Misdiagnosis of SEN in schools due to parental pressure, teachers warn

Post date: 
Friday, 3 March 2017
Kids walking out of school

More than one in two teachers think parental pressure is leading to children without special educational needs being misdiagnosed, while those with genuine special education needs miss out, reveals survey.

According to a survey of 800 teachers from across the UK by GL Assessment, the majority of respondents (57 per cent) think there is a misdiagnosis of SEN in children, with a similar proportion (54 per cent) blaming parental pressure.

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Other key findings include:
  • More than three in five teachers (62 per cent) think those with genuine needs are missing out because resources are being diverted to children that don’t really need help.
  • Almost three-quarters of teachers (72 per cent) believe some parents want their child to be labelled as having a learning difficulty even though there is little objective evidence to support that status. 
  • When asked why they thought parents pushed for a diagnosis, almost two-thirds of teachers (64 per cent) said it was because some parents wanted a medical or psychological explanation rather than being willing to accept that their child had a classroom problem that could be addressed by a teacher.
  • Over half of all teachers polled (52 per cent) complained that at least one parent took up so much of their time that it was difficult to give others sufficient attention, with two in five (41 per cent) saying they had to deal with more than one difficult parent.

Lorraine Petersen, a special needs expert and former chief executive of National Association of Special Educational Needs, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings:

“Most parents will work on the assumption that the quicker you assess why a child is having difficulties and give him or her a label, the faster you can get extra support. There may also be a sense of relief that comes with being able to ‘blame’ a diagnosed disorder. Parents may think people will be a lot less judgemental of a child's behaviour - and their parenting skills - if they know the child has a label.”

Some parents, she pointed out, had the opposite problem and were in complete denial about the support their children needed and resisted having them on a SEN register.
Greg Watson, Chief Executive of GL Assessment, said: “Few things are more difficult for a teacher to deal with than a frustrated parent who cannot understand why their child is not doing as well at school as the parent feels they should. Parents naturally want to know why. But the fact is that a lot of issues children present are best addressed in the classroom not in the clinic, they don’t necessarily need a label and their condition may even be temporary.
“A SEN diagnosis is often about finding the one thing which is holding back a child who might otherwise do much better, rather than identifying a child with a broad difficulty in learning,” Greg adds. “That's why the classroom solution is so often better. Accurate assessment, personalised teaching and targeted support can often overcome a specific difficulty without the disruption that an external intervention can cause to teacher and pupil.”
Watson adds: “It’s great that parents are so committed, that certainly came out in the survey. In some cases parental involvement helps get to the root of the problem, and that’s a great thing. I think the bigger worry is when parents maybe aren’t engaged and teachers don’t have the tools they need.  Then there’s a risk of a child being overlooked.”

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