Special educational needs and the Daily Mail

At what point do we suppose the Daily Mail not only dislikes the inclusion of young people with special educational needs in schools, but doesn’t think special educational needs exist outside of the 2% once designated before the Warnock report of 1978.

The Warnock report (Baroness Warnock) for the department of education and science (DES)had been reflected in the Education Act of 1981. The most prominent feature of the report to feature in the Act was the recommendation to abolish the ten statutory categories of handicap which had encompassed special educational needs since the 1944 Education Act.

Those categories were blind, partially sighted, deaf, partially hearing, educationally subnormal, epileptic, maladjusted, physically handicapped, speech defect, and delicate, and only applied to 2% of school aged children.

The Act went on to criticise the lack in identifying solutions to children with special educational needs, and though not addressing the exact number of children who qualified, a DES circular 8/81 accepted that up to 20% of children of school attending age can be regarded as having special educational needs (p.9, Croll and Moses, Special needs in the primary school: one in five?)

What had developed with further enquiries and scientific research was that children who needed a special education made up a larger amount of the population than originally thought, when only appealing to physical disabilities and not emotional.

The argument that was to emerge, and linger in the minds of many educationalists, was whether children with special educational needs could be educated in the same setting as other children.

The Mail was one of the papers who viewed Mary Warnock with suspicion, referring to her as having a “monstrous ego” that has helped destroy our moral and social heritage, for her work on special needs, embryo research and support for euthanasia.

But, as Mike Baker in 2005, retorted:

The Daily Mail derided her as a “monstrous ego” who had established the principle that all children, however disabled, “should be taught in mainstream schools”.

Yet she has never said all children should be taught in mainstream schools. Her Committee of Inquiry, and the subsequent legislation, said that provision should be in the mainstream “wherever possible”.

Warnock negated the view of some (even many schools and school leaders) that children with special educational needs were unable to be educated. Further, it predicted the rise in children who could be identified as having special educational needs (in the immediate aftermath of the report the percentage went from 2% to 20%), which, as with many stigmas in society, was not something that didn’t exist before, but the way in which experts have defined it, and the measures with which they judge special needs, has changed.

Isolating everyone who could be identified as having special educational needs would dilute schools and build barriers between people, that wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone in the long term.

What didn’t help matters much was Warnock’s decision to make a u-turn on her report in the 70s, saying instead that more, not fewer, special schools should be set up.

The Mail in an article today report that Philippa Stobbs, a senior government advisor, on special needs, has warned that schools are ‘over-labelling’ to “cheat league tables and attract more funding”. Which if true is the acting upon a perverse incentive by a school, and should not be used to call into question the different labels of special needs themselves.

However, in an unsourced paragraph, the article suggests:

it has also been claimed that doctors, teachers and parents are too keen to pin medical labels – such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – on what might previously have been branded poor discipline

Before using a quote by Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, an education researcher at the University of Edinburgh, who said:

You can’t do a blood test to check whether you’ve got ADHD – it’s diagnosed through a behavioural checklist.

Getting out of your seat and running about is an example – half the kids in a school could qualify under that criterion.

The latter is a statement of fact; you can’t do a blood test to check for ADHD, very true, and lots of children do like running about, but this does not quash the existence of ADHD any more than smiling proves the inexistence of depression.

Yet regarding the former quote, what benefit would a doctor receive from claiming a child has ADHD rather than poor discipline.

It is hard to tell whether the Mail are really highlighting this in order to show that more children are labelled with special educational needs, or whether they are dubious about the labels themselves, since they provide no proof of schools being perversely incentivised to ‘over-label’ or any professional benefitting from doing so.

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8 Responses to Special educational needs and the Daily Mail

  1. Neil says:

    At first I was quite heartened that Sarah Teather had ordered a green paper into SEN. The more I read some of the reporting behind it, the more concerned I got.

    SEN is unfortunately a very nebulous and broad term for a whole chain of distinct physical, cognitive and emotional difficulties. The problem we have is that the ‘weak link’ in this chain (behavioural, emotional and social difficulties) is often held up as not really being a special educational need at all, but rather the result of ‘naughty children’. If the public were to accept that these were just ‘naughty children’, and that they were holding the ‘good’ kids back, then the natural, ‘commonsense’ response would be to deal with them through old fashioned discipline rather than regular interventions & support.

    If the emerging view that there are too many SEN registered kids becomes consensus, those who’re most likely to be excluded from that definition are those pupils with BESD. The consequence is that a school is going to be less inclined towards practicing ‘inclusion’ for those students, and more minded to resort to exclusion. Before you know it, you’ve got a schooling system which is actually discouraged from offering rigorous, consistent support for some of society’s most damaged & disadvantaged kids. Hopefully I’m worrying over nothing; Sarah Teather does have quite a friendly-looking face.

    • haha it was all good stuff up until Sarah Teather’s face – which is cheeky I find.

      Well the Mail article I referred to had been tame in comparison, and careful not to conflate over proscribing with wholesale scepticism of special educational needs, but still what I suspected from it was oversubscription of SEN is linked to making special needs up. It mentions, of course, a perverse incentive to do so by teachers, and parents who would not necessarily be happy with the diagnosis ‘your kid is too naughty’. But to claim, unsourced, that doctors have been lying, why would that be. If the author had claimed that even the profession has been saturated with PC gone mad, special needs obsessions, then we could have something to pick at more robustly, but this is not how the author goes about it.

      It’s not for nothing that Vernon Croaker is worried about SEN provision in academy schools, and it is pleasing to see proposals for green papers on the matter, but when schools are further “emancipated” from local authority “control,” incentives could swing either way (incentive to declare more SEN children for money, incentive to not declare SEN children to ensure outstanding status etc), which may exist currently, but are certainly not healthy or even a step in the right direction.

      What will happen, of course, is there are so many things that could slip under the net – like children with SEN – that academies will retain certain clauses that mean they will not be indpendent from the local authority. If this doesn’t happen before academies are rolled out to those outstanding schools that express interest, it will happen shortly after, schools cannot run themselves, it’s ludicrous to think they can, but in no way downplays the creativity of teachers and school heads, which does already exist (it is often forgotten).

  2. How do you know so much about SEN? It’s impressive. I’ve been researching it for a project for a month and didn’t get further than the basic understanding of what is going on, which government did what etc.
    And I interviewed campaignists and parents… Let me know, as I have a deadline on Friday, what you’re writing about is really interesting.

    • I used to work in a school, then I became a researcher in children’s policy, now I’m a researcher in schools and school leaders. What is your project on? You can quote my blog if you feel it’s relevant or I could say a few words on it if you wanted. Contact me on twitter @carlraincoat

  3. Gwynedd Lloyd says:

    The daily mail used a quote from me, without my permission, from another article that took a different approach. My argument is not that ADHD doesn’t exist, it is that we are clustering together lots of difficult and challenging behaviour under one rather simple diagnosis and then using stimulant medication. Of course such children need additional support in school and should get it. The daily mail used my quote out of context to support their argument against inclusion. I disagree completely with their conclusions!

  4. Pingback: How the Mail and Telegraph undermined children with special needs | Liberal Conspiracy

  5. Pingback: How the Mail and Telegraph undermined children with special needs | Daily Mail Watch

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