Children are sent to school too young in the UK
Special educational needs affect all ability levels. As other European models show, many children may be suited to less prescriptive learning – and a later start
It's an eye-catching statistic. Almost 20% of schoolchildren in the UK are registered as having special educational needs, five times higher than the EU average. The statistic has inspired an eye-catching book title, too. The Tail: How England's Schools Fail One Child in Five is a new tome edited by Paul Marshall, chairman of ARK Schools, which runs a group of academies.
It's not a very good title. It's one thing to suggest that one in five may be too high, it's another to claim that every child who has been identified as having special needs has been "failed".
Nevertheless, despite this specious and illogical leap, the education secretary, Michael Gove, has endorsed the book. No doubt he likes its thesis more than its title, which is that endemic "skewed incentives" encourage schools to classify underachieving children as having special educational needs, in order to mask their own poor performance.
But Gove should tread more carefully. In the book's eagerness to blame the education system for over-diagnosis, he is surely also endorsing its further claim, that special needs have "become a proxy for socio-economic disadvantage". In other words, perverse as the incentives within the school system may be, they are a response to the deeper problem of social and economic exclusion.
Since economic inequality is higher in the UK than in most of the EU, it would be reasonable to suppose that high levels of incorrect special needs diagnosis may indeed be linked to high levels of socio-economic inequality. Yet, while the left is used to arguing that problems in schools tend to reflect wider problems in society, the truth is that schools, while they cannot be all of the solution by any means, should at least be part of it. Over-enthusiastic diagnosis of learning difficulties among disadvantaged kids sounds, on the contrary, like a counsel of despair, something that could maintain or deepen inequality, rather than playing a part in tackling it.
Read more ... (The Guardian - 09 March)