Offering SEN pupils the chance of a better life

1st February 2013 at 00:00

In centuries past - although not as long ago as you might think - anyone with what we now call special educational needs (SEN) was shut away.

These children - and, indeed, many adults - were institutionalised rather in the manner of zoo animals; fed, bathed and cared for but with no thought given to how their needs might be met or their talents celebrated. More particularly, there was no focus on how they could be helped to live independent, or semi-independent, lives.

In 1981, in the wake of the Warnock report, the approach within education changed and children with SEN were offered inclusion - allowed to attend mainstream schools. Whether this improved their life chances remains a subject of fierce debate among parents and teachers, who often face greater demands in ever expanding classes.

Now it has all changed again, with the government saying it wants parents to be given more power over the future of children with SEN. And the debate is likely to be equally fierce. For teachers, of course, this will mean yet more responsibility.

Critics say the plans are flawed and accuse the government of applying dressed-up cost-cutting measures. But there are potential positives here, too. Years ago a friend of mine expected to return to work six months after the birth of her first babies, identical twin girls. But after a series of puzzling problems the girls were diagnosed with autism and her world was changed forever.

She refused to accept existing services and worked with her local authority and schools to devise an educational plan for her daughters. Her girls, one of whom went to a mainstream school, will now be able to live semi-independently as adults. The wider educational world also benefited from the lessons she learned and was able to share.

Not every parent or family will be able to do this. But if the new SEN scheme can be made to work, they may have access to greater resources. No one can promise that it will succeed. But if it offers a better future for children whose special differences can enrich all our lives, that, surely, can only be a good thing.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro @tes.

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