Changing policy and legislation in special and inclusive education: a perspective from Northern Ireland

Ron Smith

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It is now 15 years since the signing of the 1998 Belfast (or ‘Good Friday’) Peace Agreement which committed all participants to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences, and towards a shared and inclusive society defined by the principles of respect for diversity, equality and the interdependence of people. In particular, it committed participants to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all. This is, therefore, a precipitous time to undertake a probing analysis of educational reforms in Northern Ireland associated with provision in the areas of inclusion and special needs education. Consequently, by drawing upon analytical tools and perspectives derived from critical policy analysis, this article, by Ron Smith from the School of Education, Queen’s University Belfast, discusses the policy cycle associated with the proposed legislation entitled Every School a Good School: the way forward for special educational needs and inclusion. It examines how this policy text structures key concepts such as ‘inclusion’, ‘additional educational needs’ and ‘barriers to learning’, and how the proposals attempt to resolve the dilemma of commonality and difference. Conceived under direct rule from Westminster (April 2006), issued for consultation when devolved powers to a Northern Ireland Assembly had been restored, and with the final proposals yet to be made public, this targeted educational strategy tells a fascinating story of the past, present and likely future of special needs education in Northern Ireland. Before offering an account of this work, it is placed within some broader ecological frameworks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382 -402
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Special Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2014

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