Chapter 8

Diachronic Analysis 3:

An Investigation of the Factors Leading to the 1981 Act






Aims and objectives of this chapter

This chapter examines the 1981 Act and asks:

  • Whether the purpose of the 1981 Act was influenced by social and cultural motives other than education and “disability equality”
  • Whether the implementation and structure of the 1981 Act were influenced by external social and cultural factors


The objectives of this chapter are to:

  • further examine whether attitudes towards blindness have been socially and culturally influenced
  • prepare the context of the synchronic analysis of students’ behaviour in the following section


The structure of the chapter

            This chapter will investigate its aims and objects through the following segments under bold headings:

  • An investigation into the development of information gathering before the 1981 Act,
  • An investigation of the passing and initial implementation of the 1981 Act
  • Conclusion


This chapter now continues with an investigation into the development of information gathering and influences prior to the 1981 Act. N.B. Where this chapter refers to interviews, relevant excerpts are to be found in appendix 8.


An investigation into the development of influences and information gathering prior the 1981 Act


            This segment examines:

  • the individuals and groups involved in the 1981 Act
  • the motives for introducing inclusive education
  • the political decisions that were taken in national government to gather information leading to the 1981 Act


This segment focuses in particular on two main strands of social development that appeared to influence the decision by the government to investigate the possibility of social inclusion. The first strand is the development of a “disability movement”. The second strand is the use of legislation, the notion of a measurable notion of intelligence, and whether any social exclusion or segregation resulted from such notions. These are presented under two, separate subheadings.


The segment then continues by investigating the formation and implementation of a government committee of enquiry established to investigate possible legislation, termed the “Warnock Committee”. It does so by initially describing the formation and brief of the committee, and continues with an examination of the process and changes that occurred over the course of its four year investigation.


This chapter now continues by examining the first influential factor, the growth of a disability rights movement.


Factors leading to a political movement of disability rights leading to educational inclusion of students with disabilities

            Initial evidence appears to suggest that the political movement promoting the social inclusion of people with disabilities that led to the discussion of the 1981 Act in the government (see the interview with Baroness Williams) originated a long time previously, from the condition of veteran soldiers disabled during the Boer war in the final quarter of the nineteenth century and, world war one in the first quarter of the twentieth century (Albrecht, Seelman & Bury, 2001; Barnes & Mercer, 2003).


After world war one, governments and charitable institutions increasingly invested funds in the rehabilitation and retraining of adults blinded in conflicts (Thomas, 1936; RBSA, 1993). Furthermore in the first quarter of the twentieth century homes were also opened for former soldiers who were blind by established local and national institutes for the blind in Europe and North America (RBSA, 1993).


Socially and culturally, in these regions returning soldiers appeared to be regarded as heroes by their home countries (RBSA, 1993), and so were not just put to work as child students were in previous centuries. In addition the term rehabilitation became employed in the retraining of these adults (le Cue, 1992; RBSA, 1993) appearing to signify the return to a normal life rather than a deliverance from immorality.


R F Drake (2001) felt that such social changes in the early period of the twentieth century also brought about a new focus in society on medical conditions, and to the widespread introduction of health and social services. In addition, he also suggests that attitudes about this and many other social issues relating to disability changed during the later decades of the twentieth century, as the global media coverage of the affects of further international conflicts became more accessible.


During the same era it is also appears that the discovery of penicillin had also provided an effective treatment for conditions, such as syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (Stanier et al, 1987; Del Tufo, 2005). As a result it appears that sexually transmitted diseases began coming less of a major cause of blindness in this era and war injuries became a more prevalent cause of blindness. Hayhoe (2004, 2004b, 2005) and Bruno Del Tufo (2005) suggest that this appears to have had a major impact on broader social and cultural attitudes to people who were blind.


T Shakespeare & N Watson (2001) and Colin Barnes & Geoff Mercer (2001) further suggest that, as a result of the growth of mass media, by the end of the Vietnam war attitudes appeared to have changed even more radically and had a profound effect on the philosophy of attitudes towards disability. This initially occurred in the US, and then spread throughout the western world, as civil rights took on a global dimension. As Barnes & Mercer suggest:

From the 1960s, with the gathering forms of social protest spurred initially by the black civil rights movement in America, res idential institutions provided a fertile seedbed for disabled activism. The emergence of the independent living movement in America gained a further significant stimulus with the return of disabled veterans from the Vietnam War.

