiality can be more or less disabling in different contexts. Interestingly, in Rose Hill, sets were not named hierarchically in an attempt to prevent this geography from demarking students negatively. Rather, sets were labelled after the teacher who taught them. Children in Rose Hill were, however, aware of the set hierarchy. Leora, a "non-disabled" girl who attended Rose Hill emphasised both her awareness of exact set hierarchies and her satisfaction at being in the top set:
I'm in – top set in Maths and top set in English ... It makes me feel happy ... because I feel like, I'm good at English and Maths ... Ms Richards teaches middle set in both Maths and English, and, in Maths, Ms. Armstrong teaches the bottom set, and – in English, Ms. King takes the bottom set.
The hierarchical spatiality of setting effectively encouraged children to regulate their mind-bodies in order to be placed in a higher, or remain in their current, set. All child participants in Rose Hill stated that their preferred set was either their current set, or a set that represented higher levels of scholarly performance. For instance, Ben, a boy with physical disabilities who was diagnosed as also having learning disabilities, and placed in the lower set, states: "I would like to be in middle set, because it's not too hard and it's not too easy". Children's knowledge of the relative "ability" positionings which each set represents, demonstrates that they are competent social actors, capable of critical thinking, not mere "cultural dupes" (cf. James et al., 1998; Priestley, 1998). Indeed, by not naming the hierarchy of sets, it is possible that the relative positioning of these micro-spaces became an "absent presence", defined by negativity. The negative representations of lower sets may explain a curious differential in children's apparent understanding of the meaning ascribed to sets. All the children in middle or higher sets discussed the relative positioning of their Maths and English group, without specific prompting. By contrast, many children in lower sets, when asked about the set they attended for English and Maths, reproduced adult labelling, and named the sets according to the teacher who led the class. Children were not prompted any further at this point. There are arguably two possible explanations for this difference. Either, children in the lower sets are genuinely unaware of their set positionings, or they do not wish to discuss the issue. The first explanation is unacceptable, as it would reproduce discriminatory notions of difference by suggesting that children who fall outside of adult-centric norms of learning development are, in fact, "cultural dupes". Consequently, the second explanation is more satisfactory. Children in the higher sets express their satisfaction and feelings of success openly. However, children in the lower sets may feel an unwillingness to discuss their lower position on the set hierarchy, as they have internalised representations of themselves as less academically successful. Ben, quoted above, is a unique exception, and it is interesting to note that he critiqued his set positioning, and did not internalise notions of himself as un-able at learning.
By contrast to practices in Rose Hill, sets were openly labelled as "bottom", "middle" or "top" in Church Street. It might be expected that such open labelling would stigmatise children within the lower sets, and more openly encourage children to regulate their academic and class performances to remain in the same, or move into "higher" sets. However, this was not the case. By contrast, although some children reproduced hierarchical representations of sets, and conformed to mind-body expectations in order to achieve higher set status, many children and adults contested and even transformed the meanings attached to sets. The open labelling of sets may facilitate a transformation of the meanings attached to them; if something is openly labelled it can be critiqued and contested. Children and teachers in Church Street transformed the meaning of "bottom", emphasising the abilities of children in the bottom set. As Graham, a boy with learning disabilities who attended Church Street, states: "[We're in the] bottom, but we've got the best handwriting". Equally, some children in Church Street stated a preference for remaining in the same set, or for moving into lower sets, in sharp contrast to Rose Hill. For instance, David, a non-disabled boy in the middle set for English and Maths, contends:
I'd like to [be in the bottom set], because Mr Keegan's good with handwriting and that, because he doesn't push you or ow't. He lets you do it, but he don't really push you ... but he lets you practice and practice. And he – what's he called, he used to be much worser than me, but he went into Mr Keegan's and his handwriting is nice now, it's one of the bestest in year 5, and he's in the lowest group.
David's preference for being in the lower set is expressed on academic grounds. However, many children in Church Street discussed the ideal space-time organisation of formal learning by reference to the informal curricula. Hence, in contrast to Rose Hill students, many children in Church Street appeared to prioritise the social aspects of classes, above the "academic identity", which set positionings represented. As Joshua, a "non-disabled" boy in the top set for English and Maths rationalizes:
No [I wouldn't want to be in any other group than the top set] ... Because I like the people in that English group, and I'm used to that now. If I move English group I won't be used to all the people.
There was clearly a different ethos amongst the children and adults of Church Street and Rose Hill. In Church Street, adults focused more specifically on the pastoral role of school, and the need to "develop the whole child". Such an ethos was connected, in teachers' and school managers' discourses to children's home backgrounds, which were often socio-economically disadvantaged. As the head teacher states:
Education's about enrichment, about providing as many and as varied opportunities, whether it's residential holidays, theatre visits, artists coming in, dance groups coming in. Things that - you might expect your normal, middle class parents to provide, doesn't get provided in this area, unless the schools provide it. You've given them that opportunity that they might never have had before. Now, that seems to me to be making a difference. Government policy on education is -, employment orientated, which it has to be up to a point. But, my model would be life orientated. There's more to life than just getting a job, and some of our children will never get jobs because they are - the children of third generation unemployed people. If you're giving them something that will enhance their life ... even if they don't get a job. Obviously, I want them to get jobs, but it seems to me that government policy is - you put in X hours of numeracy, you put in X hours of literacy, and you end up with a child who's got a level three or a level four Maths or English at the end of their primary school, and they will go on and get - X number of GCSEs. Some of our children won't.
