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Special Needs


I see the government has rumbled one ruse, reportedly used by schools to 'get extra funding and inflate their position in new-style rankings' and that's to label as many pupils as possible with 'Special Educational Needs'. Apparently, in some schools, as many as half of pupils are now diagnosed with learning difficulties or behavioral problems, it was revealed, just weeks after a cross-party group of MPs criticised schools for being too quick to label children with poor reading skills as dyslexic.

Given the enormous pressure placed on schools to improve their results by the government, I'm not surprised at this or in fact any other gambit being used to show an annual league table improvement and in many ways, it mirrors the pressures being applied to hospital trusts in showing constant improvement or to conceal what often appears to the man-in-the-street, to be a steady decline in overall standards which are contradicted by statistics.

The reality of the matter is that few people trust what the author Mark Twain described as: 'Lies, damn lies and statistics' and an excellent example might be the audit commission and the way its assesses councils and local authorities. Naively, I believed that a common set of metrics were used but I've since discovered otherwise and so in future I'll accept 'independent' performance figures as lying somewhere between 'Showing improvement' and 'How long is a piece of string.'

Staying with teaching a moment, I felt this month that the Conservative plans to make teaching a higher-level graduate profession might discriminate against those very good teachers I know who might not carry a first-class degree but show a wonderful control of both the class and the subject they teach. Half the struggle, these days, outside grinding paperwork, is simply class control and keeping the attention and interest of pupils, a number of which might have Special Educational Needs. My own experience is that the best teachers are not always the academically brightest but those with a vocation, incredible patience and a love of their subject. Quite honestly, given the challenging nature of teaching today, which to many educators appears to be more about making children feel good about themselves rather than teaching them, one has to be extremely committed to consider a career in the classroom. It can be extremely rewarding but like water under pressure finding the smallest crack in a dam, today's children will very quickly assess the character strength of any teacher in front of them, which is why the profession experiences high early retirement, nervous breakdowns and stree-related illness.

The issue that government, really has to address, I believe, is not education as such but the nature of the society that feeds into the education system. If like me, you find yourself in a classroom with six 'statemented' teenagers, attempting to play havoc at any opportunity, you really have to ask what the purpose of the teacher really is in such circumstances, as a professional educator or an extension of social services.


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