Social aspects of MLD

This unit explores the perspectives of pupils with MLD with information compiled through interview studies. It aims to support you to better relate to their experiences of:

  • Special provision.
  • The labels of SEN and MLD.
  • Social relationships in which bullying can play a prominent role.

The unit covers:

  • The perceptions and attitudes of pupils identified as having MLD.
  • How pupils feel about themselves and the labels often used to describe them.
  • How pupils with MLD feel about the educational provision made for them.

When asked to evaluate their teachers, none of the pupils with MLD who were interviewed for research cited in the 2005 book, Moderate learning difficulties and the future of inclusion, gave a mainly negative response. There was no variation in these responses between mainstream and special schools, boys and girls, or primary- and secondary-aged pupils. More pupils said they received a greater amount of overall learning help from teaching assistants than teachers, although mainstream boys reported receiving much less help from their teachers than boys in special schools.


Evaluations of teachers

Help from teachers and TAs

45% Mixed (positive and negative)

55% Mainly positive

30% Pupils who said they received more overall help from teachers

45% Pupils who said they received more overall help from teaching assistants

For research cited in the 2005 book, Moderate learning difficulties and the future of inclusion, pupils at mainstream and special schools were asked about their perspectives of the two school types. Seven of the 51 mainstream children had ever attended a special school, while 37 of the 50 special school children had attended a mainstream school. These pie charts show the opinions expressed in the respective pupils??? evaluations of either school type.


Mainstream and special schools: the pupils??? perspectives

Mainstream pupils

Opinions of special schools

Special school pupils

Opinions of mainstream schools

53% Mainly positive 16%

28% Mixed 48%

19% Mainly negative 35%

The pupil interviews cited in Moderate learning difficulties and the future of inclusion included questions on provision. Of all respondents, 40% said they preferred mainly withdrawal, 34% in-class support, and 30% a mix of the two. These bar charts show the different reasons given by the pupils for preferring withdrawal and in-class support.


Perspectives on provision

View reasons for preferring in-class support

Reasons for preferring withdrawal

47% Better quality support

29% Less noise

24% More fun

22% Less distraction

20% More attention

12% Less bullying

MLD pupils??? perceptions of labels

There are a range of labels used to describe MLD pupils, both by themselves and their peers. How pupils react to these varies greatly between individuals.

Unsurprisingly, though, most pupils with MLD prefer terms linked to help and support in comparison to insulting or abusive labels.

Research cited in Moderate learning difficulties and the future of inclusion used interviews with MLD pupils to gain insight into their perceptions of different labels. The pupils came from both mainstream and special schools, covering primary and secondary age groups.

Select any circle to find out more.

  1. Feelings about derogatory terms
  2. Historic and modern formal labels
  3. Current derogatory terms
  4. 'Has help'

Feelings about derogatory terms

The pupils reported that they did not like words that ???were insulting or abusive in some way???; 71% gave ???thick??? a negative evaluation in this respect, 58% ???stupid???, 44% ???slow???, and 44% ???spastic???.

Secondary pupils gave more pronounced, negative evaluations of certain labels. They also reported a greater range of labels ??? including those that were stronger in tone ??? being used against them.

Despite a generally negative perception of the label, ???thick??? was used by 24% of pupils in mainstream schools as a self-descriptor, although this was not true of any special school children. A number of (mainly older) children said they were not especially upset by the term, particularly when used in jest.

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Historic and modern formal labels

In a contemporary context, older formal labels seem redundant and insulting, and few pupils in the study had heard archaic formal terms such as ???abnormal???, ???retarded??? or ???backward???.

However, only a limited number of the interviewees (12%) had heard of the current term ???SEN???.

???Learning difficulty??? was far more prevalent in the children???s consciousness, known by 40% of them, and was the only label to which the majority of pupils had neutral feelings (27%). Despite this, very few children said they or their peers used the term to describe them.

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Current derogatory terms

The interviewed children were asked which labels they were familiar with, from a selection of 15 that represented current formal terms, historic formal terms, and current everyday lay terms.

Derogatory terms figured heavily among those identified.

???Stupid???, ???thick???, ???spastic???, ???slow??? and ???spas??? were the first, second, fifth, sixth and eighth most commonly understood labels, respectively. All five of these words were reported as having been used towards the children, in the same descending order of commonality.

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'Has help'

Pupils gave this label the most positive or neutral evaluations overall (36% and 32% respectively).

However, this approving sentiment was far more prevalent among mainstream pupils, 49% of whom evaluated the term as positive, against 22% of special school pupils.

Far more special school pupils (16%) described themselves as ???having help??? than mainstream pupils (2%).

Despite the generally positive evaluation, 20% of all children saw this label as being negative ??? particularly when connected to the word ???special???.

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Q:According to research cited in Moderate learning difficulties and the future of inclusion, how many pupils with MLD said they or others described them using the current terms ???SEN??? or ???learning difficulty????

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