Evidently, the head teacher had limited aspiration for the majority of pupils in the school in terms of formal academic accreditation and future meaningful participation in formal paid work. Such limited predicted futures for the children were connected to children's home backgrounds. However, the relative salience of children's actual family circumstances, as opposed to teachers' representations of these children, in reproducing discourses of limited future academic success, is infinitely debatable. Despite this, the net result was a relative lack of importance placed on the formal curricula in Church Street. By contrast, Rose Hill's formal ethos prioritised formal curricula and pastoral aspects of education equally. The head teacher's statement is a succinct expression of this:
Work is important because it determines where you are going in the future. So you have to keep saying that to children, have fun, work hard, it's very simple isn't it?
The influence of (representations of) children's home backgrounds on the formal ethos of the school emphasises the importance of considering schools' location in space. Schools are porous spaces. Thus the location of the school within economic, cultural, social and political processes, which are reproduced at a variety of intersecting scales, from the global to the local, impacts upon everyday practices in school spaces (cf. Massey, 1993, 1994, 1998).
It is also possible that the academic identities of children in Church Street were more strongly influenced by the dominant internal spatial arrangement of sets in Church Street, which often reflected children's perceived ability, than the whole-school geography of "sets". The consciously discussed purpose of this internal spatiality of classes was to provide individual children with appropriately targeted work within large classes (the largest class in Church Street contained 40 children). However, on another level, this clearly represented children as more or less able, and children were acutely aware of their relative positioning. Dylan, who has a hearing disability, claims:
The top is red group, the second is green, the lowest is blue, blue, yellow, orange, green and red. In Maths I'm in blue. That's the last. I'm not very good at Maths.
Dylan thinks that he is not very good at Maths, as he is in the "bottom" group in his class, despite being in the top set. This suggests that the internal spatiality of sets is more significant to children's academic identities than their position within the wider set hierarchy. In Church Street, children were not informed of the significance of the color (or shape) of the group to which they belonged. This reflected the practice in relation to setting in Rose Hill. Children are competent social actors who read signifiers such as the different work given to groups. Establishing hierarchies, which are not openly labeled, creates an "absent presence", which is arguably more stigmatizing than an open label. Thus the hierarchy of ability-disability becomes something shameful, to be concealed: an "Other" that cannot even be mentioned (cf. Prendergast, 1995). As the hierarchy cannot be mentioned it cannot be contested, resisted or transformed.
This demonstrates that schools operate on a variety of levels, which are not distinct but are mutually reinforcing and interconnected. The formal curricula exist at one level, and these appear to be simply "what children learn", although they are inherently political (James et al., 1998). Teachers consciously reflect that they teach in order to equip children for productive, fulfilling adult lives. At another level, schools are the sites of social reproduction, whereby adults and children perform, enact and reproduce social locations, such as "class", "race", "sex", sexuality and (dis)ability, often unconsciously and frequently in dominant ways. The spatial layout of the school is one medium through which such social locations can be reproduced. It is essential to acknowledge that the school as a text can be read in multiple and conflicting ways, with children and teachers as active social agents who can contest and transform dominant representations of themselves and others. Nevertheless the socio-spatial arrangements of the space-time of formal learning periods is predicated on, and serves to reproduce, norms of learning development, underpinned by the adult-centric notion of a "normally developing child". Such normative arrangements are ableist and hierarchical. They serve to define children who fall below such norms as less-able (and simultaneously define those who achieve above such norms as more-able). Children who fall significantly below such socially constructed norms can become diagnosed as learning disabled through the auspices of the Special Educational Needs institution.
Uneven operations of the SEN institution
It is interesting to note that expectations of normal development varied between the two case-study schools. Whereas the norms represented in Rose Hill were in line with national standards, teachers in Church Street argued that the norm of development for children in the school conflicted with the national norm of the education institution:
... I think it is very different. If you compared children that are very well off to - children that we have here, that we don't even register (as having a SEN). These children would be on like - four or five in one of those schools, but because they're just normal here to be like that - so we would only statement the absolute absolutes (Ms. Gregson, Special Educational Needs Coordinator, Church Street).
