Parents to blame for misdiagnosis of special educational needs?

So says the findings of a GL Assessment report out today, 24 February 2017, ‘Hooked on labels not on needs’. The survey polled 810 teachers from 19 January to 1 February 2017.

In summary, the findings are:

  • 57% of teachers in the survey think that children are being misdiagnosed with SEN
  • 54% blaming pressure from parents for the misdiagnosis
  • 64% said that parents push for a diagnosis because ‘some parents wanted a medical or psychological explanation rather than being willing to accept that their child had a classroom problem that could be addressed by a teacher’.
  • 39% think parents push for a diagnosis because they want to gain a competitive advantage in exams
  • 62% worry that some genuine children with SEN don’t get the help they need because resources are diverted to children ‘that don’t really need the help’

As solicitors helping parents through the statutory assessment process, we find these figures shocking. Of course, we am the first to admit that our views are influenced by what parents tell us on a daily basis and that parents only come to us when they need help – often because things have been going wrong at school for some time, they have tried to help their child and have discussed it with their child’s teachers and school over a considerable period of time already.

Parents do not choose to go through the stress of a twenty-week statutory assessment process for fun. Many will pay considerable money to get independent assessments at their own expense just to start to understand what the problems are and how to support their child.

The introduction of the report says:

  • Referring to a diagnosis (label), ‘Unsurprisingly, this can lead to a lot of confusion about which children require the most help and what support exactly it is they need’ – our view is that the aim of a diagnosis by a professional as part of the holistic statutory assessment process is not to label the child but to identify the needs of the child in the classroom. It is not supposed to be confusing – quite the opposite.
  • ‘…there is a widespread feeling in schools that there is a misdiagnosis of SEN …’ –elsewhere in the report is acknowledges that misdiagnosis does not necessarily mean over-reporting of SEN. It could also mean under-reporting. Our guess would be that there are many more children not being diagnosed, not the other way around.
  • ‘It is not that teachers think that SEN is an inflated problem, rather that some children who deserve support are not receiving it because it has been diverted to others who do not need it’ – now we are getting to what we think is the real problem. Underfunding. All children need to be taught effectively in our schools. All children with SEN must have their needs met. This is what the law says. Children with ‘lesser’ SEN should not miss out because funds are limited.
  • ‘Accurate assessment, personalised teaching and targeted support can often overcome a specific difficulty without the disruption that an external intervention can cause to teacher and pupil’ – agreed but teachers have limited expertise and knowledge of all areas of SEN, particularly for those with complex SEN. For these children a multi-disciplinary assessment is required and will be only used as a last resort after school based intervention (assess, plan, do, review) has already been tried and found wanting. By this stage, one would expect that a holistic professional assessment would be helpful for everyone, certainly not a disruption.

What the report has made clear is the need for training for schools and parents so that each understands their rights, duties and expectations and training and reviews to make sure LAs are delivering the changes to SEN in way that they were intended.

Section 19 Children and Families Act 2014:

In exercising a function under this Part in the case of a child or young person, a local authority in England must have regard to the following matters in particular—

(a) the views, wishes and feelings of the child and his or her parent, or the young person;

(b) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person, participating as fully as possible in decisions relating to the exercise of the function concerned;

(c) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person, being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions; (d) the need to support the child and his or her parent, or the young person, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.

Read the report here. Comments are welcome.

I am so happy at the outcome, I don't think we would have had such a comprehensive service from any other law firm, and you took the worry away...I do not regret a single second of the whole process, apart from the bit before you got involved. 

James' mother, Boyes Turner client

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