Joining the dots? Special education and alternative provision

FORUM - ISSN 0963-8253
Volume 66 Number 1 (2024)

Joining the dots? Special education and alternative provision
Sally Tomlinson, Craig Johnston pages 91-99
DOI: 10.3898/forum.2024.66.1.09


The English mass state education system, developing over 150 years, has created subsystems for children and young people who had difficulty in functioning at or beyond ‘mainstream’ schooling, or whose behaviour was deemed inappropriate. While many descriptions and labels proliferated in the education system, by 1981 children notionally had been categorised with ‘special educational needs’ (SEN) with disability added in 1995 (SEND) and/or were increasingly placed in what became alternative educational provisions (APs). By 2021, this dual subsystem was attempting to deal with around one and a half million children, a majority still in mainstream schooling in what was considered to be inclusion, others designated as ‘high needs’, mainly within (expensive) segregated special schools or units, and other children were subject to temporary or permanent exclusions from school. In March 2022, with a follow-up in 2023, the government, driven largely by financial considerations and a lack of oversight of existing provision, proposed that the expanding special educational needs and AP subsystems be formally linked. This article examines these emerging proposals through an historical lens, and considers what these may mean for teachers, associated professionals and the children.

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To cite this article
Sally Tomlinson, Craig Johnston (2024) Joining the dots? Special education and alternative provision, FORUM, 66(1), 91-99.

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