“Higher expectations of all children, and better teaching and learning, would lead to fewer children being identified as having special educational needs,” it said. Because schools receive extra payments when they have pupils on the SEN register, there may be a financial motivation in these times of frozen school budgets behind labelling more children as having learning difficulties.Of the three levels of need on the register, the first two – School Action, and School Action Plus, which both require additional input in terms of teacher time and materials – can be diagnosed by teachers on the spot without independent verification, an act which then turns on the tap of additional funds.
Teachers label a child as having special needs to explain why they haven’t thrived in their care. In a 2010 report, the schools’ inspectorate estimated that as many as half of children in some of the categories on the SEN register had been misdiagnosed.
It may be that larger awards are made to the determined few who do fight their way through.
And it may be because numbers on School Action and School Action Plus – diagnosed on the spot by teachers, remember – are rising – from 14 to 18.2 per cent of pupils from 2003 to 2010.
Three decades on, there are more than one in five schoolchildren in England on the SEN register – more than half of all pupils in 100 schools.
Some argue that the schools are to blame for these high numbers.