Special needs won't bear class analysis

16th February 1996 at 00:00
You report Jean Gross's allegation that middle-class parents are getting more than their fair share of resources for statements of special educational need (TES, February 2).

A worthy attempt at this difficult subject is marred by labelling (provocatively) Down's syndrome, specific learning difficulties, language disorder, sensory impairment and physical disability as "middle-class special needs". These conditions occur in children from all parts of society. Difference in the language-processing area of the brain causing dyslexia, for example, occurs across the population.

Jean Gross categorises SEN cases "overfunded" and "underfunded" with a dodgy methodology. It isn't surprising that cases of moderate learning difficulties are found to be "previously underfunded", when, by the rules of her scheme, underperformance in three core subjects jumps two bands ahead of underperformance in one. But who says that a child of average ability way behind in, say, literacy, is much less "needy" than a child of low ability slightly behind in more than one area?

Equally unsound is the assertion that these "middle-class disabilities" have been "over-represented" in appeals. Dyslexia cases make up 40 per cent of the SEN tribunal workload because understanding of this learning difficulty has come late in the day - and then too little, much too late. The real reason why parents are appealing in such numbers is that understanding, recognition, and provision (as recommended in the code of practice) are not forthcoming, and their children are failing painfully and needlessly.

Of course there is an obvious truth behind all the labelling. Some parents are more able, willing or socially conditioned to push than others. The solution to the imbalance does not however lie in "the abandonment of advocacy models". How could you stop parents advocating the needs of their children?

The British Dyslexia Association continues to empower parents of children with specific learning difficulties, irrespective of their background or circumstances. We will continue to work with other SEN agencies, because the most urgent need is not to stir up internecine squabbling among SEN groups, so much as the mission we share to raise the capability of teachers and schools to address the full range of all needs, through earlier, more skilled, better co-ordinated intervention.

PAUL CANN Director British Dyslexia Association 98 London Road Reading, Berkshire

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