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Portraits of school inclusion: a qualitative study of the experiences of students labelled with severe learning disabilities

Walker, Elizabeth


Elizabeth Walker


Rebecca Adderley


This thesis explores the educational experiences of eight disabled students in one city in the North of England. It interrogates and updates current research and literature in relation to barriers to inclusion in mainstream schools, deriving from pressures such as the standards agenda (Alexander, 2010)and resulting in disabled students transferring into special educational provision (Tomlinson, 1982; Pijl et al., 1999). These students, labelled with a Severe Learning Disability (SLD), all started their education in mainstream schools but now attend a special school referred to as Special Secondary; they have a unique perspective on barriers having experienced them first-hand. It is one of the first to use a Portrait Methodology approach (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1983; Bottery et al., 2009)with disabled students in England, contributing new participative methods to the methodology’s development.
This study, underpinned by a conceptual framework joining the social model of disability with student voice, explores barriers to presence, participation and achievement (Ainscow, 2005:119), finding that special educational teachers and mainstream TAs played a more significant role in the social engagement of disabled students than agency or peers; although mainstream TA support allocation seemed linked to risk rather than educational need. One student had not been assessed for special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream; indicating that other unassessed disabled students might also be present there. It indicates that the low value of disabled students implicit within the normative standards of the English mainstream educational system (Slee, 2019)has evolved into an exclusionary discourse (following Harwood & McMahon, 2014)experienced by disabled students across their mainstream education. Choosing an inclusionary position requires educators to intervene through a commitment to professional love (Page, 2017; 2018) and ethical subversion (Morris, 2021).These findings problematize the mainstreaming of disabled students while normative standards persist.


Walker, E. (2023). Portraits of school inclusion: a qualitative study of the experiences of students labelled with severe learning disabilities. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 28, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 4, 2024
Keywords Education
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Education Studies
University of Hull
Award Date Jan 11, 2023


Thesis (4.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Elizabeth Ann Walker. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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