Labelling SEN Parents as ‘pushy’ is irresponsible and dangerous

SEND parents labelled as pushy parents

Both the Guardian and the TES have recently published articles that included the statistic that 57% of teachers believe that SEN in schools is being misdiagnosed. Even worse, the articles then went on to reveal that “nearly two-thirds (64%) thought that some parents who have a child with a learning issue that could be addressed by a teacher are too quick to want a medical or psychological explanation, and 38% agreed that some parents who push for their child to be recognised as having SEN do it to help their youngster gain a competitive edge in tests and exams.”

There is a huge issue undermining the findings in the articles here –  private assessment for dyslexia allowing pupils to get extra time in exams. The article cites statistics relating to extra time in exams in the private sector, compared with the state sector, and of course the fact that many more pupils in private schools have extra time seems to support the opinion above – that pushy, wealthy parents can ‘cheat’ the system and get diagnoses, even if they are not necessary.

I have been present in staff rooms and meetings when news that a student now has a dyslexia diagnosis has been announced. “Oh, so and so gets extra time now. Mother paid for the dyslexia test.” I could only assume from the eye-rolls and tone of voice that we were meant to think that little so-and-so had a pushy mother who should just accept that their child is a mediocre student and move on. But, in a way, whether private dyslexia assessments are fair is not the issue.

The issue is in lumping all SEN together and using the extra time statistics to justify the opinion that many SEN parents are ‘pushy’ and are obtaining diagnoses for their children unnecessarily to get a competitive edge in exams. This is hugely misleading. Whether dyslexia assessment is fair and needs to be reviewed is an entirely separate issue. Certainly, the idea that it is unfair is present among teachers – and this probably accounts, in part, for the statistics above.

But to make no distinction between this and other SEND diagnoses is ambiguous to the point of deception.

Students with other learning issues like autism, ADHD, PDA and SPD are already subject to stigma and judgement in schools and society alike. Ideas like “we didn’t have all this ADHD and autism in my day” and “It’s just bad behaviour” are still worryingly prevalent. Prejudice like this make life difficult for people with special needs and their families every day.

I have witnessed it. To a certain extent, I participated in it – because I didn’t know any better. When it was announced in a staff meeting that a student had a sensitivity to clothes, and should be allowed to remove their school jumper, I felt the disdain spread throughout the room. I saw the raised eyebrows. I heard the murmurs of discontent. I probably joined in, expressing the idea that it was unreasonable, that it would cause uproar amongst the other students. I probably hoped that I wouldn’t teach that student so that I wouldn’t have to allow the rule to be relaxed.

The reason for this attitude is easy to explain: I had absolutely no idea what sensory issues could be like for a child with autism or SPD because at no point in my career had my training adequately prepared me.

These two issues – the fact that private dyslexia assessments muddy the waters and that SEN training is inadequate in many schools – completely undermine the statistics cited. I have been on both sides of this debate. I was a sceptical teacher and now I am a ‘pushy’ mother. SEND parents use every ounce of their strength in fighting for their children. The process is hideously unfair, under-funded and complex. Parents are often left feeling that no one cares for their child but them, there is no one else to fight their case. Often, they must go to court to get the provision they are entitled to.

If we are pushy, it is because an overly complicated and flawed system has forced us to be so. If some children fall through the cracks, and if those children are often from less privileged backgrounds, it is because getting any help is made almost impossible. It is not because ‘pushy’ parents have deceptively gained the resources they should have had. Teachers do not have enough training. Parents may not have the education or resources to fight. Children slip through because getting adequate support is so hard and there is no one to fight for them, not because it is too easy.

Pushy parents aren’t exploiting a flawed system. A flawed system means that parents are forced to fight, tooth and nail, to make sure their child gets the support they need. And to label that fight, that ceaseless drain on our emotional and physical resources, as ‘pushy’?

It is unfair. It is misrepresentative. It is insulting.

Labelling SEN parents as 'pushy' is irresponsible and dangerous. A look at how a recent survey undermines the parents of children with special educational needs.



