Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Focus Learning Trust


  1.  This document is submitted to the Education and Skills Committee from Focus Learning Trust in view of offering the benefits of experiences in developing a suitable SEN programme in 37 UK schools to remedy the backlog of many undiscovered or unrecognised SEN conditions, some of which have been inherited from the lack of suitable provisions in state primary schools.


  2.  In this submission, a pupil is considered to have special educational needs if one or more of his education attainments fall significantly below that of his peers, or some of his educational attainments are considerably below what you would expect from his other achievements—for example, a child with very high reasoning ability but only average reading skills.

  3.  Able, gifted and talented pupils also have special educational requirements, but this submission deals only with learning difficulties.

  4.  It is not the purpose of this submission to plead for extra funds, but rather to suggest practical ways in which available funds could be used more effectively.


  5.  There seem to be at least three main sources of SEN:

    —  Medical, such as deafness or Downs.

    —  Lifestyle, such as diet or social pressure.

    —  Specific learning difficulties.


  6.  As a result of years of work by pioneers such as Beve Hornsby of the Hornsby Institute, it is now generally accepted that a pupil can be healthy and intelligent, and yet genuinely have a specific difficulty with reading or spelling, etc.

  7.  Unfortunately, few have then asked the vital question—WHY?

  8.  Instead, a lot of effort has been expended, trying to group SpLD pupils into a few global categories such as dyslexia and ADHD.

  9.  Limitations of this approach are shown by the existence of more than a dozen official definitions of dyslexia in the UK alone.

  10.  As a result, diagnostic tests tend to be so complicated that only experienced professionals can administer them, while many teachers are not allowed to. This makes it difficult for schools to conduct even a preliminary assessment of a pupil.


  11.  It has now become clear that there are specific physiological conditions underlying SpLD, such as:

    —  retained birth reflexes;

    —  retained birth stresses, especially in the skull;

    —  auditory processing difficulties;

    —  poor eye muscle control; and

    —  impairment from ailments such as ear infections.

  12.  The incidence, intensity and combination of these conditions varies from child to child, that is why it is so difficult to put SpLD into global classifications, and also, sadly explains why some professionals insist there is no treatment to alleviate SpLD.


  13.  Just by way of illustration, consider some of the possible causes, medical, lifestyle and physiological, that could lie behind a case of chronic inattentiveness:

    —  An undetected medical condition such as diabetes.

    —  An allergic reaction to fizzy drinks such as colas.

    —  Utter boredom with an able pupil whose lessons do not stretch him properly.

    —  Social stress.

    —  Auditory processing delay.

    —  Difficulty hearing against background noise.

    —  Retained moulding compression of the skull.

    —  Weak or stressed ocular muscles, disturbing eye co-ordination and focusing.

    —  Poor balance/eye motor control co-ordination.

    —  Retained birth reflexes. For example, with spinal Galant reflex, the lower back is very sensitive, making it very hard to sit still.

  14.  Each underlying symptom needs its own particular treatment. This can easily be overlooked when working with one global diagnosis.


  15.  What is encouraging is that proven therapies (as distinct from enhanced teaching systems) are available to treat many of these conditions. Some examples follow.


  16.  A difficult birth can leave a baby with retained moulding and distortion of the skull, leading to restricted brain function, hyperactivity, and learning difficulties in later years.

  17.  It is increasingly common practise here, and on the Continent, for maternity units to recommend treatment, specially to reduce the likelihood of SpLD in later years.


  18.  The ARROW self-voice dictation system was originally developed for special educational needs children. It was found they responded and learned far better from their own voices than any others.

  ARROW is now used with pupils of all ages and abilities not only in the UK but elsewhere in Europe, the West Indies and the Middle East. It is particularly useful for those with specific hearing difficulties.

  19.  ARROW has discovered that students with literacy problems cannot listen with background noise and has introduced specialised listening programmes within its national literacy strategy material.

  20.  Evidence from hundreds of SEN pupils shows it is reasonable to expect nearly 12 months progress in reading and in spelling after less than 10 hours work. The key to its success being the use of the self-voice linked to carefully graded CD ROM programmes. The Parliamentary e-Diary acknowledges that ARROW is a leader in its field which delivers a high standard of service aiming to produce excellence in education.


