Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report

1  Why SEN matters

Defining SEN: no single category

33. Baroness Warnock, in an interview with the Education Guardian, argued that "one of the major disasters of the original report was that we introduced the concept of special educational needs to try and show that disabled children were not a race apart and many of them should be educated in the mainstream… But the unforeseen consequence is that SEN has come to be the name of a single category, and the government uses it as if it is the same problem to include a child in a wheelchair and a child with Asperger's, and that is conspicuously untrue."[36]

34. There is an underlying problem, in that the premise on which SEN provision is based—that there exists a single category of children with SEN—is fundamentally flawed. Children exist on a broad continuum of needs and learning styles but do not fit into neat categories of different sorts of children—those with and those without SEN. The category of "SEN" is an arbitrary distinction that leads to false classifications and, it can be argued that, this is what is causing the high levels of conflict and frustration with all those involved.

35. Furthermore there is the increasing confusion between SEN and disability. Whilst there is considerable overlap, it is not the case that all children with disabilities are defined as having SEN or that all children with SEN are defined as having a disability. With disability legislation providing a stronger rights-based approach than existing SEN legislation, there is growing confusion in this area. This issue is discussed in more detail in section 3 under "existing legislation" but it serves to highlight the difficulties being caused by there being no single , clearly identifiable category of children with SEN.

SEN and the link to socio-economic background

36. Special educational needs exist across the whole spectrum of social classes and abilities. Indeed, in the present system there is a particular category of "gifted and talented" children who are defined as having special educational needs (although provision for these children is not specifically considered within this report). It is important to recognise that some conditions which give rise to SEN, in particular along the autism spectrum and specifically Asperger's Syndrome, can defy an easy correlation between those conditions and social deprivation—as well as the children often being above-average intelligence. It is important therefore that social deprivation is not seen as the only and automatic benchmark for addressing SEN issues.

37. There is, however, a strong correlation between social deprivation and SEN that deserves careful consideration by the Government. SEN policy should explicitly address these overlapping sets of needs where they occur.

38. Data from the DfES show that children with SEN are much more likely to be eligible for free school meals (a proxy for socio-economic deprivation) than the average school population. In 2006 13.6% of all secondary and 16% of all primary pupils were eligible for free school meals (FSM).[37] In comparison, for children with statements of SEN, 26.5% of secondary and 26% of primary pupils were eligible for FSM.[38] At secondary school level, children with statements of SEN are nearly twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals as the average school population. Furthermore, this figure rose a great deal higher in some areas with nearly 50% of all children with statements of SEN being eligible for FSM in inner London. See section 3: facts and figures on SEN for further details.

39. In the original 1978 report, Baroness Warnock was prohibited by the DfES from counting social deprivation as contributing to special educational need because of a "belief embedded in the Department [...] that the social conditions in which a child lived[...], were matters for the Social Services and not for them."[39]

40. The 2005 Warnock paper says that it is "undeniable that socially deprived children tend to have more educational difficulties."[40] One of its three major conclusions is that SEN policy must reflect "our growing recognition of the crucial differences that social differences make to educational chances."[41]

41. It is known that outcomes within the system are still heavily differentiated by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity (for example the direct correlation between social class and educational attainment at 18,16, 11 and even younger remains, despite concerted efforts to tackle this over a long period of time). Moreover, "a particularly worrying phenomenon is that educational risk factors tend to become concentrated in particular areas and in particular schools[...]".[42] As the former HMCI David Bell has pointed out "A stubborn core of pupils at the bottom end of the scale are being let down by the system."[43] There is increasing evidence that, despite multiple initiatives in recent years, an irreducible tail of low-performing schools remains. The Prime Minister has also recognised "a long tail of under-achievement and failure, concentrated in our poorest communities, weakening our society and economy and undermining the life chances of millions of young people."[44]

42. The implication is that "those students who are most disadvantaged socially and economically[...] continue to suffer the greatest educational disadvantage. Moreover, it is precisely these students who are disproportionately represented[...] (in the SEN population)." As Ann Lewis, Professor of Special Education and Educational Psychology, University of Birmingham, explains "there is extensive evidence of the overlap between education and social/economic needs. This evidence is well documented and sustained over time. (As a result) 'SEN' policies need to explicitly address these overlapping sets of needs".[45]

43. There is a category of children in the current system now described as having social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (SEBD).[46] This, along with autism, is the fastest growing category of SEN. To an extent this captures social difficulties within a much broader category but it is by no means sufficient recognition of the overlap of issues. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (SEBD) provide an excellent example of where the old Warnock framework is out of date and where significant cracks exist in the system to the detriment of those who fall between them. Far more important, however, is the frustration and upset caused to parents and families by the failure of the system to meet the needs of these children. This needs most urgent resolution.

