The Special Needs Week survey of special needs in secondary schools took in schools of many different shapes and sizes, with (as we would expect) over 70% of those answering the questionnaire being in schools with over 700 pupils.
Two thirds of schools which completed our survey employ six or more staff who work exclusively or primarily with special needs students and a further 16% employ three to five staff in this area.
However 6% of those replying had no special needs staff. We did not correlate size of school directly with numbers of students, but it is clear that at least some of these schools with no mainstream special needs provision had over 200 students.
As part of our survey we asked respondents to look at a list of ten special needs and comment on the number of students they had with this difficulty. The list included ADHD, Autism, Diabetes, Down’s syndrome, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, mental health issues, and self harm.
78% of respondents said that they had no students with Down’s syndrome, 32% said that no one suffered from Dysgraphia, and 15% said that no one suffered from Dyscalculia.
The dysgraphia figure is particularly interesting since estimates (for example in Berninger, V.W.; B.J. Wolf (2009). Teaching students with dyslexia and dysgraphia: Lessons from teaching and science) suggest that up to 20% of students in secondary school may have dysgraphia. With dyscalculia the estimate from the Dyscalculia Centre (and of course it is just an estimate, although it is generally believed to be true) is that dyscalculia is as widespread in the general population as dyslexia, and yet only one percent of respondents suggested that there were no students in the school with dyslexia (as opposed to the 15% who said no one had dyscalculia).
The most common special need within our selected list of 10 special needs in secondary schools was dyslexia, with autism second and self-harm third. Primary schools placed autism as the most common special need, dyslexia second and mental health third. Interestingly mental health issues, the third most common special need in our list of ten in primary schools, sank to ninth on the secondary school list.
In the next part of our questionnaire we presented SENCos with a daunting list of over 60 special needs and asked them to indicate any special needs that they felt they faced as SENCos but for which they felt they did not have adequate resources to help the student.
Over half the SENCos who replied to our survey stated that they were working with students who had attachment disorder (57%) or anxiety disorder (56%) and that they felt they did not have adequate resources to help these students.
Significant numbers of SENCos also felt they were without adequate resources but were facing students with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (45%), depression (44%) or mental health issues (43%).
Indeed it is interesting that even in areas where a significant level of resources have become available in recent years, there are SENCos who feel they do not have adequate resources to meet their needs for ADHD (33%), Autism (35%), Dyslexia (25%) and Dyscalculia (23%).
Of course this is not to criticise SENCos in any way - with over 60 special needs being recognised by schools, and with budget shortages and seemingly low levels of staffing in some cases, it is perhaps not surprising that resources (which can mean staffing as much as physical resources and information) are not always adequate.
Turning to the issue of the relationship with the rest of the school, over half of SENCos (54%) agreed that “most colleagues are understanding and cooperative”, while 13% said that “everyone or almost everyone understands and cooperates”. However, regrettably, a third of those responding agreed with the statement that “there are unfortunately some colleagues in the school who lack some understanding about my work and/or are not as understanding as I would wish”.
Finally we asked whether the demands on the time of the SENCo were expanding.
Over two thirds (68%) agreed with the statement that “yes, it seems that every term there are more demands but not nearly enough extra resources or staff are being provided.”
Almost a quarter (24%), however, agreed that, “The demands on the special needs department are growing and we are gaining more resources and/or staff to match - but demand is outstripping our ability to meet the needs.”
6% of respondents were in the fortunate position of saying that “the demands on the special needs department are growing but we are gaining more resources and/or staff to match.”
Only one respondent felt that the demands on the special needs department were not growing.
Special Needs Week commemorates the hard work and dedication of special needs teachers throughout the UK. It runs from 13 to 17 June and is sponsored by AspireGB, Clicker7, The Dyscalculia Centre, Dysgraphia Help, MSL, PTUK, Robinswood Press, Turnabout Programme, Type and Test.