Barnes & Mercer (2001: p.523)


In the decade following the Vietnam war, the change in attitudes towards the education of people with disabilities promoted a call for legislation in the US (Barnes & Mercer, 2003). These also appeared to arise from the independent living movement, which initiated an academic movement promoting an inclusive pedagogy in the US, which spread throughout western communities by the 1970s (Shakespeare & Watson, 2001).


The second influential factor on the formation of a committee of enquiry, the twentieth century debate surrounding segregation on the basis of educational “subnormality”, is now examined below.


The movement towards a greater social inclusion in Britain

To trace the roots of the “Warnock Committee” it is necessary to investigate legislation one hundred years before it. A previous committee of enquiry in the 1860s had informed a government bill, the so called Forster Bill, in 1870 which gave children with disabilities a legal right to separate education in their local areas (Warnock et. al., 1978).


However, the Forster Bill only appeared to affect the funding structures of special education (Warnock et. al., 1978). Therefore, Warnock et. al. further suggest, although important this and similar legislation in the 1920s, which reiterated this right, had not informed the right to an integrated pedagogy or the right to an inclusive education.


Jonathan Solity (1992) argued that the modern concept of special needs education resulted from a notion of measurable intelligences, which was introduced into England from France and the US at the beginning of the twentieth century. As a consequence, he averred, students who were regarded as incapable of “normal” mental academic performance were segregated, either in separate schools or in streamed classes in their mainstream schools.


Solity continued that this period led to a greater recognition and discussion on the nature of segregation and the use of special schools, including those for people who had more recognisable physical disabilities, such as blindness. Equally Mary Warnock et. al. (1978) find that issues of exclusion and segregation based on a notion of social inequality, became the focus of investigation during world war two in particular.


To this end, Warnock et. al. (1978) continued, a review of the whole nature of the then system of education was conducted by the government firstly in a green paper published in 1941, and then in a white paper published in 1943. This review was needed, they felt, as it was foreseen that after the war a significant period of social reconstruction was crucial. It was as a consequence of this review that an important piece of early “inclusive” legislation which enshrined the right to education for all until the age of fourteen, the 1944 Education Act, was passed.


Solity (1992) and Catherine Clark et. al. (1997) suggest that the 1944 Education Act not only had a major effect on the notion of social inclusion in England and Wales in the era of social change after world war two, it also set out a framework for the contemporary education system that existed until the 1988 Education Act and the introduction of the National Curriculum.


In particular, Warnock et. al. (1978), Solity (1992) and Clark et. al. (1997) stated that the 1944 Act began the movement that led to a notion of education for all, no matter what the social background of the student. It also included provision for access to a more mainstream curriculum for children with physical and “mental” disabilities as a national issue. In addition it provided a legal framework for educational provision for all children up to the age of fourteen – prior to this act, it was found, the school leaving age had often differed for children with physical disabilities and many poorer children. Therefore it appeared that this legislation was a major step forward in social as well as educational inclusion.


However, despite its radical reforms, Clark et. al. (1997) found that the 1944 Education Act also formerly encoded the national model of segregated grammar and secondary modern schools, and setting within these schools. Furthermore, following the war Caroline Benn & Clyde Chitty (1997) aver that the newly appointed labour government, who had promised it would work towards reversing this perceived social inequality when it came to power, had not appeared to have accomplished this, and indeed further reinforced segregation amongst poorer communities.


However, Benn & Chitty (1997) stated, it appeared to be in this period, despite its emphasis on segregated schools, that the debate surrounding social disparities drove forward a need for greater social inclusion. They continued that it was during the 1960s, during further social and economic changes, it also appeared that the rise of the comprehensive system also led to questions being raised about other forms of social exclusion, including that caused by “handicap” and “disability”. Warnock et. al. (1978) Solity (1992) and Clark et. al. (1997) suggested that this movement provided an opportunity for a further review of the education system, this time to include students with “handicaps” and disabilities amongst its core aims.


The formation and implementation of the committee of enquiry, the “Warnock Committee”, is now examined below.


