The notion of inclusion and the term ‘inclusive education' came to prominence in the mid 1990s and, as many commentators have noted, they have been the subject of much debate and controversy. This paper will examine how inclusive education has come to be defined in the UK, highlighting some of the contradictory strands inherent within both policy and practice.
Contemporary commentary and research on the contested natureof current practice will be reviewed together with an outline of someemergent factors for successful inclusion. It would seem that anyassessment of who benefits from inclusive education depends largelyupon the particular perspective taken about the nature and aims ofeducation itself. It is argued that inclusive education potentiallybenefits children, parents, educators and communities alike if it isconceived as an essentially broad and all-encompassing process whichvalues genuine diversity in individual learning needs.
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It seems that ideas about what inclusive education actually meansare intimately tied up with the concept of ‘special educational needs'(SEN) and it is useful, therefore, to look at the historical context ofthis concept. Until the 1980s, as Frederickson and Cline (2002, p.35)note, the predominant focus was on identifying and providing for‘handicapped individuals' according to a list of 12 classifiedcategories of disability. Following the Warnock Report of 1978, therewas a recognition that children's experiences of difficulties did notfit neatly into such a rigid categorization which tended to perpetuatea sharp distinction between ‘the disabled' and ‘the non-disabled'. Rather than children being assigned to a category of disability, it wasrecommended that they be assessed on the basis of a detailed profile oftheir needs.
Special educational needs, thus, were seen to lie on a continuum withordinary needs, with the proposition that services, likewise, should beprovided on a continuum, rather than through segregation in eitherspecial or mainstream schools (Frederickson and Cline, 2002). Provision, as defined by the Warnock Committee, was seen as rangingfrom full-time integration into the mainstream classroom, throughspecial classes or residential units together with some shared lessonsin ordinary school, to long-term education in a residentialinstitution. Although this new shift in thinking was welcomed by many,some of those who advocated the education of all children in mainstreamschools were less impressed. Booth (1981), for example, suggested thatthere appeared to be little indication from the Warnock Report thateducational policy was likely “to move to a position where fewerhandicapped children would be educated in segregated forms ofprovision” (Sheehy and Kellett, 2004, p.43).
The focus of provision for children with SEN, then, shifted fromseparate services towards those that were additional, or supplementary,to the education normally available in mainstream schools. Researchshows that although there has been a significant increase in theproportion of children with SEN receiving education in mainstreamschools since the Education Act of 1981, The Audit Commission of 1998showed that 48% of SEN children continued to be educated in ‘special'schools. Furthermore, considerable variation in provision betweenlocal education authorities has been reported. The national review ofinclusive education conducted by researchers Sebba and Sachdev (1997)identified only one LEA in England, Newham, as having adopted acomprehensive policy of inclusive education (Frederickson and Cline,2002).
Tomlinson (1982) describes some of the factors contributing to thecontinued support for separate special schools. For example, manyteachers felt that the needs of SEN pupils were best met in separateprovision where they would benefit from smaller class sizes, betterdifferentiated curricula and a greater level of individual attention. Calls for the retention of special schools were also made through thediscourse of the children's rights agenda (Tomlinson, 1982). As Sheehyand Kellett note, “what was seen as segregation by some was valued as apositive choice by others” (2004, p.44).
One argument often cited in favour of segregated education for SEN isthat such provision makes use of specialist teaching materials,techniques and methods. However, this has been challenged byresearchers such as Lewis and Norwich (2000) who failed to findevidence for such distinctive practice and strategies and concludedthat it was probably more useful to consider “a continuum ofadaptations to generally effective teaching approaches that weresuccessful for all learners” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.64).
The British government, through the Department for Education, hasendorsed UNESCO's plea “to adopt the principle of inclusive education,enrolling all children in regular schools unless there are compellingreasons for doing otherwise” (UNESCO, 1994, p.44). As Frederickson andCline observe, the government is committed to maintaining specialistprovision in order to cater for the individual needs of children unmetin the mainstream system, but alongside this, the aim is to “returnchildren to the mainstream and to increase the skills and resources inmainstream schools” (2002, p.65). This commitment has prompted a moveaway from past models of integration. Ainscow (1995) presents a usefulanalysis of the difference between integration and inclusion. Integration involves the assimilation of the pupil with differenteducational needs from the majority into the dominant school model,with the onus on the pupil to change in order to fit in. Inclusionimplies a more radical restructuring of school practices through theadaptation of curricula, methods, materials and skills in order torespond more effectively to the needs of all children (Ainscow, 1995).
