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Homophily, special educational needs and processes of educational inclusion

Alison Wilde, University of York


This paper carries forward insights on peer group processes and self-identity gained from a recent study of disabled and non-disabled young people from a range of schools in the North East of England. The research involved an examination of the similarities and differences in group negotiations of 'collective self'(focus groups) and more personal self articulations (diaries). It highlighted processes which contribute to the negotiation of group dynamics within mainstream educational contexts, focussing upon pupils' interactions within various milieux. In particular, this project examined how young people forged homophilic relationships according to variables of impairment status, that is, in creating bonds according to perceived similarities. Examination of the similarities and differences in group negotiations of 'collective self' and more personal self articulations demonstrated the importance of exploring in more depth the degree and quality of social interactions between disabled and non-disabled pupils. In particular this indicated the need to conduct further investigation into processes of social group formation, cohesion and maintenance in educational contexts. This would provide valuable insights into how boundaries between students are identified and negotiated. In particular, this project examined how young people forged homophilic relationships, that is, in creating bonds, or boundaries, according to perceived similarities in impairment or 'special needs' status.

Accordingly, the second part of the paper discusses this extension of our work focusing on the social impacts of inclusion on children with special educational needs (SEN) and their mainstream peers in primary schools, while also identifying those educational practices largely determining the success of the process. Outlining the parameters for further investigation into the maximisation of inclusion strategies, the concept of "homophily" is adopted to inform a mapping of the social positioning, friendships and self-esteem of students, across the spectrum of those with and without statements of special needs, evaluating the extent of, and potential for, inclusion between groups. Emanating from a wider project including a methodology of sociometric, self-reports, providing a multi-layered understanding of the relationships between children's experiences of the school lifeworld and the application of teaching and wider school practices, this paper focuses on the findings of interviews with teachers and children to outline a continuum of provision, discussing the implications of each approach.

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