SEND: without labels

The SEND system is in a mess. Schools cannot fund it. Some schools struggle to know how best to support children who, for one reason or another, begin to lose pace with average levels of learning. It has occurred to me for some time that since the inception of SEND as a category of children who are labelled as ‘special’ in some way, there has been a tendency to place such children into boxes – the autism box, Dyslexia, speech and language, etc. Even behavioural difficulties have a box in which to place children who cannot conform to the rules and routines of school life. All of these boxes have labels. Once children become placed inside a labelled box they are (often) trapped for life. Their label goes with them, long after school, into the adult world of work and self-responsibility. You may wonder where I am going with this train of thought. My point is that children with SEND labels lose their individuality – the essence of what makes them individual and unique, as most of us are. Once that child’s individuality becomes lost within a labelled SEND box, schools may cease to look behind the label. They see only the box.

My main point here is that, within any SEND category, whilst there will be common areas of difficulty, all children’s needs are not the same. They have different personalities as well as different behaviours and learning styles, even within the same SEND type.

Imagine a social setting without labels! Imagine classrooms, in which all children learn according to their individual needs, characteristics and personal interests. Imagine further – an assessment system that judges learning across the whole spectrum of skills, knowledge and creative endeavour. This is an assessment system that would take account of talents that are not often counted as valuable: music, art, sport. I am not suggesting that language, literacy and maths should not be assessed and placed at the forefront of learning. I am suggesting that by broadening what is considered worthy of judgement, many young people would benefit. The talents of many children with SEND would not be wasted.

Back to the issue of labelling. If a child starts to lag behind in class, we must not be too quick to label that child with a type of SEND. What we could do, is look closely at that child’s individual personality – his behavioural quirks, and respond to them within the learning environment. Such differentiation is the first important step.

Have schools (and society) lost the ability to look deeply inside what makes a particular child tick? This is where parents come in. They know what makes their child tick. And when they collaborate with schools to share such knowledge – more children achieve their individual potential – and succeed. Let’s ditch the labels.

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