Posts Tagged ‘Special Needs’


Tourette’s, Turrets, Tourects

December 5, 2009

(Just a short comment this time.)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I once read on an IEP that a badly behaved, and occasionally explosive, student that I taught was thought to have “mild Tourects”. More recently, I read on the SEN register that there was a query as to whether a student had “Turrets Syndrome”. As usual I tend to assume that if something happens more than once to me at more than one school then it is probably happening at plenty of other schools too and so it might be worth commenting on.

For those of you who don’t know, Tourette’s syndrome is a neurophysical disorder where people manifest physical or vocal tics. In a minority of cases the tics can take the form of coprolalia, the uncontrollable exclamation of offensive words. There have been a number of television programmes about this type of condition, and it has entered popular culture to the extent where people have heard of the condition but are likely to think it always involves coprolalia. And this is where it gets involved in the SEN racket. Obviously, genuine cases of Tourette’s would, no doubt, be a special need and might need special help in some cases. However, the condition is rare enough that I have never taught a genuine sufferer and it would be pretty low down the list of conditions dealt with by SEN departments in schools. Unfortunately, the idea of people who cannot stop swearing has caught the public imagination. Unfortunately, the SEN systems in many schools are run by people who have neither any academic or medical education in neurophysical disorders, nor the common sense to look up these conditions on Wikipedia before attempting to diagnose them. All it takes is the fact that they have heard on the TV of a condition where people cannot stop swearing but it is not their fault. Now finding excuses for not holding children responsible for their actions is a major part of the purpose of the SEN racket. If you don’t know anything about Tourette’s, not even how to spell it, it sounds like a dream come true. Jordan and Lee didn’t swear at the teacher because she tried to make them work and they didn’t want to and had no fear of the consequences, they did it because they had that condition off of Big Brother.

There is no quality control for IEPs or SEN registers. Any old crap can be put on them. Even misspelt, misinterpreted conditions are acceptable. This is then passed on to teachers. Now some teachers, maybe a minority, read books. We have seen the word “Tourette’s” written down. We even have a rough idea of what it refers to. But we still have to pretend that if we get sworn at it might be a symptom of a condition, not a morally wrong act, because the SEN department has more power than we do. In the process people who have a genuine medical condition are going to be forever associated with badly behaved kids who choose to swear at teachers. There really is a little too much truth in this:


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Cartman’s Diagnosis, posted with vodpod


Charlie and the Inclusive Chocolate Factory

June 11, 2009

Even after four decades Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”remains incredibly popular. However, its moral universe is drastically at odds with those of our schools. this has now been rectified, and below, I present a new, updated end for the book:


“Which room shall it be next?” said Mr Wonka as he turned away and darted into the lift. “Come on! Hurry up! We must get going! And how many children are there left now?”

Little Charlie looked at Grandpa Joe, and Grandpa Joe looked back at little Charlie.

“But Mr Wonka,” Grandpa Joe called after him, “there’s only Charlie left now.”

Mr Wonka swung round and stared at Charlie.

There was a silence. Charlie stood there holding tightly on to Grandpa Joe’s hand.

“You mean you’re the only one left?” Mr Wonka said, pretending to be surprised.

“Why, yes,” whispered Charlie. “Yes.”

Mr Wonka suddenly exploded with excitement “But my dear boy,” he cried out, “that means you’ve lost!

“I don’t understand.” said Charlie.

“Of course you don’t!” said Mr Wonka, excitedly. “Listen. I’m an old man. I’m much older than you think. I wanted my legacy to be that I’d give away my factory to badly behaved children in order to help them with their special needs. However, unlike the other four children you don’t seem to have any problems at all, so you’re not getting anything.”

“B-b-but…” stammered Grandpa Joe, “what problems did those awful children have?”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Mr Wonka, “we won’t have any of that labelling here. Listen and I will explain. Mike Teavee may have seemed disinterested in other human beings and to have an unhealthy interest in guns and violence. However, this really only indicates a short attention span and hyperactivity. The poor boy is ill with ADHD and unrestricted access to a chocolate factory can only help him with his affliction.”

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this”, said Grandpa Joe.

“As for Violet Beauregarde, her continual chewing of gum was clearly a form of obsessive behaviour. That, and her lack of social awareness about what to do with discarded gum, strikes me as clear evidence that she is somewhere on the autistic spectrum.”

“For pity’s sake” whispered Charlie.

“I suppose you’ll be telling us that Veruca Salt has a special need next.” said Grandpa Joe. “All that spoilt girl needed was a good slap.”

