A survey of Teacher Prejudice?

CABLE CAR RESCUE PRACTICE

This morning I woke up to news that GL Assessment had published a report that stated a large majority of the 810 teachers surveyed, (57 per cent) thought there was a misdiagnosis of SEN, and over three-fifths of teachers (62 per cent) thought those children with genuine need were missing out because resources were being diverted to those who didn’t really need help.

‘As our survey of teachers makes clear, there is a widespread feeling in schools that there is a misdiagnosis of SEN and that parental anxiety, however understandable, doesn’t always help with an objective evaluation. It is not that teachers think that SEN is an inflated problem, rather that some children who deserve support are not receiving it because it has been diverted to others who do not need it. At a time when school budgets are under pressure, this misapplication of resource should not be allowed to stand.’

It is interesting to note then, in a poll in 2016 of almost 600 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), that 49%  of teachers have been unable to access support and training to help them meet the needs of their pupils with SEND and over 70% believe that the current system in England does not enable all children with special educational needs to be identified in a timely fashion.

Could it be then, that lack of training/knowledge is responsible for the above figure of teacher opinion of misdiagnosis? Well it is very hard to say.

However, given that a medical diagnosis must be given by a medical professional it does strike me as rather odd that teachers are explaining diagnosis in terms of parental behaviour. It also does seem rather odd that the Government would seek out this opinion from teachers on this in the first place. Would they seek the opinion of medics on children’s maths provision? What could possibly be their agenda at this time of failing SEND reforms when both exclusions and appeals to SENDIST have increased?

Yesterday I attended a conference run by Whole School SEND (You can read a good account here) which was attended by over 200 delegates from all over the UK, all with an interest in improving outcomes for children with SEND.

I was fortunate enough to host alongside Sarah Driver, Founder and Chair of Trustees of Driver Youth Trust ,a series of 6 roundtable discussions on the topic of ‘Working with Parents and Carers’. Delegates would come to our table and we would share good practice and ideas. What was extremely clear was the genuine desire of professionals to work collaboratively with parents but an apprehension with regards to how to make it manageable and beneficial.

Of the issues raised two stood out to me the most. One was that of differences of opinion between teachers and parents on a child’s potential Special Educational Needs. And the other was about being afraid to admit lack of knowledge when there is an expectation of expertise on ALL SEN (an impossible ask).

Sarah’s eminently sensible suggestions, in my opinion,  were to meet with the parents to look at and share the evidence-base for any raised concerns. This takes the ‘personal’ out of the equation as well as demonstrating a commitment by both parties to accountability. We also agreed that asking parents for suggestions of information sources could help bridge any knowledge gap and improve understanding of parental concerns.

Sarah was also able to share that Driver Youth Trust resources are FREE, for schools and parents/carers to use with children who find literacy difficult, and I was able to make some suggestions of inexpensive good practice I have experienced from the perspective of a parent who has a  child with SEND who has been in 8 educational placements. For both of our suggestions, the diversion of support away from children who might be perceived by teachers to ‘need it more’ are minimal. And where a child’s needs are being met, there is a much reduced need for a parent to seek out a diagnosis to secure support.

Towards the end of the conference Simon Knight, Director of Education at the National Education Trust, made two highly relevant statements to this blog focus:

There is no alchemy about good SEND practice – it is just very good practice

and

Very often there is not a learning difficulty, there is a teaching difficulty -a barrier for one is a barrier for the other

If you are mindful of these things within the school, a diagnosis is going to make very little difference to the quality or quantity of support, except perhaps to provide a little more understanding, surely.

I do have to thank those professionals who came to our table at the Whole School SEND conference though. Their honesty and their openness, but above all their very obvious willingness to get their relationships with parents right, was a great experience to have to bring to my reading of the GL-Assessment report. I learned an incredible amount from them and that they came to a parent-led table at a professional conference means they are determined professionals indeed. Some of them had even attempted to arrive by cable car in the middle of hurricane Doris.