Published on: 13 Jan 2016

There will be a significant number of pupils who are gifted and talented but if they are not identified they will not be given the support they need to reach their true potential

Who are the hardest to spot? Let's start with young carers and girls with autism

Lorraine Petersen, SEN Consultant and former Chief Executive of Nasen

With over 1.3 million children and young people identified as having a special educational need in England it is very likely that there will be at least 4 pupils in every classroom who will require additional support. In some classrooms this will be much greater and the figure only reflects the ones that have been identified. In the same way, there will be a significant number of pupils who are gifted and talented but if they are not identified they will not be given the support they need to reach their true potential.

The SEND Code of Practice 2015 very clearly states that every teacher is responsible and accountable for the progress of every pupil in their class but with the best will in the world does every teacher have the knowledge, skills and experience to identify every individual need especially within the ”hard to spot” pupils who often go unnoticed and unsupported?

I can remember back in my early teaching career (a very long time ago!) some of the hardest to spot pupils in primary schools were the ‘quiet ones’, especially girls. Sitting at the back of the room, head down, working but in reality not engaging, never answering questions and doing their best to copy from the person sitting next to them – their sole aim was to get through the day without being noticed. These quiet ones are still there, often being overshadowed by those who mask their individual needs with challenging behaviours and take up far too much teacher time, often just managing the behaviour, never getting the root cause of the underlying need.

There are two groups that I believe are very vulnerable within our schools and often go unnoticed and unsupported. The first are young carers, someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem. Following a survey in 2010, the BBC estimated that there are 700,000 young carers in the UK, 13,000 of these care for over 50 hours a week.  This will have a massive impact on their ability to learn. Lack of sleep, inability to complete homework, lack of social interaction with their peers and the propensity towards mental health issues will all take their toll on their school work. And yet many of them go un-noticed because they do not share with others what they are doing, often in fear of the family unit being broken up.

The second group are girls with autism. It seems that girls on the autistic spectrum may be less noticeable than boys because they are less disruptive and have an ability to mimic behaviours. Thousands of girls may have autism that have never been diagnosed because they cover-up the signs so well. Information is beginning to show that girls simply may be under-represented in Autism figures because the history of research into ASD, from its inception until now is based on males. All diagnostic tools have been developed based on male characteristics and traits. It is only in recent years that research has begun to develop around identifying and supporting girls with autism.

The greatest difficulty our teachers face is that they have not been trained to identify the complexity of need that we now find within our mainstream classrooms. In order to be able to identify, support, implement effective interventions and offer high quality teaching for all pupils whilst differentiating and personalising to meet individual needs we have got to improve both initial teacher education and continuing professional development to ensure that no pupil is ‘hard to spot’.

Follow Lorraine on Twitter @lorrainep1957.

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