Steve Strand and Ariel Lindorff

For some considerable time there has been concern over the process of special education referral and the differential representation of ethnic minority groups with Special Educational Needs (SEN) both in the US (Dunn, 1968) and in England (Coard, 1971). Ethnic disproportionality exists when an ethnic group is significantly more, or significantly less, likely to be identified with SEN compared to the ethnic majority. A recent major review concluded that disproportionate identification of Black pupils with SEN is “among the most long-standing and intransigent issues in the field” (Skiba et al, 2008, p264).

Extensive research with nationally representative data in the US has established that Black pupils are substantially more likely to be identified with Special Educational Needs (SEN) than other ethnic groups, with the odds of being identified with Intellectual Disabilities 2.8 times higher, and the odds of being identified with Emotional Disturbance 2.3 times higher, than White pupils. In England there have been only two nationally representative studies on disproportionality in the last 25 years (Strand & Lindsay, 2009; 2012) but these also revealed the odds for Black Caribbean and Pakistani pupils being identified with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) were 1.5 times higher than for White British pupils, and the odds for Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean (MWBC) pupils being identified with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH1) Needs were twice those for White British pupils.

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