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The Changing Perception of Communication Needs – A litmus test for the Warnock Legacy

Lookup NU author(s): Professor James LawORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Meeting Lady Warnock at the final conference for some work commissioned by the DfEE/NHS in 2001, she said that one of her greatest concerns about her earlier report is the fetishisation of the statement of education needs. It was, of course, true that with the "statement", as it came to be known, was often equated with her report, and triggered a rather legalistic culture with all the accompanying processes of tribunals and appeals. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the "border disputes" between health and education as to who was responsible for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), a term which only emerged twenty-five years after her report was published. In this paper it is argued that the nature of disability has changed since Warnock. Communication disability is now one of the most disabling conditions and communication access at least as important as physical access. It is argued that communication should perhaps be seen as a litmus test2 for whether the integration of children with support needs in the classroom is achievable. Although Warnock resisted diagnostic labels in favour of "needs" there has been a burgeoning market in measures of cognition, language and behaviour since the 1970s. The paper goes on to look at the ways that the term SLCN has played out across health and educational services and ends up comparing the recommendations in the original report with those in the recent (2018) Bercow - Ten Years On report.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Law J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Education

Year: 2019

Volume: 4

Online publication date: 29/05/2019

Acceptance date: 06/05/2019

Date deposited: 19/06/2019

ISSN (electronic): 2504-284X

Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation


DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00042


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