Why the Education System Needs to be More Inclusive of SEN Students
Currently, in the UK, there are 12.2% of pupils in schools who have SEN (Special Educational Needs) support and 3.7% with an EHC (Education, Health and Care) plan/Statements of SEN (Gov.UK). But what does this mean? Do all pupils have this? Or are there some that the system has forgotten? In today's blog post, I am going to be looking into what the education system looks like for those with SEN and how we still have a lot further to go in getting these children the right amount of support dependent on their needs. Someone is seen as having an SEN if they have a learning difficulty and/or disability, which requires them to have special education provisions put in place. It can cause these children to have greater difficulty in learning than other pupils who are the same age as them; or they may have a disability that stops them from using the facilities that are provided for them and others their age in mainstream schools (Long et al., 2021). Those with less severe needs have SEN support; however, those with additional needs have an EHC plan (Black, 2019). In 2018, there was a total of 1.25 million children in the UK being identified as having SEN, which equates to around one in seven children. 11.7% of those children with SEN did not have SEN support or an EHC plan in place, which suggests that there are many children in the education system who are having to struggle with their education as they are not being provided with the support they need to help them achieve what they should otherwise be able to achieve (Black, 2019). One of the main issues regarding having SEN and being in mainstream schools is that these schools are severely underfunded. Due to this underfunding, schools are struggling to be able to provide these pupils with the support that they need and one million children with SEN don't have an EHC plan, which if they did have would mean they would be legally entitled to this support (The Guardian, 2020). This means that just because of some legalities, many children are unable to access the support they should be entitled to and which, if they did have, would make a great difference to their education and overall quality of life.
In a survey of SEN support in schools and colleges, it was found that a third of school staff said they had no responsibility regarding the identification of SEN in pupils (Department for Education, 2017). This suggests that not enough school staff are aware of the struggles SEN pupils face and when you pair that with the fact that 44.9% of all school exclusions between 2017 and 2018 were pupils with SEN (The Guardian, 2020), this further backs up the point that not enough school staff have been adequately trained on how to help SEN pupils and support their needs. There are further issues with this as it mainly fell to the hands of teaching assistants to support these pupils, which was difficult for both the pupils and the teachers as the teaching assistants weren't always available in every lesson with the same pupil and they also weren't always available to help the teacher plan and prepare the lesson (Department of Education, 2017), meaning the teacher could only plan the lesson to support SEN pupils based off what they already knew about their SEN but not off their exact needs and the pupils weren't getting the continuity of support they needed and deserved.
Even though the number of children being SEN is on the rise, specialist provision for these pupils is on the decrease. Specialist resource provision was at 2,021 in 2015, compared to 1,685 in 2019. This was a similar trend for SEN units in mainstream schools, with the number of these being at 1,423 in 2015 and decreasing to 1,261 in 2019 (The Stable Company, 2020). This is also to do with the lack of funding for mainstream education and if there isn't a significant increase to this funding, with a particular focus on SEN education, we are going to see even more pupils with SEN being failed by the system.
As has already been seen, a significant amount of SEN pupils are struggling to get the support they need as they are not entitled to an EHC plan. This plan legally entitles children to gain access to the support they need but is only given to those pupils whose SEN puts them at a real disadvantage in comparison to their peers, both neurodivergent and neurotypical. This means that those pupils who are only entitled to SEN support are being left behind as they do not have the same legal rights as those with an EHC plan. Couple this with the fact that there are many pupils out there who have either gone under the radar of their teachers/parents in them not recognising that they may have an SEN, or who have been diagnosed with an SEN (although I hate hearing the phrase 'SEN diagnosis' as that makes it sound like an illness when all it really means is that your brain is wired slightly differently compared to someone who is neurotypical), but for whatever reason do not have an SEN support plan in place, that means there is more than likely many children out there who are struggling in one way or another regarding their education, and quite possibly other areas of their life.
Wouldn't we all love for it to get to the point where SEN students are receiving the same education as neurotypical students? And by that, I don't mean treating everyone the same in education as it is more than apparent that doing this only benefits the neurotypical kids and not those who are neurodivergent. What I DO mean is that the education system needs to ensure that every child with SEN has their individual needs looked into as if you put two kids together who have dyslexia, you can guarantee that whilst they may have the same SEN, they will still have different needs, whether they have the same needs but at different levels or completely different needs.
It should also be made mandatory for those who work with children to have some sort of awareness regarding SEN, even if it is just the basics. I have a background in early childhood and after my second year of university became aware that it was more than likely that I will end up working with children who have SEN, or may be undiagnosed with an SEN, so took it upon myself to do an online course that covers the basics of the types of SEN, to ensure I am aware on what to look out for within the children I work with if they are undiagnosed; and if they are diagnosed, to have a basic understanding of methods I can implement to help make things that little bit easier for them. I am unaware of if workplaces offer basic training for all staff working with children, but if this is not already in place then it needs to be. Even though all schools need to have a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator), many people do not want this 'burden' (even though it most definitely isn't one) put on them and there are often difficulties in communication between the SENCO, teacher, teaching assistants, etc. I have even heard many instances from parents with children with SEN who have said they have received very little support from the school regarding their child, whether it's with getting a diagnosis or getting the support they're entitled to with a diagnosis.
At the end of the day, these children should not be forced to try and fit in with their neurotypical peers as they often need much more support in a variety of ways to help them get on the same educational level. Being inclusive isn't throwing these children into the mainstream education system and treating them like the other kids, because in doing this, they're going to struggle and often won't achieve the same outcomes. Being inclusive is not just having some knowledge regarding the type of SEN each child has but is also getting to know the needs of each individual child and ensuring that the appropriate systems are put in place to allow them to succeed in the same way their peers do. Giving them extra support isn't showing favouritism, it's there to ensure they can be on the same level as their neurotypical peers. I get that it may be tricky to plan lessons around this, particularly if you have multiple children with multiple needs, but it is much more tricky for the children themselves to try and navigate a system that only works in favour of their neurotypical peers.
Love Beth xx