5 phonics games

 

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When numbers don’t add up

Have you ever considered the proportion of nursery rhymes that include counting and numbers? There are plenty. For many children, these are their earliest encounters with number concepts. My son (and I) endured many hours of 10 green bottles as his poor, sleep-deprived father  attempted to croon something undemanding in the small hours to get us all back to sleep.

NumbersOnce his sister came along, they were facing away from me in the double buggy, but while he was an only child, he faced me, and I would chatter, chant and sing number rhymes at him. He used to love it when I would push the pram away (often uphill) and clap and count until I had my hands back on the handle. Before he even started at nursery, he had learnt to count to and write to 20, though he had not mastered signing his name. Looking back it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has just begun to study maths at university, but he was my first child, and I did not train to teach until he had started school, so I had no idea that things do not come so easily to all children.

Maths anxiety

My memories of our maths sessions during teacher training are of a classroom where around 75% of the student teachers were very unsure of their maths skills. Our lecturer was a self-confessed survivor of maths anxiety. This puzzled me. I had clearly passed through school oblivious to others’ maths phobia. I had not studied maths post-16, choosing foreign languages and English. Undergraduate studies in applied modern foreign languages had involved some numeracy skills for the economics module, and I had had to deal with numbers great and small in my city career, but I had never considered myself a mathematician.

Number sense

When I was entrusted with my first class, I found eight year olds who routinely dotted their exercise books as they counted from one to complete each calculation. This was a mystery to me; I simply could not imagine that the students who did this were doing so because they did not have a way of visualising each number to hold it in their short term memory and perform calculations. But that is exactly what was happening.

Resources

Our text books (luckily) conformed with the government’s prescribed numeracy hour at the time, and I was able to adapt planning available online to suit my students. Occasionally, the textbook illustrations would include pictures of physical maths equipment such as cuisenaire rods, but our overstretched inner-city school did not have such luxuries. (The stationery cupboard was locked, and in a locked room. Our glue-stick supply was exhausted before Christmas)

more rods

Training

One of the first courses I asked to attend after completing my NQT year was run by BEAM (Be a Mathematician) and titled How to help dyslexics and dyscalculics who struggle with mathematics. It was eye-opening. I had sympathised with my students, and used everything I could find or make to try to ensure maths was accessible, but there was so much more I could do. That course transformed my maths planning, teaching, differentiation and resourcing in ways that I could not have imagined before.

Early Years

Later, when I worked in Early Years, first as a classroom teacher, then in learning support, the manipulatives, physical props and visuals came into their own. These, combined with the explicit teaching of mathematical language and concepts, can unlock numeracy for many children. I would like to see this kind of approach and equipment in use throughout the primary years.

more manipulatives

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing ideas to support children’s maths skills development. Do post any specific support needs in the comments, and I’ll try to address those in the blogs.

More maths-related posts can be found here

Downloadable resources related to maths are here

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8 ideas to promote listening skills

As with all my infographics, this one can be downloaded for printing. There’s a link at the bottom of the page. It’s completely free, but please credit Sarah Gillie – Beacons Unique

8 games & activities for listening skills.png

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ACAMH Dyslexia Conference

Dyslexia: from assessment to intervention

Last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend ACAMH‘s conference Dyslexia: from assessment to intervention, one of many events to mark Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017.

ACAMH_MasterLogo

Professor Maggie Snowling talked about how research is confirming the links between language and literacy development and the heritability of learning differences. (Read her thoughts on developmental language disorder (DLD) and Dyslexia)

Continuing the Dyslexia Debate, Professor Julian Elliott said that all learners struggling with literacy acquisition must be given appropriate and timely support.

Dr Gavin Reid shared practical advice and support recommendations across the curriculum to help develop the skills and confidence for children to become successful learners.

All of the speakers agreed that early identification and support of learning differences is the key to unlocking education.

TES SEN Show 2017

TES-SEN-17-Web-Header-v7_LargeThe last time I attended the show was 2014. Before that, I had been going regularly for a few years and had probably attended every year from 2010 or 2011. When you go to a show in the same venue every year, it gets to be a bit like visiting your regular supermarket, you know where certain stands will be, where the seminar rooms are, the best time to get served quickly and find a seat in the café, even the loo with the shortest queues… The upside is that you can be very efficient and check out exactly what you’re interested in pretty quickly. The downside is that you can get rather blasé about what’s on offer and risk missing some new innovation, a gem that might transform some aspect of your teaching or a student’s learning.

