British Journal of Educational Psychology

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Volume 74 Issue 3 (September 2004), Pages 323-496

Pupils' perceptions of self and of labels: Moderate learning difficulties in mainstream and special schools (pages 411-435)

Background: The study is set in the context of international moves towards more inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream schools and the greater importance attached to the child's voice in decision making in education.

Aims: To examine how children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) in mainstream and special schools see themselves; to investigate their positive, negative and mixed self‐perceptions; to explore their evaluations of the terms and labels used by others to describe them; and to examine whether their perceptions vary according to special educational placement, age or gender.

Sample: One hundred and one children; 50 in special and 51 in mainstream schools, of whom 51 were age 10–12 and 50 13–14 years; within each age group half were boys and half were girls.

Method: Semi‐structured in‐depth interviews based on a common framework derived from the research questions.

Results: Most pupils were aware of their learning difficulties and felt mainly negative about their difficulties. Pupils in special schools had more positive self‐perceptions of educational abilities than those in mainstream schools. Self‐perceptions of general characteristics were mainly a mixture of positive and negative with no differences by placement. ‘Stupid’ and ‘thick’ were perceived as the most negative labels, while ‘has help’ was the most positive label. The SEN term was infrequently recognized.

Conclusions: The findings are discussed within the context of a multi‐dimensional, complex and contrary framework of self‐perceptions, and reference groups as the bases for self‐perceptions and as an active and interpretive process in the formation of self‐perceptions.

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