The formation of a committee of enquiry: The “Warnock Committee”

In 1973, Margaret Thatcher, the Secretary of State for Education in Edward Heath’s Conservative government, proposed a committee of enquiry to examine the issue of the exclusion of students with “handicaps” and the need for new legislation to further their education (Warnock et. al. 1978).


The then Department of Education and Science (DES) appointed a professor of moral philosophy, Mary Warnock, who specialised in medical ethics as the committee’s chair. The DES also recruited members of the committee from existing special schools, academics, members of local boards of education and a lay member whose own child had a disability as its members. Furthermore the committee was assessed by members of the Department for Education and Science and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate – the national schools’ inspectorate.


However, although appearing to be reforming in its inception, the original brief for this committee still appeared to contain legacies from the era of vocational and industrial institutions. In particular its central stated purpose was to be training for employment. In a similar way, the brief of the Report also appeared to highlight the efficient financing of separate schools, referred to in its original form as the resourcing of education (Warnock et. al., 1978). Below is an excerpt from the brief illustrating this notion:

[The committee’s purpose is to] review educational provision in England, Scotland and Wales for children and young people handicapped by disabilities of body or mind, taking account of the medical aspects of their needs, together with arrangements to prepare them for entry into employment; to consider the most effective use of resources for these purposes; and to make recommendations.

Warnock et al (1978: p.1)


In the early 1970s, disabilities were officially termed “handicaps” (Warnock et al, 1978), a term which seemed to reflect the charitable nature of the education of people with disabilities (Barnes & Mercer, 2003). It appeared that at this time the government had formed this committee to review such terminology and the treatment of these students that resulted from its imposition (Warnock interview 1). As a result, a brief was devised for a committee of enquiry that allowed for potentially significant changes in the existing educational provision of mainstream as well as special schools.


Although Thatcher only stayed in office as Secretary of State for Education until 1974, the subsequent Secretaries of State in Harold Wilson and James Callaghan’s Labour governments, Reginald Prentice and Shirley Williams, also appeared to be in favour of such reform, and continued working with the committee of enquiry to provide a radical reform of the education system. Prentice, Williams and John Fish, the Deputy Chief Inspector of Schools at the time who worked with the committee, confirmed these points in their interviews (Prentice interview 1, Williams interview 1, Fish interview 1).


Furthermore according to the interview with Williams (Williams interview 1) the brief of the original committee was to examine an administrative as well as a pedagogic change within the education system. This would not only to affect the curriculum and other pedagogical issues such as teaching provision, but also questioned the structure and philosophy of the separate school system.


What now follows is an examination of the committee of enquiry.


An examination of the committee of enquiry into the education of children with disabilities

            Following four years of research, consultation and drafting, the subsequent report was eventually published in 1978 under the Labour Government of Callaghan, when Williams was Secretary of State for Education. As Warnock (Warnock interview 1) stated, the subsequent “Warnock Report” re-defined the notion of groups of children with handicaps as individuals with Special Educational Needs (SEN).


The Report chiefly recommended that children with disabilities were to be catered for by an individual assessment of students’ subjective needs (Warnock et. al., 1978). In addition, in relation to this recommendation Warnock (Warnock interview 1) stated that there were three further elements of the final Report that she felt were of particular importance. These were:

a)     [We] wanted to bring home the message that, in the context specifically of education (sic.), it did not matter so much about the nature of a child’s disability, but on what steps could be taken to ensure that he (sic.) had access, as far as possible, to the curriculum...

b)     There are numerous children with multiple handicaps, and some have disabilities not even classified…

c)      Most important… we wanted to widen the scope of ‘special education,’ beyond those with specific ‘handicaps’ to include those who, temporarily or permanently, were falling behind their contemporaries, for whatever reason. (sic.)

Warnock interview 1


Williams (Williams interview 1) personally agreed strongly with the committee’s recommendations. More specifically, although she appeared to feel that students with severe disabilities could not be catered for in mainstream schools during this period she felt, on the strength of the Report’s findings, that those who had less severe disabilities were more suited to mainstream schools. Therefore, she stated, the purpose of the resulting policies were to be for the benefit of all people with disabilities, as this redistribution would allow the remaining resources to be spread amongst the most severely disabled students.