So, after a two-year hiatus, I was eager to explore the exhibition centre fully, and really make the most of my trip to London.

One benefit of catching a ridiculously early (cheaper) train, was that I arrived in Islington in plenty of time to attend the National Autistic Society’s MyWorld Teachers’ Networking breakfast. MyWorld is a great resource for teachers to find autism-related information online.

We heard from Tim Nicholls, who addressed the question of how well the education system in England works for children on the autism spectrum, reporting on the findings of the parliamentary enquiry into autism and education. The full report and recommendations are due to be published early in November, with a practical guide and resources for teachers to follow.

Next up was Gianna Colizza who talked about autism and anxiety in the classroom. It was a really inspiring talk from an educator who believes, as I do, that inclusion and reasonable adjustments are just common sense (I’d say common human decency, too). I’m compelled to share two quotes:

They are the children, we are the adults.

We must remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. Stimming or repetitive behaviours may indicate that something is causing upset or concern. Often, a small change that is out of reach for the student but within the contol of the teacher, can prevent the extremes of shut down or melt down.

Children have one childhood. They need to spend it with other children.

Many of us who have worked in schools will have experienced this. That one child for whom the classroom is considered just too much. They may end up in the corridor working with a TA, or missing break times to catch up or make up for some perceived misdemeanour. This is not the answer. There are so many great resources and training opportunities nowadays that I honestly believe EVERY teacher in EVERY school can be autism aware. If your school isn’t already in touch with them, do check out the Autism Education Trust and ASD info Wales for this.

The event closed with an “Ask the experts” panel which I’ve summarised as:

MyWorld quote

I was pleased to meet other teachers, an education coordinator for the Museum of London (they offer regular autism-friendly openings), parents and a researcher to whose doctoral research into social stories I contributed in some small way (I know from personal experience how precious each response is!).

That done, I dashed to the conference centre to meet up with ex-colleagues from my days teaching in London. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that  every classroom at school now has a sensory corner.

I always find it hard to decide when presented with a choice of speakers. After much deliberation I had signed up to watch and listen to Wendy Lee presenting on Supporting children with social interaction needs in primary schools. Anyone who has worked with me or read my blogs will know that this is a passion of mine. What was interesting and new for me was to hear the ideas from an experienced speech and language therapist’s perspective. I loved her regard for other professionals, crediting the Communication Trust‘s What Works, Lynn McCann and Alis Rowe.

The other presentation I had booked was Tricia Murphy: Transition for those with cognition and learning difficulties. It was geared towards school-based teachers preparing for inspection, but I wanted to hear what she had to say, because this is very significant to me as an assessor when making recommendations for my students regarding transition between classrooms, subjects, key stages and transition to senior school, further education or university. I know what I would like to insist upon, and it was reassuring to know that she believes these are indisputable rights and necessities. Of course, we’d all prefer it if no-one had to make these claims, but It’s good to know that we are on the same page.

I was really hoping to catch Professor Amanda Kirby’s workshop: What is the relationship of nutrition / diet / supplementation in managing behaviour in ADHD? Amanda Kirby comes at specific learning difficulties as a parent, medical professional and academic, with decades of research and practical experience, so it’s always interesting to hear her take on how we can adapt the environment to improve outcomes for young people. Unfortunately, promises I’d made to friends regarding resources, and the rare opportunity to catch up with people face to face (coupled with time constraints brought on by my ‘cheap’ train ticket) meant that I was not able to hear Amanda speak on this occasion, but I heartily recommend her If you ever have the chance. I count myself extremely fortunate to have heard her speak before, and to have had the support of the team at the brilliant Dyscovery Centre during my research. I’m not sure whether I was more reassured or bereft when Tricia recommended her during her talk. Do check out the Do It Profiler and the Box of Ideas if you work with adults and young people at risk of SpLD.

It was a busy day, and well worth going. The entrance ticket is free for both days, as are the exhibitor workshops. Entrance to seminars is by paid ticket, but there’s usually a discounted rate if you book early (usually before the end of the summer term, so keep your eyes peeled). I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

 

Sensory Needs

As with all my infographics, this one can be downloaded for printing. There’s a link at the bottom of the page. It’s completely free, but please credit Sarah Gillie – Beacons Unique

Originally created and posted to mark Autism Hour 2017.

