Making Education Work For All

In the first article for the Young Fabians Health Network blog takeover, Milo Barnett discusses the importance of providing proper support and funding to children with special educational needs. 

As children around the UK enjoy the most surreal summer holiday that many of us have ever known, we must think about how we can use this crisis to evaluate how we educate some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Children with special needs whether it be something along the neurodiversity spectrum such as Dyslexia or ADHD or different type of disability will require different needs and methods of teaching. Yet due to a variety of issues whether it is funding, time restraints or teacher training many of these pupils with bright potentials are missing out. An education system that fails a large chunk of its pupils from the get-go is not a successful one. This is a long term issue and if not rectified can have serious consequences, for example, disabled men are three times less likely to attain qualifications than non-disabled men, 18.1% compared with 6.3%, respectively and 21.8% of disabled people had a degree in 2019 compared with 38.0% of non-disabled people.

 We can also see the effects outside the world of education. In 2019, 53% of disabled people of working age are in work compared to 82% of non-disabled people of working age. We need to move to a social model of disability where instead of saying what a person cannot do, we adapt and help remove those barriers whether they be physical or social attitudes. What works for the majority of children won’t work for all and same goes for all dyslexic children or autistic children, we need to identify what methods would be most effective and utilise them on an individual basis. It is hard for a child to catch up once they fall behind and over time they will become demotivated and further out of reach. That’s why the effort needs to be made not to just reach out to top children in class or the middling child but to all children.

We need only look at the sad and troubling events in Kent where five children with special educational needs (SEN) killed themselves in the space of five months. Due to Lockdown, the support network these young people relied on has been shattered and it forms part of the mental health crisis that has occurred during this lockdown. When we give support to SEN children, we need not just to look at the educational benefit but how its effects the child mentally and how to support them in and out of school. Each child is different whether their needs are best met in mainstream education with additional support or in a specially designed school that can better handle the child’s needs. Education should be about maximising a child’s potential whether that be academic or social such as happiness. We saw the brilliance of our teachers and TAs during lockdown with innovation with Zoom Lessons and the use multi-media and I am confident with the right vision, as well as with adequate funding, we can create a better system.

I am personally invested in this. When I was around 6, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. My parents were told non-mainstream education would be unlikely for me, yet they strongly disagreed. This was the early 2000’s but even then, funding was poor I was only offered one hour a term to help with my dyslexia. Three hours of annual time would not have been any use in the long run, if you only go to the gym three times a year you're not going to lose any weight or if you only take three Spanish lessons you will not be fluent. My parents had to get help directly from the Dyslexia Association and I am only where I am now with a good job, a university degree from a Russell Group University, etc because of that support. Most children are no lucky enough to have that support and we have to make a system where children of all backgrounds get that support to help them achieve what they want to do and live happy fulfilled lives, not cast away because they didn’t fit a typical mould of what a student should be. Dyslexia is still a barrier for me and I have had to read through this article several times and there will still be errors but you adapt, make sure you're constantly learning new skills and put your best foot forward. I want all SEN children to be putting their best foot forward and to give them the support that they and their families need.

Milo Barnett is the current Young Fabians Health Chair. He is from the North East and as strong interest in Health, Housing, Education and Devolution.

He tweets at @Milo_Barnett

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