« Previous | Main | Next »

Special Educational Needs

Post categories:

Eddie Mair | 11:49 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2007

The Conservatives have new proposals out today. We're trying to get Mr Cameron on the programme to talk about them. Will post a link asap.

1224 UPDATE: Just spoken to Alan at the Conservatives and we're trying to get a link organised so you can read things for yourself. We hope to speak to Mr Cameron or one of his colleagues. So if, having read the stuff, you have a question, post it here and I'll try to ask it for you.

1233 UDPATE: And HERE it is.

1555 UPDATE: the man who wrote the report Sir Robert Balchin - the Chairman of the Conservative Special Education Needs Commission will join me live. Again - if YOU HAVE A QUESTION ADD IT BY CLICKING ON COMMENT.

1800 UPDATE: Sir Robert Balchin interview is here.


  1. At 01:08 PM on 30 Jul 2007, ian wrote:

    Why should we take the tories seriously when they were all educated privately, and will no doubt do the same for their children? They don't care about the state sector, and if they could get away with it, they'd privatise it.

  2. At 02:07 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    There are so many questions one could ask.

    Here's one: The document refers to 'system generated needs', by which is meant difficulties which arise from 'inadequate teaching, inappropriate methods and lack of discipline at primary level'. Since no remedy is proposed for these needs, we may assume that this is a gratuitous swipe at the teaching profession. No mention is made of the 'system generated need' we could most easily do something about - namely the age at which we ask children to start formal education. The countries this document compares us to all start elementary school significantly later than we do. It seems very obvious to many early years teachers that if you ask children to do things they are not yet ready for, they will not be able to do those things - but, more importantly, they will form negative attitudes about education in general. School is somewhere where they ask you to do things you can't do, especially if you are a boy. So how about raising the age at which formal education begins?

    (infant teacher and ex-headteacher)

  3. At 02:24 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    And here's another:

    This document claims that "Just under half of all 11 year-olds (43 per cent) cannot read, write and add up properly when they leave primary school." The government document they refer to says:

    "The percentages of pupils achieving Level 4 or above in the 2005 KS2 tests by subject are as follows:
    English 79% (84% for girls, 74% for boys)
    Reading 84% (87% for girls, 82% for boys)
    Writing 63% (72% for girls, 55% for boys)
    Mathematics 75% (75% for girls, 76% for boys)
    Science 86% (87% for girls, 86% for boys)"

    So where does the 43% come from? I think I know - and I think the Tories might be a little embarrassed by this. The DfES document they refer to says: "The percentage of pupils achieving Level 4 in the 2005 reading, writing and mathematics KS2 tests was 57%."

    100% take away 57% leaves 43% - okay? So 43% of pupils don't achieve level 4 - okay? What the Tories have missed is that the 43% figure covers all pupils who didn't get level 4 - and this includes large numbers who did better than expected and achieved level 5.

    Back to school!


  4. At 03:47 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Tim wrote:

    The Government only published the combined figure after the Tories exposed it: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000611/Final.pdf

    It's 57 per cent achieving level 4 or above, so their 43% figure is correct

  5. At 04:12 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Two comments: first, that is not the document referred to. Secondly, there appears to be a logic error here: perhaps they mean OR rather than AND.


  6. At 04:46 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Tracie williams wrote:

    My son who is 11 has no school to go to as all of the ASD school placements are full. so far we have spent £4,500 on a tribunal and SALT reports and Ed psych reports etc and still have no placement.

    My son has ASD, TS, ADHD, SID. He needs a specialist placement, the LEA offered him a mainstream high school which was inapropriate, the school we are after (an ASD school ) is full. all the others in the Wales area are full. So where does he go?

  7. At 05:49 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Rebecca Rooke wrote:

    I am so pleased that finally someone in a position of authority is stating the blatantly obvious, that inclusion as it stands is just not working! As a recently trained teacher who now teaches in a SEN school, all we were fed at training was about being flexible to meet the needs of everyone ... yet teachers are not even given the most basic training about common conditions and specific teaching strategies. Inclusion as an ideal is fantastic, however we are just traumatising children needlessly by sending them into (usually) inadequate mainstream provision. Hey, I have no special educational needs, and school was bad enough for me!