In light of the political movement that was to provide the impetus for educational inclusion, in her interview Williams (Williams interview 1) stated that disability rights groups were consulted over the Report’s findings. She continued that it was their feeling that the purpose of the Report was to change teachers’ attitudes towards, and convince teachers to accept, students with disabilities in mainstream classes.


It appeared therefore that this move towards integration and inclusion represented a shift in Britain’s culturally influenced attitudes towards blindness. It also appeared to be felt that this cultural shift was to have as great an effect on the education of the blind in England and Wales as the introduction of Worcester College had on middle class students who were blind in the middle of the nineteenth century.


In order to conform to international best practice, it appears that a significant proportion of the committee’s research was conducted in the US and continental Europe, as they had not long introduced inclusive policies and laws. As Fish (Fish interview 1) remarked, the nature of society and therefore education was changing; it favoured the normalisation and civil rights of people with disabilities, similar to the model being followed in the post-Vietnam era in the US.


In the next segment is an examination of factors affecting the form of the 1981 Act.


An examination of the passing of legislation contained in the 1981 Act


An examination of factors that affected the drafting of the 1981 Act

John Visser & Graham Upton (1993) suggest that financial and party political factors affected the design of the British government’s attitudes to disability, just as they had with earlier institutions for the disabled. Furthermore it appears that the nature of the brief, which further affected the nature of the research and the findings of the committee, was consciously changed to further manipulate any policies that may have been detrimental to the economic stability of the then government. There is evidence to suggest that the incentive for these changes was in part due to the financial miss-management of previous government(s’) spending and the need for the incoming Labour government to gain power by whatever means.


For instance, Fish (Fish interview 1) indicated that the terms of reference for the committee were changed in certain respects after the change of power from a Conservative to a Labour government in the mid 1970s, and again from a Labour to a Conservative government in 1979. Fish (Fish interview 1) also stated that the new Conservative government also appeared to reinterpret its main findings before drafting the 1981 Act.


Warnock (Warnock interview 1) indicated that these changes addressed national issues involving the financing of any recommendations. She also stated that in the original brief she was similarly disturbed by the restrictions that were placed on her frames of reference. These appeared to disallow what Warnock (Warnock interview 1) regarded as vital social and economic issues, such as the linkage between learning difficulties and poverty.

…[As] it turned out, the recommendation, which was incorporated in the 1981 Act, that children whose difficulty/needs were especially complex should have ‘statements’ was not a good idea. In the context of the extreme financial restrictions in which education is now provided, (sic.) (a) Children without statements get hardly any extra provision (b) Statements have become dishonest, a child’s needs being stated in the light of what a local authority is prepared to spend rather than on what he actually needs. An authority is still legally bound to provide whatever the statement says; and the [outcome] is that it says very little.

I do not know what better recommendations we could have made. But, because we did no costing of our own recommendations, (all because, even if we had, they would not have been incorporated into the [1981] Act) the whole report looks more like a set aspirations than anything else.

Warnock interview 1


Prentice (Prentice interview 1) advanced further evidence as to why finances were such a contentious issue. He states that in the early 1970s there was a hidden financial crisis in the British government. In particular he states that the resources that the Conservative government had to spend prior to the election in 1974 appeared to be inaccurately presented to the opposition and the public


Although he stated he could not say whether members of his government were aware of this factor or not before being elected, Prentice did say that the Labour Government came to power in 1974 on the promise of new spending based on an optimistic state of affairs in the British Treasury. This, he continued, was a mistake.


It appears therefore that economic circumstances in part forced the British government to change the brief of the committee to favour making changes that would save the government money, such as reducing the number of special schools, but at the same time avoid issues that would cost it money, such as investing more money into areas where poverty was high. This manipulation allowed them to avoid further spending promises they could not afford, in an attempt to secure or gain political power.

 I can be more eloquent!

Economic pressures had always affected educational funding and always will. Even when rises in spending are available, (i.e. in most years, to some extent) there is generally a larger rise in needs and/or expectations.

In the mid-70’s and early 80’s [when the 1981 Special Educational Needs Act was debated and introduced] the pressure was intense. Economic pressures pointed to lower spending.