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10 thoughts on “Labelling SEN Parents as ‘pushy’ is irresponsible and dangerous

  1. I fully appreciate what you say. From the other side of the fence, my daughter has Ehlers Danlos. She regularly dislocates her joints but, she is also on the autistic spectrum.

    Even though she has been at her school for four years, she still gets penalised for not finishing her work in time or not understanding something. Even though we have told them that it’s difficult for her.

    I appreciate that teaching is a very hard job, and I hope that articles like this will help to see that not everyone is trying to get special treatment. In most cases just equal treatment would be nice.

  2. As always, the battle should not be teachers against parents. Of course, there should be no battle at all, in an ideal world! But lack of money and resources dictates that there will be. A fair system would be nice…. and unbiased reporting rather than a one-sided survey not telling the whole picture would also be nice! Great post x

  3. I can understand how it can be difficult for teachers but it’s not the child’s fault in any case and they should be treated according to their needs. My daughter’s needs are complex both physical and mental, and I’ve experienced schools that have been good and schools that have been bad. She is better in mainstream school and I’m glad I’ve found a good school for her now. It does sadden me to think that there are reports out there trying to make out that parents say their child has special needs just to get special treatment. Something is really wrong there, who would wish their child labelled in this way? As you say, it certainly isn’t an easy ride to get the right education even with a diagnosis.

  4. We have had both good and bad experiences. A mainstream school that was good, and then after a change of admin became very bad. A specialised school that was tolerable but then became dreadful, again after a change in admin staff. The years-long battle for appropriate support was soul destroying and taxed my child both emotionally and mentally. Parents are put on the defensive as soon as they disagree with the schools. They are deemed pushy, paranoid, and overly protective. As parents, we have been told our children are “fine” and “happy” in a school where they are daily being bullied, ignored, shouted at, unsupported, and let down in so many ways. It is frustrating to note that schools seem to think that a child simply being present in the school (not always even in the classroom) means the school is being inclusive. That is not inclusion. It’s time the schools (and the LAs) realised that inclusion involves support, engagement, and progress… not just attendance.

  5. I can acknowledge how hard it must be to really understand and empathise how difficult it is for parents until you have lived it.

    As you say, improved training is the key first step towards first understanding and then changing perceptions.

  6. I must be one in a minority of parents who don’t have such problems when it comes to school. Our school can’t do enough for my son and we work together as a team. The negative attitudes we do come across are from other parents. Very insightful post.

  7. My eldest daughter has just had a dyslexia screen in 6th form college, (at her request because she realised she was having difficulty processing information as quickly as her peers) and as a result she will be getting extra time in her A levels as her reading speed is on the 4th centile (out of 100 pupils only 3 would have a lower reading speed than her). To be honest I wish I had pushed and had her assessed earlier as it may have taken away some of the stress she went through with her GCSE’s. My friends son went to a private school at which all year 6 all pupils were screened for dyslexia and those who were found to have some dificulties had support and extra time in exams.
    My son only got assessed for autism because I pushed for an assessment – I didn’t have to push hard as the teachers supported my decision. I do wonder how on earth he would have managed without his diagnosis – it has given teachers more understanding and they have made changes to accomodate his needs as a result. There must be many kids out there who slip through the net. #spectrumsunday

  8. As both a SEN trained teacher and mother to 2 children with difficulties I can safely say that no Ed Psych will ever give a dyslexic diagnosis just because a mother paid for it, I’m amazed that people still make these comments. We moved our son from one primary school and from a secondary school rather than fight/be pushy and found the right education that suited his style of learning. He finishes his A levels this year.#SpectrumSunday

  9. Thankfully, the primary school for my son was great and the secondary school (he’s in a mainstream ARC) is even better.
    I do doubt myself tho; do I think differently to other people and is that why he has ASD? Sometimes things the teachers said about him (particularly at primary school) made me think well, I do that. Didn’t know other people didn’t.
    And then I think well, my daughter has no special needs issues so stop tormenting yourself. But do other people doubt themselves too or just me?
    Maybe it’s like the baby books – I tended to panic if i found I wasn’t doing what it said in the book and eventually my mum told me to ignore them and throw them away!

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