Sensory needs in Everyday situations

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DLD Awareness Day

It’s all very well trying to raise awareness, but what actually is DLD?

RADLD

Developmental language disorder affects a person’s ability to understand and use spoken language. Like other learning differences, it does not go away, but, with support, it is possible to overcome many of the challenges that can be posed by DLD. It can co-occur with other developmental conditions or present in isolation. Although unsupported DLD can have a significant impact on academic results, it is not a indication of low intelligence and can occur across intellectual abilities.

Most teachers will be familiar at least with the terminology relating to ADHD, autism, dyslexia, DCD/dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. They are likely to have some experience of teaching pupils with learning differences and may have attended courses to learn more about relevant support techniques. Most teachers are aware of speech, language and communication needs (SCLN) as a general concept, and they will likely be aware of sound production dificulties, or stammering. However, although DLD (previously known as SLI – specific language impairment) is likely to affect 2 children in any mixed ability class of 30, it remains little known.

Friday 22nd September is DLD awareness day 2017. There is so much good information available that I thought it would make more sense for me to provide links than to reinvent the wheel.

I hope you will find it interesting and useful for supporting your students!

I Can factsheet

Afasic glossary

DLD fact sheet & case studies

Why does he do that?

via Daily Prompt: Sympathy

Sometimes, a parent will quietly ask their child’s class teacher or another parent if what they see in their child is ‘normal’. Other times, a teacher might ask their student’s previous teacher whether a particular conduct or difficulty is typical for that chid, or they might seek the advice of a more experienced colleague or specialist.

Over time, teachers will see many behaviour patterns in their students. Most, if not all, are normal. Few, if any, are peculiar to one child, or even to one condition. Speech and motor coordination are two issues that can be highlighted as concerns by parents and teachers. Delays in either (or both) may mean nothing beyond the individual’s unique developmental timeline, but they may be indicators of possible learning difficulties such as dyslexia, DCD/dyspraxia, Developmental Language Disorder, ADHD or autism.

Speech

In previous decades, when teachers were concerned about a young child’s progress, but they could not put their finger on what might be holding them back, they would almost routinely refer to the local speech and language therapy service. Stretched services and mean that this is no longer viable or appropriate, but there are many reasons why a referral for speech, language and communication needs (SCLN) assessment and support might be the right thing to consider. Bear in mind that speech delays can be a result of a hearing impairment – concerned parents should ask their doctor for a referral to audiology or and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

In speech, as with everything, children develop at different rates. For example one of the last phonemes that children learn to pronounce reliably is th -t he /θ/ sound. The expectation for this is from age five. Some children may pronounce the sound consistently in words by the the time they are four years old, and others may not master it until they are six years old. That gives a school year range from Nursery Year to Year 2, or four academic years, when the mispronunciation of that sound is within normal ranges. That does not mean that a referral is inappropriate if concerns are raised. If children are frustrated because they are unable to articulate a particular sound, or if they are unable to make themselves understood, or if parents are worried, a useful first step is to attend a local NHS Speech and Language drop-in clinic.

Often children will appear to stutter with excitement. This is quite normal. However, if this becomes more frequent and begins to impact on normal speech, seek the advice of a speech and language therapist. The British Stammering Association has a wealth of useful information on their website.

Sometimes, the way children put words together into sentences (syntax and grammar) can make them hard to understand. Again, it is part of natural development that children will put words together in different orders as they begin to discover the power of speech. Often they are learning and playing with language. Nevertheless, if speech patterns mean that children cannot be understood by unfamiliar adults or their peers, or if the speaker is distressed, professional advice should be sought.

It is not surprising that some children whose speech is delayed may also have delayed aural comprehension. The most obvious referral here will again be to audiology, but if hearing is within normal limits, this could instead indicate auditory processing disorder (APD), a language related condition such as developmental language disorder (DLD) or attentional difficulties (most commonly ADHD, but also seen in dyslexia, DCD/dyspraxia, autism and other neurological differences.)

Co-ordination

Again, this varies hugely between individuals. Some children will sit or crawl early, others may develop focus and fine motor skills to enjoy simple craft activities ahead of their peers. Some children will love running, apparently aimlessly, or spinning until they fall over. Swings may be a delight or a terror, depending on each individual’s sensory appetite and balance (ENT again). It’s also worth checking whether vision has been tested recently – it’s called hand-eye coordination for a reason!