  21.  Pioneering work by the Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester showed that children with SpLD are apt to have retained birth reflexes.

  22.  These automatic reflexes are essential for a baby's survival in the early months. However, if they are still present in later years, they can interfere with the higher brain functions involved in learning.

  23.  Further work at the INPP showed that retained reflexes could be suppressed by special patterning exercises, with a corresponding reduction in SpLD. This can be seen in the results of a double blind trial conducted by Queens University, Belfast, published in The Lancet.


  24.  Auditory therapy re-tunes the inner ear by a programme of selected acoustic frequencies. This can improve hearing and balance, and also the functioning of those parts of the brain linked to the auditory system.

  25.  There are several effective systems available. The Listening Program from America, supplied in this country by Learning Solutions in Bradford, is one of the easiest to use. It helps with auditory problems, retained reflexes, balance, movement, social interaction, and some autistic spectrum disorders.


  26.  Some old-fashioned teaching practices appear to have a beneficial therapeutic effect on SpLD. Examples include:

    —  chanting in class—multiplication tables, etc;

    —  class singing—folk songs etc; and

    —  physical exercises involving left/right co-ordination.

  27.  In addition there is often a big improvement in educational outcome, when a pupil realises that he does have a genuine problem, and his teachers are sympathetic with him.


  28.  At present, many cases of SEN go undetected all through primary school, and even secondary school. There are at least two reasons for this.

  29.  Firstly, social pressures have led to a lot more behavioural problems, which must be a teacher's first priority. Well-behaved SEN pupils are all too easily overlooked.

  30.  Secondly, because the assessments procedure is so complicated, requiring the input of professionals who are in relatively short supply, teachers cannot always be sure if a pupil has SEN or not.

  31.  Hull University recognised this problem, and have developed a SEN assessment package, Lucid. Using laptops, with scores calibrated against the results of thousands of tests, Lucid allows laymen to conduct accurate tests for SEN.

  32.  Lucid is cheap and easy to operate, giving reliable results. It is increasingly used by education professionals themselves.


  33.  The intention of SEN legislation is good, and if widely practised, would be beneficial to SEN pupils.

  34.  Unfortunately there are several major drawbacks. Firstly, the system lacks:

    —  effective enforcement procedures;

    —  reporting systems to show how well an LEA is carrying out its SEN responsibilities; and

    —  an easy way for parents to know if they are given the help envisaged by SEN legislation.

  35.  Secondly, there is no mechanism in place for ensuring that available funds go to the pupils who need them. For instance, a Local Education Authority may allocate all its SEN provision direct to each school. If then a school has an exceptional SEN case requiring costly support, the school may not have enough SEN funds, and the LEA has none left to help the school.

  36.  Alternatively, an LEA may attempt to ration the number of SEN Statements, to keep within budget.

  37.  The end result is that trying to obtain SEN "statement funding" places a heavy time and cost burden on schools, with no certainty of securing SEN funds, however deserving the case.

  38. The system almost forces LEAs, schools and parents to adopt an adversarial stance. Although suitable for a criminal court, it seems quite inappropriate for deciding how best to help an SEN child.


  39.  All schools, particularly primaries, could be given the means of conducting their own preliminary SEN assessments, using Lucid or similar.

  40.  They could be encouraged to identify SEN as young as possible. The earlier help can be brought to bear, the better it is for the child, its parents, its teachers, and not least, the Exchequer.

  41.  To reduce the adversarial element of SEN, would it be better to put responsibility for full SEN assessment to a body operating at arm's length from both schools and LEAs?

  42.  This body, working closely with teachers and parents, could be responsible for:

    —  full SEN assessments;

    —  recommending special teaching;

    —  recommending proven therapies;

    —  issuing statements of Special Needs; and

    —  reviewing and reporting on the results of its recommendations.

  43.  Any school pupil could be referred to this body, provided there has been a preliminary SEN assessment, and there is simple evidence to show why a full assessment is needed.

  44.  This service, could be free at the point of use, and a recommendation from the independent body could be a trigger for the release of the necessary SEN funding from an LEA to the school in question.

  45.  There seems to be a case for better co-ordination of research into the best ways of treating SEN, including making use of properly validated SEN therapies.

January 2006

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