A couple of summer holidays ago I wrote a book. I enjoyed writing it a great deal, it was a strangely cathartic process, and it was published last May.
You can find details of it here, and buy it if you like.
Over the course of that summer I found myself asking a question – should I include the bit about specific labels, or would doing so blind readers (labels can be a bit dazzling), and get in the way of them finding out about the child? Or, should I leave it in, as information about the sort of diagnoses that teachers are likely to come across is useful in that it demystifies them? I debated with a number of my teacher friends, and in the end I compromised. I left them in, along with a largeish section on the problem with labels, the different kinds of meaning they hold for different people (adult and child) and how a teacher needs to be aware of this and bear it all in mind when teaching.
The other thing I thought was important to put into the book, bearing in mind that being the expert in the classroom can give a person the impression that they are the expert in everything (or at least, that’s how it can be perceived from the outside – there is also a section on saying sorry and how to manage mistakes), was clear and unequivocal guidance on what a teacher is able to diagnose – or not.
Here is a quick taster:
Autism Spectrum Disorder : a teacher cannot diagnose
Attachment Disorder : a teacher cannot diagnose
ADHD/ADD : a teacher cannot diagnose
Down’s syndrome : a teacher cannot diagnose
I’m sure you get the picture. These things are diagnosable, not by teachers, but by clinicians, that is, medical doctors and psychologists (who may also be doctors).
You can find a reflection on a medical diagnosis and what it looks like in practice here.
What this means is that the problems a child is facing in the classroom are problems that they face everywhere – down the shops, in the swimming pool, in the home, all the time. Aside from Attachment Disorder – and even then, when a child is adopted, this is not the case – these diagnoses, or labels, have nothing to do with parenting, style or anything else.
But to get back to my list, next up:
Dyslexia – can be diagnosed by specialist teachers (the specialist bit is important – you need to complete further, demanding qualifications in order to be a specialist dyslexia teacher with the ability to diagnose), parents/schools (does a school ever do this?) have to pay around £500 for a full assessment of dyslexia
And then we come to yesterday. Yesterday there was a report published (you can read it here), based on a survey commissioned by an assessment company, GL Assessment, that claimed (in a nutshell) that teachers think that labels of SEN are obtained by the pushiest of parents (and by default, the wealthiest and most middle class), and that this means that some children, who need and deserve support (presumably the children of the poor, or JAMs), aren’t getting it. Sounds like truth, doesn’t it? The squeaky wheel and all that. Except when you contrast it with the statements above, and the fact that we have (for now) a National Health Service.
Are we teachers really saying that we don’t believe in clinical diagnoses? (see press release here)
Now personally, I don’t think anything of the sort, but I do think, because I am a teacher and I know how difficult it is to balance a class and to understand the sort of SEN that doesn’t come with a diagnosis (the sort that is most common in classrooms), that questions about teacher perceptions of labels of SEND need to be very carefully framed. Firstly, because SEND does not mean some sort of group of children where each one is the same, facing the same kind of difficulties: homogeonised. And secondly, because, if you are not careful, what you actually get in answer to your question is something completely different.
If you look at the survey (link here) I think what you find are two things:
- A lack of understanding of the reality of SEND by the questioner.
- A neat exposition of teacher attitudes towards a certain set of parents (mothers, let’s face it) who are exhibiting anxiety about the educational progress (or not) of their child/children.
I’m not going to go into the reporting of the results of the survey (although the Guardian – what were you thinking??), I’ll save that for another day, except for one thing – a press release is an important document. Read an excellent exposition of the dangers here. You can see two contrasting reports on it here, from TES and here, from the Guardian, and draw your own conclusions.