“How dare you?” cried Mr Wonka. “Anybody who slaps a child is worse than Hitler! You should have noticed that poor Veruca was suffering from a terrible anger management problem.”

“What about Augustus Gloop?” asked Charlie. “He was greedy and fat. How does that make him deserve a chocolate factory?”

“Ah-ha!” cried Mr Wonka, “That dear child was clearly suffering from poor self-esteem. I hate to think what torment he was going through.”

“This is ridiculous” said Grandpa Joe. “None of those children had real problems. Charlie, on the other hand, has been sleeping on the floor his entire life, and has been eating nothing but bread and cabbage for six months. He’s starving. Isn’t that a real hardship you could help with?”

“Don’t be silly” said Mr Wonka. “Charlie may look like a skeleton but he has been polite and well-behaved throughout this trip. He clearly can’t have any real problems. Now, off you go! I have to take the other, more troubled children to the Great Glass Student Support Department where a thousand Oompa-Loompas will help them with their needs by catering to their every whim.”


The Blameless. Part 3: The Afflicted

October 25, 2008

Here I will address the claim that children are not responsible for their actions because they have a medical or psychological condition.

There are two versions of this argument. The first version suggests that if a child is behaving badly in a lesson they must secretly be unable to do the work, and that the most likely reason a child might be unable to keep up with their peers is some form of disability or illness. There are two main flaws in this argument, both incredibly obvious. Firstly, there is no clear reason why a child unable to do their school work would misbehave rather than simply say they couldn’t do it. At the very least it assumes that the penalty for admitting to personal academic failure is greater than that for disrupting the learning of others, which would itself be a disordered situation, where personal responsibility needs increasing, not denying. The second flaw is that it assumes that assessing a child’s inability to complete work is a difficult task, probably requiring expertise beyond that of the classroom teacher. In actual fact, this form of assessment is an integral part of teaching and while doctors and psychologists might be required to find a root cause of an inability to complete work, nobody is likely to be more effective than a teacher at identifying a failure to be able to do work. These two flaws mean that the argument is dependent on the circumstances of both the child being unreasonable and the teacher being incompetent, which, while this may sometimes be the case, is a ludicrous assumption to make when dealing with poor behaviour in general.

The second version of this argument claims that medical or psychological conditions directly cause involuntary incidents of poor behaviour. Obviously children shouldn’t be punished for actions influenced by Tourette’s or having a coughing fit. However, such situations are incredibly rare. In order to allow for more wide use of this excuse medical and psychological “conditions” have multiplied to cover virtually every human inclination. Such conditions are usually impossible to explain, let alone identify, without using a comparison with some view of what is normal for a child (often this is tied in to the concept of “developmental levels”). If a child is more energetic or inattentive than normal they have ADHD. If they won’t follow instructions as much as expected then they have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If they are anti-social or even annoyingly pedantic then some form of autism will be suggested. (The latest condition I have encountered, admittedly online rather than in real life, is a parent who claims her children have “impaired proprioception” a physiological condition, symptoms of which include such supposed anomalies as “crashing into things, throwing themselves onto the floor, swinging as high as they possibly can”). In the event that no specific behaviour disorder can be identified then, conveniently, almost every failing can be covered by “low self-esteem”.

Now identifying what is abnormal is probably a very useful principle in medicine. It is deeply flawed as a way of considering the causes of human behaviour. Our behaviour, including our bad behaviour, is based on our desires. Different people have different desires. The worst behaved kids will, of course, have a desire to misbehave that is either stronger, or less well resisted, than that of the better behaved kids including the average (or “normal”) child. If this is grounds for seeing the behaviour as abnormal and in turn diagnosing a “condition” then the obvious result of this is that what are clearly just character traits, that should be as susceptible to human judgement as any other, will become seen as uncontrollable quirks of fate. Worse, the more extreme a moral failing, the more it is claimed to be beyond conscious control. In the case of those who argue that children are naturally good we gain a particularly spectacular piece of circular reasoning: All bad behaviour (unless covered by the previous explanations) must be abnormal; therefore it has a psychological or medical cause; therefore it is not under the child’s conscious control; therefore the child is naturally good; therefore the child’s bad behaviour is abnormal.

