Joni Holmes, Joe Bathelt & Duncan Astle

Look beyond the label

When children struggle to learn, they are usually given a diagnosis that then determines what support they are given. Leading special schools have long found such labelling to be problematic, and now research from the University of Cambridge points to an urgent need to reassess how we approach special educational needs. Here, the authors of that work – Joni Holmes, Joe Bathelt and Duncan Astle – explain why diagnosis should not dictate intervention

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Alfie is eight years old and already has a reputation in his primary school. His Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 teachers found his behaviour difficult to manage: he wouldn’t sit still, he often disrupted other children and he found it hard to pay attention.

Academically, he struggled, too: he was making slower progress in reading than many of his peers.

So, when he started Year 3, his new teacher, Sarah, decided something had to change. She discussed Alfie with his previous teachers, the special educational needs and disabilities coordinator (Sendco) and his parents. Sarah’s meeting with his ...

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