Library Services


Special Educational Needs

Guide to archive collections held by the IOE Library and Archives on Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Collage of three black and white images from the Institute of Education archives


This guide provides an introduction to the IOE's archive collections on special educational needs (SEN). These collections can be used to research the history of SEN from the early 1900s right up to modern day. We have also selected a range of other resources that are available either online or at other archives and libraries.

History of Special Educational Needs

To gain an understanding of the history of special educational needs, particularly in respect of policy, we recommend you have a look at the website Education in England: the history of our schools. This is a well-structured website that is organised into chronological chapters. Each chapter has a section on special educational needs with links to relevant pieces of legistaion.

Searching for archives relating to Special Educational Needs (SEN)

The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ is an umbrella term used to describe a range of learning difficulties and disabilities. Many of the terms used, and the ideas expressed, in these historical collections are offensive. For historical accuracy archivists always list collections using the contemporary term. The use of such terms is not a reflection of our views or opinions.

As a result, searching the catalogue for archives for this subject can be frustrating if you only search for 'special educational needs' - you will find very few results. Instead, you will need to search for a range of terms that have been used in the past to describe what we would now categorise as SEN. We have includes some of those terms below to assist with searching. These terms are being used in the interest of historical accuracy and to assist you with searching the catalogue. They do not reflect the views or opinions of UCL or our staff. If you require further assistance searching the archives for SEN-related collections please contact us and we will be happy to help.

  • Slow learners
  • Maladjusted
  • Educationally subnormal
  • Special schools
  • Handicapped children


For guidance on how to use our dedicated online catalogue to browse and search archives, manuscripts and records see the archives home page.

Archive collections

Photograph Archive of the Architects and Buildings Branch (1940s - 1990s) (ABB)

The Architects and Building Branch (ABB), formed in 1949 by the then Ministry of Education, oversaw the central government policy relating to school architecture and specific building programmes. It was dissolved in 1993. It is a photographic collection of school buildings and school life during this period. It includes photographs of ‘special schools’, particularly for disabled students, as well as SEN classes. The archive also contains collated research on SEN – particularly school design, play areas and equipment. (RefNo: ABB)

Papers of Amelia Fysh

This collection can be used as a case study of one progressive nursery school teacher working from the 1950s-1970s. A pioneer of inclusive education and learning through play, Amelia’s nursery school provided facilities for all children irrespective of learning or physical disabilities long before it became government policy. Her collection is very visual including photographic case studies of a number of children attending the nursery. Disabilities included Spina Bifida, Downs Syndrome, brain damage due to an illness in early childhood, blindness, Cerebral Palsy, and suspected autism. (RefNo: AF)

IOE Archive

The IOE’s own archive contains a wealth of information on this subject. In particular examination papers, syllabuses, regulations and course guides can be used alongside committee papers to track the development of SEN over the twentieth and twenty first centuries. Further papers include the publications of departments working in this area, policy papers and discussions on government policy. This collection is only partially catalogued. Please contact is for further information. (RefNo: IE)

Papers of Susan Isaacs

Susan Isaacs was a teacher and trained psychoanalyst. From 1924-1927 she was Head of Malting House School, an experimental school which fostered the individual development of children. In 1933 she became the first Head of the Child Development Department at the University of London, IOE. Her archive includes correspondence from her role as an Agony Aunt for Nursery World. Parents and nannies wrote to Isaacs on a wide range of concerns about the development and habits of early years children. (RefNo: SI)

Papers of Jack Kitching (Board of Education Inspectors' Association)

Although the Board of Education Inspectors' Association was primarily concerned with salaries, pensions and conditions of service for school inspectors (HMI’s), the collection also includes the records of individual HMIs (His/Her Majesty's Inspectors), including those who specialised in SEN. (RefNo: KIT).

Papers of James Lumsden

James Lumsden was appointed an HMI (His Majesty's Inspector) in 1931 as the first non-medical Inspector of Special Schools for “handicapped” children. He served on a wide range of committees and organisations and reviewed the work of the British Families Education Service (BFES) in Germany after the Second World War. In 1965 he was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Education of Physically Handicapped Children at the IOE. This is a small collection comprising a sample of papers from all aspects of his career. (RefNo: LUM)

Records of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT)

The National Union of Women Teachers campaigned on many issues from its establishment in 1904 until it was disbanded in 1961. There is a whole section relating to 'special schools' (RefNo UWT/D/42) with further papers across the collection. There are a range of sources in this collection including minutes of meetings, correspondence, government publications (both from central and local government bodies), press cuttings and speeches. (RefNo: UWT)

Papers of Lady Bridget Horatio Plowden

This collection is useful for gaining a better understanding of SEN at both policy and practice level. The archive contains a lot of information from a range of individuals and organisations, and can provide a good understanding of this area up until the mid-1960s.(RefNo: PL)

Pre-School Learning Alliance (PLA) /Pre-School Playgroups Association (PPA) Archive

The Pre-School Playgroups Association was established in 1961 to provide nursery education. It was a centrally run body that created guidance and training that enabled local parents to organise their own nursery groups. In 1995, after organisational changes, the Pre-School Learning Alliance was established and continues to provide pre-school childcare. The collection contains resources and guidance for playgroups including for SEN groups. (RefNo: PLA)

Records of the Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinsations (SCC)

The Schools Council was established in 1964 by the Secretary of State for Education. It was a non-directive organisation with membership from a wide range of educational bodies, including teachers' organisations. It provided leadership in curriculum, examination and assessment development across all subjects. This archive can be used to learn about curriculum development in respect of SEN from the 1960s-1980s including for specific areas of the curriculum (e.g. modern languages and maths) (RefNo: SCC).

Papers of Denis Stott

Denis Stott was an educational psychologist who specialised in helping children with behavioural problems. His collection is very small and includes a range of lectures, articles, etc on child development and the effect of different situations on children (e.g. family life, biology, society) covering the period from the 1940s to 1970s (RefNo: DS).

Records of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET)

UCET was created in 1966 by the merger of the Conference of Heads of University Departments of Education (CHUDE) and the Conference of Institute Directors (CID). The Council provides a forum for discussion and contributes to education policy. The collection comprises discussion papers on government policy and national standards relating to SEN, as well as a sample of course syllabi and programmes on courses for SEN from universities around England and Wales. (RefNo: UCE)