Janice Wearmouth has many years' experience of teaching and research work in various aspects of the area of special educational needs, disability and inclusive education in schools and universities, in the UK and overseas. Since 2009 she has been Professor of Education at the University of Bedfordshire in England, where she maintains her very close links with local schools and teachers, with research and teaching focused on inclusion, raising the achievement of young people, and teacher professional development. At present she is working very closely with special educational needs co-ordinators in a range of Early Years settings, schools and colleges to support their study and developing practice in the National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination course.
In her research work she brings together a concern for the learner whose educational experience is problematic with a concern for families and professionals who have to deal with, and mitigate, the problems that are experienced, and facilitate opportunities for learning. Since 2000 she has been researching and publishing on issues related to teacher professional development and inclusion, and special educational needs and disability with colleagues in the UK and in New Zealand, at the University of Waikato. She has translated this theorising and research to make it accessible to professionals from a wide range of backgrounds.
All those working in early years educational institutions are bound, at some time or another, to come across young children who experience special educational, or additional learning, needs and/or disabilities. Families need to know that their views and experiences are listened to, and that their children’s learning and general welfare needs are being met appropriately. Working closely with SENCos and other teachers over the past few years and having frequent discussions with colleagues working in the early years who co-authored the book helped us to recognise the necessity for a new publication that would explore these needs at the earliest stage of formal education and what might be done to reduce barriers to progress. Recent changes, or proposed changes, in legislation across the UK supported this view. For example, in England, Part 3 of the Children and Families Act, was introduced in September 2014, to extend the legal requirement to ensure the availability and effectiveness of high quality provision for special needs and disabilities which, in this case, relates to children in the early years.
My colleagues and I decided to address the need for material focused on special educational, or additional support, needs that is well informed by theory and research and translates theorising into practice in a straightforward and practical way.
I was a teacher working in mainstream schools for many years. As time went on I became increasingly aware of the significance of children’s education in opening their identities as learners and as members of wider society later on. It is patently obvious that feelings of failure right from the beginning are likely to have long-lasting and deep effects throughout children’s lives, especially when their learning needs are not adequately recognised and addressed early on, and their views and feelings are ignored. It was my experience that children who carry the identity of failure to learn from the beginning of formal education may well develop an expectation of failure that continues beyond the years of compulsory schooling. I made a deliberate decision to move into the area of provision for special educational needs and disabilities whilst teaching to try to make a difference. Having done this I found that reflecting on children’s learning, listening to what they had to say, and finding ways to work with the children themselves, their families, and other staff to address the difficulties they experienced was challenging and demanding, but also at times very personally rewarding and gave me the sense that my working life was worthwhile.
The co-authors were in a very good position, in terms of experience (past and current) and skills, to author the text. All are qualified teachers, and have taught extensively in the field, either of SEND, early years, or both, in schools, and at undergraduate and postgraduate level in universities. Three have also been have been local authority advisors across the Early Years sector. Importantly, they are all parents and, one, a grandparent. Together they have broad experience of supporting practitioners, parents and students in a variety of communities and contexts over a considerable period of time.
At the time of writing, the new volume is up to date with regard to the law and associated regulations and statutory guidance across all four countries of the UK, including the new Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice 0 to 25 years, (DfE, 2014). This is particularly important, given the increased focus on children’s statutory entitlements from birth.
Each chapter begins with a set of core questions that are addressed in the following text. This will be very useful to course providers working with students who are interested in SEND in the early years.
There is a very deliberate focus on understanding the viewpoints and experiences of a range of stakeholders. Threaded through the whole text are real life scenarios and accounts of personal experiences to illustrate practice and bring it to life for the reader. These accounts include interviews with parents, families and siblings of young children with SEND, as well as professionals such as educational psychologists, support staff, teachers and others employed in an early years setting.
There is a strong focus on ways to address needs, as well to understand, identify and address them.
We hope that students will take what we have expressed in the ‘Afterword’.
In summary we hope that students will take away an understanding that, for children in the early years, the kind of education they experience is fundamentally important. This does not mean that every child will achieve the same as any other, but that every child has an entitlement to be valued, respected, believed in and cared for as a human being in his/her own right. Students will need to understand the law and ways to identify, assess and address difficulties in learning and behaviour. However, we hope they will recognise that there are tensions in an education system that require identification of negative difference to ‘prove’ a need for additional resources through a focus on high stakes assessment that may marginalise some young children, but at the same time expounds a rhetoric of inclusion and inclusive practice. Having said this, we hope these students will recognise that the process of education in the early years is enacted by people like them who can make a difference if they choose to do so. As Gussin Paley (2000, p. 28) comments:
Each child wants to know immediately if he is a worthy person in your eyes. You cannot pretend, because the child knows all the things about himself that worry him.
Belief in young children’s potential to become confident, capable learners, irrespective of difficulties they may experience, must therefore be at the heart of practice and in the hearts and minds of these students.
This book provides the grounding for an authentic critical analysis and understanding of legislation, policy, provision and personal experiences of practice for young children with special educational needs and disabilities in the early years, from birth to eight years, the way in which this has developed and changed over the years, and what it comprises today.