Children are being misdiagnosed as having special educational needs because parents are determined that their behaviour should have a medical or psychological label, teachers believe.
Teachers claim that some parents are pushing for a special-needs diagnosis so that their children will be given preferential treatment in exams.
And almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of teachers say that children with genuine needs are missing out because resources are being diverted to children who do not really need help.
A YouGov poll of 810 teachers reveals that 57 per cent think that there is a tendency to misdiagnose children with special educational needs. A similar proportion – 54 per cent – think that this happens as a result of parental pressure.
There are around a million children with special educational needs in England.
Almost two-thirds – 64 per cent – of respondents said that they thought parents pushed for an SEN diagnosis for their children because they preferred to be given a medical or psychological explanation for their children’s behaviour, rather than believing that the problem could be resolved by a classroom teacher.
And 39 per cent said that parents wanted a label, so that their child would have a competitive advantage in exams.
Children with disabilities or special educational needs can apply for adjustments to help them in exams, such as extra time to complete a paper.
For example, guidance published by the Joint Council for Qualifications states: "A candidate with attention deficit disorder has persistent difficulty concentrating and poor working memory. Supervised rest breaks and the use of a prompter, who may need to physically show him where on a page he had been working in order to restart his work, would be reasonable adjustments."
Lorraine Petersen, former chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said that she was not surprised by the poll's findings. “Most parents will work on the assumption that, the quicker you assess why a child is having difficulties and give him or her a label, the faster you can get extra support,” she said.
“There may also be a sense of relief that comes with being able to blame a diagnosed disorder. Parents may think people will be a lot less judgmental of a child’s behaviour – and their parenting skills – if they know the child has a label.”
But, she added, while some parents demand an SEN label for their children, others are in denial about their children’s problems, and resisted their inclusion on the SEN register.
Classroom or clinic?
On the whole, however, teachers said that parents were supportive of them. Only one in 10 thought that parental interaction with teachers and the school was intrusive and inappropriate.
But the teachers, who were polled by YouGov on behalf of GL Assessment, added that individual parents could present a much bigger problem. More than half – 52 per cent – of teachers surveyed said that at least one parent took up so much of their time that it was hard to give others sufficient attention.
Greg Watson, chief executive of GL Assessment, said: “Few things are more difficult for a teacher to deal with than a frustrated parent who cannot understand why their child is not doing as well at school as the parent feels they should.
“But the fact is that a lot of issues children present are best addressed in the classroom, not the clinic. They don’t necessarily need a label.”