The Mid-70’s

We took office confident that we could reverse “Tory cuts.” Following my appointment on the Monday after Polling Day [to Secretary of State for Education], I went to our first cabinet that afternoon. On the way in, Denis Healey, the new Chancellor, told me we must meet soon to [review] some spending plans.

The reality: no extra money and, a few weeks later, deeper cuts.

For example, Margaret Thatcher (my predecessor) abolished free school milk for older children so as to direct more funds to nursery education and to the needs of handicapped children. The labour manifesto had promised (a) to restore the milk, (b) to expand nursery education much more. It was soon clear to me that we could not do both. I rapidly decided to drop the proposal for school milk. A few weeks later I was faced with cabinet decisions for more cuts. Reluctantly I cut nursery provision below the Thatcher level, so as to [fund] the basic primary and secondary programmes.

Strange to say, I achieved one major breakthrough which cost a lot of money – the appointment of the Houghton Committee, and the agreement of the Cabinet, in advance, to implement its proposals. This led to the biggest salary increase in the history of the profession.

(In these days all Departmental estimates were automatically increased for rising costs, including salaries. This is no longer the case.)

Later in the 70’s there were more cuts due to the economic pressures, culminating in the IMF crisis in 1976 [in which Denis Healey had to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund to stabilise the British Economy].

Prentice interview 1


It also appears that the original terms of reference for the committee drafted by the Conservatives could also have affected a cost saving exercise. In particular, inclusion without the expensive consideration of social deprivation and disability, the provision for which Warnock said was purposely excluded from her original brief by Thatcher’s ministry, meant that inclusion required less financial support than maintaining special schools.


This need for financial and political expediency did not appear to finish with the publication of the committee’s Report or the change of government. Evidence (Williams interview 1, Prentice interview 1) suggests that the drafting of the 1981 Act was delayed until there was a Conservative Government. As Williams averred, the Labour government in the mid to late 1970s had too small a majority to carry through a bill of their own in the face of this opposition from certain elements of the Conservative party, particularly in respect to the inclusion of students with disabilities and learning difficulties in mainstream schools, which it felt affected the education of “able” children.


This segment now turns to an examination of factors affecting the political process, that led to the drafting and passing of the 1981 Act.


An examination of the political process leading to the 1981 Act

There is evidence to suggest from Prentice (Prentice interview 1) - who in 1979 became Conservative Minister for the Disabled after “crossing the floor” - and Fish (Fish interview 1) that the 1981 Act was rushed through Parliament and into law without many vital details being scrutinised, such as staff training and considerations of the ability of mainstream schools’ to cope with students with disabilities. It appears that three factors were raised which particularly influenced this haste.

  • The first was financial – Fish (Fish interview 1) and Prentice (Prentice interview 1) both averred that funding was purposely not cited as an element of the law.
  • The second was international politics – Prentice (Prentice interview 1) stated that he was told that the Act had to coincide with the United Nations’ International Year of the Disabled in 1981.
  • The third factor was the belief that inclusion of people with disabilities would prevent a rise in educational standards – Fish (Fish interview 1) and Prentice (Prentice interview 1) stated the findings of the report clashed with the aims of the Conservative’s promise to raise standards in schools through later education acts.


Warnock (Warnock interview 1) in particular felt the negative effects of this lack of consideration and the speed of the introduction of the 1981 Act ignored many of her recommendations – her statement in her interview is similar to her monologue in a book on the effects of the Warnock Committee (Visser & Upton, 1993). In particular, she (Warnock interview 1) stated that the categorisation of special needs led to a further re-classification of disability, based on severity of disability that was more detrimental to those groups of disabilities and handicap than before the 1981 Act. For instance, people were not classified as having a visual impairment, they were classified as a stage one educational need, or a full statement (a stage five special need). This, she felt (Warnock interview 1), with more time and consideration, could have been avoided.


The conclusion of this chapter now follows.




Evidence presented in this chapter appears to show that the political process of implementing the 1981 Act was also in part motivated by social and cultural factors and considerations, such as economics and the presentation of finances to win elections. In a way that was similar to the introduction of private institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, social factors such as finance, cultural pressure and the changes in perceptions of the causes of blindness appeared to affect a change in addition to motives of educational and civil rights. These arguments are now considered in more detail underneath separate subheadings.


