Yesterday I had a quick chat on Twitter about the differences between SEN and disability. Just because you have one, it doesn’t follow that you also fall into the category of the other, does it? Maybe, maybe not.
At work I test students against standardised norms. I check for reading & writing speeds, spelling, single word reading, comprehension, working memory, rapid recall & maths if necessary – so quite a broad range. It doesn’t matter what label a student has, or if they have a label at all. We have an open door policy, so any student who has concerns about exams, they can book in to get ‘checked out’ for Access Arrangements. Labels, quite simply, are unimportant. However, I may also do other assessments if there’s warning signs, like an additional comprehension test, or a test for visual stress, just to be sure. Gut instinct and all that, it’s why I did all that training. Assessment includes gut instinct and knowledge, not just ticks in boxes.
Are these academic tests for SEN, or do they also cover students with ‘D’? I have to say the latter. I’m working under the JCQ (exam board) regs, mainly under the heading ‘learning difficulties’. They use the EQA definition of long-term & significant. I only need one Standardised Score of 84 or below to meet the definition of significant. However, the JCQ regs also includes students in the low average range if other factors are taken into consideration. More gut instinct & evidence gathering.
So, unless you can consider something like handwriting speed as a test of academic skill (well I suppose it is, but it is somewhat removed from gaining an ‘A’ or an ‘E’ in a test), my assessments aren’t all of academic ability. If students score low enough, they are considered to have a learning difficulty which suggests they also fall within the realms of disability.
But what about students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or autism?
Dyslexia is always a very difficult one & I believe one that is unlikely to succeed in an EQA (disability discrimination) appeal unless the student is going to fall in the ‘well below average’ category for spelling (and possibly some others). My reasoning behind this is that a great many people may be of low average ability in a more global sense. I hate to say it, but I think that some of the blurb coming out of the government & Ofsted is right. Just because some people learn more slowly, it doesn’t mean they have SEN/D. They simply learn more slowly. Dyslexia is never going to disappear, but with good teaching, dyslexia isn’t going to be disabling, just flippin’ annoying.
Dyspraxia, ADHD & autism though are more difficult to define. They are thrown into those blurry lines of SEN, SEND or plain D? I’m not dismissing dyslexia here in this mix, like as I say, there are some whose issues remain significant and therefore disabling.
So what is it about this group? Is it that they are so diverse? Yes, I think so. A student with ADHD may not be learning not because they have a difficulty in their ability to learn, but because they are unable to attend for long enough as their environment is wrong. Is this a SpLD or a D? For those able to demonstrate good academic ability when given the right tools, I think it’s a D. I also think that dyspraxia & autism may fit here too. Given the right tools, any difficulty in learning may diminish. In other words, they are disabled by the social model, by us. I have seen students who were at rock bottom, those who it was said will never re-enter full-time school again, come alive given the right settings. I have seen them gain good GCSEs & wonderful social skills.
How do we measure D in respect of applying for an EHCP though? The ‘biggie’ for way too many of us, whose offspring make good academic progress but are beaten and broken inside by the stress of the social world and its desperation to produce ‘normalised’ behaviours.
Terminology in the C&F Act states ‘educates or trains’. Do these students require ‘training’? Well, if a child with Cerebral Palsy is academically able but incontinent, toilet training is exactly that, training. If there was an EHCP drawn up, toilet training should be included. If a child with autism needs to be taught to say ‘good morning’ when meeting classmates in the playground, is that any different to toilet training? How about teaching a dyslexia child phonics, is that educating, training or both? We all ought to know by now that Speech Therapy is provision (part 3 or section F), and an essential feature on statements of EHCPs for those with Down Syndrome.
Now I’m back to those ‘grey area’ pupils. If we are providing ‘training’ then their need must be educational, they have SEN. If their needs disappear in the right environment, are they SEN or D? Speaking from personal experience, I watched a small boy struggling to make sense of the world. I watched him crumble and break. His SEN was clear for all to see, he wasn’t going to make it in school, his needs were too great. Then he moved. Little more than a couple of weeks later (yes really,, that quickly) he became a child whose needs would have been far too low to gain a statement or EHCP. He was very much a D and not a SEN. But here’s the rub, the catch-22, his only required provision was the school & for that, he needed a statement, the statement that declared that he had SEN!
What a stupid country we live in that we must disable and break students in order to declare they have SEN, rather than accept that D is reason enough to provide a non-disabling environment.