Special Educational Needs: Parents and students express concern over support for school leavers

Special Educational Needs (SEN) experts, teachers and students have expressed concern that students with extra requirements struggle to achieve their potential at GCSE and in Higher Education. 

Placeholder

Almost eight million students in state schools were registered as having SEN as of January 2016. Approximately 30% of these students were in years 10 and 11, with just 8.9% being in years 12 or above. In addition, seven out of 10 of students excluded from school before sitting their GCSEs were on the SEN register.

Many SEN students are concerned that progressing into higher education will mean losing their support, as well as having less needs-based advice, unfamiliar assessment styles, and less funding. Matt, a school leaver who has severe dyslexia and dyspraxia, said: “I just don’t know what special needs assistance there is in most colleges.”

While sitting his GCSEs, Matt had extra support, which consisted of a scribe for his exams, extra revision lessons, plus meetings with the SEN co-ordinator.

Brian Bushell, the former deputy head of a Special Educational Needs school, said that schools needed to have qualified, authoritative SEN coordinators: “In my role, I was able to take a student out of class for individual support if they needed it, and directly liaised with parents”.  Bushell also called for educational psychologists to have more involvement in schools: “Ultimately, more funding needs to be provided for SEN departments within all schools.”

Parents of children with extra academic requirements have expressed similar concerns at the current system of assessment and care. Lynn, the parent of a school leaver with dyslexia, said that teachers need to be aware of the specific needs of SEN students: “My experience is that staff don’t read email instruction from the SenCo. I know they have a lot of work to do but they have a young person’s future in their hands and should be responsible enough to give all the students the same consideration.”

Lynn also expressed concern that SEN students were taught a different curriculum to the rest of the student body, often missing out on key information needed for GCSE exams. This affected the confidence of her son, and other students in the same position: "He understood the new information. He and others have thought they can't do the same stuff, but they can, it's just up to the staff to put the information over differently." 

Parents were also worried about the emotional impact of students with SEN as they entered their final years, and thought about career options. Elizabeth, another parent, said: “My son’s behaviour was perceived to be laziness and stupidity as on occasions teachers had not read [his file]. He was often singled out and humiliated. Staff need to be aware of the emotional issues attached to SEN students, such as low self esteem… it’s important to get the correct learning support worker as a bad match can be incredibly counterproductive and distressing. A mentor is a great support boost and confidence booster. Students also need constant reviews – as confidence increases, aspirations rise.”

Teachers, experts and SEN students were all in agreement that early identification of, and testing for, educational difficulties needs to be common practice in school: Bushell suggested that reviews should take place in primary school for every child, and Lynn said that initial reports from primary school should be comprehensive, with assessments taking place at secondary school at regular interviews. Matt agreed that early testing for SEN would have made his school life much easier: “I would introduce tests for dyslexia at a young age for anyone with symptoms. Also I feel teachers need to be more aware, as dyslexia has been perceived to be nothing but laziness – I feel that dispelling this ignorance is necessary for children’s academic wellbeing.”

Matt suggested that SEN students considering higher education should not be deterred: “I plan on doing B-tech for a year at college, and after that I hope to do A-levels. I got good grades in history and I feel that my most recent grades are my most promising.”

“I would introduce tests for dyslexia at a young age for anyone with symptoms. Also I feel teachers need to be more aware, as dyslexia has been perceived to be nothing but laziness – I feel that dispelling this ignorance is necessary for children’s academic wellbeing.”

Matt suggested that SEN students considering higher education should not be deterred: “I plan on doing B-tech for a year at college, and after that I hope to do A-levels. I got good grades in history and I feel that my most recent grades are my most promising.”

Like what you're reading?

We hate spam, so we'll only ever send stuff relevant to you.