A plea for better instruction and information on SEN for both teachers and parents
Our son, who is five, was identified by the school SENCO as having potential difficulties, mainly in the gross motor skills and personal, social and emotional areas. Having been in close contact with the school and outside agencies, we are now in the process of waiting for an appointment with a community paediatrician. Researching on the internet, I came across dyspraxia and have been told that I may be on the right lines. On this basis, I joined an online support group and was shocked by the stories from other parents and adults who are being ignored or fobbed-off with their concerns.
We are fortunate in that our experience with my son’s school has been brilliant; the school has always been very open and up front about the process and the next course of action. I know through friendships with other parents, though, that this is not the same with every child, even within the same school.
I went through teacher training and I only had a one hour of lectures on hidden disabilities; I came out not really knowing what to look for. It is my opinion that, whilst the Government is planning on reducing the numbers of teaching assistants (who have greatly helped my son) and cutting budgets, teachers’ knowledge of hidden conditions is of the utmost importance so that children with difficulties can be referred to the SEN team as soon as possible.
Teaching assistants are a valuable resource who can help children who struggle with learning (in whichever area) to achieve; without them, many children would suffer. SENCOs are already stretched to the limit and it is physically impossible for them to observe all children in order to assess them. By educating teachers, both at initial training level and those already working within the education system, children with problems can be detected more quickly and given the help and support they need.
As we are currently experiencing, waiting times to see educational psychologists, community paediatricians and specialists can be extremely lengthy, so more of these key professionals are needed.
There is much confusion amongst parents when it comes to SEN. Many do not even realise that each school has a SENCO. When they approach a class teachers they are often told that there is no problem and their child is just a “slow developer”, whilst others approach their GP simply to be referred back to the school. I believe that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the channels available to parents, if they have concerns about their child’s learning. Teachers also need better training to be able to understand individual children’s needs and act appropriately.
Teachers often also have poor knowledge of medical conditions, such as epilepsy or diabetes. I received no instruction regarding how to help children manage these conditions in my teacher training. Such knowledge is vital for teachers; it could save a child’s life.
I would like to see more in-depth training on these issues for future generations of teachers but also, crucially, for those already working in our classrooms. Schools and local authorities need to provide much clearer information and guidance for teachers and also for parents, so that parents know what their options are, who to speak to if they have a concern and what the situation is regarding matters such as the school staffing hierarchy and the appeals procedure.
I hope that, one day, our politicians will, instead of cutting budgets and staffing levels, invest in our education system and the medical profession to effectively identify and support children who need additional help at school. Many intelligent children, who could perhaps go on to become teachers or doctors themselves, are currently misunderstood or wrongly labelled when all they need is a bit of extra support to achieve their potential.