The confusion over what counts as a disability, and what is simply a matter of character or ability, has created the Special Needs racket, a system where help intended for students with genuine disabilities is lost in a swamp of claimants and the disgraceful efforts to “include” badly behaved students at the expense of those who do behave. Baroness Warnock, who was responsible for the creation of so much of the Special Needs system, is reported to now be in the position of disowning it:

“Mary Warnock, architect of England’s special needs education system, is to publish a damning report on how it has turned out in practice. Baroness Warnock says pressure to include pupils with problems in mainstream schools causes “confusion of which children are the casualties”. She also says the way the most severe needs are assessed is “wasteful and bureaucratic” and “must be abolished”. .. Lady Warnock says that it was expected that 2% of pupils with special needs would receive statements. That statements were actually given to 20%, she says, reflects the lack of clarity over their application.”


A final note: once again the word “need” has appeared when discussing a way of absolving children of moral responsibility. In the next few days I will look at this more closely.


Guaranteed to Offend Your SENCO

September 20, 2008

I know this has been around for a few years, but I only recently saw it for the first time:

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Drug Free Treatment, posted with vodpod

Apologies again to anybody who can’t access videos.


Who Is To Blame?

August 24, 2008

The biggest, single policy mistake in education in the last twenty years, the one that has undermined everything else, has been the attempt to treat badly behaved children as if they had a right to be in classes with their victims. This has been labelled as “Inclusion” and is often presented as simply an extension of policies aimed at including the disabled in schools; to a true believer children with problems and children who cause problems are one and the same. As a result the very idea of Inclusion has become anathema to many mainstream classroom teachers. My point in this blog entry is simply to ask how this has happened and where the line was crossed from the worthy objective of including the disabled to the insane dogma of tolerating the badly behaved.

The starting point for inclusion, and the starting point for blame, is the Warnock Report from 1978. This report in many ways began the Inclusion agenda and led to the 1981 Education Act. However, it clearly stated that special schools would still be necessary for:

“those with severe emotional or behavioural disorders who have very great difficulty in forming relationships with others or whose behaviour is so extreme or unpredictable that it causes severe disruption in an ordinary school or inhibits the educational progress of other children;”

It is hard not to view this as a turning point, but it clearly isn’t where the idea that extreme poor behaviour was to be tolerated began. It is, however, when the bureaucracy associated with SEN became the mess it is today. For this reason Baroness Warnock has since disowned some of the recommendations of her own report.

A series of education acts throughout the 1980s and 90s continued the trend for greater inclusion. To many teachers the turning point seemed to be the 2001 Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. It is not uncommon to hear David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who saw the bill passed, blamed as the architect of inclusion, with his own blindness given as evidence that he must have been a whole hearted advocate of all forms of inclusion. However, like the 1996 Education Act before it, the 2001 Act contained the following exception to who should be “included” in a mainstream school:

“unless that is incompatible with … the provision of efficient education for other children.“

Section 316(3)

Just in case there was any confusion as to what this means the Explanatory Notes for the Act stated:

“In practice, incompatibility with the efficient education of others is likely to be where pupils present severe challenging behaviour that would significantly disrupt the learning of other pupils or place their safety at risk.”

Again, it seems that there is nothing here to explain why inclusion should require that schools tolerate poor behaviour. However, education in Britain is not run by legislation, nor is it run by government ministers. It is run by a bureaucracy and several months after the Act was passed Blunkett moved on and was replaced with Estelle Morris, a minister who later resigned, apparently on the grounds of her own incompetence. The guidance that went out from the bureaucracy on her watch (specifically the Special Educational Needs Code Of Practice from November 2001) contained no mention of the fact that poor behaviour was what was referred to in the efficient education clause. In fact it is treated throughout as a form of SEN and bad behaviour is simply grounds to review the help given to the student:

“Where a school identifies a pupil with a statement of special educational needs who is at serious risk of disaffection or exclusion, an interim or early review should be called. It will then be possible to consider the pupil’s changing needs and recommend amendments to the statement, as an alternative to the pupil being excluded.”

And so without any legislation it suddenly became official advice that badly behaved students simply needed adjustments of their SEN provision rather than to be removed from mainstream schools. The balance doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, despite a succession of different education secretaries, none of who have lasted very long or had much of an impact.

However, before I blame Estelle Morris and leave it at that, a major part of the problem of having children incapable of behaving in mainstream schools must stem from the advice given on exclusions which says:

“Other than in the most exceptional circumstances, schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements. They should also make every effort to avoid excluding pupils who are being supported at School Action or School Action Plus under the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, including those at School Action Plus who are being assessed for a statement. In most cases, the headteacher will be aware that the school is having difficulty managing a pupil’s behaviour well before the situation has escalated. Schools should try every practicable means to maintain the pupil in school, including seeking LA and other professional advice and support at School Action Plus or, where appropriate, asking the LA to consider carrying out a statutory assessment. For a pupil with a statement, the school should liaise with their LA about initiating an interim review of the pupil’s statement.”

