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As a father to a severely autistic son, Christopher Stevens knows what a learning disability actually involves. He is, therefore, well placed to comment on the shocking statistic that 21 per cent of British children have been labelled with ‘Special Educational Needs’.

Writing in the Daily Mail he reveals the reality behind the figures:

  • “In truth, too many are wrongly diagnosed while those most deserving of help often find it hard to get proper support. Only about eight per cent have serious medical conditions such as autism or hearing and sight difficulties.”

Because the ‘SEN’ label allows “troublesome children” to be omitted from league tables while allowing access to extra funding, schools have had every incentive to stretch the definition to breaking point:

  • “For a fifth of the country’s children — a total of 1.7 million — to be categorised as SEN is iniquitous. It mocks every part of the phrase ‘Special Educational Needs’. How can their individual needs be met, in that immense melting pot? How dare schools call it educational, when for so many it’s a dumping ground? And what bitter cynicism to say they are special, when that simply means ‘expendable’.”

Stevens sees this as a double betrayal – “both of the many children who are mislabelled ‘special needs’ and of the much smaller percentage who really do have special needs and their families, who require the most intense support.”

There’s a clear parallel here to welfare policy: Children who could and should have had a mainstream education are labeled ‘special’; adults who could and should be in work are labeled with some kind of ‘incapacity’.  In both cases, a bureaucratic category attaches the blame to some unavoidable misfortune, when, in fact, the entirely avoidable failure of the system is the true cause of so much wasted potential.

One can, at least, be thankful that we finally have a Government willing to tackle both problems, but will anyone ever be held accountable for such a damaging distortion of the truth?

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