A recent posting by Janet Downs
"Council estimates £4m loss on land grabbed by DfE for free school"
was about the way land had been appropriated from Oldham Council by the DfE for a Free School. This entails a consequential loss to the Council of 4 million pounds , and is of course, equally the transfer of 4 million pounds worth of public assets into private hands. It ended with the remark:
"Now Oldham Council is under pressure again to find land for another free school which has been given the go-ahead: the Phoenix Free School"
This provoked a comment (from Chris Manners) about the Phoenix SEN page, (the page on their web site in which they set out their SEN policy), the gist of which was that he did not think much of it. So I had a look myself. And I think it deserves a post, and perhaps discussion, all of its own.
So now here is the text copied from the Phoenix School web site
. I would be interested in any comments people might have:-
"Special Educational Needs
In England, 20% of our pupils are labelled as ‘special needs’. This is far too high—in Europe, the rate is only 4%.
Many pupils have genuine special needs. At Phoenix they will get the best possible help.
Most special needs pupils have poor literacy skills. When they catch up in reading and writing, most of them will no longer have ‘special needs’.
There are a lot of differences between the English and our continental cousins, but we don’t think our pupils are really five times more likely
to have ‘special needs’.
Unfortunately, when pupils fail to make progress, it’s far too easy for our schools to claim extra funds by putting them on the special needs register.
There are several problems with this:
Schools don’t have enough time and money for pupils who have genuine special needs.
When pupils are on the special needs register, there is an assumption that they can’t make normal academic progress.
Pupils often think of themselves as ‘disabled’ and they stop trying.
Teachers waste huge amounts of time ‘differentiating’ lessons for illiterate pupils.
Pupils become bored and demoralised when they are given worksheets to colour in. About half of them will become disruptive.
Once pupils leave the education system, they no longer have specialised support. A very high percentage go straight on to benefits.
The Phoenix Free School will scrupulously observe all legal requirements for children who have been diagnosed as having special needs, and we will most certainly do everything we can for pupils who need specialised help. But we suspect there will be very few of them.
In a Centre for Policy Studies report, the late Dr John Marks cited a Daily Telegraph article by Minette Marin, who visited a Tower Hamlets primary school where all children could read. About 90% of their pupils were Bangladeshi, and 60% qualified for free school meals. Yet only 3% of their pupils were listed as SEN—this compared with 30% to 40% at other schools in the same area. As Ms Marin commented:
Something stands out a mile here; a negligible rate of SEN registration seems to go with a very high rate of reading success.
At Phoenix, our very first priority will be to ensure that every pupil can read and spell. You can be sure that there won’t be any pupils stigmatised as having ‘special needs’ simply because they haven’t mastered basic skills.
Recently, there has been a massive increase in the number of pupils diagnosed with ADHD (hyperactivity) and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Arguably ADHD isn’t a disorder at all. Francis Fukuyama suggests that
ADHD isn’t a disease at all but rather just the tail end of the bell curve describing the distribution of perfectly normal behaviour. Young human beings, and particularly young boys, were not designed by evolution to sit around at a desk for hours at a time paying attention to a teacher, but rather to run and play and do other physically active things. The fact that we increasingly demand they sit still in classrooms, or that parents and teachers have less time to spend with them on interesting tasks, is what creates the impression that there is a growing disease.
At Phoenix, physical activity will be built into the day. In addition to the usual PE sessions, pupils will start the day with callisthenics, and have outdoor activities such as orienteering at least once a month. Team sports—with fixtures with neighbouring schools and sports clubs—will figure prominently. Martial Arts will instil self-discipline.
Pupils with ADHD and ASD make excellent progress in a structured classroom environment. They simply don’t have the attention to direct their own learning, at least not until they have mastered a wide range of knowledge. At Phoenix, teaching and learning will have the focus that allows all pupils to make excellent progress. We believe this is much better than labelling children as ‘special needs’.
 The new SEN system is supposed to provide ‘support’ up to the age of 25—if anything, this will make matters worse.
 Howlin, P., (1997) “Prognosis in autism: do specialist treatments affect long-term outcome?”, European child & adolescent psychiatry 6 (2): 55–72"