SEND and academic achievers - the mismatch

Updated: May 12, 2021

Children can have special educational needs, be disabled and still be academically able.

There seems to have been a plethora of reports in the last week on Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) and these are a few of my thoughts taken from many years of supporting young people and their families.

Meeting 'criteria'

SEND funding tends to be based on criteria that is about curriculum models and typical achievement. The result of this is that if you fit the criteria (clearly struggling academically) and also pose a bit of a challenge in the classroom then you get the support (because the class disruption gives an impetus to secure support). But what if you don’t?

A common challenge is where the child is academically average or above. This is so often taken as everything being okay, and that this child doesn’t need help. They hit the average SATs score; so that’s proof that they’re doing ok… isn’t it? Except some of these children are brighter than that and they should be much higher up the SATs scores - these may be the Einsteins and Bill Gates of tomorrow. 

This is ‘under-performing for intellect’. Parents know it, and often teachers do too, but how do you prove that a child who is meeting expectations academically is being failed colossally? 

'Fitting in'

Add to this the fact that these children are often keen to ‘fit in’ and sit quietly; not disrupting classes (and not wrecking the school’s SATs average). Understandably there is little motivation for the school to embark on the onerous process of assessment and Education Health & Care Plans. Doing so will mean stretching the budget even further (it’s a costly business) and why would you if it's 'not necessary'?

The consequences

However, over time these children become bored, stressed and frustrated. This can manifest in many ways: switching off academically, oppositional behaviour in school and/or home, steadily decreasing self-esteem and accompanying mental health issues, and of course the crying shame of academic under-performance.

If that child or young person has high ability, gifts or talents, they must be enabled as anyone else would be. We all need to stand up for these children, and stress that SEND funding is not about averages and ‘norms’; it’s about potential, and must be person-centred. 

There is too little ambition in the world of disability support, and as professionals we must undertake to constructively challenge this in all our interactions with the education system. 

The future

Inclusive Community Development was set up specifically for this purpose; to support families and care providers to be more ambitious for their young people, and to set goals which stretch each and every one of them. 

I’d love you to join us on our mission. Find out more about who we are and our journey so far.

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