The big special needs cover up

As many as half of all pupils are identified as having Special Educational Needs according to a report by Ofsted. Pupils simply need better teaching and improved pastoral care, the report says. Pull yourself together, stop snivelling about your dyslexia and knuckle down, old chap. Twenty extra spellings and a run around the playground should sort you out.

 I remember a boy I taught in my year one class (5/6 year olds). He was struggling like mad with the curriculum but clearly had potential and needed extra support. Soon, I felt, he would become demotivated. And when you’re demotivated by learning at five it’s a long, hard slog back. If you ever make it.

 When his dad came in I explained that I’d like to place his son at stage one of the SEN register. Much as some people think that teachers (perhaps as a staffroom game, accompanied by wine) pull names from a hat, chuck a random label at them (ADHD, dyslexic, ASD) and present it to the parents as a given, teachers need permission from the parents. The dad was concerned. As it turned out he was labelled remedial when he was at school and sent into the special class. Now we all know from our own schooldays what we called the remedials. And it wasn’t nice. But once I explained that nowadays it simply meant his son would get some extra support- mainly from me, his own class teacher- and that the parents would be involved every step of the way, the dad was happy.

 The little boy worked hard and got the supported start he needed, his parents supported him too and within in a year we took him off the SEN register.

 Trying to get a pupil adequate support because they have a specific need is like wading through treacle, however. I taught another little boy who clearly had some very specific needs. I observed his behaviour and came to the conclusion that he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. This was not an arbitrary label for the sake of having a diagnosis. I did my research, I spoke to teachers who taught pupils with ASD and watched as this little boy struggled to form relationships with his peers and hid paperclips and bluetac in his pockets. No picture or poster hung with bluetac was safe. His other obsession was switching off plugs and I got quite used to walking down to assembly behind this child and switching everything back on again with one hand and re-hanging pictures with the other.

 If only I could get some specialist support for this boy, who was bright as a button, he’d be able to make progress. We called in the educational psychologist who agreed with our diagnosis but couldn’t possible statement him because they’d used up that year’s allocation of statements and one more would exceed the LA’s targets. They sent in the behaviour support worker who suggested that I should talk to him more and play board games.

 Head. Brick. Wall.

This is my experience of trying to get a child properly statemented and any parent who recognises that their own child has additional needs but has been dismissed for being fussy or demanding will understand.

 Children need support that suits them and their needs. If they get that support they thrive at school. If not, then school must seem like hell. If children have supportive families they will benefit enormously but if the child has parents or carers who are intimidated by the complicated systems or have problems of their own to contend with then the journey is made so much more difficult for all involved.

 So do these children just need better teaching or improved pastoral care? Every child deserves the best teaching and the best support.

 Do they need to be removed from the SEN register? Only if it’s in the very best interests of the child.

 And how will we support teachers in working with these children? Through local authority support and training. Except that local authority support won’t exist soon because of cuts. And perhaps if we remove children from the SEN register we won’t have to stump up the additional money for them because…

 Suddenly everything becomes clear.

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