Much is written about systems for identifying and meeting the educational needs of children with the most severe disabilities and learning difficulties, particularly at the moment information about the new system in England. However, many more children have additional / special educational needs without being at the greatest / most complex level calling for a Statement, Education Health and Care Plan (new, in England) or Co-ordinated Support plan (in Scotland). This is the final part in a series of four articles about the support for this larger group of children. Each article deals with a common worry parents have about their child’s education when they have special or additional needs.
Q. “Child X has Y condition, therefore we cannot expect much.”
A. It is not logical to assume that a child cannot do things because of a defined disability or condition although there is no doubt that some conditions, particularly neurological ones, do make specific kinds of learning difficult and some can make it harder to prosper in typical school environments. To presuppose that a child cannot reach a particular level of learning or qualification because of a diagnosis or difficulty is a more subtle form of labelling.
What the codes emphasise here is individualisation – “reasonable adjustments” might help a child with a disability to access learning and testing more easily, individualised attention or a more specialised environment might help them to overcome or find ways around barriers they face. Only when all that is put into the equation, is it truly realistic to define what a child may or may not be able to achieve. The codes contain many statements about this, for example in Wales, LEAs (Local Education Authorities) have a duty to publish their arrangements for “auditing, planning, monitoring and reviewing provision for children with SEN (generally and in relation to individual pupils)” (Welsh Assembly Government, 2004), and among the many references to individualisation is this about early years provision: “Monitoring of individual children’s progress throughout the early years is essential. Where a child appears not to be making progress either generally or in a specific aspect of learning, then it may be necessary to present different opportunities or use alternative approaches to learning. Ongoing difficulties may indicate the need for a level of help above that which is normally available for children in the particular early years setting.” (Section 4:9).
A potential pitfall, where there is a defined diagnosis or learning difficulty, is to look only at that and not at other factors that might be considered if there was no such definition. For example, a child’s reaction to their experience of school, and their possible view of having to be there as an inconvenience, might come into the mix with a defined diagnosis etc. as well as without one. Shakespeare’s “As you like it” describes the “whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school”. This could have something to do with the time he had to get up in the morning, but also some children still find school to be a pleasanter experience than others. Looking at how this can be influenced may also unlock some enthusiasm and ability.
In the United States the term “accommodations” encompasses reasonable adjustments, differentiation of the curriculum, assistive technology, multisensory techniques, individualised learning measures etc. An Internet search on “accommodations” with “education” will yield additional suggestions for supporting children with different learning issues. For example, “A critical part of teaching and assessing students with disabilities, then, is providing them with accommodations that support learning and that support their ability to show what they know and can do.” (Luke SD and Schwartz A, 2007-2010).
Luke S.D. and Schwartz A., Assessment and Accommodations (Evidence for Education, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2007, Resources updated October 2010, currently http://nichcy.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/eeaccommodations.pdf, moving at the end of September to http://www.parentcenterhub.org).
See also; Ideas that work: toolkit on teaching and assessing students with disabilities, (US Office of Special Education Programs). Some of the recommendations on teaching techniques for children with dyslexia, in Rose, J. 2009, Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties, (DCSF Publications) could be useful for other SEN / AN issues as well. One more out of the many resources containing practical ideas iswww.teachingideas.co.uk/more/specialneeds/contents.htm.
Special educational needs code of practice for Wales (2004), (Welsh Assembly Government).