A survey of Teacher Prejudice?


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


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.



18 thoughts on “A survey of Teacher Prejudice?

  1. OMFG!

    My quick skim before lunch – which will be followed up with a lengthier read later – set off so many questions and bells in my head (and I don’t just mean my tinnitus!).


    1. With permission from Rob Webster:

      A great post. Had I not been roundtabling myself, I’d have definitely joined you & Sarah. Good to have a summary of what I missed.

      I found the GL report quite problematic and very limited. The write up applied some unhelpful language to the interpretation of survey results that seemed absent in the wording of the actual questions.

      We’re told, for example, that over half of all teachers polled ‘complained’ that parents of CYP took up their time and they had to deal with more than one ‘difficult’ parent, but it is exceptionally poor practice to use that kind of language in a what should be a neutrally-worded survey question.

      The report doesn’t say much about the sample either. Is there any difference between primary and secondary, mainstream and special…?

      Anyway, I thought it was quite shonky and, though it might’ve been well-meaning (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt), it doesn’t do teachers or families of CYP with SEND any favours IMO.

      It’s interesting: it seems to be the write up of results, rather than the survey itself, that’s using words like ‘blame’, which overlays something quite provocative that was (it seems) absent from the questions teachers were asked. This isn’t a pedantic point: it matters in terms of how research is done and conveyed, and the implications and messages that flow from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sadly, in my experience, teachers (and my daughter’s original HT in particular) just bury there heads in the sand. They hope the problem will go away.

    Worse still, when the problem doesn’t go away they find ways of blaming the child.
    “She fusses”, “She never finishes her work” , “She needs to learn how to get on with her peers and work in a group”

    Finally they apply sticking plasters. A few minutes reading help with a TA in assembly at primary.
    An hour a fortnight doing some Mikey mouse reading at secondary.

    Oh and the biggest cope out of all Extra Time in Exams.

    Not once in her school career did school seek expert advice from someone trained in Dyslexia (her EdPhy report in Y6 we paid for) and worst still primary clearly didn’t even know how to use Google!

    She really is that obviously, ticks every single box Dyslexic!

    So No I don’t believe there is more than a vanishingly small number of children where parents are wrong.

    And I do believe there are huge numbers of children not getting the help they need.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Some really well thought through analysis of a survey that you rightly question the purpose of. SEN broadens in definition all the time. No teacher can gain a full understanding of all needs, as you say we are not medical professionals so should not question a diagnosis either. Do you think some issues are caused by the fact 1 person (the senco) is delegated all the responsibility for SEN in a school? Leadership may then think it is covered and teachers have an person who should supply the answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely!
    In a small primary like ours HT is often SENCO, which is clearly one hat too many. Problem bounces back to class teacher (who has a combined year class and huge spread of abilities to cope with), who bounces it to their TA.

    Everyone thinks something is being done, even though TA hasn’t a clue and no monitoring is carried out.

    At secondary it’s the SENCO’s problem, despite them being run off their feet with more serious problems (and at daughter’s school getting caught up in Special Measures nonsense).

    Only teacher who tried to get involved did the opposite of anything helpful, because that gave him the easiest life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s good that the delegates who came to your round tables were positive about wanting to engage with parents. What are all the teachers who don’t use Twitter, or attend SEND conferences doing though? SEND is still seen as a niche area, which few understand, and the wheel keeps being reinvented. While that is going on, everyone is watching their own backs – teachers who think they can diagnose, teachers who know they can’t diagnose but won’t insist the senior leadership of the school do something, like ask an Ed Psych to meet the child and family, the Senior Leader who ignores the fact that there are just no Ed Psychs available, the SEN caseworker who writes an EHCP with no provision in it because ‘there’s no provision available’, the SEN Manager who gatekeeps the ‘problem’ parents so no precedents are set, and so on. These people far outweigh the ‘converted,’ and conference after conference preaching to these good people are getting us nowhere fast. SEND is a circus now, and a very lucrative one at that, just not for the children. As long as teachers are diagnosing children, and blaming parents, it gives the other actors in the show more time to do nothing.


    1. There is nothing I don’t agree with that you have written. The test really is what happens next as a result of the conference. More networking events are not going to achieve anything alone. There has to be change in schools and in classrooms. I’d like to see some SMART targets for this set out.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a Senco the hardest part of my job is getting teachers to use recommended strategies. This then causes friction with parents as they are frustrated by teacher comments in reports and at parents’ evenings. Having high expectations and, dare I say it, use of data to ensure pupils are making progress.

    I am also a classroom teacher and I know how hard it it to employ my comments from above. Smaller classes would help. In my school much of the SEN budget is used to make this happen for English and Maths. Our results for all pupils including those with SEND are very good. Imagine if all subjects had the same playing field.

    I am also a parent and know how it feels to be fobbed off by the experts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There has got to be a better way of doing all of this. It can ONLY happen I believe, with much improved parent-teacher relations. This HAS to be led or at least initiated by educationalists/teachers though due to the current power relations.


  8. Communication is the absolute key!
    Parents should not have to rely on their child telling them what support they are getting. They shouldn’t have to hover to catch the senco at parents evening, they shouldn’t have to ask for meetings.

    School should be proactive, they should tell us what help our child will receive and report back to us whether those interventions are being beneficial.


  9. I personally removed my disabled non verbal child over 2 yrs ago from special needs school. Knew something was wrong so hid a dictaphone on her wheelchair, can hear teacher and TA’s goading her, slagging me off,even saying they’d filled out safeguarding forms with fake concern’s to teach me a lesson.
    They are glorified average teachers that deem themselves important and more qualified, truth is there’s not much difference in teaching standards for special needs schools and mainstream. Even said she was treated like that just to get at me. Careful people who you listen to and trust with your child.


  10. Reblogged this on thequestioningaspie and commented:
    Interesting blog here about the reporting earlier this week of the GL-Assessment Report (there’s a link to the report and information about it in the blog, so I’m not going to repeat it here.)
    But this story and the discussion around it really resonated with me. Having been ‘the SEN kid’ (relating to my physical disabilities), and having had my parents and one dedicated teacher fighting for my rights, I know what it’s like to be in the middle of a conflict where those on the other side (other teachers, Local Authority employees) are arguing that your rights should be denied and you should be left to struggle because others are more deserving.
    It’s disgusting. It messes you up – and I wish the teachers who contributed to the assessment report blaming parents for seeking diagnosis and support for their children turned their anger on an education system, and a government that is failing to meet the needs of the children caught in the middle of it. Once again, “Divide and Rule”.


  11. Understanding & collaboration are both key to being able to work out what a child’s needs are and how best to support them. Hopefully more teachers will be provided with the required training, so that they too can be informed and help support parents and children with SEND needs


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