Warnock (1978)

1978 Warnock Report (text)

The Warnock Report (1978)
Special Educational Needs

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1978
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Appointment of the committee

In November 1973 Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary in Ted Heath's Conservative government, announced that she proposed, in conjunction with the secretaries of state for Scotland and Wales and after consultation with the secretaries of state for social services and employment, to appoint a committee of enquiry with Mary Warnock as chair:

To review educational provision in England, Scotland and Wales for children and young people handicapped by disabilities of body or mind, taking account of the medical aspects of their needs, together with arrangements to prepare them for entry into employment; to consider the most effective use of resources for these purposes; and to make recommendations (page 1).

Mary Warnock

Mary Warnock (1924-2019) (pictured) had already held several university posts, a seat on Oxfordshire's local education authority, and the headship of Oxford High School for Girls.

She went on to chair the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology (1982-4) and a Home Office committee on animal experimentation (1984-1989). She was raised to the peerage as Baroness Warnock in 1985 and became the Mistress of Girton College Cambridge in 1986.

(For more about Mary Warnock and the special needs committee see my review of Philip Graham's 2021 book Mary Warnock: Ethics, Education and Public Policy in Post-War Britain.)

The work of the committee

The special needs committee held its first meeting in September 1974. As it was large (27 members) and its remit wide-ranging, four sub-committees (including 15 co-opted members) were set up early in 1975 to deal with

  • the needs of handicapped children under five;
  • the education of handicapped children in ordinary schools;
  • day special schools and boarding provision; and
  • the educational and other needs of handicapped school leavers.
The sub-committees completed their work in May 1977 and their findings formed the basis of the report, along with written evidence from almost 400 individuals and organisations and the findings of a number of research projects undertaken on the committee's behalf. In addition, committee members made many visits to schools, hospitals and colleges in the UK, and small groups of members also visited the US, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Holland and Germany. The enquiry was unusual in that it covered Scotland as well as England and Wales.

By the time the report was complete (in March 1978), Jim Callaghan's Labour government was in power. In her covering letter to the Secretaries of State for Education (Shirley Williams), Scotland (Bruce Millan) and Wales (John Morris), Mary Warnock wrote:

Our review has been a wide-ranging one, extending well beyond the education service. Our terms of reference required us to take account of the medical aspects of the needs of handicapped children and young people, together with arrangements to prepare them for entry into employment. We have also had regard to the social aspects of their needs, to relations between the different professionals engaged in meeting their needs, to the contribution of their parents and the parents' own needs for support and to the requirements for research and development (page iv).
A year after the report's publication the Conservatives returned to power, this time with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. Two years later, the Warnock committee's radical recommendations formed the basis of the 1981 Education Act, which gave parents new rights in relation to special needs, urged the inclusion of special needs children in mainstream classes, and introduced the system of 'statementing' children to give them entitlement to special educational support.

In May 2008 Warnock described the system she helped to create as 'needlessly bureaucratic' and called for the establishment of a new enquiry (The Times Educational Supplement 11 May 2008).

Summary of the report's main recommendations

There are 220 items in the Summary of recommendations. The following is a selection of the key points:

  • the term 'children with learning difficulties' should be used to describe children who are currently categorised as educationally sub-normal and those with educational difficulties;
  • local education authorities should be empowered to require the multi-professional assessment of children of any age;
  • heads should be responsible for instituting reviews of the progress of children with special educational needs at least once a year;
  • the SE Forms procedure should be initiated when a child is referred for multi-professional assessment at Stage 4 or 5;
  • local education authorities must maintain a record of children whom they judge need special provision;
  • the education of children with disabilities or significant difficulties must start as early as possible without any minimum age limit;
  • parents should have a designated Named Person to provide a point of contact;
  • there should be a comprehensive peripatetic teaching service;
  • nursery education provision for all children should be substantially increased as soon as possible;
  • every local education authority should keep an up-to-date handbook containing details of special educational provision in its area;
  • heads of ordinary schools should delegate responsibility for special needs to a designated specialist teacher;
  • special classes and units should wherever possible be attached to and function as part of ordinary schools;
  • firm links should be established between special and ordinary schools in the same vicinity;
  • where special school provision in the maintained sector is inadequate, it should be increased to the point of sufficiency;
  • no child with special educational needs who is in care should be placed in an independent school without agreement between the local education authority and the social services department;
  • teachers in community homes should be in the service of local education authorities;
  • a pupil's special needs should be re-assessed with future prospects in mind at least two years before he is due to leave school;
  • where it is in their interests, pupils with special educational needs should be enabled to stay at school beyond the statutory school leaving age;
  • young people with special needs should be given the necessary support to enable them to attend ordinary courses of further education;
  • every further education establishment should designate a member of staff as responsible for the welfare of students with special needs;
  • higher education establishments should formulate and publicise a policy on the admission of students with disabilities or significant difficulties;
  • Industrial Training Boards should play a much greater part in encouraging employers to provide employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities or significant difficulties;
  • attention should be given to curriculum development for children with moderate learning difficulties and further research should be carried out into the causes of such difficulties;
  • the Schools Council should establish a section to set up projects concerned with the curriculum for special needs pupils;
  • all courses of initial teacher training should include a special education element;
  • there should be a range of recognised qualifications in special education;
  • local education authorities should organise an induction programme for teachers taking up special needs posts;
  • there should be more opportunities for people with disabilities to become teachers;
  • every local authority should have an education officer with responsibility for special needs provision;
  • more educational psychologists are needed;
  • health authorities should make adequate resources available to promote effective child health services in ordinary and special schools;
  • Joint Consultative Committees should be asked to advise health, education and social services authorities as soon as possible on the health and social services needed by ordinary schools;
  • guidelines should be provided for teachers on the handling of confidential information and the sharing of information with members of other professions;
  • a National Advisory Committee on Children with Special Educational Needs should be established to advise the government on the provision of educational services and their co-ordination with other services;
  • higher education establishments should allocate senior academic posts to special education and there should be at least one university department of special education in each region of the country;
  • each local education authority should have a centre for research, development and in-service training in special education to which teachers can turn for help with their professional development.

The report online

The full text of the report (including the Appendices) is presented in a single web page.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 11 November 2007; they were revised on 25 November 2012.