What schools don't acknowledge about learning differences

12th Sep 2017

I run tours of the school each week for parents interested in sending their children to Radnor. This morning I had one of the longest and most involved conversations I can remember covering a huge variety of topics, in particular the range of special educational needs I have experienced as a Head.

The conversation started off by exploring high achieving children and what schools can do to ensure sufficient stretch and challenge throughout the day. We then moved on to Special Educational Needs and the additional support mechanisms for children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

As we were running through the range of learning needs it reminded me that all children tend to think differently, they absorb and process information differently, they physically move differently, they interact with those around them differently and above all they will end up being completely different to the young people they are today.

These rather obvious truths, as one of the parents reminded me, is not something most schools acknowledge nor is it something they cater for. In the UK schools are too keen to assume that some children are "normal" or as I like to say, "in the box", and some are, shall we say, "out of the box". That is they have been diagnosed with something, or a professional has indicated there might be an issue, with how they learn which needs to be catered for at school. However by thinking in such a binary way about those with and those without "special needs", it does not take into account the broad range of learning differences that all good teachers are naturally alert to.

Dyslexic children can often add creativity to a group task, highly attentive children can add focus and detail whilst sporty children usually have high levels of emotional intelligence thus pulling the group together.

In most modern work places this range of ability is celebrated and actively recruited for, however too many schools are still allowing their own internal mechanisms to be guided by league tables and academic results.

Of course we want children to do well academically but we also want them to have confidence and be happy. Schools are not exam-factories, rather they are adult-factories. They should be developing the skills needed for the work place of tomorrow and the more one reads about innovation and change the more one understands the complex nature of learning and the sheer variety of learning differences inside each one of our classrooms.

Rather than worrying about whether you are in the box or out we should be celebrating those that want to make the box into a space ship and find completely new ways of doing things.