SEN in the wider educational context

44. The SEN system often gets discussed as if it is a separate system that operates outside the broader education sector. It is widely recognised that this is not the case. Children with SEN are the same children that are affected by, and in turn have an effect on, reading strategies, curriculum flexibility, personalised learning, behaviour strategies, Every Child Matters, the standards agenda, teacher retention, and even youth crime.

45. SEN provision operates within a much a broader arena of education policy and the context in which it operates has significant consequences for both policy and practice. Mr Andrew McCully, Delivery Director for School Standards Group, DfES, said in oral evidence that:

46. SEN policy needs to be more explicitly considered in a broader education context and in light of existing education policiesnot just those it sits comfortably with like Every Child Matters, personalisation, reading strategies, behaviour strategies, but also those it sits less comfortably with—specifically the continuing priority of raising standards for the majority with its emphasis on league tables and attainment targets and a system of increased choice and diversity for parents (for further discussion of this issue see section on personalisation: SEN v. standards agenda).

47. The UK has "an education system that has to drive up the attainment of the majority of young people so that they become the highly-skilled workers demanded by a modern economy."[48] But, as Professor Dyson remarks, "as government policies increasingly come up against students and schools that are stubbornly resistant to 'improvement' the question of how to include this recalcitrant minority in the form of education that has developed in English schools becomes an issue of growing significance."[49]

48. SEN policy continues to operate a separate system for special educational needs (SEN) and, as a result, SEN continues to be sidelined away from the mainstream agenda in education. This must not continue. The Government needs to give greater priority to SEN and take full account of its need to have a central position in education.

The cost of failing children with SEN

49. The continuing correlation between children with SEN and exclusions, low attainment, not being in education, employment or training (NEET), and even youth crime, means that there are significant long term economic and social costs involved in failing children with SEN. The personal cost to families of children with SEN should also be considered.

50. Where a child with SEN is not having their needs met, it is likely that there are also costs in terms of the impact on the broader education system: possible disruption to education of classmates in both mainstream and special schools; and on teacher retention. Evidence of the impact on teacher retention of pupil behaviour (including, although not exclusively, pupils with social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)) is widely acknowledged.[50] Evidence regarding the impact on the education of peers in the classroom of children with SEN is less clear.

51. Better research is needed to identify whether children with similar special educational needs and cognitive ability achieve better in a special school, a segregated or enhanced special unit, or mainstream provision. Long-term, extensive research is not available. The limited research that does exist on this subject is inconclusive.

52. Research undertaken for the DfES has found that there is no evidence that children with SEN reduce the attainment levels reached by their classmates. The DfES memorandum identifies research undertaken by Universities of Newcastle and Manchester in 2003 which "found no evidence of a relationship between inclusion and attainment."[51] They found that inclusivity was far less significant than other factors such as Free School Meals (a proxy of socio-economic background) month of birth, gender and mother tongue. They also found that "there was some evidence of the positive effects that inclusion can have on the wider achievements of all pupils, such as social skills and understanding—although it can also increase the risk of isolation and low self-esteem."[52]

53. A recent research report from the University of Cambridge, The Costs of Inclusion, found more mixed results. It found that "for children who would, in the past, have been in special schools we find evidence of children thriving in the company of their peers supported by enlightened and supportive staff. We also find children and young people struggling in schools and classrooms ill equipped to meet their varied and complex needs. For their peers, changes in teachers' priorities and classroom management often means less time and attention by teachers to the detriment of all children's learning." The report concluded that "while there are many examples of social benefits both for children with special needs and their peers, there is much less positive evidence that learning needs are being met across the whole spectrum of ability."[53]

54. Finally, the impact for those children with SEN who end up being excluded, NEET, or even in crime, is of great concern. We know, for example, that a high proportion of young people in Youth Offender Institutions present with special educational needs and 15% have statements of SEN (compared to 3% of the total school population).[54] There are considerable costs involved in failing to meet the needs of large numbers of children with SEN. Moreover, the Government has a responsibility to provide high-quality education for all children to enable them to reach their potential.

