I was recently listening to one of Yvonne Newbold’s webinars about SEND VCB (special educational needs and disabilities violent and challenging behaviour) when she stopped to break down the acronym SEND.
It struck me for the first time that it is potentially such an unhelpful term.
Not because of the words “disabilities” or “special”, but the word “educational”. What about all the other needs that aren’t covered by the term SEND?
If schools don’t perceive a child to have an educational need, then parents can struggle to get the help they require. If symptoms are not seen within an educational setting, or if the needs a child has do not affect their academic ability, then are they seen? Are they understood? Does the child get the help they deserve?
Teachers are busy people. They have limited CPD time. If they aren’t trained in all possible special needs, even ones that don’t manifest in an educational setting, then they won’t be aware of the many and varied (and potentially very great) needs that children may have.
Essentially, if a child’s needs manifest mostly outside of the school building, and it doesn’t affect their academic progress, then they are not a SEND child (emphasis on the E) – and run the risk of being treated as such even if they do have significant special needs.
Yet SEND is the pervading term, the lens through which we view all potential needs, the hoop that must be jumped through to access help and support.
What’s more, it could even be that the educational setting is part of the issue for a child with special needs.
SEND? How about calling it special additional needs and disabilities?
Take an autistic girl who spends her day masking at school, working extremely hard to fit into a neurotypical mould in order to cope with the demands of the day – in order to appear just like everyone else. She’s super-smart, very conscientious and pretty much always produces the best work, gets the best marks in tests and her behaviour can appear impeccable.
Follow that same child out of the school grounds at home time and you will see a different story. You will see the mask come off, the exhaustion of doing all the above all day against her nature becoming emotion: the fears and anxieties of the day finally allowed to seep out in the safety of her home.
This girl doesn’t have very visible educational needs at school, but she certainly does have needs. The problem might lie in the fact that too often we view “educational” as synonymous with “academic”.
In fact, this child does have educational needs: she needs to be taught how to communicate, how to navigate friendships, how to recognise her physical and emotional needs, how to deal with sensory overload. And her parents will need the school to do something about it – make adjustments, access support agencies and so on.
The real problem with the term SEND is probably that our view of the scope of education is limited. However, language use does change, and if that’s how many view education, then perhaps we need to move with the times and change the terminology.
SEN is only one kind of special need. Perhaps SAND would be better: special additional needs and disabilities.
Teachers, Sendcos, school leaders: don’t just be on the lookout for those whose needs present primarily in school in an academic way, please be aware of how the needs of children with some conditions might not obviously affect them at school, or in their academic education, but that school might be part of what makes their need difficult for them to navigate.
And please listen to parents – even if they aren’t SEND experts, they are experts on their own children.
Aidan Severs is deputy head of a primary school in the North of England