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When Two Plus TWo Equals Zero (Or - What Price A Child's Future?)
If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I am passionate about discrimination as well as that cluster of children who fall into the category of "Special Educational Needs" (after all, I was one myself).  I am also passionate about giving everybody a chance to succeed at their chosen career without fear of bullying or stigmatism.  In my opinion - qualifictions are always superceded by experience (or at least they should be).

I am so glad I am not at school now.  Basically because I honestly don't think I wluld survive my first year at Secondary School if I was (it was bad enough in 1985).

Part of me feels quite sorry for the teachers - they are subjected to neverending changes in not only what curriculum is taught but also how it is supposed to be taught/  They also have to ensure their students float through school in such a state that they pass all their GCSE's at Grade C or above.

This does not take into account two groups of students - the non-academic students, who would be better off in some sort of Apprenticeship instead of GCSE classes, and the Special Educational Needs students who need more help in school.

The funny thing about this label of "Special Educational Needs" is that it can be applied to every single student who walks into a school.  I would classify someone who is particularly gifted in a subject as "Special Educational Needs" because they need more specialised teaching to help them achieve their full potential in that subject.  So why is the "Special Educational Needs" label always seen in such a negative light???

The media (as well as the Government) appear to see Special Educational Needs as a drain on resources.  Namely - money spent on helping children who come into the negative side of the category could be spent elsewhere with more immediate, more positive, results.  As long as nobody in the school goes seriously off the rails everything is OK - and if they do go off the rails the school can always blame the parents, etc.

I am very grateful to Deb Maher for allowing me to tell you about the struggles she is having with getting appropriate education for her nephew.

Her nephew has got Special Educational Needs which are in the process of being diagnosed (well - one of them is).

He has had problems in school (and she has noticed some things at home).  At first the signs appeared to point towards either Dyslexia or Autism.  Luckily his Mentor at school has a son with Autism so she could provide a bit more information.

Deb's nephew has 12 hours a week support in school of various sorts. Recently he was seen by an Educational Psychologist who I thought had definitely diagnosed Dyslexia.  Apparently they had only said he has Dyslexia-like symptoms.  Thus leaving Deb in limbo.

(I had previously advised Deb not to send him to Mainstream Secondary School simply based on what she had told me about him - coupled with my experiences.  His Mentor said she thought he would be fine at a Mainstream Secondary School as long as he had some support.)

Deb privately took her nephew to a Child Psychiatrist who - apparently - took one look at him and immediately diagnosed Autism (the Child Psychiatrist didn't even need to run any tests on him.

Due to family circumstances - Deb's sister dying when her nephew had started school, her Dad having a stroke, and her Mum dying, all within a few years - I don't think the Special Needs were picked up anywhere near early enough.  (However, that is just my personal opinion.)

Before the Child Psychiatrist saw Deb's nephew they wanted all the information which had been collated on him.  This included a form for Special Needs Education help.  Apparently there was nowhere near enough information on the form which the school had filled in.  So the funding for extra help was refused.  The Child Psychiatrist requested that the form be submitted with all the relevant information on it.  However, the school refused to do this, stating funding concerns.  Deb's nephew should really have at least 25 hours of support a week.

The last I heard Deb had contacted her local Education Department to see what they could do regarding getting her nephew extra support (or even moving him to the local Special School - he has already got a place at a Mainstream Srcondary School.

But what about those students who aren't in the group labeled "Special Educational Needs"?  The ones who are put through even more strenuous tests regarding the latest "fad" in education?

You know the "fads" I mean - how to wreck "reading for pleasure" in one easy move (force the children to study each word and punctuation mark to learn if it is in the correct place or context) - baffle them with maths problems which have no Earthly use in the real world (and teach the ones which are useful in such a way that the parents won't have a clue anyway).

I have quoted Nathan Constable before now - he and I both have the same opinion of the current "education system" with the only difference being - he has got children going through it and I haven't got any children at all.

In order for the children going through school today to have a proper chance in life I really feel that three things need to happen (and soon).

Firstly - we need to stop all the pressure on both students and teachers alike.

I have a friend who is about to become a teacher and - to be perfectly honest - I am frightened to death for her.  She is a really lovely lady who can use her enthusiasm and experience in her chosen subject to really inspire her students to reach their goals (as well as telling them about the realistic side of things).

My favourite teacher left teaching to become a (properly) published author.  He has gone into schools to run workshops - and come out horrified at how the children are being taught nowadays.  The most honest thing I ever heard him say about himself was "I don't see chidren as pots to put information in - I see them as wells of enthusiasm to be nurtured".

Secondly - we need to have a proper system where the not so academic can be syphoned off into Apprenticeships and other courses which will help them to learn about what they really want to do in life - instead of forcing them to stsy in school until they are 18 years old, becoming more disengaged and disenfranchised by the minute.

Thirdly - we need to sort the "Special Educational Needs" system out so that every single student in school gets an equal chance.  If a student has a Special Educational Need we need to make sure that they do not miss out on the opportunities afforded to the "Normal" students - be it due to lack of funding, teachers, experienced Mentors, etc.

Personally I would love to see a class being taught by a teacher who shares a Special Need with a student in that class.  Or even a Mentor with the experience to show the student the way they cope with something.

It is all very well saying that Special Educational Needs students should be in Mainstream Education - however - we really need to think about the cost to the student (both whilst they are at school and in  the future).  Too much emphasis is placed on exam results and not enough emphasis is placed on how the Special Educational Needs student will cope in the big wide world when they leave school.

It has taken me nearly 30 years to put myself back together and realise I am not half as useless as I still sometimes think I am.  I don't mean to do survivors of abuse any disservice but - if you are physically and verbally bullied at school (whether or not you are a "Special Educational Needs" Student) it is the worst thing that can happen to you. We really need to put a stop to bullying and teach every single student to respect themselves enough to respect the differences in other people.

In the secound part of the title to this blog post I asked "What price a child's future?"

If we are really honest about answering that question we can answer one of two ways - either we cannot put a price on it because we see rhem as the valuable members of society they are - or - we price each child in the hundreds of thousands of pounds either in the professional support to help them recover from their experiences at school or the missed opportunities that they were unable to take due to the way their education turned out,

Either way - we cannot afford to keep making the same mistakes over and over again with our Education System.

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