In countries where formal education starts later, there is little pressure to force short, chubby fingers around pencils to produce detailed work once considered the domain of a select few monks training to become scribes. In these countries, children focus instead on the types of activities that interest them, whether it is modelling with a range of malleable materials, cutting and sticking with no defined goal, sorting, threading and construction games and toys.

There is much discussion as to whether requiring children to master certain skills by a set time in a certain academic year is contributing to an increased need for occupation therapy or exacerbating children’s perceived deteriorating mental health.

I do not have the answers, but consider this:  your parents and teachers – and by extension you – know when you are supposed to be able to to complete certain tasks independently (according to goals set and imposed by lawmakers with little knowledge of child development or pedagogy). The task in question is beyond your current capabilities, whether this is due to slow skills development or another, physiological reason. Part of our role as educators is to provide adequate support before difficulties begin to impact on self-esteem, whatever the reason.

Falling over in the playground? Tipping a chair? Dropping stationery? Chewing on pencils? Occasional incidence of any of these is all part of normal behaviour. The key to recognising when it is something more is noticing frequency, triggers and any resulting impact on friendships, health and academic performance.

As well as the better recognised motor coordination issues associated with DCD/dyspraxia, some of these behaviours may be related to sensory processing difficulties. Some students may avoid sensory experiences as they are overpowering, others may seek sensory experiences. Some may seek certain sensory feedback and avoid others, and some may vary between the two. Talk openly with parents, take advice from experienced colleagues and professionals, and do not be afraid to refer to Occupational Therapy.

What next?

Plan and carry out support using all of the resources and information at your disposal. Review support regularly, adjusting and adapting, reflecting on what has worked and what has not. Remember, some things will work quickly – a wobble cushion or writing slope may bring immediate results, but therapy or specialist teaching may take time to have a noticeable effect in whole class situations. Adjust support to incorporate specialist resources and advice when this comes – it may take months for an appointment, and longer still for an assessment report or resources to arrive in the classroom. You may at times feel angry or frustrated that things take so long, but your students do not need your sympathy, they need your positive action.

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Early Spelling and Writing

As with all aspects of development, most children will come to spelling and writing at different stages (more on pre-writing here). In countries where formal academic education begins later, children will likely have developed their hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills through self-selected play and craft activities such as LEGO, small world toys, play-doh, cutting and sticking, and use of chalks and crayons. Read more

Pre-writing and early literacy skills

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Image source

From around the age of 3 children begin to ‘map’ symbols to meaning, so they may e.g. recognise prominent high street signs such as the golden arches. They start to know that print conveys meaning and might ask for it to be read, or for words to be written. Over time, their mark-making begins to resemble letters, perhaps those in their own name.

Read more

Perspectives

At the risk of sounding evangelical, if teachers are to properly support the students in their classes, they need at least one quality:

  1. an exceptional natural gift to understand each individual’s strengths and needs
  2. many years experience
  3. good training in recognising and supporting a wide range and varying degrees and combinations of needs

Since the first is exceptional, it is not possible for all to have innately, no matter how committed or gifted in other areas the teacher(s) in question might be.

Pupils of the second teacher will benefit from their experience, but what of the pupils who were taught before all that invaluable experience was embedded in the teacher’s practice?

By a process of elimination then, good training is the quality which can most easily be imparted to new (and existing) teachers. If all classroom teachers (still training, newly qualified or experienced) can regularly immerse themselves in training opportunities, they will begin to better understand that each individual’s needs, whether or not diagnosed, can be supported, and that diagnosis is only one aspect of the pupil: each individual is exactly that, a unique human being, with their very own combination of strengths that can be harnessed, and areas to support.

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Image: pixabay.com

Over a decade ago the U.K. Government began commissioning a series of reviews and reports by Sir Jim Rose, covering the primary school curriculum and literacy intervention, including the The Rose Report, in 2009 which gave some hope, proclaiming

Encouraging initial teacher training providers to build on their coverage of SEN and disability by offering specialist units for primary undergraduate initial teacher training (ITT), launched in June 2008, with £500,000 funding to aid dissemination. These include a Unit entitled “Learning and Teaching for dyslexic pupils”;

Similar units for secondary undergraduate courses and for post graduate teacher training (PGCE) courses will be rolled out in September 2009;

Developing materials enabling subject/ curriculum tutors to check their knowledge of SEN and disability in relation to their subject area;

Promotion of enhanced opportunities for student teachers to gain experience of working in special schools or other specialist provision;

Promoting the use of specialist materials for the induction of new teachers’;

Developing nationally approved training for Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), who have a key role in each school in ensuring effective provision for children with SEN and disabilities, and are an important link with parents.