  8. At 05:54 PM on 30 Jul 2007, brian wrote:

    The facts of the matter are these

    1) Any child starting school in 1997 would now be 15 years old

    2) For their whole educational development there has been a Labour govt.

    3) Those leaving primary school now started 6 years ago after Labour had been in power for a number of years

    4) The teaching they have received, the tests they have sat, the curriculum they have studied - all these have been set since 1997 - that means a labour govt.

    5) You cannot blame this on the tories no matter how hard you try

  9. At 05:59 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Mr. P. A. reeves wrote:

    It's all very well talking about special needs as a category of learning disability, but I think there should be a separation for those children with SEVERE learning disabilities which represent a completely different spectrum of disability. My son is non-verbal and incontinent, requiring 24hour supervision and intensive monitoring in all situations. This is somewhat different, I would say, from having e.g reading difficulties and should not be included (as is the case now) in the genre of 'learning disability'. the other issue I would raise is that there is not the slightest possibility of my boy going to mainstream school and thus the whole debate about inclusion is quite meaningless for children with severe learning disabilities. Hence the need for a whole different category!

  10. At 06:03 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Mrs B Williamson wrote:

    surely it would be better for all special needs students if special needs funding was given in response to Key Stage results it seems rediculess to me that special needs funding to schools is associated to free school meals! This is an insult to the majority of students and parents in receipt of free school meals and un- helpful to those who need additional help but are unable to get a statement of need for whatever reason.

  11. At 06:40 PM on 30 Jul 2007, Robert Grover wrote:

    Sorry I didn't hear the programme this evening - rare period of sunshine down here on the South Coast so had to cut the grass, I digresss. Mr. P A Reeves (9) is making a very good point which I think is always in danger of being overlooked. There are many children, my 11 year old daughter amongst them, who will never be "included" in mainstream education. She has CP, is unable to walk, talk, support herself in any way, double incontinent, requires 24 hr supervision & care I could, I go on.

    She attends a non-maintained out of county special school which is a fantastic place that meets a great deal of her needs including multi discipline health needs. I acknowledge it is part funded by our LEA but at any time they could decide to switch the funding arrangement & insist on a less suitable more local placement. I don't know for certain but I observe the school is over subsribed and is short of sufficient experienced special needs teachers and teacher assistants.

    There needs to be more funding, more places, more staff training to accommodate thise children with the most complex of physical, educational& health needs. Certainly a seperate and different category for the SEN statementing process is just one small requirement.

    David Cameron can speak from huge personal experience. I don't know if what has been released today provides all the answers but I hope others will listen to those who live with this subject 24 hrs a day.

  12. At 10:49 AM on 31 Jul 2007, Margaret Collins wrote:

    Re Rebecca Rooke's post (No. 7 above) where she writes:
    "inclusion as it stands is just not working! (....) all we were fed at training was about being flexible to meet the needs of everyone ... yet teachers are not even given the most basic training about common conditions and specific teaching strategies. "
    Teachers in mainstream schools and parents who don't have experience of what goes on in special schools may assume that there is a special magic about special schools and that, in a special school, teachers and learning support assistants (who do most of the actual teaching) have had specialist training and have the necessary expertise to meet the needs of children with various forms of special education need. Alas, this cannot be assumed. The teachers in Special Schools have done the same training as the teachers who go to work in a mainstream setting. As Rebecca Rooke points out, this general training does not equip teachers to edcuate children with SEN. It may surprise some readers to learn that teachers in special schools may have had little or no additional training of any real value to enable them to provide a suitable education for the children in their class. The undertrained teachers are then supposed to train the learning support assistants, but as they are not even equipped to teach the children themselves, they are not in a position to train others.
    In addition to the problems cause by lack of adequate training to staff in special schools, it is well known that in special schools the expectations of the children are all too often rock bottom and they are simply not expected to be able to learn much, so they don't get the chance to achieve what they might if properly taught.
    I speak as a parent whose child has been to two Local Authority Special Schools over a five year period. He has recently started to receive most of his education at home and he has a professionally-designed programme for him which is closely supervised and updated frequently. Within a couple of weeks of starting the programme his attention span and capacity to learn had vastly improved.

