My take on the special needs debate

I was interested to see all the discussion that went on following the release of the Ofsted report on Special Needs http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Documents-by-type/Thematic-reports/The-special-educational-needs-and-disability-review

There was Ofsted saying that many children are labelled as “special needs” who do not need to be and indeed are only lacking in good teaching  and my union the “National Union of Teachers” rebutting this by saying the claims made by Ofsted were “insulting and wrong” to the teaching profession.

Well my view on the report is that Ofsted actually had a very good point. I have seen many children who have very quickly been labelled as Special Needs and then spend much of their school careers being treated as if they needed “extra support” by a Teaching Assistant and were given work “scaled down” to their supposed ability.

My argument with Ofsted would be to consider that “teaching”was the answer to all this.  I understand that the teacher has a key role in any classroom, but I believe that the Ofsted approach to teaching still reflects the “sage on the stage” model that is a leftover from the industrial/ factory style schools that we inherited from the nineteenth century.

I recently watched a brilliant video of Professor Seymour Papert at Bates College in the year 2000 see: http://vimeo.com/9106174 In the early part of his talk Professor Papert attacks the number of children that are joining the ever growing list of Special Needs cases.

As he says in the film the bored child or the child with divergent thinking that just cannot get used to a didactic form of teaching does not learn. He is labelled as “Special Needs” and often given work that is too simple for him.. he then gets more bored and does worse and thus creates a cycle of under achievement and more S.N. paperwork.

His answer is to seek out what makes the child tick… what makes the child keen to learn. Giving the child the chance to succeed will often produce results that would amaze their teachers.

So my take on the argument is to say that Ofsted are essentially correct in their assertion that there are too many children with special needs who do not need to be categorised in this way. I do not think that more charismatic teaching or exciting textbooks is the answer…. I believe that we need to try and understand what motivates the child and then seek to promote this.

The result of taking more children off of Special Needs would mean that more time and energy (as well as valuable resources) can be spent on this children whose physical or mental problems warrant the help…. these are the true “Special Needs” children. The success of the others in terms of self-esteem and becoming the person that they have the ability to be, can only be a plus for our society and economy.

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