Rights Not Needs: Changing the Legal Model for Special Educational Needs (SEN)

  • Debbie Sayers


Recent reforms to the special educational needs (SEN) system in England and Wales have prompted discussion on how best to support pupils who are identified as having SEN. Over 30 years since the term SEN was introduced, there has been little change in the thinking behind the law’s approach. This chapter argues that a continued focus on the ‘needs’ rather than the ‘rights’ of pupils locates the ‘problem’ in the child and fails to reflect the broader development of equality law. This means the law is more consistent with the medical rather than the social model of disability. This may have consequences as it may perpetuate the idea that disabled children and those identified as having SEN are ‘others’ (i.e. ‘not one of us’).

The chapter sets out an alternative legal approach. It considers the problems created by the current legal model for SEN and explores how international human rights obligations and the Equality Act could provide a legal imperative to reconceptualise SEN as an equality rights issue. It concludes by proposing a rights-based approach which could shift the focus from servicing ‘needs’ to building the capacity of individuals to understand, claim and fulfil their rights.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debbie Sayers
    • 1
  1. 1.InteraliaSalisburyUK

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