UK law stipulates that the inclusion of children with specialeducational needs must ensure that efficient education is also providedfor mainstream pupils (DES, 1989). Research has been carried out inthe United States by Straub and Peck (1994) examining the outcomes formainstream students where their education included integral provisionfor SEN pupils (Frederickson and Cline, 2002). Common concernsexpressed by parents, in particular, included the fear that mainstreamstudents might lose out on teacher time and attention and may copy orpick up inappropriate behaviours from SEN pupils. Given that researchin this area is somewhat limited, these findings nevertheless concludedthat “none of the studies found any deceleration of academic progressfor the mainstream students”, furthermore “teacher time spent attendingto mainstream pupils was not found to be affected by the presence ofstudents with severe disabilities and mainstream children did not pickup ‘undesirable' behaviour” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.77).
Manset and Semmel (1997) have studied a number of different inclusionprogrammes and reviewed the outcomes for pupils with moderate learningdifficulties (MLD) as well as those without any designateddifficulties. They found variable results for the progress made by theMLD pupils as compared to pupils with similar difficulties educated inseparate programmes. Progress in literacy and maths for the MLD pupilsvaried in the inclusion and separate programmes with no conclusiveevidence favouring either setting being produced. However, all of thestudies comparing the progress of non-SEN pupils found greaterimprovements for these pupils within inclusive settings than for thosewho attended classes, in the same school district, where inclusion wasnot practiced (Manset and Semmel, 1997). The researchers concludedthat “efforts to transform the mainstream into an effective environmentfor students with disabilities may also have a positive impact onnormally achieving students, at least on measures of basic skills”(Manset and Semmel, 1997, p.177).
Government policy documents have shown recognition of the dangers of anarrow conception of special educational needs. The Department forEducation, for example, suggested that “schools should notautomatically assume that children's learning difficulties alwaysresult solely or even mainly from problems within the child. Theschool's practices can make a difference - for good or ill” (1994,para.2.19). Similarly, the National Curriculum Council asserted that“special educational needs are not just a reflection of pupil'sinherent difficulties or disabilities; they are often related tofactors within schools which can prevent or exacerbate problems” (1989,para.5). The Code of Practice on SEN states that “it should berecognized that some difficulties in learning may be caused orexacerbated by the school's learning environment or adult/childrelationships” (DfES, 2001, para.5.6).
An interactional approach which reframes children as havingdifferential educational needs, rather than some children as having‘special educational needs' may be more helpful and appropriate. Booth(1993) supports this idea, suggesting that “we should talk of childrenwho experience difficulties in learning in schools to indicate thatsuch difficulties arise in the context of a relationship betweenteachers, pupils and the curricula” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002,p.44)..
Commentators, such as Deforges (1997) have highlighted the importanceof distinguishing between SEN in terms of individual childrenidentified as having learning difficulties and special needs defined bygroup phenomena such as language, culture, overt racism andsocioeconomic disadvantage. Frederickson and Cline (2002) make thepoint that the two concepts of SEN and special needs are commonlyconfused in schools with often serious consequences, such as “lowexpectations being held of all children from ethnic and linguisticminorities” and “expecting the same staff to have expertise in teachingreading to children who are making slow progress and in teachingEnglish as a second language” (p.37). Dyson (1990), for example,points out that the education system does not favour every childequally. He suggests that instead of education seeking to change theindividual, we should be searching for ways to change education toaccommodate the characteristics and needs of all children (Dyson, 1990).
In the light of this discussion, then, the notion of inclusiveeducation can be seen as representative of an active response fromeducational settings involving school improvement, an express remit tomeet individual learning needs and to promote understanding of humanrights and community. Booth and colleagues characterise inclusion as aset of continuous processes which “requires schools to engage in acritical examination of what can be done to increase the learning andparticipation of the diversity of students within the school and itslocality” (2000, p.12). In similar vein, Frederickson and Cline defineinclusion as a ‘process of change' and they cite Reynolds (1989) whosuggests that inclusion is “best regarded as a progressive trend fortaking responsibility for educating groups previously excluded frommainstream society” (2002, p.63).
