Down to Special Educational Needs?

Adele Ramet was horrified to hear a teacher on a UK radio talk about her students being “from grammar school level, all the way down to SEN”. Here she talks about her grandchildren, who both have SEN (Special Educational Needs), and why they are not at the bottom of any scale.

Any Questions? I have many!

One programme that has always had me shouting abuse at my radio is “Any Answers”. “Any Answers” is a UK radio phone-in. It is designed to challenge the opinions of the panel of “experts” that appear on the preceding programme, “Any Questions”. This week featured the ongoing issues raised by the controversial downgrading of students’ exam results in England. Which attracted a slew of phone calls from disgruntled teachers.

I was horrified to hear the following comment from a teacher complaining about the grades being awarded on the basis of previous attainment results at specific schools. “Our school”, she boasted proudly, “has children of abilities ranging from grammar school level, all the way DOWN to SEN pupils……………”! (A English grammar school selects pupils on the basis of academic achievement.)

The SEN label is there to support not stigmatise

As the grandparent of two very bright, lively and clever SEN children, I was appalled. Something put in place at school to support them, was regarded by this teacher as a label to judge them by and their ability to achieve.

My grandson has an astonishingly wide vocabulary, a keen head for maths and a vivid imagination. But severe dyslexia led some teachers to label him as failing in his best subjects. There has been a failure to engage with the idea that he has difficulty with writing things down or reading instructions from the board. In primary school he was placed in the lowest ability groups. As a direct consequence, he believed himself to be incapable of more. Later he became scared to even try. We are still working on building up his confidence years later.

Our granddaughter was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of two. Chemo and radiotherapy have left her with a number of physical and cognitive impairments but she is bright and excited by her future. Both of these children have enormous potential but we need their teachers to work with rather than against them.

SEN does not mean dumb

WeCanAccess tweeted the quote from the teacher and asked ‘how are #SEN students in her school going to ever suceed? What can we do do turn these attitudes around?”

The tweet was met with a flood of responses. Many were from people with the SEN label who had been told they wouldn’t achieve by teachers but who now had degrees, masters and even doctorates. One autistic person even said their teacher called them ‘thicko’!

Some people said they weren’t diagnosed with SEN at school. They received diagnoses of autism or ADHD as adults and believed they would have been held back if they had been labelled earlier!

When teachers are ignorant about SEN or have fixed ideas, like the teacher on the radio and those at my grandson’s school, children pay the price.

However, other respondents on Twitter attributed their success to the amazing support they received at school.

It begs the question, if you were a teacher, how would you want your (former) pupils to talk about you?

2020 the year of change?

The 2020 English exam fiasco has given the brightest students a taste of what it feels like to be written off due to a spurious labelling system. Students who were expecting to get top grades and get into top universities to study law and medicine were marked down. They were not getting the recognition they deserved and were being told they couldn’t follow their dream and reach their full potential. Five days later, the UK Government changed the policy and gave the students their expected grades, hopefully dreams will be reinstated.

But if any of these young people take up teaching, I hope they remember how it felt to be unfairly judged based solely on a label.

About Adele

Adele Ramet BA Ed (Hons) is a retired author, lecturer in education and teacher of creative writing. She is a ridiculously proud grandmother to two children with special educational needs.

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