By Rosie and Jo’s mum
As an early years practitioner, I attended a few training courses on celebrating diversity. We would be encouraged to think with the children about the differences and similarities between us like the various rituals we have around family birthdays, which flavour crisps we like, what our houses look like, what colour hair we have. The drive there was to help children perceive difference positively and develop a tolerant view of diversity.
This work seems to continue to some extent in most schools until it comes to SEN provision. Parents regularly report that, having explained what their child needs, they often encounter a refusal because the teacher doesn’t want the child to look different.
A variation on this it the assertion that, to allow my child the adjustments she needs, would upset other children who wouldn’t understand why they can’t have the same.
I don’t think that children, especially those of primary school age, have a problem with someone being different or having adjustments made for them. I think it may be the adults who have the hang-ups about difference. That or the ‘different’ argument is just a convenient excuse for not implementing time consuming or costly support.
Every child in every class in every school is different from their peers. Huge numbers of them will need some sort of adjustment in their provision at some time. Perhaps they will need to use the lift in high school if they have a leg in plaster; maybe they will need to be excused homework for a while after a family bereavement or they could need to be allowed to spend break times somewhere quiet in the long term because the playground is too noisy and busy. The last one is the only situation where the ‘different’ argument is likely to be used.
Jo has always been different from her peers in school. She felt different. She could see other children coping with situations that she just couldn’t manage. The other children could tell that she was different; that her language was a bit unusual; that she didn’t really know how to play; that she didn’t wear the same sort of clothes. There were other children in the class who were different for all sorts of other reasons, maybe they were a looked after child, lived outside the village, weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays, had a different accent, joined the class part way through the year. Were all those differences something to be covered up or carefully ignored?
So, who has a problem with a child looking or being different?
Children tend to be innately accepting of or just curious about differences. They will accept that Liam goes out to work with the TA every morning or that Millie has to go and get medication every lunchtime, generally without question. If they do ask, they are usually finding out what is happening, not questioning why they don’t get the same. They don’t usually resent that another child is getting support that they don’t get unless someone else has planted that thought in their head. I think that, in general, younger children can be trusted to take differences at face value, adapt to and accept them and get on with their lives.
It’s the adults that seem to have the hang-ups. Many seem to want to chip away at our square pegs so that, bit by bit, they change their shape and, eventually, slip quietly into the round hole set out for them.
There are times when the adjustments being asked for are essential to enable a child to be in school in the first place. The adjustment could be something that helps the child feel less anxious so they can enter the building each morning, having a TA within arm’s reach to prevent physical aggression or maybe being allowed to carry a sweet drink with them so they stay hydrated and out of hospital. So, when these are denied because they make the child look different, doesn’t their inability to attend school make them even more different? Isn’t the standing outside the door in tears every morning, lashing out at a classmate or being taken ill and leaving in an ambulance going to make them stand out rather more?
- Why do we need everyone to be the same?
- Why are children expected to pretend that their needs don’t exist so that they can ‘look’ the same as everyone else?
- Whose needs are met by them all being the same?
- What is the agenda that underpins this ‘adult’ need?
- What are we teaching our children about their right to be themselves?
- How are we teaching them to treat others who are naturally different?
I know that some older children can find being different and standing out difficult and they can end up refusing support they really need just in order to fit in with their peers. I would never advocate pushing support at a child that doesn’t want it but we need to think about how the messages we give those children about differences early on can make it harder for them to access support at secondary school.
So, if a teacher tells you that your child’s needs can’t be met because that might make them look different try asking them……
- How did you reach the conclusion that being perceived as different would cause him a problem?
- Why do you think it is appropriate to prioritise looking the same over having his individual needs met?
- Which other professionals involved with my child agree with you about this?
- Who has expressed concern about him looking different?
- Who’s needs are met by making him the same as the other children?
- How are you helping all of the children understand that being treated equally is not the same as being treated identically?
This link was sent to me just after I published this blog. It’s nice to hear someone else has similar views, especially someone with her credentials.
One final thought:
Maybe a change to how schools are inspected would help. If children with additional needs weren’t seen as a threat to Ofsted ratings, perhaps the staff would feel more motivated to make sure they were welcomed into the school and perceived as able to make a positive contribution, rather than an obstruction to progress and a drain on resources. How can staff model celebrating diversity if they feel there is conflict between meeting the needs of the child and their ability to hit those all-important targets? It is a lot easier to get your Ofsted outstanding if you have a school full of clever little well-behaved clones.
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