Contemporary national policy, as we have seen, clearly favoursinclusion as a desirable aim, yet many writers have observed thecontradictions that are apparent when it comes to translating inclusioninto practice. Croll and Moses (2000), for example, point out thatlocal education authorities can find the move towards inclusivepolicies difficult, often because there can be vested interests inkeeping things unchanged. In practice, this can mean that, forexample, the closure of a special school, as part of the drive formainstream inclusion, can attract strong opposition, especially when ithas received good inspection reports. Teachers and schools can alsoshow resistance. In their study in 1999, Croll and Moses found thatschool heads and teaching staff almost unanimously favoured thecontinuation of special schools, especially for those children whomthey identified as having emotional and behavioural problems. Therewas however, some contradiction found in these views. Croll and Mosessummarise their findings thus:
“There is no commitment among the teachers in the survey to inclusionas a generalized educational ideology, and there is a strong awarenessof the pragmatic case for special schools to reduce the pressures onthe mainstream. But, at the same time, there is a good deal ofinclusive practice in the classrooms in the study, with teacherscommitted to meeting very considerable levels of educational needs inthe mainstream”(Rix et al, 2004, p.33).
It would seem, then, that although there is an expressed ambivalenceabout the benefits of inclusion, this nevertheless sits alongsideevidence that inclusive practices are taking place in reality, at leastin some schools.
There are other strands to government education policy, besidesinclusion, which many have argued tend to militate against thesuccessful achievement of inclusion. For example, schools are chargedwith the task of striving to provide optimum educational experiencesfor all children, through inclusive practices, whilst at the same timeensuring that their exam performance places them in a healthy positionin the national league tables. Much contemporary commentary has notedthat schools can see these two objectives as somewhat incompatible. Curtis (2002), for example, writing in the Guardian newspaper, reportson the fears that children with SEN are being denied a place withinmainstream settings because “head teachers are worried they willjeopardise league table positions” (p.1). She goes on to cite a recentreport by the Audit Commission which criticises provision for SENpupils as “‘patchy' and all too often treated as an “add-on” by schoolsand local education authorities” (p.1). The report asserts that“helping children with physical or emotional problems should beeveryone's priority and schools that make an effort to include themshould have their efforts recognised by the government in leaguetables” (Curtis, 2002, p.1).
The 1997 Green Paper entitled Excellence for all children (DfEE, 1997)outlined the government's commitment to inclusion and among theproposals put forward were changes to the law aimed at reducing thenumbers of ‘statements' of special educational need. These statementsessentially gave individual children the legal right to provisionspecific to their needs. Rix et al (2004) note the strength of publicresponse to this particular document, describing how supporters ofinclusion criticised the contradictions it contained, while otherparents and voluntary groups felt that it threatened the continuationof special schools and children's legal right to provision. Thesecompeting interests so vehemently expressed serve to illustrate thepressures on public policy to identify initiatives, aimed at meetingall children's educational needs, but that do not alienate particularinterested groups (Rix et al, 2004).
Hornby (1999) adds his critique to the debate, acknowledging that the‘inclusion lobby' has been gathering strength, notably through thewritings of Dyson (1990) and Ainscow (1995). He cites the view,asserted by Lingard (1996) for example, that the notion of inclusionrepresents an idealistic philosophical model of education whicheffectively draws attention away from other innovative practices whichcould improve the experiences of SEN children. Hornby suggests thatthere is a dearth of research evidence for the effectiveness ofinclusive practices and asserts that there is a particular “lack ofstudies demonstrating that the outcomes of inclusive programmessignificantly improve the lives of young people with SEN” (1999,p.156). He argues for abandoning policies aimed at including allchildren with SEN into mainstream settings in favour of anindividualistic approach, stating that “the level of inclusion,locational, social or functional, should be decided on the needs ofeach individual child and the exigencies of each situation” (Hornby,1999, p.157).