Changes in attitudes to blindness caused by war

In this chapter further evidence has been presented to suggest that, as identified in the previous chapter, the perception of the major cause of blindness had an effect on charitable notions of blindness. In particular it can be argued that in this era, the perception of “the immoral” blind changed, to be substituted by the image of “the heroic blind”.


Rather than concentrating on institutions to reform immorality after the return of many people who were war blinded, the authors cited in this chapter appear instead to find that the focus of institutionalisation of people who were blind after this period focused on “a return to normality.” This in turn appeared to alter cultural notions of what it was like to be blind.


As Drake (2001) also argued, an increase in media, particularly electronic media, helped others to understand the notion of disability formed by war. The first prominent war to be featured on colour television in particular, Vietnam, appeared to have raised public awareness of the issues of fit young men, with many years of work and “normal” life ahead of them, returning with disabilities. This appeared to have led to sympathy and support for the independent living movement. This influenced a new law in the US, which was to become a focus of the Warnock Committee’s research.


However in England it appears that this background to an understanding of disability rights was only a part of the overall picture. Evidence presented in this chapter appears to show that financial incentives also had an impact on the notions of the 1981 Act. This issue is now discussed under the subheading below.


Financial considerations in the implementation of the 1981 Act.

There appears to be a significant linkage between the research and passing of legislation that formed the 1981 Act and economic circumstances in Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s. Firstly, circumstantial evidence suggests that the original notion of developing a policy of inclusion was motivated in part by financial considerations, rather than the notion of introducing legislation to enhance the civil liberties of people who were disabled.


For instance, evidence suggests that financial issues affected the research leading up to the 1981 Act. In her original brief, Warnock was specifically told that she could not include socio-economic considerations. As a result she was restricted to findings based purely on practical needs for facilitating inclusion, rather than addressing issues as to whether special needs, such as disability, were caused by deprivation, and recommending that resources be diverted to overcome these causes.


Furthermore there is evidence to suggest that when Prentice (Prentice interview 1) entered government in the mid-1970s, his budgets were severely restricted. This appeared to be the case when he was made a minister in the late 1970s and early 1980s’ Conservative administration. In particular, he stated that as education minister in the mid 1970s he was informed that the spending promises the Labour government had made needed to be curtailed. The only promise upheld in this era was a teachers’ pay rise, which was an issue they had discussed with unions beforehand.


As a result of this lack of funding it appears that the legislation that included the 1981 Act was passed without due thought to the impact it would have on existing mainstream schools (who had no extra resources from central government in this period to help with inclusion), no extra training provision for mainstream teachers – eventhough this was recommended by the committee and disability groups -, and no extra consideration for the social support of students with disabilities from poorer backgrounds.


This segment continues with its conclusions on the affects of political issues on the terms and implementation of the 1981 Act.


Political motivations affecting the 1981 Act


There is evidence to suggest a significant linkage between the haste in passing the 1981 Act and further party political factors. Firstly, in the 1970s, as Prentice stated, the Labour party promised to increase its resourcing of support for students with disabilities in education, either unaware of the true finances available or aware but not giving a truthful picture of what could be done with them. The only promise that was kept, according to Prentice, was that of a teachers’ pay rise, negotiated with a union which politically and financially supported the party, and helped with their election campaign.


In the lead up to the 1981 Act Fish, a senior inspector of schools who worked with the Warnock Committee, also averred that their frames of reference transformed with each change of government. It does appear, therefore, that the research conducted by the committee in this period would have been severely restricted by such changes, and important issues either ignored or reduced in the final report. The notion of the impact of social deprivation on disability stated by Warnock (Warnock interview 1) being just such an issue.


Finally, as Prentice stated, the political incentive of coinciding legislation promoting the rights of people with disabilities and the 1981 International Year of the Disabled led to the legislation being hurried through parliament. Both Fish and Warnock’s opinions appear to concur with this finding, as they believe that many recommendations made by the committee were ignored or unwisely considered in this haste.




The following section’s two chapters examine how social and cultural factors have affected the practice of art in schools for the blind after the 1981 Act, and judges it influences on the behaviour of students who are blind in their art classes.



 © Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007


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