A summary of what Special Educational Needs mainstream schools accommodate and how they provide for them.
Special Educational Needs (SEN) refers to the needs of a child who has a learning difficulty or disability that makes it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age.
Having a Special Educational Need is not a negative, but failing to identify it is. Children with a SEN who progress through education without appropriate help can suffer from low confidence and social awkwardness. Identifying the condition early allows the pupil to manage the SEN and realise the potential of their abilities.
In 2016 the proportion of children in state schools receiving help for Special Educational Needs was 14.4% in England, 22.4% in Wales, and 22.5% in Scotland. For UK independent schools it was 12.9%. Those with the highest need and an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan were 2.8% in English state schools, 11.8% in Welsh state schools, 5.6% in Scottish state schools and 4.6% in UK independent schools.
It’s a large number of children and difficulties can range from dyslexia to severe mental and physical impairment. There are special schools that cater for particular needs or disabilities, but 91% of children with Special Educational Needs are educated within mainstream schooling.
Types of Special Educational Needs in mainstream schools
At mainstream primary schools four categories of need make up 82% of primary SEN. They are Speech, Language and Communication (28%), Moderate Learning Difficulties (27%), Social, Emotional and Mental Health (16%) and Specific Learning Difficulties (11%).
The same four account for 78% of mainstream secondary SEN, but the cases of children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs drops to 9% of the total and the cases of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) increases to 23% of secondary. SpLD are Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Disorder and to an extent, Asperger’s Syndrome and the Autism Spectrum Disorder. At independent schools (junior and senior) SpLDs account for 68% of all Special Educational Needs, with Dyslexia alone accounting for 46%.
How will I know if my child has Special Educational Needs?
There are plenty of websites that can give you a list of 20-30 signs of a learning difficulty. The problem with these self-diagnosis lists is that many of the symptoms could just be typical childhood developmental traits. Best consult with the teacher, SEN coordinator at the school or a medical professional.
Schools are getting better at spotting learning difficulties, if not from a teacher’s individual experience then routine screening at entry, Year 1 or Year 3. In 80% of cases the plan of action will involve a little extra tuition on a smaller group basis; an extension of the schools pastoral care programme. Schools cannot conduct a formal assessment, but, with your consent, can refer to an educational psychologist who will conduct a series of tests which your child will most likely enjoy. They’ll prepare a full report for you explaining their findings and a plan for how to manage the special educational need. You’ll then discuss the report with the school and agree a way forward.
How do mainstream schools accommodate Special Educational Needs?
Schools are required by law to provide an education for all pupils regardless of ability or Special Educational Need.
All schools must have a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo). A qualified teacher, the SENCo has a specific responsibility to maintain and uphold the school’s SEN policy. In a small school the SENCo could be the head teacher or the deputy head. They ensure that the school identifies and accommodates (with a Plan) those children having learning difficulties. This plan will refer to individual or small group sessions for the child with relevant members of staff. In addition, they liaise with parents and they facilitate access to more specialist resources should the need arise.
Schools differ in their ability to accommodate children with Special Educational Needs. It may be the number of children, the severity or even the facilities available to children with SEN. A school with more children with SEN might have more appropriately trained SEN staff and better SEN facilities. Both staff and facilities are conducive to making a child feel less “different”. Pupils might receive help ranging from extra time to complete exams to an hour a week in a much smaller group. Or even weekly withdrawal from some curricular subjects to spend time with a specialist. Facilities start with a dedicated but undifferentiated classroom. They progress to specialist classrooms with a range of sensory equipment or adapted course material.
For parents who don’t know whether their child has a Special Educational Need understanding the school’s SEN provision is essential. It’s not just a safety net. As many parents will testify, children don’t outgrow SEN but, with help, they can learn strategies to manage. And that gets them on to a level playing field with those who don’t have SEN.