Hornby's observation regarding the lack of research evidence isendorsed by Batten from the National Autistic Society who records thefindings of a recent OFSTED report (2004) that there was a “systematiclack of monitoring concerning the progress, provision and outcomes ofchildren with SEN in schools” (Batten, 2004, p.30). Batten argues infavour of specialist provision. She describes autism as a spectrumdisorder which means that each child has differing abilities andneeds. She suggests that “special schools have a key role to play ineducating children with complex needs, and supporting more effectiveinclusion in mainstream schools” (Batten, 2004, p.30).
Continuing the pragmatic theme, Woolnough (2004) captures some typicalviews, highlighting the contradictory elements in provision, in herinterviews with people at ground level. She records the experiences ofthe father of an autistic child who expressed his firm belief that “allchildren have the right to mainstream education. However, ifmainstream education isn't right for the child then there must be someother provision that suits them” (Woolnough, 2004, p.28). Woolnoughrecalls the findings of a recent Ofsted report that “only a minority ofmainstream schools are providing for special needs very well, althoughthere is an increase in the awareness of the issues with some schoolsimproving their practices” (2004, p.28). The report goes on to recordthat teaching quality is variable and that “many schools are unable tofully involve pupils with SEN in school life and help them fulfil theirpotential” (Woolnough, 2004, p.28).
Lee and Henkhuzens (1996) point to the need for effective training forall those involved in practices to include children with SEN withinschools. They also highlight the dilemmas facing local authorities andschools as they attempt to provide more inclusive practice. Newhamlocal education authority, identified earlier, adopted a comprehensivepolicy of inclusive education in 1986. Jordan and Goodey, parents andactivists who were intimately involved in the development of Newham'spolicy, cite the policy as stating “segregation is a major factorcausing discrimination. We therefore believe that de-segregatingspecial education is the first step in tackling prejudice againstpeople with disabilities and other difficulties” (cited in Rix et al,2004, p. 31). The ultimate goal of Newham LEA was that every child,whatever their educational need, “should be able to attend theirneighbourhood school, have full access to the National Curriculum, beable to participate in every aspect of mainstream school life andattain their full potential” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.72). However, it seems that in recent years, the reality is that many pupilswith special needs in Newham are being educated only in certain‘suitably-resourced' mainstream schools, rather than in their localschools. Jordan and Goodey are cited as describing this situation as“very much a compromise in response to parents' concerns about localschools not having developed sufficient experience and confidence tomeet needs” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.72).
Other people interviewed by Woolnough (2004) were cited as agreeingwith the idea of inclusion in principle but believed that it was nothappening in reality. Training was cited by teaching staff as a majorissue as was funding for staff and resources. John Bangs, head ofeducation at the NUT, pointed out that, as mentioned earlier, thegovernment's inclusive policy conflicts with other important factors,such as targets to raise standards and the working conditions ofteachers. Bangs commented that “large class sizes, benchmarks, leaguetables and the current curriculum all undermine inclusion” (Woolnough,2004, p.29).
Vaughan, founder of the Independent Centre for Studies on InclusiveEducation, makes the case for inclusive education. He highlights theconflicting messages given out by recent legislation and policyinitiatives. On the one hand the Special Educational Needs andDisability Act 2001 and the revised Code of Practice of 2002 strengthenthe right of SEN children to be educated within the mainstream sector,and on the other hand the most recent DfES document ‘Removing Barriersto Achievement' calls for a “re-invigorated role for special schools inperpetuity” (Vaughan, 2004, p.4). Vaughan reminds us of the children'srights principles enshrined in UN Convention on the Rights of the Childin 1989, claiming that the problem lies with our government's lack ofendorsement of educational inclusion as a rights issue. Vaughan'sorganization is committed to “the restructuring of all mainstreamschools in order to develop inclusive settings for 100 per cent ofpupils and the gradual closure of special schools” (Vaughan, 2004, p.4).
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It was noted earlier that research evidence, where it exists, offersvaried findings regarding the impact of inclusion programmes on theacademic and social outcomes for pupils with special educational needs(Manset and Semmel, 1997; Hornby, 1999). Writers such as Salend andGarrick Duhaney (1999), for example, have acknowledged the many factorscontributing to inconclusive evidence in this area, includingmethodological limitations and the problems of making meaningfulcomparisons between research studies. However, they suggest thatimportant variables seem likely to be the quality of the inclusionprogramme itself and the extent to which the general education systemis able to accommodate the academic and social needs of students withSEN (Salend and Garrick Duhaney, 1999). A range of recent studiesappear to reach somewhat similar conclusions in this latter field ofenquiry. Frederickson and Cline (2002) set out the conclusions drawnby a variety of researchers to illustrate the apparent congruitybetween them, some of which are reproduced as follows:
“Ainscow (1995: 152)
• Effective leadership, not only by the head teacher, but spread throughout the school.