All identities are multifaceted, and notions of ability and disability as they are played out in schools do not operate in isolation from other "axes of power", such a socio-economic status. Indeed, the financial hardship experienced by many children in Church Street, influenced teachers' expectations of children's learning. For instance, Ms. Trim contends that the high numbers of children who experienced difficulties with their learning is related to:
.... the grinding poverty that you get in - inner-city areas. There's an awful lot of child abuse which I've never come across, - it's something to do with um, martial break down, communities breaking up so that you haven't got the back-up, you know, the social networks. It's something to do with, lack of employment, lack of money - all the social issues, which really schools can't do anything about, but we take the children, and generally speaking, abused children present with learning difficulties and behavioral difficulties, because, you can't learn if you're frightened, and if you're frightened, you either go into your shell, or you kick off big time (Ms. Trim, head teacher, Church Street).
It is important to note that the shifting norm of development was influenced by teachers' representations of children's socio-economic and family conditions.
As a consequence of this shifting norm, children in Church Street with mind-body differences, which may have resulted in diagnosis of "special" in other contexts, were not so labeled. This finding highlights that the relationships between diagnosis of SEN and representations of social "class" are complex and spatially contingent. Such findings complicate the association between "social exclusion" and some SEN found in other studies (Dyson, 1997) and reinvigorate claims to examine the complex interconnections between some "disabilities" and socio-economic hardship.
Although the SEN institution is individualizing and labels children as (educationally) "disabled", such a label also provides extra resources to schools. In the case of Church Street, the uneven operation of the SEN institution exacerbated the schools' precarious financial situation. Consequently, the combination of the special and general education institutions resulted in a lower level of resources being supplied for children in Church Street, many of whom experienced social exclusion and financial hardship at home. The uneven operation of the SEN institution between the two schools also influenced whether children were labeled "disabled" and the everyday practices towards children diagnosed as having SEN (see below).
The most common panacea, on which such money attached to a diagnosis of SEN was spent in the two schools, was a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). Providing students with an LSA fulfils the ostensible aims of helping students with personal care and moving around the school and / or assisting students to "catch up" with their peers in learning terms. Students' requirement for help to move around Rose Hill is situated in the spatial layout of the school. Although the school was "accessible", with ramps, lifts and a disabled toilet, children who used wheelchairs were not able to open heavy internal doors. Hence, these children were constrained from moving independently around the school, in contrast to children without bodily differences. Such constraint represented disabled children as "dependent". Some students with physical disabilities in Rose Hill were also dependent upon LSAs for personal care. This type of dependency, along with negative dominant societal discourses of people with mind-body differences, makes disabled children particularly vulnerable to abuse (Calderbank, 2000, Morris, 1991). This is especially pertinent in the light of unequal adult-child relations within schools, where children are viewed as the "objects" of education policy (Hill and Tidsall, 1997), and as time and resource constraints permit few opportunities for children to talk on an individual basis with adults other than their LSA. Children with disabilities were represented by both children and adults as dependent upon their LSA. This sometimes represented an internalisation of this dependency by children with disabilities who frequently stated that they needed "the most help", usually from adults. For instance:
... I sometimes need a lot of help, but sometimes Lindsay (girl with physical disabilities) gets help (Sebastian, boy with learning disabilities, Rose Hill).
In addition to this representation of children with disabilities as dependent upon adults, disabled children were sometimes represented as dependent upon non-disabled children, as exemplified by Lucy:
...Because I love disabled people, because they're really nice, you can look after them...you can push them round (Lucy, non-disabled girl, Rose Hill).
These findings emphasize how places act as texts, which can discursively reproduce negative disabling difference, at the same time as spaces can be designed in such a way as to produce barriers to disabled people's participation (see also Imrie, 1996; Kitchin, 1998). In conjunction with representing disabled children as "dependent", children with (leaning) disabilities frequently became the "responsibility" of LSAs; receiving very limited attention from the teacher. This is problematic given that few LSAs receive the same level of training as teachers. The level of training, experience and background education of LSAs varied considerably between the two schools. The latter factor is influenced by schools' location in space, as Church Street was located within a relatively "disadvantaged" urban location, where a high proportion of the adult population had limited academic qualifications.
The use of LSAs also varied between the two schools. Within both schools some LSAs worked with individual, or very small groups of, children. Disabled children sometimes worked with an LSA rather than, or in conjunction with, peers during group work. These practices were more common in Rose Hill than at Church Street where there were fewer LSAs, generally larger classes, and a greater proportion of students who were considered to experience difficulties with their learning, without receiving a SEN diagnosis (as discussed above). In this setting, it was common practice for LSAs to act as a second (or indeed the principal) teacher, rather than being attached to individual students, although practice varied between classes. The example from the research diary below exemplifies this common practice:
Research Diary - Lower set Maths, Church Street
Children in Church Street did not pervasively represent those with mind-body differences as dependent, except when LSAs worked with individual children. This suggests ways in which LSAs can work within classrooms without "Othering" children with mind-body differences, and constructing children as "dependent", with the negative connotations that this label often represents within the Global North (Irwin, 2001; Young, 1991).
