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Social representations and special educational needs: The representations of SEN among Sri Lankan, Tamil families and educational professionals

Kwan-Tat, Natasha; (2018) Social representations and special educational needs: The representations of SEN among Sri Lankan, Tamil families and educational professionals. Doctoral thesis (D.Ed.Psy), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In the United Kingdom, the Sri Lankan, Tamil population has grown as a result of asylum movements. Previous discussions about Special Educational Needs or Learning Disabilities within ‘South Asian’ communities have tended to overlook this community. Previous literature has highlighted that families with children and young people with learning disabilities and mental health problems from minority ethnic communities face challenges when accessing services (Raghavan, 2007). Given the differing cultural backgrounds of Sri Lankan, Tamil parents and educational professionals trained and practicing in London, this research aimed to develop an understanding of how Special Educational Needs (SEN) is understood and experienced by Sri Lankan, Tamil parents, Educational Psychologists (EP) and Special Educational Need Co-Ordinators (SENCos). Social representations theory (Moscovici, 2004) provided the theoretical mechanism to explore the shared and unshared meanings and experiences of parents and professionals connected with children who have SEN, whilst taking into account cultural relevances. A qualitative methodology was employed underpinned by a social constructionist paradigm. Data was collected in a London based local authority, which has experienced increases in numbers of the Tamil population over the past few decades. Episodic narrative interviews (Flick, 2009) were used to gather data. In total four parents, four SENCos and five EPs were interviewed using a semi-structured format. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the narratives of parents and professionals. Findings were presented in three sections. Overall the findings from the three participant groups signified the role of socio-cultural contexts in building representations and shaping practices. The dominance of the biomedical model in the discourse of professional’s non-normative representations of SEN was highlighted in the SENCo’s and EP’s data. SENcos and EPs spoke of SEN in categorical terms and made direct references to legislation. Parents did not have pre-prescribed representations of SEN and made sense of their child’s needs through various sources of information. All three participant groups drew upon experiences of tension and conflict resulting from differences in how SEN was understood. Parents took an active role in supporting their child in the home and were pro-active in engaging with services. Whilst specialised provisions in the form of a special schools were important amongst the SENCos and EPs, findings from parent’s data highlighted tensions regarding ideas of inclusion and labelling of SEN. Power inequalities amongst Sri Lankan, Tamil parents and professionals are addressed, and the role of the EP as intermediaries between scientific and lay knowledge is discussed as a way forward in developing partnership with parents.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: D.Ed.Psy
Title: Social representations and special educational needs: The representations of SEN among Sri Lankan, Tamil families and educational professionals
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10055833
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