• Involvement of staff, students and community in school policies and decisions.
• A commitment to collaborative planning.
• A policy for staff development
McLaughlin (1995: 206)
• Clear vision.
• Governance structures that promote collaboration and school level flexibility.
• Professional development that builds collaborative work structures, joint problem solving and the sharing of expertise.
Lipsky and Gartner (1996: 780)
• Visionary leadership.
• Collaboration: building planning teams and scheduling time for teachers to work together.
• Support for staff and students.
• Effective parental involvement.
(Adapted from Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.81).
Co-operative learning models have been documented to work well wherethere is a diverse student group. Cross and Walker-Knight (1997)identify a number of factors common to all co-operative learningapproaches, including a common learning activity suited to group work,small-group learning and co-operative skills taught by the teacher,team-working and individual responsibility and accountability forlearning. Within this model, students are taught the skills necessaryfor effective group work, such as encouraging participation and givingand receiving constructive criticism (Frederickson and Cline, 2002,p.93/94).
Many studies underline peer tutoring and support as particularlyeffective. For example, Bagley and Mallick describe how peer tutoringhas been used to improve the reading skills and self-esteem of 13 yearold students with physical and learning difficulties (Frederickson andCline, 2002). Although there seems to be no shortage of studiesshowing how pupils' academic and social learning have been enhancedthrough effective peer tutoring and support systems, many of these tendto be highly individualised, and there may be limitations in terms ofthe degree to which they may be generalized to other groups andsettings. Frederickson and Cline (2002) point out the danger that anarrow focus on a specific strategy could mean that it becomes an“add-on” designed for the ‘special' children. They go on to suggest,rather, that such strategies within an inclusive school will be seen as“important ways in which access and participation can increasingly beachieved by all children and they will be used in a range of contexts”(Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.95).
Manset and Semmel (1997) cite curricular modifications, highlystructured basic skills teaching and frequent testing as the mosteffective key factors in enhancing the educational progress of pupilswith SEN. They also point to reducing class size to promote a moreintensive focus on specific targets, more staff in the classroom andthe introduction of peer tutoring as additional significant features. Monitoring and evaluating progress against stated goals and objectives,particularly for individual pupils, has been flagged up as especiallyimportant. As Frederickson and Cline point out, “positive findingsfrom group investigations rarely reflect positive findings for everychild, some of whom will not respond well to an environment which suitsthe majority” (2002, p.83).
Frederickson et al (2002) cite a research study which was conducted oninclusion initiatives in two UK LEAs and sought the views of 107pupils, parents and school staff. “All groups reported academic andsocial advantages as positive benefits of returning pupils with SEN from special to mainstream settings” (p.37). All groups saw pupilprogress as a primary indicator of successful inclusion. Teachers andparents identified good planning and preparation and supportivecommunication as essential for successful inclusion. “Successfulimplementation of inclusion was considered to require restructuring ofthe physical environment, resources, organizational changes andinstructional adaptations - though different groups of participantsgave these different factors different emphases” (Frederickson et al,2002, p37).
The debate about measuring educational effectiveness prompts questionsabout the purpose and aims of education. Williams (1993), for example,argues that “when effectiveness is measured mainly or even solelythrough achievement in traditional academic subjects, and whenresourcing depends on this, rather than the social objectivesencapsulated in the integration of children with learning difficulties,there are dangers” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.83). Scruggs andMastropieri take a different view, stating their concern that “fullinclusion is a policy that suggests that students are in schoolprimarily to be in the company of age peers, and not primarily tolearn” (Frederickson and Cline, 2002, p.83). These observationsillustrate that different conceptualizations of educationaleffectiveness tend to reflect different views about the aims ofeducation, not just for pupils with ‘special needs' but for allchildren.