Adults can transform dominant unequal (dependent / independent) adult / child relations, frequently without openly contesting expected practices in place. Power relations between children and adults are not monolithic; they are shifting and performed slightly differently in diverse contexts by various actors. For instance, the relationships between children and LSAs were often less unequal than those between students and teachers. The extract from the research diary below emphasises this point:
Research Diary – A science lesson, Rose Hill
Despite the relative equality of the relationship between Nelson and his LSA, a child working individually with an adult represents a dependent spatiality within the context of the classroom. However, children often transformed the meaning attached to such dependence. For instance, in both Rose Hill and Church Street, the majority of the child interviewees did not invest dependence with negative dominant representations. Moreover, children who were physically dependent for personal care frequently held relatively powerful positions in relation to decision-making when working with peers. The extract below exemplifies this, as Lindsay (a girl with physical disabilities, who uses a wheelchair) works with a "non-disabled" girl (Eve) on the computer:
Research Diary – Information Technology (IT) in the IT suite (Rose Hill)
This interaction between Lindsay and Eve serves to problematize "common-sense" meanings of dependence and independence. In this example, Lindsay, who is represented as dependent through the spatiality of the school, gains equal decision-making power with a friend. According to French (1993) for disabled people to become truly independent, it is necessary to focus on decision-making, and autonomy over one's thoughts, rather than simply emphasize "practical independence". This extract emphasizes that relationships between those constructed as "dependent" and those as "less dependent" are not monolithic, but are nuanced.
Although not all groups of adults and children represented dependency negatively, disabled children were pervasively constructed as dependent within both schools. Disabled children's experiences of being labelled as dependent reflect those of many disabled people who have their knowledges appropriated through the individual tragedy model (Oliver, 1993; 1996). However, disabled children occupy a unique position in relation to both disability and childhood. Shakespeare and Watson (1998) contend that children with disabilities occupy multiply marginalized positions, as both disability and childhood are socio-spatially marginalized subject positions within the Global North. Nonetheless, as childhood is presented as a stage of dependence (Matthews et al., 1999), disabled children may experience a lower degree of marginalization and exclusion within their peer groups, than disabled people more generally. Consequently, although younger children's acceptance of children with a range of bodily capacities has been drawn upon to claim that young children are inherently more accepting than older people (Lewis, 1995), this could be attributable to particular inter-meshings of dominant representations of childhood, dependency and disability. Indeed, some teachers contended that while it is acceptable for younger children to be "dependent", these children would be increasingly socially excluded by their peers, as they aged:
I think really, because they're gonna be just so – left out because, who is going to push the disabled children round and take them to the toilet when they are 16? I just don't think anyone will want to do it. Whereas at this age, they're so young yet, aren't they? And they're not a problem (Ms. Peters, Rose Hill).
This emphasizes the pervasiveness of the socio-spatial construction of the "normally developing child", which is underpinned by perceptions of appropriate adultness. Children are expected to become more like adults in line with physical maturation, and this "normal development" has independence and bodily performance facets (Valentine, 1997). Falling outside of these expected trajectories of development can result in children being "Othered"; represented as "different" in a negative sense.
However, some people never gain levels of personal independence that dominant societal discourses represent as integral to adulthood (Priestley, 2000). Crucially, the many different types of adulthood and childhood reveal that normalised understandings of life-course stages are neither "natural" nor "universal" (cf. Irwin, 2001). Thus, the heterogeneity of childhoods and adulthoods can serve to critique and destabilise dominant representations of childhood as a ubiquitous route from dependent infanthood to independent adulthood; essentially associated with a physically maturing body. In turn, such a critique would disrupt a key source of disablement within schools and wider society.
Exclusion, disabled spaces and identifying "The Other"
In both schools, children who fell outside of the "normal" path of "development" were often subject to normalising mind-body therapies. As with many common practices within the schools, these therapies can be argued to have both disabling and enabling facets. On the one hand, therapies, such as physiotherapy and speech therapy, are (pseudo-)medical techniques of disciplining and normalising "deviant" disabled mind-bodies. Shakespeare (1994) argues that medical therapies attempt to eradicate disability and therefore disabled children (see also Shakespeare and Watson, 1998). On the other hand, by adopting a corporeal social model of disability (Crow, 1992; Parr and Butler, 1999) medical therapies can be viewed as alleviating present and future pain.
