Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Do we really cater for special educational needs?

For this blog entry I will be discussing special educational needs. It has been 50 years since the first British law was published to primarily cover disability. Throughout this time society has needed to adjust their own attitudes to allow disabled people to integrate into the community. The Chronically Ill and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was the first of its kind and has really changed people's attitudes relating to education, provision and employment for people who have physical and special educational needs. As much as this law may be ethically incorrect in certain ways, although it has been altered and changed over time, without it we would not be the society that we are today.
However, I feel that some of the priorities and attitudes of people have not changed. I am talking of my own experiences of currently undergoing the diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder). The process of getting diagnosed is so tedious, difficult and expensive it is almost pointless to even try. It is especially hard to get a diagnosis as an adult. Throughout my education I have been a quiet and obedient student (see my previous blog) who was always well behaved. My respect for teachers and behavior was impeccable, only ever receiving detentions when I was missed important instructions, hence not completing the work. As an unknown ADHD sufferer I wasn’t the sort to answer back to teachers, shout out answers or lob the odd chair.
Not many people know that there are three types of ADHD; there is impulsive sort (most common and obvious), the inattentive (lacks the skills to sustain attention), and the combined sort (which is a mixture of both). I have the inattentive sort, which was formally known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This means that I have a poor working memory and will struggle to remember instructions -even for a short period of time. I also have a real issue with external noises (as do a lot of people with ADHD) and a noise that is being made across the other side of the room will cancel out anything that is spoken to me, even if this person is speaking to me face to face. This means that lectures and seminars are always an issue.
In the UK we like to think of ourselves as modern thinkers, but people today still believe that this is a ‘made up condition’. As much as this is hard to believe, even general practitioners (GP’s) are not convinced. I know that the GP’s in my area have only just started to listen to the University’s Disability Assist’s pleas and may even start referring people onto the next stage. Whenever I have spoken to my GP they have been clueless on what to do, they say that they do not associate with ADHD and sent me to Disability Assist at the university (which only diagnose Dyslexia) even though I was armed with a cognitive assessment stating that I have a poor working memory.
In 2008 I was told by my lecturer that I may have dyslexia, within three weeks I had two cognitive assessments carried out and my diagnosis typed out and posted to me. The whole assessment was paid for by the university (worth £200) and I wasn’t even expected to pay for it even when it turned out I was not dyslexic. However for ADHD it is nearly impossible to get diagnosed. If you are lucky to get past your GP then you are likely to be sent across the other side of the country for an assessment that will cost you the best part of £1000. It seems that the NHS and has their priorities set.
This blog is not to rant about how useless the healthcare system is. I, and other ADHD suffers, want to raise awareness of the insufficient support that is provided for us. We, and certainly I, do not want extra benefit’s or drugs. When I have told people that I have ADHD I often get the same question, “Isn’t that when you chuck chairs at people?” No, it really isn’t! Even my own mother refused to acknowledge it. This is all because of a lack of understanding. It’s not really known and is badly publicised in the press. I did not even know about my own condition until I did a special educational needs module in my third year.
It is easy for everyone to focus on the negatives when it comes to ADHD. From my own personal experiences I have found that people with ADHD, like people with Dyslexia, are quite creative because they do not think in the same ways as other people.  They are also quite spontaneous and have good sense of initiative. As a trainee teacher I have also found that ADHD has helped my behaviour management in the classroom. Children cannot to talk over me or at each other; otherwise this will lose my train of thought. I also have the advantage of knowing what it is like to be unfocused and I can spot the signs pretty quickly.
Thank you for reading this post, I will keep you updated with the campaign that we are starting to get more support for people with ADHD in the South West, as there is currently none available. If anyone has any advice that they could give, it would be gratefully received. Also if anyone has any stories or ideas on how to keep ADHD children motivated in the classroom, then this would be most beneficial for us trainee teachers!

Katie O'Reilly (@kforeilly)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

What is the purpose of education?

My name is Katie O’Reilly and I am studying primary education (BEd) specialising in early childhood studies at Plymouth University. I am very passionate about the education of children of all abilities, not just the children who are gifted and talented or have special educational needs.
I love learning (even if I am not very good at it) but I just love it. In school I was always sat at the front of the class in awe of what I was learning; I was not a particularly gifted or an academic person but I was very hard working. Unfortunately this was not enough when I reached in secondary education, I wasn’t very charismatic and was very shy which meant that I eventually disappeared to back of the classroom. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then there was that one moment in education that changed my life forever. I was pulled aside by my religious education teacher in year 11 and was told that I was not allowed to take my RE GCSE as I was not deemed ‘capable’. My face must have been a picture because my teacher said, “You’re acting like this is a surprise to you. Give me one reason why I should even consider entering you into the exam?” My reply: “I love RE.” My teacher gave me that this-does-not-wash-with-me look. This ‘look’ provoked my angry parents to book a meeting with my teacher. When we entered the room for this meeting the teacher stood up from his desk and strode straight over to my father and shook his hand and said, “Hello Mr O’Reilly, I’m Mr TG and used to be a barrister.” What more should I add? This meeting consisted of a discussion about my evident interest in religious education, apparently I used to clock watch in the RE lessons and I never used to put up my hand to contribute in the lessons. Little did this man know that in my own time I was very passionate about woman’s Islamic rights in Saudi Arabia and that I was reading all the literature that I could get my hands on about the subject. In my eyes I could not see how memorising the definitions of words such as ‘omnipotent’ and ‘omniscience’ as relevant to the religion in the world. It was no wonder I was bored in the lessons!

My mother eventually convinced my RE teacher to enter me into the year 10 mock test. When I received my results, I was told by my RE teacher (with his eyes to the floor) that I had received the highest score in the year and had earned myself an A*! My teacher then told me he had entered me into my GCSE exam and then turned on his heel and left the room. No apology or even an offer of congratulations was made! At that moment I knew that the education system needed to change.
A painting of my Dad painted by my sister.
People like me are not academically bright and really struggle to prove ourselves. Take my sister for example, she is severely dyslexic (it took years to diagnose) and struggles to get her b’s and d’s the right way round but she can paint a canvas so lifelike that it takes your breath away. My father, also dyslexic and can barely read and write, has just designed and built a house that is truly unique (he built it on top of a river in which the river runs underneath the structure). 

We should be encouraging children to be themselves and enhance the gifts that they have already been given. During my education I felt that a lot of what I learnt was irrelevant and uninspiring and did not prepare me for the world outside. However this RE teacher inspired me to make schools a better place for those pupils deemed average. I may have additional needs when it comes to comprehending information and writing but I do make up for it by having enough ambition and motivation to improve and reflect on my own practice.  

So then, what is the current purpose of Education?
To be continued...