Wakefield (2004) undertook research into current inclusive provisionfor disaffected students within a mainstream urban secondarycomprehensive school. This study sought the views of students andstaff in a learning support unit, renamed the City Development Centre,attached to the school. The students, characterized as having beenfrequently disruptive with poor records of attendance, and typicallydeemed as having SEN, were receiving an education at the unit as analternative to exclusion. There was found to be a degree ofambivalence among staff about the aims of the CDC, many perceiving theunit as a ‘soft option' or as a continuation of the system of rewardsand sanctions.
For Wakefield, the study highlighted the importance of strongmanagement of the CDC, relevant training and clear guidelines to ensurethat all staff members developed “a clear appreciation as to its roleand relationship to the wider concept of the inclusive school”(Wakefield, 2004, p.84). The study concluded that “in creating abroad-based curriculum, value should be placed on the acquisition ofskills and knowledge, while also attending to the social and emotionalneeds of students” (p.84). Wakefield cites research evidence of goodpractice in other similar units and expresses his optimism that goodprogress is currently being made in the move towards the socialinclusion of vulnerable children, although he suggests that there isstill a long way to go.
The new emphasis on partnerships and addressing the diversity ofchildren's needs through a multi-professional approach is encapsulatedin the government's recent aim to establish a network of extendedschools throughout England by the year 2006. Sale (2003) reports that“Social services staff are going back to school to help deliver thegovernment's ambitious plans to provide community services in 240extended schools over the next three years “ (p. 14). She notes thechanges to the Education Act of 2002 to enable schools to widen theirrole to include child care, family learning, health and social care,study support and lifelong learning opportunities and services forlocal communities. She cites Ian Elliott, Local Government Associationsenior project officer, as saying that “schools are the hub of thecommunity and using school premises to deliver a range of activitieswill benefit all the community, not just those attending the schoolduring the normal school day” (Sale, 2003, p.15).
Sale goes on to suggest that social workers are accustomed, andtrained, to reaching out to adults and children at risk of socialexclusion and that such experience will be equally as useful in aschool setting. She cites Elliott as suggesting that “havingprofessional support to cater for children on school premises will be avital gateway and in some cases a welcome relief for school staff(2003, p.15). Sale urges that all agencies involved in the provisionof these new services in extended schools need to consult togetherabout their plans. She also warns that there must be “sustainedgovernment investment if the work of the services in extended schoolsis going to have any impact. It is no good putting in money for threeyears and then saying there is no more at the end of it” (2003, p.15).
The assertion, notably by Dyson (2000) above, that education shouldseek to accommodate the characteristics and needs of all children, isalso addressed by Parsons (1999) who broadens the focus to situateexclusion, disaffection and education within the wider discourse ofcitizenship. Parsons records figures given by Ofsted that permanentexclusion from school affected 13,041 pupils in England in the 1997/8period, with one pupil in every 581 having been excluded. He notesthat aside from these official exclusions, many other pupils were alsovoluntarily excluding themselves from school through truanting. Parsons cites other statistics revealing that 8.2% of students in Years10 and 11 are frequent truants (that is, absenting themselves fromschool at least once a week), with as many as one student in eight,from Year 11, recorded nationally as truanting on a regular basis(Parsons, 1999, p.57).
Parsons (1999) suggests that exclusion has tended to attract the mostattention from policymakers, yet truancy may be a bigger problem. Truancy has commonly been tackled through notions of individual pupilor parental responsibility, as evidenced through reports of parents ofpersistent truants being prosecuted in recent years. However, it seemsthat rarely has truancy and disaffection been addressed from the pointof view of the pupils themselves. Parsons cites research studies byO'Keefe and Stoll (1995) and Coldman (1995), eliciting the views ofyoung pupils, which found that irrelevant lessons and dislike ofteachers were among the most common reasons for unofficial absenteeismfrom school. Parsons asserts that during the 1990s, there had been anincreasing “narrowing of the formal function of education, alegitimisation of attention to basic skills and curriculum subjects anda corresponding devaluation of relationships, growth and acceptance ofdiversity” (1999, p.6).
In similar vein, Sellman and colleagues, in their review of theliterature on exclusion, write that views on school exclusion cannot bereduced simply to citing deficiencies or deviance within children; itis, rather, the result of a “complex interplay between socialinstitutions and individuals” (2002, p. 891). They suggest that whenp
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