Divergent discourses of learning difficulty

David Skidmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)


It is argued that the influence of the functionalist tradition of organisation theory can be detected in various areas of contemporary educational research, including research concerned with the development of mainstream provision for pupils with learning difficulties, in the emphasis placed upon the need for consensus among school staff over shared values and goals. Evidence is then presented and discussed from a case study of an English secondary school, where a process of institutional development was under way aimed at enhancing provision for pupils with learning difficulties. Analysis of the data shows that two divergent discourses of learning difficulty could be identified in use in the school, articulated by different constituencies of staff. These are termed, respectively, the discourse of curriculum presentation and the discourse of pupil ability. A model of the structure of the discourses is proposed, identifying six dimensions along which they diverge. The relations obtaining between the discourse constituencies are analysed. On the basis of this analysis, it is argued that previous research in the field of school improvement and inclusion may have exaggerated the need for consensus among teaching staff. Instead, it is argued that the process of dialogue between the constituencies associated with divergent pedagogical discourses can act as an important motor in creating a dynamic of development within the school
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-663
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


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