Researching social justice for students with special educational needs


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Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice

New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society

Subject: Education


ISSN: 1178-8690





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Volume 33 (2018)
Volume 32 (2017)
Volume 30 (2015)
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VOLUME 30 , ISSUE 1 (June 2015) > List of articles

Researching social justice for students with special educational needs

Rose Symes

Keywords : Special needs; social justice; moral purpose; ethics; equity

Citation Information : Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice. Volume 30, Issue 1, Pages 92-105, DOI:

License : (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Published Online: 21-April-2019



Following international trends, and research evidence from New Zealand, England and the USA, it is likely that there will be an exponential increase in the number of students with special educational needs (SEN) enrolling in New Zealand schools in the ensuing years. Furthermore, the face of special needs is changing such that what is meant by the term, ‘special needs’, appears to be highly contestable and somewhat elusive. Although international literature uses the term ‘special needs’ unproblematically, what is now considered to be special needs appears far more complicated. Research by Graham-Matheson (2012a), Richards (2012) and Hall (1997) shows that the term ‘special needs’ leads to preconceptions which often ignore contextual issues. This can exacerbate the learning difficulties of students with special educational needs because it tends to support inappropriate leadership practices, ineffective teaching techniques, and insufficient resourcing in the context of these particular students. While education is considered to be a moral enterprise, the field of special education is arguably wrought with ethical dilemmas and moral problems, especially when educators are called upon to advocate for children with disabilities who often comprise a minority group within a school community (Fiedler & VanHaren, 2009; Hallett & Hallett, 2012). This article elaborates upon these perspectives so as to highlight the seriousness of this issue and, hence, to stress the need for its implications upon socially just school leadership practices in New Zealand to be far more thoroughly explored.

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