Despite Rose Hill's official ethos of "total inclusion" (Holt, 2003b), children were often temporarily excluded from within-school spaces to receive these interventions. Children with learning disabilities would be removed for short periods, generally to work one-to-one with a LSA (following a programme provided by an educational "expert"). Importantly, within the current age of disciplining the soul rather than the body (Rose, 1988), the spatial strategy of removing children from particular formal curricula sites frequently represents punishment for transgressing norms of behavioral expectations, and is thus associated with negativity. This is particularly the case as children were most often removed from subjects that children identified as "fun". Which curricula activities disabled children were removed from was a political act representing the relative importance accorded to different subjects. Children were seldom removed from Maths or English, although physically disabled children, especially wheelchair users, were frequently excluded from Physical Education (PE). Crucially, these findings reinforce other studies, which have identified that disabled children are often excluded from sport in mainstream schools (Sport England, 2001). This finding could be related to teachers' concerns over how to include children with physical disabilities into PE lessons, as the mainstream curriculum is organised around a perceived "norm" of bodily capacity. The exclusion of children from physical exercise has important health implications, within the context of concerns about rising levels of childhood obesity in many Minority World Nations (Chinn and Rona, 2001). Crucially, these children are deprived of a curricula subject that many children find enjoyable. As Ali states:
P.E.? Um – that's a bit my best thing, but I don't usually do it, because I do physio ...I like P.E. instead of physio (Ali, boy with physical and learning disabilities who uses a wheelchair, Rose Hill).
Excluding children from playgrounds (which are often constructed as a positive space by children) is generally a spatialized disciplining strategy for those children who have not conformed to expectations of behavior. However, in Rose Hill, physically disabled children were frequently excluded from this space for health-related reasons. This constructed disabled children as "sick" (a component of the individual tragedy model of disability, Morris, 1991; see also Watson et al., 1999) and restricted these children's opportunities to build social relationships and construct informal cultures. Although children's cultures are present throughout the school space (Dixon, 1997; Holloway and Valentine, 2000b), they have more scope for open expression in the playground, where expectations of bodily control are less rigorous. Therefore, disabled children are excluded from a crucial space in which children's cultures are (re)produced, and from opportunities for social interaction. This has important implications as such social interaction is necessary, although perhaps not sufficient, for deconstructing the boundaries between "disabled" and "non-disabled" children (Holt, 2004; cf. Dear et al., 1997; Hahn, 1989).
In Church Street, children with learning disabilities were sometimes kept in the formal space of the classroom during recreational periods in order to complete specific tasks. The following quote from a LSA exemplifies this issue, as well as highlighting that adults are differentially located in relation to power, in the wider school and individual classroom micro-spaces:
They go into English, and it's 'right, we're doing this.' And some children, Nathaniel for example, is desperately slow at writing, so he could do with it written out in paragraphs and just putting odd words in, or phrases, but no, he has to write it out. And he don't get the work completed, so that it comes to the end of the lesson, and he stays in at dinner time for five minutes to complete the work (Ms. Miller, LSA, Church Street).
Keeping children in places that require greater regulation of the body, such as classrooms, and excluded from the relatively unconstrained space of the playground is generally a disciplining strategy reserved for children that have transgressed the "rules". Time as well as place is significant here, as being in a classroom is not constructed as negatively during periods when children are time-tabled to be there (see also Holloway et al., 2000). This further exemplifies how disabled children in both case-study schools (which endeavour to be inclusive) experience spatial exclusions that are usually reserved for punishment. Such exclusions identify disabled children as different to their non-disabled counterparts, and invest such difference with negativity. The construction of "disabled spaces" on the spatiality of the school also served to reproduce disabling difference.
In both schools, children with learning disabilities generally undertook their "therapies" on the corridor, while in Rose Hill, some children used the "special needs room"; a small room which served as a library and where the lift was located. In Rose Hill physical therapies took place in "special disabled spaces", reflecting the schools position within wider networks of resources supplied by the LEA's interpretation of the SEN institution.
Some "disabled spaces" served as strategic sites of belonging for children. Although children with physical disabilities were placed in separate classes, many friendships flourished between children with physical disabilities; a counter-trend to general patterns of year group specific social groupings. For instance, Ben (a boy with physical and learning disabilities) talks about his friendships with other disabled children:
Well, I have Myles, I have Lyla - I have Richard and I have Ali, I have Brandon. Brandon comes on my bus with me. The one who comes on my bus, do you know who he is? And Ali, you know him. He was my friend because we met ages ago on the bus, and we started talking about things and we got really interested - and now, when he gives me something I give him something back, and we go on like that.
The "disabled space" of the school bus provides a point of contact between children with physical disabilities, and scope for the development of positive disabled identities. Such a finding highlights that children within "inclusive" schools can forge positive disabled identities, with political potential, when provided even with a relatively transient "disabled space". This may alleviate some of the fears raised by Cook et al., (2001), and the head teacher of Rose Hill regarding children's limited opportunities to construct positive disabled identities.
Although the creation of "disabled spaces" had some positive outcomes, especially when these spaces facilitate social interaction, this use of physical space can demarcate children with physical disabilities as "disabled" and "Other". Indeed, many child participants in Rose Hill labelled children with physical disabilities as "The Disabled Children". Disability was thus assumed by many children to be synonymous with physical disability (Imrie and Kumar, 1998) and children with physical disabilities were perceived to be a different and homogonous group, "Other" to non-disabled children, as exemplified below:
Research Diary– Being shown around Rose Hill by two children
It is interesting to note that spaces within mainstream schools can become associated negatively with difference and reproduce "Otherness". Indeed, these disabled spaces can be viewed as spaces of the temporary containment of difference, which serve to reproduce such difference negatively at the scale of the school. Crucially, these findings indicate that the socio-spatial mapping of social boundaries of "Otherness" associated with the development of asylums and special schools is being reproduced, albeit at a smaller scale and in a transient way, within this mainstream school.
