One of the gang? Peer relations among students with special educational needs in Irish mainstream primary schools
European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 33, 2018, Issue 3, pp. 396-411
Internationally and in Ireland, the adoption of inclusive education frameworks have been broadly welcomed, particularly by parents of children with special educational needs (SEN). Mainstreaming these children is generally viewed as positive primarily because of the social factors associated with attending mainstream schools for children with SEN. Despite this commonly held view, there is increasing evidence to show that children with SEN have difficulties participating in mainstream environments. Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland study of 8,578 nine year olds, this paper examines whether peer relations differ among typically developing students and students with different types of SEN. We focus on the quantity and quality of peer relations using data on the child’s number of friends and, using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, the quality of relations with their peers. These measures are examined by controlling for a range of individual, home and school-level factors simultaneously in a regression model. Our findings show that, all else being equal, students with SEN, particularly those with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD), are more likely to have fewer friends and experience negative peer relationships compared to their peers without any additional needs. Based on these findings, we argue that specific interventions may be needed to promote positive peer experiences for children with SEN in mainstream education.