In England, our education system uses the term 'special educational needs' to describe children and young people who need additional help in school.
The 'SEN system' is complex. Detailed, independent information about it can be found on the following sites/blogs:
- IPSEA is a national charity providing free legally based advice to families who have children with special educational needs.
- SOS-SEN offer a free, friendly, independent and confidential telephone helpline for parents and others looking for information and advice on Special Educational Needs (SEN).
- National Autistic Society Education Rights Service offers confidential information,advice and support by phone or email. Contact 0808 800 4102.
- David Wolfe QC, a leading education law barrister, has prepared this excellent summary of the law on SEN.
- Coram Children's Legal Centre provides free legal information, advice and representation to children, young people, their families, carers and professionals, as well as international consultancy on child law and children’s rights.
- E-SENtials - a blog with information about SEN law and where to go for help.
Local authorities and schools are responsible for deciding who has SEN and what those SEN are. This means that the 'SEN system' depends on what adults think about a child's needs and what help they require. Too often, this means that children and young people may be offered what the system has available rather than what the child actually requires. It also means that education law sees pupils as disabled because of their impairments, ignoring the effects of their environment.
The Educational Rights Alliance believes that children and young people with additional needs must be allowed to access education in a way which makes them equal to their peers. We believe pupils can be disabled by educational inflexibility and that treating all pupils in the same way does not lead to equality: to achieve equality, we must do things differently for some people. We believe that flexibility, tolerance and the acceptance of difference is fundamental to achieving this goal.
Our view is that we must focus on the rights of all children and young people to an education rather than on an adult's perception of some children's needs. We strongly believe that we can only build equal societies where all human beings are respected if we practice genuine equality in our schools.
The Educational Rights Alliance believes that we need to approach the issue of SEN differently. We believe the law requires us to do this. The majority of SEN can be legally defined as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act promotes the empowerment of the individual through the elimination of discrimination and prejudice and the legal protection of their ‘rights’. The Equality Act, and the broader human rights framework (for example, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), should be used to change the way we think about education so that we view 'SEN' as an equality rights issue.
We believe this will promote tolerance, equality and increase the self-esteem of children and young people because they will no longer see themselves as having 'needs' which are a burden but as having 'rights' which must be respected.
We believe a change in approach, together with more effective accountability and oversight of the decision-making of public bodies is the best way to create genuine and lasting change for our children and young people.
A very interesting short film on the history of the development of special educational needs has been produced by the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education. It can be found here.