The Teachers’ Standards state that

A teacher must:

know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively

have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn, and how best to overcome these

demonstrate an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils’ education at different stages of development

have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.

When I enrolled in initial teacher training (ITT) in 2003, there was only limited instruction in learning differences, (more on that here), but these documents suggest that the situation must have changed in the intervening decade and a half. I know that there are ITT providers trying to address theses requirements, having played a very small part in the design, delivery and assessment of one such module.

As part of a research project last year, I polled 170 teachers across the UK and found that less that one third of teachers had received a more in depth introduction to SEND that I had in ITT, including training reported by teachers who had qualified in the previous two years. In fact, often where such training was available, it was described as optional rather than a compulsory module. I asked teachers whether they had received SEND-specific training at school: around half had received training to support dyslexia (55%),  ADHD (49%), Autism (52%). Reported in service training (INSET) to support other needs was rarer. In fact, for other diagnoses listed, whether during ITT, INSET or external continuing professional development (CPD), less than half of teachers polled had received any training at all.

I count myself fortunate that my early teaching career brought me into contact with a diverse range of students, and that, as a result, I had amazing support from our SENCo, from Advanced Skills Teachers with SEN expertise and from external professionals. Without this support and experience, and the many courses I enrolled on in my effort to better understand and support the pupils in my class, I might not have realised how rewarding and fascinating this area of education could be.

I strongly believe that neither our children’s futures nor our teachers’ training should be left to chance. I’d love for you to share your experiences with me, from any perspective.

Daily Prompt: Immerse

Warning signs

We hear this regularly, particularly before moving into secondary education: a student appears to cope well in one class, then at transition to the next academic year, and a new teacher, certain tasks become overwhelming. Such hiccups can typically occur between Key Stages in the English school system, when the increase in pace and formality are most pronounced, at rising ages 6, 8 and 12 (and sometimes between lower and upper KS2, age 9-10). This is perhaps unsurprising – the increased demands of more complex instructions, longer and denser texts, extended writing, the expectation of increased self-reliance – any one of these factors could be enough to set back a learner who is already working harder than most peers to meet daily classroom challenges.

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Image: ccPix.com

Around the age of 7, many students with learning differences can find meeting everyday school requirements exhausting if not, occasionally, apparently impossible. This is often when parents will talk to people like me, specialist teachers or SEND co-ordinators, as they seek to find a way to ease their child’s path through school and the education system, a system designed with limited consideration for those who fall outside the ‘typical’ range in their approach to learning, socialising and conforming.

What is not so often reported, but what can also happen, is that such learners can thrive in the care of particular teachers. Parents will sometimes relate how their son or daughter appeared to first struggle in, say Year 2 or 3, then do well with their next teacher, allowing both pupil and parent a sigh of relief, but return to the cycle of difficulties and differences after that year is past. It is possible that in some cases the cycle reflects that student’s learning profile and the relative academic demands faced, but in my experience, it has at least as much to do with the teachers in the ‘good’ years recognising a pattern of events and challenges for the student concerned and implementing supportive practice to alleviate those demands.

So why can’t all teachers spot these signs? And why does it seem that some teachers aren’t able to access the support and resources that would make the difference, even if they are able to spot the signs? I do not claim to have all the answers, but I have two or three ideas to share:

  1. Training – if teachers are to recognise support needs, they need more, and more in-depth, training in a wide range of learning differences, support needs, support techniques and adaptive practice.
  2. Culture – if teachers and schools are to promote and celebrate equity and diversity and allow all to reach their potential in a supportive, well resourced environment, then the rights, roles and responsibilities of pupils, parents and teachers need to be clarified and crystalised so that no-one can mistakenly believe that it is not in their remit to ensure this common goal is attainable.
  3. Funding – as long as we cannot afford to implement these changes in the earliest years of schooling, we will be paying the price later on, with children leaving primary school unable to read, or with their self-esteem in tatters, or both. Such students rarely go on to thrive in secondary education. History has already shown that such children’s life chances are measurably adversely affected. We cannot afford not to afford these changes any longer, if, indeed, we ever could.