The "disabled toilet" was one such "disabled space". Indeed, it could be argued that the disabled toilet was an "abject" space (cf. Sibley, 1995), particularly as some disabled children were frequently defined by their inability to use the toilet independently. For instance, Lucy who frequently played with Lindsay (a girl with physical disabilities), and who was Ben's (a boy with physical and learning disabilities) girlfriend was asked if she had taken these friends home, she exclaimed:
No! ... Because my mum couldn't look after a disabled person – she wouldn't know what to do with them ...You have to take them to the toilet ... You've got to go with them (Lucy, class 5.2, Rose Hill).
This quote from Lucy suggests that relationships between children are performed differently in various places. Although Lucy builds close personal relationships with Ben and Lindsay within the space of the school, she would not invite these children into the "private" space of the home, and cites their "uncontrollable bodies" as justification (cf. Dear et al., 1997). Along with suggesting interesting things about intimacy and space, this example also suggests that the home, like the school, is a learning environment for children (Holloway and Valentine, 2000a).
More fixed "disabled children's spaces" existed in Church Street, where the formal interpretation of "inclusion" facilitated the segregation of the children who had Down's Syndrome into a makeshift special unit for the majority of their formal time-tabled periods. Rosie, a girl with sensory disabilities, also spent some time here. The decision to educate some disabled children within the special unit is situated within the constrained resources available to all schools, which is particularly pertinent within the context of Church Street. Teachers in both schools emphasised that the spatial shift of disabled children into mainstream schools has not been accompanied by a relative resource distribution, limiting children's experiences of inclusion. Without reducing "inclusion" to the physical relocation of a special group of children and the resources attached to these children (Armstrong et al., 2000), it is important to note that the everyday practices occurring within the school are influenced by constraints and opportunities emanating from beyond the school space, along with the decisions of individual actors.
The segregation of some disabled children into the special unit assumed a homogeneity between the children that did not exist. Moreover, this practice was dependent upon a perception that these children were both significantly different from their peers at present, and that they would have very different adult futures (Shakespeare and Watson, 1998). For instance, many teachers did not feel that these children would gain formal qualifications or employment in the labour market. Children's predicted dependent futures (Middleton, 1996) resulted in them receiving a radically different education from their non-disabled peers, whereby "life skills" were prioritised above the acquisition of formal academic accreditation, as the extract below exemplifies:
Research Diary - The special unit, Church Street
These findings suggest that some disabled children experience within-school segregation in the equivalent of mini-institutions (cf. Gleeson, 1997). Indeed, many critiques that have been levelled at "special schools" are being reproduced within this mini-institution. The formal curriculum is not prioritised within this unit in comparison to other formal school spaces (it is not deemed important for non-disabled children to make toast, for instance). In addition, the children generally worked individually with an adult, a pattern observed in many special schools, which has consequences for children's peer-group cultures (see Alderson and Goodey, 1998). Finally, the special unit served as to spatial contain and reinforce difference. This was particularly the case as on the occasions that these children attended mainstream lessons, they did so en masse as the "Down's Kids".
These practices represented these children as "Other" to their peers. Many children reproduced this otherness, identifying Joanna and Rosie as having "special needs", adopting the expert language of the SEN institution. Another respondent, Rosalind, described Rosie as having Down's syndrome "Rosie [needs a lot of help], off Ms. Barton because she's Down's syndrome" (Rosalind, non-disabled girl, 5.2, Church Street). Although Rosie is disabled, she does not have Down's syndrome. Interestingly, Rosalind presents Rosie not as having Down's syndrome; she is Down's syndrome. Rosie's identity is reducible, in Rosalind's view, to the "syndrome" that she perceives Rosie to have, a tenet of the individual tragedy model identified by Morris (1991).
Although educating children in a special unit had many disabling aspects, there were enabling results of this segregation. For instance both "disabled" and "non-disabled" children found the special unit an enabling space. Rosie viewed the "drop-in" positively, and asked if she could spend time there:
Research Diary – The special unit, Church Street
Children without "disabled" diagnoses also enjoyed spending time in the special unit, and the extract below demonstrates that non-disabled children had special relationships with the staff in the unit. However, relationships between non-disabled children and disabled children were often hierarchical, with non-disabled children "helping" disabled children with their work. The extract below also provides an example of the unequal power relationships between disabled and non-disabled children in the special unit:
Research Diary – The special unit, Church Street
Finally, this special unit provided a space for disabled children to develop a sense of belonging and positive disabled identity, as the socio-spatial organisation of formal curricula periods is often reflected in the children's informal, friendship cultures. Joanna and Rosie were "best friends", and they frequently played with Neal, as the extract from the interview with Joanna, below, demonstrates:
Interviewer: Who's your best friend?
