When should we ask teachers for opinions on SEND?

When should we ask teachers for opinions on SEND?

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It’s called a social communication disability for a reason…..

I could give you pages and pages of examples that demonstrate that many, if not most, teaching staff not only lack knowledge but more seriously, lack awareness of this lack of knowledge, about SEND.  Many of these examples are from before the changes to SEND provision in 2014.  I can only imagine that reduced training opportunities and a reduction in their access to specialists to support them, will only make matters worse.

One thing is for sure, it’s not a problem that will be fixed by the production of ‘screening tools’ to be administered by overstretched, under-educated (in SEN) and under-supported teaching staff.

Even the basic, common sense level knowledge seems to be missing.  Just this week I heard of a maintained special school, full of children with ADHD that has stopped play-times.  The children are too excitable afterwards apparently…  The child told me they were supposed to get ‘brain breaks’ in the classroom instead but that ‘the teacher mainly forgot’.  You have to wonder what they are thinking….  Their use of restraint and seclusion is very high of course.

I was repeatedly told by Peter’s first Head Teacher “We know”.  We know our children, we know he is normal….  Inside my head was screaming “How stupid – of course, you don’t.”  I could see with my own eyes that this was rubbish, that there were other undiagnosed children both in this school and that had gone on to middle school, only to be referred and diagnosed with various SEND later.  I wanted to ask them – “So no child is ever referred for assessment past Year 3 then?  None are ever diagnosed at middle school?”

If they “knew”, and lived up to their own hype, then surely all children with any difficulty of any kind would be referred and diagnosed by Year 3.  Three years would be plenty of time to observe, refer, liaise and diagnose.  “Have you done an audit” I wanted to ask?  “Can you demonstrate all children with difficulties are properly supported by the time they leave you – after all you have them for 5 years”?

My point is this.  When it comes to SEN, when we ask the teacher’s their opinion, we need to be able to frame the answer in the context of their knowledge.

In the case of ASD we are generally asking them “Have you noticed anything that you are not trained to see?”  Then, it seems, that everyone but the parents are happy to report that there are ‘no problems in school’…  Then the EP goes in as part of a wider assessment – and, too short of time to carry out their own full assessments, they base their report largely on what the teachers can ‘see’…..

Another great one I heard recently went a bit like this “We haven’t seen any of his ASD in school we just keep getting behaviour”.  Were they expecting the child to count matchsticks do you think (ref. Rainman for those of you younger than me)?

I have previously written for the need to ask for observations not assumptions, but, in addition, properly labelling (and preferably ruling out) assumptions, I wonder if these observations need to be regarded within the context of the teacher’s knowledge experience and expertise?

I wonder also if details of the training and experience of all professionals assessing and giving opinions of the child should be made available alongside the details of their assessments and conclusions?  Can a speech and language therapist with no additional training in autism provide a detailed meaningful report that can properly inform the Education Health and Care Plan?  Can an occupational therapist that has no additional sensory integration training fully articulate the needs of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder?  Similarly, a teacher who attended a 2 hour session on ‘an introduction to autism’ last year is very unlikely to be able to understand what a bright Aspie, hell-bent on masking / blending-in, is struggling with, each hour of the school day.

I feel that:

  • we need to be more demanding of professionals in terms of expecting quality responses and shed-loads of integrity;
  • professionals need to be more assertive with each other; when one’s reports are seemingly not making sense there should be more open dialogue and challenge;
  • there needs to be more boundaries for the advice they are expected to give;
  • advice, observation and so on needs to be made in the context of that person’s knowledge and experience;
  • all professionals should be accountable for the advice they are giving.

Professionals should be made ACCOUNTABLE for the advice they give, the observations they record and opinions & assumptions that some are very happy to share about like confetti.  Sometimes these opinions and assumptions lead to lives being wrecked.  Rarely are they held to account when they get it wrong, it seems.

Should teachers be supported to say “He doesn’t disrupt the class and is achieving progress in lessons, however, I have no training to be able to identify the subtle signs that may be present, in fact I have no post graduate training in SEN other than a total of 2 hours three years ago…..”?  They shouldn’t be expected to know it all should they?  After all, no-one does!  How supported would they be by their colleagues and managers if they actually took this approach.  I can say that any teacher that took this approach would be hugely respected by most parents and that what they did observe and report would taken seriously.  They would be seen as having far more credibility.

So, should parents expect to be advised of the relevant qualifications and experience that all professionals hold in relation to their child’s assessments?  Experience has taught me that this won’t fix all the problems.  One of Peter’s EP reports was diabolical, and the first half-page of this report was full of the relevant experience and qualifications the EP writing it held.

Sometimes, the most insightful staff have had the least training.  The best are those that have the strong, reflective, observation skills, the ability to properly listen to parents and children and to collaborate with them and other professionals.  The best can sometimes be those with a good dollop of common sense and humility and I’m not sure that you can train this in to people.

We would like to offer some messages for those in ‘health’, that are responsible for making diagnoses.

  • Firstly, please stop and think, when you ask the ‘school’ for their ‘opinion’.  What is it you are asking for exactly?
  • What assumptions are you making about the experience and skills of the teachers responding to the questions?
  • Are the people that you are asking qualified to answer the question – or to even understand it?
  • Also, please be very aware of the competing motives those giving their opinion have.  Unless the child in question is falling a very long way behind ‘average’ or significantly disrupting the class, school staff have every reason NOT to ‘see’ any difficulties that the child is experiencing.

I think that until, as parents, we can be assured that all teachers are properly trained and supported in SEND we should be able to challenge the credibility of all observations, SEND school assessments, assumptions and conclusions about our children’s needs.  I believe that any ‘specialist report’ should be challenged strongly where its contents are largely the third hand observations of non-expert colleagues.  I believe that any professional expected to report on a child’s needs should only be expected to do so within their field of expertise and that there should be far more openness about this.  

I’ll leave this last quote with you from a parent visiting a specialist ASD/EBD school.  I think it sums up nicely the mountain we have to cope with as parents of children with SEND:

  • The parent asked “what can you offer in terms of a sensory diet”
  • The response from the staff in the special school was “we cater for all diets here, he can even bring his own lunch”

Not even staff working in ‘special schools’ have training in SEND it seems.

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12 thoughts on “When should we ask teachers for opinions on SEND?

  1. Completely agree. Son’s teacher keeps saying to me that she doesn’ t see anything etc. Then the next minute she phones me up telling me to bring him in a new packed lunch because he’s refusing to eat his lunch and she is worried about him having a meltdown!


  2. I sincerely hope your blogs are reaching the professionals they refer to and that they are able to read with open minds and have the strength of character to reflect on and develop their own perceptions and practices.


  3. My son has been in foster care for 4 months because of high school. Ten weeks it took them to wreck our lives. I intend to make sure they are accountable for their ignorance of ASD and the lies they told to deflect their failings at every level. Good article


  4. As a mainstream SENCo this will be so useful to share with other staff. Too often a teacher will stop giving sensory breaks because their pupil with ASD is managing without. Then they come running to me about poor behaviour and wonder why it’s happening. ‘Because you stopped their sensory breaks!!!’ Drives me mad.


    1. Please share where ever you feel it is appropriate… I have one to write over Christmas about all our (many many parents) collective ideas and experiences for things that work but are cost neutral and low impact in terms of teachers time… I hope that will be helpful too.


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