A recent report http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9900440/Special-needs-rate-in-England-five-times-EU-average.html other European countries have far fewer ‘special needs’ pupils. When pupils fail to make progress, it’s far too easy to claim extra funds by putting them on the special needs register. There’s several problems with this: first, schools don’t have enough time and money for pupils who really do have special needs. Secondly, when pupils are on the special needs register, there is an assumption that they can’t make normal academic progress.
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. Dr Marks cited a Daily Telegraph article by Minette Marin, who visited a Tower Hamlets primary school where all children could read. 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 disorders. These excuses are as good as any, but 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.