Is Less More in Special Education?
June 22 2020
Josh Nash discusses why less is more and having the RIGHT information to work with SEN children is more important than having ALL the information.
Less is More?
Too many times I have been given a stack of files and only 15 minutes to read it all before meeting a child with special educational needs (SEN) for the first time.
My roles within a special needs school, play settings and youth clubs have informed my views here. Everyone has different experiences, knowledge and understanding which can lead to terminology and documents being interpreted in various ways.
In the England we have Education Health Care Plans or EHCPs. These documents identify a SEN child’s educational, health and social needs and specify additional support needed to meet those needs. We also use behaviour support plans, individual education plans (IEPs), medical reports, and risk assessments. These are often large documents, containing complicated terminology, and most are out-dated within months.
Have I taken the information in?
Have I already made some sort of judgement?
Do the documents reflect the child?
Of course, all the documents are important and have a purpose. It is important that a school special needs coordinator (SENCO) knows the history of a child, for example. The documents help to shape a more comprehensive picture from different professionals. However, specialist reports submitted for an EHCP may not entirely represent a child’s behaviour in an out-of-school or play setting.
Where is the good stuff?
With all this information, we begin to make assumptions about what the child may be like. For example, the risk assessment shows the worst case scenario. This creates a “prepare for the worst” mindset.
But where is the good stuff about the child?
A child’s positives and strengths easily get lost in the mountain of paperwork.
Paperwork isn’t always up to date.
I can remember reading a behaviour support plan for a child (who I had not yet met). It listed a whole range of challenging behaviour, which included their tendency to run away. As a result, I instantly started to think “what if”. How would I deal with that situation? How would I prevent the situation from occurring? It turns out the child had not absconded for many years and the panic was for no reason. It was based on out-dated paperwork.
Looking back, I wonder how many times the parents of this child were told: “sorry your child cannot attend because we are unable to meet his needs”. The paperwork showed a child with complex needs. However, strategies were in place and were working. This meant the child’s behaviour was very different from what his original EHCP stated. Despite this, decisions were made based on paperwork alone. As a result, his access to local services became limited. A change in focus on the child instead of the paperwork might have led to a different scenario.
Less is more.
I have seen first-hand the benefits for accessibility and inclusion of adopting a “less is more” approach. Providing details such as the child’s name, age and medical/dietary information is, of course, essential. Information on behaviour and sensory needs is provided to staff and volunteers on a need to know basis. However, no extensive paperwork is created, and neither is it requested from parents/carers.
This approach instantly removes any pre-judgment and changes the focus to the child. Staff and volunteers identify the necessary support. Strategies and adaptions suit the needs of the child at that particular time. It eliminates tactics based on out-dated paperwork that became irrelevant months or even years ago. The actions also reflect the skills and strengths of the staff.
Needless to say, important information such as medical information and dietary needs should be included. Practical information such as the child’s hobbies and interests can be useful in building relationships. But to provide extensive reports and endless paperwork, I suggest is unnecessary.
If we are to strive for a more inclusive society then the focus and emphasis must be on the child and the task in hand. Staff must not be distracted by words on paper. A short half page overview does the job and allows practitioners to use their skills and knowledge in the moment.
That’s why I suggest less is more.
Josh Nash has recently completed his degree in BA Special Education and is due to begin his school-based teacher training shortly. He has held various roles in both mainstream and SEND settings including as a teacher’s assistant in an independent special needs school, youth worker, support worker, carer and play worker. Josh is also a trustee of a London based charity working with vulnerable and disadvantaged children and adults providing weekly art activities and support.
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