Is this really a growing problem in our schools? For and against

Kate Fallon and Julia Douetil discuss the claim that SEN classification has expanded unneccessarily


Kate Fallon: Yes

When Mary Warnock produced her seminal report in 1978, focusing on children with special educational needs, she had no idea how phenomenal the consequences would be for children, parents and local authorities.

Warnock posited that children should have their difficulties assessed and described by all those who knew them best (initially teachers and parents), translated into "needs", with recommendations of appropriate strategies to help them to make progress.

Even the term "special educational needs" has its derivation with Warnock; previously children with a range of difficulties had been labelled according to a range of medical diagnoses which included the term "Educationally subnormal-moderate (ESN-M)" and "Educationally subnormal-severe (ESN-S)".

Unfortunately, descriptions of need have become hijacked as routes to additional resources, a far cry from what Warnock originally intended. The recent Ofsted report applauds the fact that the most vulnerable children are now identified at a very early age and receive appropriate provision relatively quickly. However, it expresses concern that the present system focuses too much upon how to access additional resources for children with statements and possibly over identifies children, maintaining that schools should be focusing more upon improving teaching and learning for all.

These comments will not surprise all those who work within the SEN field but the reasons for this are more complex than at first appears. First, the explosion of information, and access to that information, afforded to parents around particular developmental conditions, such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia etc, has led to many teachers feeling overwhelmed by information on the children they are teaching and perceive that additional resources are required. Second, most local authorities operate some form of funding system whereby a school will receive more money if they have greater number of children with SEN.

Third, Ofsted itself will now not award the highest grades to a school during inspections unless the school can show that its children with SEN are making good progress. So the more children who are identified as having SEN in a school, the more likely a school to be able to access money and good ratings!

Ofsted's conclusions are correct in recommending that more focus should be placed upon improving teaching and learning for all, with teaching based upon sound assessment and a good knowledge of a range of teaching strategies within each classroom. However, the comments that the current system focuses too much on statements and how to get extra resources is somewhat disingenuous without a radical overhaul of how all resources are allocated to schools and how to help parents to have more confidence in all schools'abilities to educate their children appropriately.

Kate Fallon is an educational psychologist and General Secretary of the AEP

Julia Douetil: No

A serious challenge runs through this report, that too many children are "mis-labelled" SEN, when their difficulties are the result of poor initial teaching. On the one hand, this appears reasonable. The reports cites the over-representation of children in poverty among those with SEN, and a culture of low expectation which my experience in Reading Recovery backs up.

One of the first challenges of Reading Recovery has to overcome is the assumption "you can't expect our children to do as well as children elsewhere". Given a child who, after a year of formal literacy teaching cannot read his own name, has illiterate parents, a dysfunctional home, and innumerable strategies for avoiding literacy activity, the toughest challenge for the teacher is to expect this child to be successful.

Yet I am deeply uncomfortable with the sense that this report seems to want to put the blame for low attainment at the feet of class teachers. There are good reasons why, even in the best literacy programmes, some children may need something extra. It's the reverse of the elephant gun argument. Why do you have an elephant gun in Surrey? To scare off marauding elephants. But there are no marauding elephants in Surrey. My gun must work then.

The logic is, if the classroom programme is sufficiently well taught, then no child should fail. So if any child fails, then the classroom programme is not taught well enough. The evidence of Every Child a Reader is that very low-attaining children can be taken out of long-term special educational needs, given the right intervention. But it is a mistake to assume that this is a simple task. Too often, the report reveals, schools concentrated on whether or not children had support, rather than on whether that support enabled the child to make progress.

In times of economic austerity, cutting the SEN bill is a legitimate goal, but it is not fair to assume that this can be done by class teachers alone. The right kind of early intervention can reduce the long-term costs of SEN, if it is effectively designed, efficiently delivered and thoroughly monitored.

Julia Douetil is National Coordinator at the European Centre for Reading Recovery

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee