Thousands of kids in UK removed from special needs list will avoid negative labels

Graeme Paton of the Telegraph is reporting that changes in the way special needs children are diagnosed in the U.K. is going to have hundreds of thousands of children and youth (estimates are in the 450,000 range) removed from the special needs “extra help in school” lists. (H/T # 10 at JNW)

As the video indicates, the concern of U.K. MP Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, seems two-fold: (1) that there be a single diagnosis process encompassing education, health and social services; and (2) that children, who are simply behind in their school work a bit, or have a few behavioural problems, get help outside of special services.

Which, putting aside politics since I live in Canada, makes a lot of sense to me. When I went to school or taught in the elementary and secondary systems myself, we only referred kids to special services when they had profound learning problems. Everyone else we helped as best we could.

We re-taught or reviewed lessons when necessary. We sent extra work home. And, we worked with children and youth during recess, lunch hours and after school — although when children travelled by school bus, staying after school became impossible.

Which makes me wonder whether teachers’ unions have now forbidden teachers from using any of their break and lunch periods to work with kids.  Yes, teachers deserve breaks and time to eat lunch. But, arrangements can be made. If that is no longer possible, however, how very tragic.

Tragic because labels and negative expectations can have far reaching consequences. And, those consequences come about because of what is now referred to as the Pygmalion Principle or the self-fulfulling prophecy principle (something I wrote about back in July of 2008).

In 1968 Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal assigned teachers to two separate groups of students — one group with above average IQs and one group with below average IQs. However, they reversed the groups so that the teacher with the children with low IQs thought her students were the ones with the high IQs and vice versa. In other words, it became a study about teacher expectations based on labelling.

The result? By the end of the school year all the students thought to have high IQs (but, unknown to the teacher actually had been assessed as having low scores) excelled far beyond what their initial tests showed they were capable. Meaning, labels can change attitudes and beliefs about people, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies — either negative or positive!

So, given the role of expectations and the Pygmalion Principle, my guess is that most of the thousands of kids in the UK who will ultimately be taken off the special needs list, will do just fine in life, as long as their families and teachers provide them the extra help they need and, perhaps most importantly, they “believe” in them.

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