Joanna and Rosie were never observed playing with Anthony, although he also spent his formal curricula periods in the special unit. This emphasises that, rather than being a homogenous group as they are often presented, disabled children have similarities and differences between themselves. Disabled children as social actors, like all children, "Other" their peers on a variety of grounds (see also Torrence, 2001).
Joanna's friendship with Rosie and Neal suggest that within school mini-asylum spaces can provide spaces of belonging for disabled children, and a positive collective identity. However, this may also demonstrate the limited opportunity that these children had to make non-disabled friends. Indeed, it is interesting to note that a higher proportion of "non-disabled" children cited Rosie as a friend than Joanna. Rosie spent a higher proportion of her formal curricula time in mainstream classroom spaces, than Joanna, who spent the majority of her day in the special unit. Of course, it is impossible to disentangle the relative importance of opportunities, constraint and agency here.
This section has emphasised that school spaces are integral to the reproduction of positive and negative (dis)abled identities. The spatiality of the school is constituted within social practices and reinforces these practices. Crucially, space is central to the very construction of children's identities as "disabled" or "non-disabled", and to whether "disabled" is a positive label, with mind and body differences being accepted and valued or whether "disabled" represents negativity, dependency and loss.
Discussion and conclusion: Differentially (dis)abling children in various school spaces
This paper has demonstrated that children can be (dis)abled within mainstream primary school spaces in comparison to a socially constructed norm of childhood development, which has bodily competence and learning aspects. (The normally developing child also has behavioral aspects, which are explored elsewhere, Holt, 2003a). Thus primary school education is an ableist institution, which has not been designed to cater for children with the whole range of mind-body capacities. Children who fall outside of the expected "norm" of childhood development are often diagnosed as "special" through the special needs institution. Historically, such a diagnosis frequently resulted in children being educated in segregated "special" facilities. Although residual "special" schools exist, current U.K. education policy promotes the spatial convergence of the special and general components of the education institution. Consequently, children with a variety of mind-body differences, who would previously have been educated in special schools, attend ableist mainstream schools.
Mainstream primary schools are not, however, uniformly disabling. Although disabled children frequently encounter "discriminatory notions of normality and difference" in mainstream schools, representations of "normality" and "difference", along with the implications of falling outside of this "normality" vary in different schools. These differences demonstrate that schools are specific moments in space and time, and the sites of social agency (cf. Holloway et al., 2000). This agency is constrained and enabled, in conscious and unconscious ways. First, agency is constrained by the socio-spatial processes within which the school is situated. Second, dominant societal expectations of appropriate subject positions, often unconsciously, frame how we perform our identities (Butler, 1990; 1993; 1997).
Although the education institution is increasingly panoptic, education policy and the expectations placed on practice in place both enable and constrain practice. Policies establish the limits to what can be done, rather than prescribing everyday practice. Written directives such as Acts of Parliament and Codes of Practice only exist as they are interpreted (within the Special Needs Tribunal, or the school), and they are open to a variety of interpretations. In this sense, the general and special educational institutions are: "precarious geographical accomplishments" (Philo and Parr, 2000: 517).
Teachers within schools are social agents who can respond to the encouragement of particular practices in a variety of ways, without transgressing the "rules" established by policy and the expectations placed on teachers in schools. In addition, both teachers and children as social actors can transgress expectations or rules, although this frequently leads to censure. Consequently, a variety of everyday practices occur. These practices must be contextualized within: i) the daily business of schools and the constraints under which teachers and children work in schools; ii) how wider socio-spatial "structures" impinge differently on various schools, as schools represent a unique meshing of similar socio-spatial processes (e.g. the global economy, institutional resources and constraints); iii) schools as the sites of a reconfigured social agency, which acknowledges the limits to fully self-reflexive action.
The processes of (dis)ablement which children experience within mainstream primary schools are rarely consciously or maliciously perpetrated by teachers and children. Instead, they are often unintended consequences of everyday practices associated with fulfilling the purposes of schools. The hidden curricula of schools, which serve to reproduce dominant identity positionings, are often hidden from teachers as well as children, and consequently challenging to contest or transform. Schools are underpinned by normative representations of development, which are often taken for granted and appear to be common sense and natural. These norms produce, and are reproduced by, the dynamic spatiality of schools. Such normative discourses of development reproduce internalised notions of appropriate adulthood and childhood, which serve to construct some children as (dis)abled in relation to a socio-spatially shifting "norm". "Teachers" and "students" often do not intentionally reproduce common-sense notions of ability and disability; rather such reproduction is a part of performing subject positionings in ways that do not transgress expectations placed on subjects (Butler, 1993; 1997). To suggest that we may unconsciously reproduce dominant representations of ability, disability and childhood development, is not to contend that such discourses cannot be disrupted and ultimately transformed. Butler (1990) argues that such disruption can occur through imperfect reiteration, or "slippage". Crucially, actors can seek to consciously emphasise that what is held as common sense, and appears natural, is socio-spatially constructed through historical and contemporary repetitions. Indeed, some teachers and children contest dominant discourses in this way. It is possible to question the represented naturalness and ubiquity of a transition from fully dependent infanthood to fully independent adulthood, which underpins the notion of "normal" development (and consequently "abnormal" development and disablement).
