Two significant things happened in the past week for parents of summer born children with special educational needs (SEN); one culminating in a demonstration to take place in London tomorrow.
Firstly, there was Joanna Kent’s excellent report; the BBC South presenter submitted a Freedom of Information request to every Local Authority in the country regarding their refusal rates for the new EHC needs assessment.
And secondly, there was the Education Select Committee’s recommendation that the government should explore the business case for providing more flexibility for summer born children who are at risk of being misdiagnosed with SEN.
At first glance the two issues seem rather unrelated; however, the underpinning issues and causes of these are similar in more than one respect.
The first similarity is that both issues are driven by a postcode lottery that central government seems to want to ignore. The BBC’s figures not only highlight the wild and damming variation that exists in EHCP assessment refusal rates, but the data also infers – something that parents of SEN children already know – that the variation is caused by LAs following their own SEN policy and not applying the relevant statutory legislation during the decision making process.
And a quick cursory glance at the SEND Tribunal figures tells us that.
What is interesting about the Education Select Committee’s SEN recommendation is that it finally acknowledges the research of educationalists such as Dr Squires of Manchester University (2011).
It would appear that while the DfE was busy looking overseas to countries that differ in school starting age, culture and curriculum for its ‘evidence check’ submission, our own ecologically valid and robust evidence was being quietly ignored.
And given the research findings, it is not hard to see why:
- Large study of 450 schools in England and 15,640 pupils to investigate the effect of month of birth on SEN provision
- Squire’s hypothesis was that teachers were inappropriately labeling children who were younger in the year group on the basis of political aspirations
- Current definitions of SEN are comparative to peer group, written in 1944 and not based on objective measures. The current issue with the Code of Practice is ‘to whom is the child being compared’? Existing research suggests there is a tendency for schools to identify more children as having MLD or EBD than any other type of SEN (DfE, 2010; Ofsted, 2010)
- Being born at the end of the school year can make a 24% difference in attainment relative to children born at the beginning of the year (DfE, 2010)
- Squires (2011) concluded, “A child born in August is one and a half times more likely to be identified as having SEN compared to a child born in September”
- Squires (2011) concluded, “MLD is a catch all category for these children” because younger children in the cohort have not developed the “linguistic, cognitive and social skills” necessary to reach the “political aspirations for their academic cohort”
Implications for practice include:
- Moderation of expectations from considering all children to be the same to one that takes into account child development and maturation
- Improvement of teacher training
- A tighter, non-comparative definition of SEN
So, like SEN provision, the question of flexibility for summer born children cannot be decontextualised from the education system (i.e. the curriculum, its expectations and its socio-political aspirations), but there is legislation related to both that cannot and should not be ignored.
Also, given the SEN postcode lottery highlighted by the BBC (not least the numbers of parents that the SEN system is failing), does it really make sense to keep adding to the SEN chaos through a top down curriculum that some summer born children are simply not ready for but forced to comply with by LAs that are obsessed with ‘chronological age batches of pupils’?
DfE Business Case
We can only hope that Minister for School Reform, Nick Gibb, will use Squire’s figures when doing the math, and constructing the government’s business case for the Education Select Committee.
When it becomes evident that many SEN costs are wholly unnecessary, and could be avoided entirely (leaving more resources available for other children) if parents of summer born children could exercise their legal right to enrol their child in school AT compulsory school age without penalty, will the government make the right (and most cost-effective) decision?
Tomorrow, parents of children with SEN are demonstrating in London to stop children and young people losing provision and support when transferring between an SEN and an EHCP: Notice of Peaceful Demonstration
Friday 27th March 2015, 12-3pm
Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London
You can also sign the petition here at change.org
Written by Catherine Mackinlay Henderson and edited by Pauline Hull