Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Special educational needs and the undeserving

The fundamentals of how the government is going to manage the implementation of the changes to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) System are now clear, and all present in much of the coverage in today’s media. As expected the government’s media strategy has begun by representing the changes as reform and an improvement to a system 'that is not fit for purpose'. In truth it is not so much the system they are concerned with but the level of funding it consumes and their ability to control that spending. In the current system the Statement of SEN requires resources to be made available according to a child's needs, irrespective of budgets that local authorities may or may not have available. Currently that entitlement is being made available to approximately 3% of all children and in a government where managing budgets comes first the removal of that entitlement is unsurprisingly, a high priority.  
The second thing they have done is to divide the children and their families into two categories: those deserving of additional support and those who are not. This paralells the strategy used in many of their other reforms. The more severely disabled child and their family will be entitled to the support they deserve: a combined assessment and a personal budget. In contrast to this a child with the lowest level of special need will supposedly have their additional needs met through improved teaching methods and better training for teachers.  This group of children are likely to include amongst others; childrenwith high functioning autistic spectrum disorders, children without a diagnosis and particularly those with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties whose difficulties are (often erroneously) attributed to poor parenting skills.
The third element of the strategy implicit in much of the coverage, is to vilify teachers. Along with parents, teachers are seen as the principal abusers of the current system. The treatment of teachers in the Graeme Paton’s Telegraph article is particularly blunt and they are blamed for using the SEN system to manipulate league tables and hide poor teaching and as ever Ofsted is used to support the argument and make what is essentially a political case. What makes this vilification of teachers all the more pointless is that the proposals outlined in the Green Paper Support and Aspiration are almost impossible to achieve without the full support and commitment of a child's school.
So over the coming months, we can expect more examples of deserving disabled children and how effective the combined assessment is at meeting their needs. We can expect examples of the charities that are supporting these proposals, most of which now have significant government contracts. We can expect reports on how inclined teachers and parents are to abuse the current system to get additional funding and how a culture of low expectations deprives these children of their futures. What we won’t get is honesty about the real objective of these changes – the removal of the Statement of Special Educational Needs – as a legal guarantee of a child's statutory entitlement to additional support according to need.


  1. This is the best thing I have read on the 'reforms' so far. as a SENCO and parent of a high functioning autistic child I have a very strong interest in how this was all all going to play out. The current government are totally wedded to a deserving/undeserving view of us (the 99% or whatever you want call the rest of who didn't go to Eton).

    Very worrying all in all, and no surprise that teachers are getting the blame. This model of thinking about what constitutes a SEN is very essentialist and implicitly rejects any kind of social constructivist view of children's experiences and behaviours.

    we will all need to keep on fighting alongside the disability activist who are challenging this view and rejecting the idea that because people have a disabilty or special need they can be done to, even if it is by their parents.

    1. I agree and thanks for the comments. This tendency of the government to stereotype communities in this way is extremely worrying as is their tendency to scapegoat.

      I agree with you about people being done to. I do think that the current system could be made far more emancipatory and far more emphasis could and should be placed on the young person's voice but the Green Paper makes almost no reference to it so we can expect no improvement on that front either. As you say the fight goes on.