Although this is quoted from the most recent version of the guidelines (from September 2007) the advice itself appears to go back to DfEE Circular 10/99. This time David Blunkett is responsible, although yet again it is guidance given from the education bureaucracy (this time in central government), not the law of the land, which is the problem.


Warnock, H.M (chair), Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1978


Not-So Special Needs

June 10, 2007

When talking about SEN (Special Educational Needs) it’s hard to resist talking about the nonsense regarding “behavioural needs” first. Badly behaved children are seen as having “a condition”, often some kind of autism, rather than a moral weakness. Lots of attention and special treatment is seen as the only cure. Children who don’t fit in (perhaps they are more intelligent or well-behaved than the school is used to) can also be judged to be suffering from a form of autism. At Woodrow Wilson School I received the following advice about an “autistic” child:

“Jonathan likes a quiet, calm classroom. Tell him what the rules are. Explain things to him clearly.”

What a freak! Fancy not wanting to be confronted with chaos in class, unknown rules and unclear instructions. Generally any child who notices the rioting in their school and the fact that many of their teachers talk rubbish (or any child shows any other sign of sanity and judgement) is likely to be labelled as being on the Autistic Spectrum. If they are good at maths and like playing chess then it’s almost guaranteed.

However, besides the mad and the bright, there are also students who genuinely have educational needs. There are students with physical disabilities and students who are generally disturbed or actually autistic. In most schools there are a significant number of children whose basic literacy and numeracy skills are years behind where they should be. These children are normally classed as having learning difficulties. Mixed ability teaching helps ensure that these less able students are likely to get further and further behind as they experience lesson after lesson pitched at too high a level that contribute nothing to their educational needs. Of course the main help these students need is extra tuition in the basic skills which they are lacking.

Schools have plenty of resources (usually whole departments) to help with SEN students. Unfortunately a large part of these resources seem dedicated to the production of paperwork that does nobody any good. The belief seems to be that describing needs casts a spell that will cause them to be met. Other resources are spent on teaching assistants, helpers for students in lessons. Some resources are spent where they can do most good – on teaching. How much SEN teaching there is varies greatly between schools.

The Metropolitan School organises the timetable to provide extra numeracy and literacy lessons, all taught in the same classroom with the same teacher, who would also teach them for the scheduled Maths and English lessons. The teachers who taught these classes had usually trained in primary and as far as I could tell seemed to do a very effective job, although having ten hours or more with the same class took its toll on some of them. They seemed particularly prone to leaving the school.

Stafford Grove School used to withdraw students from randomly and inconveniently selected subjects, in order to attend extra lessons. When they were taken out of PSHE or mixed ability languages lessons it was probably good for all concerned. When they were taken out of a subject they liked and could do it was a disaster. Very often the students would refuse to go, and would attend their regularly scheduled lesson instead. The usual response from the SEN department was to give up trying to withdraw that child. It is at this point that the difference between regular teaching and SEN teaching becomes clear. If a student didn’t want to attend my lesson I would be stuck with them regardless of their unwillingness and regardless of whether I would be glad to be shot of them. However the SEN teachers could actually refuse to help the unwilling kids. They would actually say things like “I’ll help somebody who wants to be helped” as if teaching somebody to read and write was an optional extra the school only threw on for the most deserving.

Woodrow Wilson School had the worst system of all. They also withdrew students, but instead of withdrawing them from whole lessons, they would be taken out for twenty minutes every couple of weeks. Anybody who has ever been a teacher will be aware that a student who misses twenty minutes of a lesson (plus the time takes to walk between classrooms) will inevitably lose out or more than twenty minutes of their education as they will have trouble keeping up with work where they’ve missed key points or instructions. Consequently entire lessons were effectively lost, often in core subjects like Maths and English, for the sake of twenty minutes of tuition. As you can imagine this system was neither popular nor effective.

It’s hard not to conclude that the best way to help students with learning difficulties is to put them in their own classes, to make sure the extra help they get is part of the schools’ regular timetable, and to ensure that SEN teachers are teaching proper lessons with SEN students rather than just providing optional extras. Unfortunately the current orthodoxy is that these students need to be “included”, integrated as much as possible with their more able peers, rather than being given the most appropriate help. After all, if you start giving students special lessons, special time tables and special teachers, it’s a very short step to giving them special schools.

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