    But probably the most serious drawback to sending your child to special school is that this isolates your child, almost certainly for life, from his or her own community and especially from the other children in the neighbourhood. Over a lifetime, this is disastrous, especially if the child with SEN and perhaps other disabilities does not have brothers and sisters who know and love them and will be there for them over their lifetime. It is a terrible fate to have no friends and to be at the mercy of professionals once your parents have become too old to look out for you. If you have gone through mainstream education (appropriately resourced and wilh all the required support in place) you will be known in your own community, known by your contemporaries and there is a greater likelihood of your knowing people who care about you and who wish to know you as a person. Inclusion is, primarily, a human rights issue.

    I agree that, as things stand, inclusion often isn't working, but why not change the way things stand? I note that the Conservatives' report seems to be expressing concern about the damaging effect upon the education of other children when children with some forms of SEN are included in mainstream. The way to address this problem in many cases is to have a carefully-designed package of support for each child with SEN and for staff to be properly trained and given specialist professional support. It would also involve redesigning schools. All very expensive, and often rather difficult. I suspect this is why some people are so keen on special schools: it makes life easier in mainstream education. Some parents are not so keen on special schools, but realise that as things stand, they may need to set up a new specialist school so that their child gets an adequate education.

  13. At 11:57 AM on 31 Jul 2007, Rebecca Rooke wrote:

    Thank you to Margaret for your back up, however I would like to point out the vast number of teachers who go into SEN take it upon themselves to learn and research, in order to provide the best possible education for those in their class. Therefore as teams in class groups we draw on a mixture of experience from those that have it, current teaching strategies and practices, and researching, be it through books, articles, or simply asking members of the multi-disciplinary teams we have in school for their support.

    I would also like to add that increasingly in SEN schools now, the range of social interactions is increasing. In my school we take pupils from across the spectrum of SEN, from those with the most complex of needs to those who with a little more support than is available could survive in mainstream education. This means our pupils have the same sort of social experience at our school as they would in mainstream, minus the bullying and isolation they would have to suffer for being 'different'.

    Finally, I agree there are schools where expectations of pupils are not what they should be. But that is changing to, and my school is just one of many where pupils are now achieving real and established qualifications to enable them to have meaningful jobs after school. They get to complete in regional and national sports events, take part in music competitions and activities, and work with pupils in mainstream schools on joint ventures.

    Not all SEN schools are perfect. But they all have the desire to do the best for the pupils at the heart of them.

  14. At 12:10 PM on 31 Jul 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Margaret Collins @ 12 wrote of her suggestion for what would be proper provision for SEN children, "All very expensive, and often rather difficult." If the question is "Why don't they....?" the answer is almost certain to be "money." Why don't they provide better teaching for SEN children? It costs too much to do it right. This is a dire state of affairs but I think it likely that it is true.

    Thinking of broad generalisations, which my comment above is: ian @ 1, if you make such sweeping and inaccurate generalisations ("the tories ... were all educated privately") why should anyone take *you* seriously?

  15. At 10:47 PM on 31 Jul 2007, Carmel Egan wrote:

    In the debate about special schools versus "inclusion", the option of specialist units attached to mainstream schools seems to get overlooked. My eight year old son has an autistic spectrum condition, and I'd love him to be somewhere which combines the advantages of being at our local school (being with his brother/close to home/joining mainstream classes when appropriate) with the specialist expertise and support which is so often lacking. Sadly, there are too few places in such units. My local authority closed one a year or so ago, and recently threated to close another.

    At the moment, my son's teacher is expected to teach a class which includes five children with diagnoses of different special needs, not to mention the other 25, with their range of abilities, interests and motivations. Children on the autistic spectrum often have a varied profile with islets of ability : they can be brilliant at maths, for example, but struggle hopelessly with learning languages. They need the flexibility a specialist unit can offer, with the option of joining mainstream classes for some lessons, and additional support in the areas they need it. These units can also provide easier access to professionals such as speech and language therapists and educational psychologists.

    I'd like to see such units provided in most schools, with enough places available for all those who need them.

    Above all in this debate, we need to move away from the search for a one-size-fits-all solution, and offer children and their families real choice in the type of schooling they and the professional advisors feel is most appropriate.

    Finally, the suggestion that assessment of special needs should be independent of budget-holders is music to my ears. In my experience, local authority educational psychologists are writing reports with one hand tied behind their back, because they are not allowed to make recommendations which would cost money. They should be free to do the job they are trained for and to ensure that children's needs are met.