I’m in the process of writing up the findings of a teachers’ survey I conducted to better understand the current extent (or lack of) of SEND training. In the mean time, I’d like to hear your stories and experiences, whether positive or negative, and from teacher or parent perspective.

Daily Prompt: Pattern

Emerging, expected, exceeding…

via Daily Prompt: Quicken

This post is named after the ‘levels’ children are assigned as they progress through the early years of education provision in England. I wonder whether the obsession with quantifying and labelling our children from the moment they enter an education-related environment is at the rotten core of a mistrust and blame culture promoted by the popular press. It’s a culture we need to change if our children are to thrive as education evolves.

A fairly cursory search through education-related ‘news’ articles will suggest that schools are failing our children. This is not a new phenomenon, though it may have its origins in that misguided concept of the late 20th century that schools would improve, and that families would be able to make informed choices as a result of a sort of league table for schools. Here it is in its most recent incarnation.

Just a couple of examples:

Are schools failing white, working-class children?

Most boys leave primary without basic numeracy and literacy skills, figures show

One in 10 secondary schools in England are failing their pupils – with one area doing much worse

I count myself fortunate that my children have had supportive teachers, willing and able to adapt to their needs, and that my own experience working in schools is generally excellent: colleagues are well-informed, proactive, caring and genuinely in the business of helping every learner to achieve. In my most recent school-based incarnation as a learning support teacher, I would act on concerns raised by teachers, parents or assessment data (not just summative). Working in partnership with colleagues and families, we would navigate the process of referral and diagnosis together, adjusting support and intervention based on current needs and professional recommendations.

Over recent decades across the UK it has become accepted and expected that, wherever possible, learning at school should be facilitated through appropriate differentiation and support to suit each pupil’s age, stage and needs (Rose, 2009; Great Britain, Department for Education and Department of Health, 2015; Wales, Department for Education and Skills, 2015). According to the Teachers’ Standards (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013) “a teacher must…know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively.”

Reasonable adjustments are often needed, and the time, space and resources of the classroom can sometimes make these alterations seem major, if not unattainable. Usually, though, a way can be found to adapt the space, timetable or plan, etc. for the sake of the student. Sometimes there is a windfall benefit to other members of the class or the teacher, whether through the introduction of a support technique, improved differentiation or adults in the class having more time to spend with all pupils. I’m not claiming that it is always like this. There will always be some teachers who resist external advice, and for a multitude of reasons,  just as in any walk of life.

“Early intervention is key” – it’s one of those phrases used so often that it should have become unthinkable that prompt support is not available to all children, regardless of  age or geographic location. Surely early intervention in education or health should mean at the point when difficulties occur; any experienced teacher will tell you that students can begin to show signs of struggling at any age or stage.

There is still, all too often, a cut-off point at age 5 despite the supposed integration (or at least co-operation and communication) of health and education support services to age 25 through the 2014 SEND Code of Practice. A child who has received NHS Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) or Occupational Therapist (OT) intervention can abruptly  cease to qualify, or one whose problems are masked or only emerge later can simply fail to qualify for support. What is harder to prove, but what many realise, is that children whose needs are not manifested extremely enough to qualify for support between the ages of 5 and 11 may be the very children who are later referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – there’s an example in one of I Can‘s latest blog posts.

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Last week, my interest and my heart quickened for all the wrong reasons as I waded through the multitude of articles written as a result of GL Assessment’s survey conducted with YouGov. Pushy parents causing children to be misdiagnosed with special needs, research suggests, is just one of these. The article, and several others, suggest that current diagnosis rates are manipulated by parents, and that some of the 1.2 million children in England who have a diagnosis of learning needs have been misdiagnosed.

Local Authority educational psychologists exist, but pressure on funding means that there are huge waiting lists and children sometimes do not ‘qualify’ for observation or assessment, let alone additional support, because their needs simply aren’t ‘severe’ enough, they are not unmanageably disruptive or refusing school. But failure to provide for these pupils can lead to far greater problems later on. How many of the students discussed in the articles at the top of this page fall into that category?

