What the law says
Schools and colleges which discriminate against pupils with disabilities, including special educational needs, are breaking the law. Since 2010, this has been covered by the Equality Act which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act everywhere except in Northern Ireland, where it is still in force. The Equality Act applies to all schools – state, fee-paying, academies, and special schools. Discrimination covers admissions, the way education is provided and facilities accessed. It also covers unlawful exclusions.
The Act states very clearly that while the principle behind equality legislation is all about everyone being treated equally, when disability is involved, schools may – and sometimes must – treat a disabled person ‘more favourably than a person who is not disabled...so that a disabled person can benefit from what you offer to the same extent that a person without that disability can.’
What this means in practice
There are some areas that are still not clear cut. For example, though schools have to make reasonable adjustments, which include providing auxiliary aids (which might include hearing loops, adaptive keyboards and special software) there’s limited guidance on exactly what would be paid for by a school or local authority. In many cases, this would be decided on an individual basis. But the Act is very clear on the type of treatment of a child with a disability that would be discriminatory. For example, a teacher who shouts at a pupil who struggles with concentration or hasn’t handed in homework as a results of a disability, or where a child with a physical disability is kept in at breaktime because of concerns over supervision.
What helps a child to learn?
What helps depends on the needs of the child. The checklists below are intended as a guide and to stimulate ideas. Not all will be appropriate for your child. As children develop their needs change, and so too will the type of help and assistance they require. If you believe your child's needs are not being properly met, or there are simple additional things that could be put in place, do contact school and arrange to discuss this with them. Friendly, open dialogue can make a great difference for all involved.
Some SEN classroom strategies are simple and don’t cost anything. For example, having a ‘buddy’ for a dyspraxic child who is new to the school and gets lost easily will help him settle in, or saying the name of a child with Asperger’s when asking 'everybody' to do something, so they understand they are included. Others are complex, bureaucratic processes that it may seem daunting to tackle, but which can open doors to invaluable extra support.
Home and school
- An environment that is safe and secure.
- Regular and good communication between all those involved with the child: parents, teachers, therapists, teaching assistants etc.
- High expectations which are communicated to the child.
- Gaining the child’s attention; face to face and, as far as possible, with direct eye contact.
- Listening to the child.
- Being positive, building self-esteem, praising small strides as well as giant leaps.
- Encouraging and rewarding progress. Gold stars, rocket charts and target boards can be as motivating as sweets or treats. Instant rewards help a child to associate the reward with the task.
- Responsibility, no matter how small.
- Flexibility – thinking outside the box. Trying different techniques or new approaches, as well as tried and trusted methods.
- Ignoring (as far as possible) attention-seeking behaviour.
- Responding to and praising appropriate behaviour.
- Having clear routines and helping plan for changes to routine.
- Making sure instructions are clear, precise and understood.
- Allowing a child time to think and to process responses to questions/instructions.
- Not letting ‘no’ be an option but trying to offer choices.
- Using the school's intranet (if they have one) to check work and progress, lessons and what needs to be done. Many schools put notes and lesson plans online for pupils and their parents to access. Sophisticated systems for older children show when work is due (or overdue) and indicate any important deadlines that are approaching as well as grades and expectations.
It is important that home and school behave consistently towards the child. Good teachers will:
- Communicate regularly and openly with all staff involved with the child. A home-school book is helpful where a child may be unable to communicate accurately or has difficulty expressing feelings and emotions.
- Involve all staff. Make sure all who come into contact with the child, eg lunch-time supervisors, support staff et al, understand his or her needs and how to respond.
- Address the child personally, always using his name. He may not realise ‘children’ or ‘everyone’ includes him.
- Have a focused learning environment. Too busy and the child may be easily distracted, too minimal and the child may find the environment lacks stimulation.
- Provide a quiet area or time out place for children who may become stressed during the day. The child should know that the use of such an area is to facilitate not punish.
- Be consistent when applying rules; and remind and rehearse them regularly.
- Reinforce oral instructions and communication with visual and tactile support.
- Use visual prompts where necessary, such as a visual timetable.
- Consider how the child will access the curriculum. Think about: teaching and learning objectives, appropriate support, allowing extra time and the style of delivery - does it suit all learning styles?
- Use a practically-based curriculum supported by multi-sensory teaching and learning which addresses all types of learners.
- Constantly revise and reinforce learning.
- Keep the child busy. Ensure she always has something to do, whether on completion of a task, when stuck or while awaiting the teacher's attention.
- Help children build friendships; use peer mentoring, buddies, friendship benches etc.
- Provide good role models. Make use of other children and staff to provide good role models.
- Encourage communication between children and adults and between children themselves.
- Celebrate differences and help other children to recognise and celebrate those differences too.
- Avoid using support as a crutch. Support should facilitate independence, not impede it.
- We all have good and bad days, highs and lows. A good teacher will help the child to understand that a bad lesson or day can be turned around.