  16. At 08:44 AM on 02 Aug 2007, Pat wrote:

    Re: Posting no 8. Brian. "The facts of the matter are these".

    Anyone else cringe when they hear this phrase?

    I don't care what party did what. We are where we are.

    They are all as bad as each other.

    With the Tories it was good old fashioned bare-faced lies (told with studied serious straight faces, lowered slow deliberate condescending voices and supporting gestures) = slime.

    With Labour, it's giddying undermining spin, (with a studied gleaming sleazy smile, and supporting presidential gestures) = slime.

    What's the difference? Leave them to their see-through slippery slimey games.

    We just need change for the better for our SEN kids. Now.
    Before even more families are damaged - by current government policies which are applied & variously interpreted by shark-faced local authority money-saving institutionalised atttiudes & strategies - would be good.

    We want appropriate educational provision / support for our children with SENs.

    Families with children with SENs don't have time to go to a "school for political scoundrels".

  17. At 08:23 AM on 03 Aug 2007, Margaret Collins wrote:

    In reply to Chris Ghoti, message 14 above, who wrote:
    "If the question is "Why don't they....?" the answer is almost certain to be "money." Why don't they provide better teaching for SEN children? It costs too much to do it right. This is a dire state of affairs but I think it likely that it is true."
    What is "too much"?
    The National Initiative for Autism: Screening and Assessment (NIASA) produced a report in March 2003 which recommended early intervention in the home for 15 - 20 hours a week. This report's recommendations were not plucked out of the air. The working group who produced this report included Professor Ann Le Couteur ( Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Royal College of Psychiatrists), Dr Gillian Baird ( Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health), Dr Rita Jordan(Education) and Professor Pat Howlin (Clinical) (British Psychological Society),Professor Sheila Hollins (Adviser to the Department of Health and
    Learning Disability) ),two representatives from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Dr Tom Berney (Faculty of Learning Disability Psychiatry, Royal College of Psychiatrists) and several other experts in their respective fields.
    The recommendations in the report unfortunately had no statutory weight and no funding was made available nationally for their implementation. My local LA decided it cost too much to provide quality intensive early intervention for young children with autism and so children in the County still don't receive effective early intervention. Early intervention was recommended in the NIASA report for a good reason: there is evidence it improves later outcomes for the children who do get it.
    Children with autism who do not get the education they need when very young may become extremely expensive to educate further on down the line once they have developed severe behavioural problems and the LA may end up having to send them to boarding schools where the fees are getting on for £200,000 a year. An appropriate education offered soon after the diagnosis of autism might mean that at least some of these placements would be unnecessary. Children with autism who do not receive a quality education that meets their needs are, once they reach adulthood, likely to cost social services more over a full lifespan and to have a much worse quality of life.

  18. At 11:52 AM on 11 Aug 2007, Scotty wrote:

    Just back from a weeks holiday in a comfortable cottage somewhere in the UK.
    my Aspie child is 19, and coping at college, (although has to have transport there) has own accommodation, so had seemed to have lost the autistic behaviours largely, and hadn't had so many (they had been everyday) panic attacks since being at this college and having her own accomm. , and seemed to be behaving more "normally", if you like.
    After one day in a reasonable but unfamiliar place - a holiday cottage - back to the old autistic behaviours - panic attacks, wanting not to go out, screaming at flies coming in the window etc. Nightmare holiday.

    They are 19 now - and it's all still there.
    The lid can be kept on when proper support is in place, and when being alone to rest, recharge and de-stress from having to be around other people, is an option, but when in a strange place, plus with other people - it all falls apart.

    We realise we will have to take them on holiday off-peak or not at all, or risk severe distress (to pint of self-harning) to them again.

    My point is - autism / Aspergers does not go away. It is there all the time. Yet this government forces kids into mainstream school, and this forces UP the Aspie / autistic behaviour.

    I'm feeling very sad for them.

  19. At 11:28 AM on 11 Nov 2007, iris thomas wrote:

    i've a 4yr. grand-daughter that has a bowel problem and has a problem with her communication, my daughter has tryed everything to get her into school but all doors have been closed to her, she is a single mam with 5 other children and is finding it hard, if you can help in any why we will be gratful thank you iris thomas.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.