It is a sad fact that for many, access to appropriate support may be limited to those who are able to afford private diagnosis. These are the children of so-called ‘pushy’ parents. I have to ask: if a private diagnosis is sought, what professional of integrity would risk their reputation and certification, let alone the well-being of the student concerned, to appease a ‘pushy parent’? The battery of assessments and corroborating evidence required to establish a reliable diagnosis should preclude this. In my experience, parents are seeking answers and support, not excuses. Any headline suggesting otherwise is, in my opinion, little more than attention-seeking… (Yes, I did just post a link to Wikipedia!)

To say that I am at a loss to understand the motivation of a company, whose products include numerous screeners for learning difficulties, including their WellCom and Lucid ranges, to promote such inflammatory, divisive and emotive statements is an understatement. (Not providing free footfall with a link to those, sorry.) Perhaps in this new world of  ‘alternative facts’ the old adage that any publicity is good publicity, has come into its own.
To put the survey results in context, it’s important to know the actual questions asked. These were:

“Do you think that there is currently a misdiagnosis of special educational needs amongst school children?” (57% of those polled agreed)

“Do you think that pressure from parents has led to some children at your school being categorised as having special educational needs unnecessarily?” (54% of those polled agreed)

“I worry some genuine special needs children don’t get as much help as they need because resources are being diverted to children that don’t really need the help.” (62% of those polled agreed)

“I think some parents who push for their child to be recognised as having special educational needs label do it to try and help their children gain a competitive edge during tests and exams.” (39% of those polled agreed)

“I think some parents who have a child with a barrier to learning that could be addressed by a teacher are too quick to want a medical or psychological explanation: How strongly do you agree or disagree?” (64% 0f those polled agreed)

I’ll just leave those questions there for you to consider their wording and intent.

Bizarrely, the report detailing these survey results also includes some thoughtful and well-considered articles by real experts. I must be missing the point.

Long before teaching, as a student and for a short time after graduating, I worked in market research. This was before the internet had become the ubiquitous tool it is today, and so actual calls had to be made to actual humans at actual businesses. We knew that the phrasing of questions was key to getting the answer that would most help our clients. I simply cannot understand what possible positive impact the GL Assessment exercise was meant to have.

At best, it’s arguing that we should not need a diagnostic label to provide the best and most supportive education to all our children. What teacher would not agree?! The issue, then is one of funding: sometimes the only way that truly adequate support can be given is though the provision of human time or other resources and equipment that cost money.

Let’s assume (which we would never do) that what these answers really are telling us is what the press have rather lazily taken from the survey results. I would like to know how long they believe this misdiagnosis has been going on for…

Each September, the Department for Education publishes figures from the previous January. The latest show that there were 8.56 million pupils in school in England. For a research paper I wrote last year I found that reported prevalence rates in the UK at that time for various learning difficulties were estimated  at up to 15% for dyslexia (Rose, 2009;), up to 5% for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, NHS, 2016), around 1% autism spectrum disorder (ASD: NHS, 2016), and up to 5% for developmental coordination disorder (DCD: NHS, 2014). The Rose Report was published in 2009, but the data were gathered in 2008. Assuming (again) that trends in prevalence and diagnosis rates have remained unchanged over the past decade, 15% of 8.56m would be 1.284m. These figures do not account for other learning differences, such as developmental language disorder, sensory processing disorder and auditory processing disorder, to mention just three. We know that many people with neurodevelopmental differences have co-occurring difficulties, but even assuming (again) that EVERY student with autism, ADHD or DCD/dyspraxia also has dyslexia, it seems to me somewhat unlikely that the figures are grossly exaggerated, or even exaggerated at all.

 

 

One Teacher’s Perspective

1970sclassroomPerhaps this applies especially to teachers, but it seems to me that many people can look back on their school days and remember a particular teacher who inspired them to greatness. I am almost ashamed to confess that I am not one of those. Admittedly, it was Miss Roberts’ encouragement that persuaded me to study English rather than maths at ‘A’ level (I would have done better at maths and it would have served me better in my first profession in banking). And Mrs Price’s persuasiveness convinced me to apply for the degree course I eventually chose, rather than the more conventional options preferred by my parents and the careers advisor at school. There are many teachers I remember fondly, particularly late in primary school, early in secondary school and at sixth form, but the memories that really stick with me are not the rosy reminiscences of school success. They are the occasions when, even now, I shudder that an adult with influence on young hearts and minds could thoughtlessly say and do as they did.

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