Children with special educational needs may benefit from additional help in the classroom. So what help are you entitled to and how can you make sure you get it.
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 applies to all schools – state, fee-paying, academies, and special schools. Discrimination covers admissions, facilities and curriculum. It also covers unlawful exclusions.
The principle behind equality legislation is to eliminate discrimination on grounds of any of the eleven protected characteristics and to ensure equal opportunities. Schools are required to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in all areas from admissions to curriculum. Equity (as distinct from equality – which is when all are treated the same) recognizes that each individual has different circumstances and gives each person the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
To ensure equity schools must focus on making the curriculum accessible, promoting inclusive school values and culture, and ensuring their policies impact favourably on children with different needs. There are some areas that are still not clear cut. For example, though schools have to make reasonable adjustments, which might include providing auxiliary aids (e.g. 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 is 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, when a child with a physical disability is denied the chance of forest school 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 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, or saying the name of a child with autism when asking 'everybody' to do something, so they understand they are included. Others involve tackling the overarching values and policies of a school.
- Providing an environment that makes all children feel safe and secure.
- High expectations for attainment for all children.
- Regular and good communication between all those involved with the child, so all understand their needs and how to respond. This includes internal communications, eg lunch-time supervisors and support staff as well as external communication with parents. A home-school book is helpful when a child may be unable to communicate accurately or has difficulty expressing feelings and emotions. Promoting good communication between children and adults and children and their peers is also vital for wellbeing.
- Robust policies to counter bullying, prejudice and discrimination.
- Establishing support systems to help vulnerable children who are being bullied, so the child knows exactly who they can go to for help. Autism consultant Carol Gray suggests creating a map of the child’s world and identifying the places where the child is vulnerable to, or safe from, acts of bullying.
- Establishing structured activities and clubs at breaks and lunchtimes, e.g. allowing pupils to go to the library or computer room over break.
- Using the school's IT system to communicate and share work objectives and progress. Many schools put notes and lesson plans online for pupils and their parents to access and indicate important deadlines that are approaching as well as grades and expectations.
- Considering how the child will access the curriculum. Thinking about: teaching and learning objectives, appropriate support, allowing extra time and the style of delivery - does it suit all learning styles?
- Using a hands-on curriculum supported by multi-sensory teaching, e.g. reinforcing oral instructions with visual and tactile support such as a visual timetable.
- Having a focused learning environment. Too busy and the child may be easily distracted, too minimal and the child may find the environment lacks stimulation.
- Providing 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.
In the classroom
- Gaining the child's attention; face to face and, as far as possible, with direct eye contact.
- Listening to the child.
- Encouraging and rewarding progress. Gold stars, rocket charts and target boards to help a child associate the reward with the task.
- Flexibility – tailoring teaching to the individual. Trying different techniques or new approaches, as well as tried and trusted methods.
- Having clear routines and planning 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.
- Developing a growth mindset: you can’t do it yet, but with practice and encouragement you will succeed.
Awareness of difference
- Schools must celebrate differences and help other children to recognise and celebrate those differences too. Raise awareness of disability among other children to help them understand why someone may look different, communicate in different ways or behave differently.
- Be aware of diversity of the wider community, e.g. religious holidays
- Help all children build friendships; use peer mentoring, buddies, friendship benches etc.
A school must not only be intolerant of discrimination, it must actively engage with and raise awareness of inclusivity among staff, pupils and parents. This is particularly important in promoting anti-bullying, as we know that children with special needs are significantly more vulnerable to bullying, especially children with autism or learning difficulties.
What is bullying?
It is persistent name calling, teasing, spreading rumours, ignoring or leaving out, threatening or humiliating, pushing, pulling, hitting, kicking, taking or interfering with personal possessions. Online, cyber bullying can happen day or night via social media, text messages, emails, online gaming and social networks.
A report from Warwick University (Bullying experiences of disabled children and young people in England) found that 80 per cent of young people with learning difficulties reported experiencing bullying, 70 per cent of children with autism combined with other characteristics (for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder) have experienced bullying, and more than 90 per cent of parents of children with high functioning autism reported that their child had been bullied in the previous 12 months. Why? They may look or act ‘different’. They may lack the social skills to communicate or understand. Or they may be alone in the playground, so an easy target.
‘Children with autism may not intuitively know that the acts of other children are examples of bullying. They sometimes consider that such behaviour is typical play and something that they have come to accept as yet another example of the confusing behaviour of their peers,’ says Professor Tony Attwood, clinical psychologist and autism expert.
Children may develop low self-esteem, lack confidence, become socially isolated and perform badly at school. Bullying can leave them depressed and withdrawn, scared to go places and try new things.
According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), children bullied during their early years are up to three times more likely to self-harm than their classmates when they reach adolescence. Some may even go on to develop mental health disorders.
Some become ‘bully-victims’ and start to bully others too. The National Autistic Society (NAS) says that children on the autism spectrum ‘may become aggressive when a game is not being played the way they want and then try to control the situation. They may also become frustrated at being left out in the playground and try to make children become friends with them.’
Educate your child about bullying:
- Explain the actions which constitute bullying. Try social stories or comic strips to help the child to comprehend how and where it could happen.
- Don’t tell them to ignore it. Ignoring acts of bullying does not work, Atwood says. ‘The bully will escalate his or her actions until the child responds.’
- Parents should work on ‘encouraging the child to have the confidence and ability to disclose his or her experiences as a target’, Atwood says.
Look for the signs of bullying:
- Behavioural changes - becoming withdrawn, stressed or depressed, difficulty sleeping.
- Coming home with damaged, missing or dirty clothes or bags
- Asking for more money
- Not wanting to go to school
- Changing route to or from school. Being late home.
- Increase or change in obsessional/repetitive behaviour
- Bullying siblings – copying the acts of bullies at home
- Deterioration in school work
Work with the school:
- Don’t try to tackle the bully or his/her parents yourself. Get the school staff involved from the outset. All schools have an anti-bullying policy.
- Keep a record of any events along with text messages, web comments or social media postings.
- Support the school and do not keep your child off school.
- Changing school alone is not the answer. ‘Research on typical children has indicated that this has little effect on reducing the likelihood that a child will be a target of bullying.
Build up their confidence:
- Praise them for things they are good at, make an achievement book or board with photos and pieces of work to remind them.
- Look for local social groups and clubs to join. Your child can meet others with similar experiences and this can help to make them feel less isolated.
- Social skills and communication training may be helpful.
- Explain that it's okay if not all the children in their class are friends.