Grant holder
Dr Susana Castro and Dr Olympia Palikara, Roehampton University
Project status

A research project which examines the extent to which holistic and ecological perspectives of child development are being adopted in special education provision.

Project summary

This project aimed to examine the extent to which holistic and ecological perspectives of child development are being adopted in special education provision, in accordance with the new Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) policy – the Children and Families Act 2014 – and with the principles of Froebelian pedagogy.

To achieve this, two specific aims were formulated: to gather the views of parents and professionals about the new policy; to analyse the Education Health and Care (EHC) plans of children up to the age of 8 years. To meet the first aim, two online surveys were developed, respectively for education professionals and for parents of children with SEND. A sub-sample of professionals and parents were also interviewed to gather more detail about their views on various aspects of the policy. To meet the second aim of the study, we analysed 69 EHC plans of children aged between 6 and 8, from mainstream and special schools, in deprived and affluent areas.

This research provided novel data concerning the status-quo of the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 as well as on the quality of the content of the EHC plans of young children. This data has been analysed in light of the Froebelian principles, which, we argue, are aligned with the new SEND policy.

We also argue that the inclusion of Froebelian principles in the training of professionals involved in the development of EHC plans might help to improve the quality of these plans.

Key findings

The main conclusion of this research is that the implementation of the SEND policy presents various challenges and does not seem to support holistic, participation-focused and specialized provision, revealing a lack of training amongst professionals involved, which results in poor quality practices; of these, the low quality EHC plans is one example. Quality issues with the EHC plans were observed across regions studied, but were significantly more frequent in the most deprived areas, suggesting that inequality of provision is still a reality. Based on these conclusions we argue that specialised training is necessary in a standardized way across local authorities and focused on how to implement the policy’s principles while developing the EHC plans. We also argue that the inclusion of Froebelian pedagogy in this training could be key to supporting professionals in understanding and implementing holistic practices of provision.

Next steps

Our team is keen to expand this research to other unexplored areas, namely the quality of provision for children who are not in receipt of an EHC plan but are on the SEND support pathway. This seems to be a neglected group of children in research around SEND. We also aim to invest in intervention studies, including those providing training to professionals involved in SEND provision.


Palikara, O., Castro, S., Gaona, C. & Eirinaki, V. (2018). Professionals’ views on the new policy for Special Educational Needs in England: ideology versus implementation. European Journal of Special Needs Education. doi: 10.1080/08856257.2018.1451310

Castro, S. & Palikara, O. (eds) (2017) An Emerging Approach for Education and Care. Implementing a Worldwide Classification of Functioning and Disability. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780367197032

The researchers have offered workshops for a range of professionals who work with young children and their families and have created a website with advice and resources for anyone who works to support children with an EHC plan:

Research documents

Final Research Report Castro and Palikara 2018