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Special educational needs 'over-identified'
The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) caused controversy in September when it published a report claiming that schools were over-identifying special educational needs. It said that over one fifth of all school children in England are now classified as having a special educational need (SEN) - this includes
a large majority who are assessed and supported by their school and a minority who receive external assessment and more specialist support.
Ofsted's claims will be of interest to educational psychologists who are involved in the assessment and support of children with special educational needs, especially in more severe cases. Ofsted said that schools were guilty of using the SEN term too widely, when really they should place more effort on raising overall teaching standards. They also claimed that too much attention was given to the identification and statementing process (which unlocks extra specialist resources for children in need), whilst assessment of the quality of support and outcomes was neglected.
Dr Harriet Martin, Chair the Society's Division of Educational and Child Psychology told us the news headlines prompted by Ofsted's report reinforced the 'generally unhelpful' view that a child with special educational needs always has an inherent problem. Martin explained that the difficulties some children have in learning in school are in fact best understood from an interactionist perspective.
'The child's own strengths and difficulties, the quality of the teaching and the level and appropriateness of support all contribute to the success or otherwise of the child in school,' she said. 'The Ofsted review rightly identified that professionals need to continue to develop their knowledge and understanding across the board - e.g. improving the quality of assessment, ensuring additional support is effective and focusing on outcomes for children and young people. This includes developing the quality of teaching. It is likely to be more productive to focus on how this development of knowledge and understanding can be achieved rather than blame schools for mis-diagnosis.'
Martin added that 'the headlines also distracted people's attention from much of the review's content, most of which is sensible, although not necessarily surprising to psychologists and other professionals who work in the field of special educational needs.'
Martin emphasised that educational psychologists have a key role to play 'supporting school staff to develop their assessment, monitoring and evaluation techniques and their understanding of evidence-based strategies and provision, including high-quality teaching for all'.
'Focusing on the diagnostic element of assessment is a retrograde step and will not help us improve outcomes for children and young people very much,' Martin told us. 'Although improving teaching standards for all is clearly important, it is only part of the continuing development in our education system which will improve the chances of success for those who struggle to learn and achieve their potential.'
The Ofsted report The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review.
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