This paper has demonstrated that the special education institution operates unevenly through school spaces, as the norm against which children are contrasted is socio-spatially shifting, even within a relatively small geographical area. These shifting notions of appropriate development are intimately bound up with other "axes of power". The shifting perception of a "norm" of childhood development leads to children with similar mind-body characteristics being differentially labelled as "disabled". There are two crucial results of these findings. First, that not only is space socially produced, and serves to reproduce social processes, but that our identities as experienced and "read" by others, can be constructed differently in various places (cf. Gregson and Rose, 2000; Parr and Philo, 1995). Second, the diversity of interpretation of the SEN institution serves to further problematize the notion of an essential disabled or non-disabled identity.
By examining the lines and practices drawn around "disability" or "non-disability" in different schools, this paper has empirically demonstrated that disability is a shifting socio-spatial construct rather than a stable, constant identity position (cf. Dear et al., 1997; Dorn, 1999). In doing so, this paper contributes to ongoing critiques of individual tragedy models, which represent disability as a pathology, which is located primarily within the mind-body of the individual.
If dis-ability is a set of socio-spatially shifting performances and practices, rather than a constant, stable identity position, this has a variety of crucial implications for education policy. Not least, it raises the possibility of identifying practices that do not negatively reproduce disabling difference. Within this study, it has been emphasised that agents within schools can interpret the constraints and opportunities emerging from the wider education institution in ways that do not negatively reinforce difference. For instance, by having classroom spatialities which do not represent hierarchies of ability and disability, encouraging disabled children to work with peers, rather than simply a Learning Support Assistant, and by Learning Support Assistants working with a number of children, who are not all labelled as having SEN. Although medical intervention may be considered necessary to alleviate "problematic bodies" (and pain), efforts should be made to prevent children from being consistently excluded from lessons that are viewed as enjoyable. If, due to legitimate health considerations, children must be excluded from playgrounds, perhaps all children could be presented with a variety of indoor and outdoor play options, reducing the social exclusion that disabled children experience. However, although it is possible to provide "recommendations" suggesting practices which are less disabling to children, drawing upon children's own accounts, there is a crucial issue, which is not simple to resolve. Many of the practices and performances, which serve to dis-able children, are mundane everyday occurrences within the ableist education institution, which is a specific constellation of ableist social relations. In order to disrupt the inherent ableism of the education institution, it is necessary to expose, critique and transform dominant societal, "common sense" representations of schools, childhood, dis-ability and adulthood. Such common sense, taken for granted social positionings are not easily transformed, as their reproduction occurs at sub-conscious, as well as conscious levels. However, acknowledging that disability is a set of discursive and performative practices, which are socio-spatially specific, disrupts dominant societal representations of disability as a fixed, "natural" pre-given, and produces a space for contestation and transformation. In order to avoid simply reproducing negative representations of disability through the everyday performances of children and adults within schools, it would be useful to present children and adults with positive representations of mind-body differences, perhaps through critical "disability" awareness programmes. Such programmes could be a part of constructing affirmative representations of, and positive collective identities for, children with mind-body differences. Exposing children and adults to positive representations of mind-body differences does not contradict Oliver's (1996) claim that teachers should be teachers of all children. Rather, this suggestion is grounded in a need to counter-balance the overwhelmingly negative representations of mind-body difference that circulate within broader social space, of which schools comprise a specific component. Ironically, school level "education" provides a unique environment in which transformative identity positionings can be constructed (Holt, forthcoming), with implications for producing an enabling society. Children, as younger people, have lived for a shorter period than adults, and therefore may have had fewer opportunities to internalise negative representations of disabling difference than adults. At the same time, there is a danger that dominant, negative representations of disability are reproduced within schools, which are not bounded spaces, isolated from wider society.
Sincerest thanks go to all the children and adults who participated in the research and to Dr. Sarah Holloway and Dr. Phil Hubbard who supervised the doctoral research that informs this paper. Thanks also go to Loughborough University who funded the research. The constructively critical comments of anonymous reviewers and Deb Metzel on earlier drafts of this paper, are also very much appreciated.
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Disability Studies Quarterly (DSQ) is the journal of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS). It is a multidisciplinary and international journal of interest to social scientists, scholars in the humanities and arts, disability rights advocates, and others concerned with the issues of people with disabilities. It represents the full range of methods, epistemologies, perspectives, and content that the field of disability studies embraces. DSQ is committed to developing theoretical and practical knowledge about disability and to promoting the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. (ISSN: 1041-5718; eISSN: 2159-8371)