The SEN elephant in the room

8th November 2013 at 00:00

I found your article "Why labels are a dead end, not a short cut" (Professional, 1 November) to be an interesting read. While I agree that the combination and severity of learning difficulties for each special educational needs student differs, I think that Garry Freeman neglected to address the elephant in the room: that many teachers are failing to recognise students' needs at all, never mind grouping them under one umbrella.

As a chartered psychologist, I have seen hundreds of unlawful statements of SEN, usually because only one area of need is identified and often this is downplayed in order to conveniently match a local mainstream school's provision. As Mr Freeman says, labels become a dead end when they divert a student from the classroom and become an excuse for underachievement. They only become useful when they trigger assessment that leads to the needs-based strategy he proposes.

While all this exposes a fatal flaw in the system, I have recently witnessed a more worrying trend, whereby students with obvious learning difficulties are being labelled "naughty" and treated as such, alienating them from the provision they so desperately need. In the new SEN code of practice, it would therefore seem to be essential to prescribe an assessment of cognitive ability as well as of achievement to correctly inform provision.

Mr Freeman's statement that "labels do more harm than good" because "they tend to provide a justification or excuse for a student's failure to reach targets" may be true to a certain degree, but as an expert in the field of dyslexia with more than 35 years' experience, I feel that there are far more pressing issues to address in the minefield that is SEN - starting with the unacceptable ignorance displayed by many mainstream schools.

Dr E Neville Brown, Principal of Maple Hayes Hall dyslexia school, Lichfield.

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