Special needs rate in England ‘five times EU average’

The number of English schoolchildren labelled as having special needs is five times higher than the rest of Europe because of chronic over-diagnosis by teachers, according to research. This is from the Telegraph…

Almost one-in-five pupils are registered with learning difficulties, behavioural problems or physical disabilities that prevent them playing a full part in lessons, it emerged.

Elsewhere in the EU, the numbers are as low as four per cent.

A new book claims that a system of “skewed incentives” has encouraged schools to “over-classify children” as an excuse for poor performance.

It came as Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, warned earlier this week that the number of children registered in England should be “significantly fewer” than current rates.

Paul Marshall, the chairman of ARK Schools, which runs a chain of independent academies, said there would “need to be something very wrong with the water for England to have five times the level of special needs of our European peers”.

The book – The Tail: How England’s schools fail one child in five – said that special needs had often “become a proxy for socio-economic disadvantage”.

Pupils from poor backgrounds, troubled families, those with a history of bad behaviour and children with low exam results are significantly more likely to be labelled as having special educational needs, it was claimed.

The book – edited by Mr Marshall – quoted figures showing that English schools were five times as likely to diagnose pupils as the EU average. Last year, 19.8 per cent of pupils – more than 1.6 million – had some form of special needs.

By comparison, numbers stood at 1.5 per cent in Sweden, two per cent in Italy and Spain, three per cent in France, Poland and Portugal, five per cent in Denmark and six per cent in Germany.

A chapter in the book, by Sophy Blakeway, director of education for ARK, said that “many schools have reached too readily for the SEN label when faced with pupil underachievement, perpetuating a culture of low expectations which has too often trapped children in the tail of low attainment”.

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