55. A relevant example is provided by children with autism. The National Autistic Society (NAS) describe autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) as a "lifelong developmental disability that affect the way a person communicates and relates to people around them." The NAS believe that the "prevalence estimate for autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in the total population is 1 in 110."[55] The charity I CAN say that "Children's 'invisible' problems with communication mean that they find it difficult to express themselves and develop the learning and literacy skills they need to become independent adults and thrive in a 21st century world. There is a clear relationship between this hidden disability and later literacy problems,[56] and poor educational attainment at 11 and 16 years of age.[57] Being unable to communicate effectively is deeply frustrating: well over half of the children classified as having emotional, behavioural and social difficulties (EBSD) have a communication disability too. An unaddressed communication disability often leads to behavioural problems. This strong inter-relationship is all too often overlooked. As a result, children with EBSD often fail to have their communication disability addressed, with the outcome that their frustrations continue and they become locked in a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. Isolation and social exclusion is the frequent result."[58]

56. The National Autistic Society point out that "over a quarter (27%) of children with autism have been excluded from school at some point, and most of these (23% (of children with autism)) have been excluded on more than one occasion."[59]

57. With regard to dyslexia, The Dyslexia Institute believe the cost of failing to diagnose and appropriately teach children with dyslexia leads to significant long-term economic and social costs in terms of exclusions, lost earnings, and even crime (studies have shown the extent to which dyslexia is over-represented in the prison population with as many as 20% of prisoners having dyslexia and related learning difficulties).[60] Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive of the Dyslexia Institute, told this Committee that the estimated costs to the UK taxpayer could be in the hundreds of millions:

    "Last year we did a very specific piece of research in the Prison Service which showed that 52% of prisoners have literacy difficulties and 20% have hidden difficulties, and the assessments used were very robust[...] We had £186 million in the Prison Service, £80 million in Probation, £50 million in school exclusions, so just in those three categories alone £300 million a year."[61]

36   The Guardian, Katharine Quarmby, Inclusion debate treads new ground, Tuesday January 31, 2006. Back

37   Parliamentary Written Answer. 18 May 2006. Jim Knight. Column 1147W and 1148W. Back

38   Data received from the DfES. Correspondence reference number 2006/0218752. Back

39   Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, Baroness Warnock, Special educational needs: a new look, 2005. No. 11 in a series of policy discussions. Back

40   Ibid. Back

41   Ibid. Back

42   A. Dyson, Philosophy, politics and economics? The story of inclusive education in England, 2005 in: D. Mitchell (Ed) Contextualising Inclusive Education: Evaluating old and new international perspectives (London, Routledge).  Back

43   Speech by David Bell, the then Chief Inspector of Schools, to a press conference in London, on Tuesday December 14 2004 to launch the Ofsted report, Reading for purpose and pleasure Back

44   Speech by the Prime Minister to the National Association of Head Teachers, Cardiff, 3 May 2004 Back

45   SEN 22 Back

46   This is often referred to as BESD but SEBD is a better reflection of the priority of needs for these young people. Back

47   Q50 Back

48   A. Dyson, Philosophy, politics and economics? The story of inclusive education in England, 2005 in: D. Mitchell (Ed) Contextualising Inclusive Education: Evaluating old and new international perspectives (London, Routledge). Back

49   Ibid. Back

50   House of Commons, Education and Skills Committee, Secondary Education: Teacher Retention and Recruitment, Fifth Report of Session 2003-04. Paragraph 74 said that 'pupil behaviour is seen as one of the most significant problems in the retention of teachers in secondary teaching'. Back

51   SEN 178 paragraphs 79 and 80 Back

52   Ibid Back

53   University of Cambridge, John MacBeath et al, The Costs of Inclusion: a study of inclusion policy and practice in English primary, secondary, and special schools. Commissioned and funded by the National Union of Teachers.2006. Back

54   Audit Commission, Youth Justice 2004: a review of the reformed youth justice system, 2004 Back

55   SEN 128 Back

56   Catts, H. and Kahmi, A., Language and Reading Disabilities. 1999 (Boston: Allyn and Bacon) Back

57   Howlin P & Rutter M, The consequences of language delay for other aspects of development. 1987 Back

58   SEN 129 Back

59   SEN 128 Back

60   SEN139 Back

61   Q818 Back

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