05/13/2022: Today wasn’t as spooky as it would seem for being Friday the 13th. We woke up to pleasant weather and headed over to BCU. Our lectures today were primarily focused on special education, which is very interesting. A very prevalent theme this week is learning just how intertwined healthcare and education actually are. My understanding prior to today was that in the US social work, healthcare, and education only come together when it is necessary. We learned how the UK’s system is truly integrated, and the pros and cons of such action.
Our first two lectures surrounded education in the UK as a whole; this was great because I did not have a good understanding of the educational journey earlier in the week. The professors would make references to level 6 and we do not have the equivalent of that in the US. The good thing is that all the professors at BCU are really kind so they clarified that level 6 is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. The rest of the system is structured as follows:
Early Years: 0-5 yrs old / Primary School: 5-11 yrs old / Secondary School: 12-16 / Further Education: 16-18 yrs old / University: 18+ yrs old
Special education in the UK is multifaceted. First of all, we learned that there are several different types of schools. Children with special needs attend either Special Schools or Private Schools. These schools are catered to meet the individual needs of each student, and help them learn in an environment that is best suited to their state in life. I found this to be interesting because, in the US, students with special needs can attend any sort of school they/their parents choose; it seems that here in the UK because of the implementation of the National Curriculum, the options for special education are much more sparse.
The next very important concept to learn about is screening. In the US we have developmental tests implemented at pediatric checkups. A well-known test is the ages and stages test, which analyzes how well a toddler can perform basic skills (walking, talking, sitting up, eating, etc.). Similar tests are performed at childcare centers in the UK. If a child is perceived as being behind the average, they may be referred for an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP). EHCPs are similar to Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in the United States. There are some key differences, however.
For instance, both EHCPs and IEPs require an assessment of the student. In the UK, students must be evaluated for two consecutive terms in order to be considered. This can be tricky because children 0-5 are not in the formal education system yet. They can be assessed at a nursery, but it is unlikely to yield any meaningful results. Rather, “red flags” are just going to be monitored until the child is a bit older and enters their formal schooling. The assessment process takes a very long time and is quite extensive. Further, students are likely to be turned away, but they can appeal to be re-assessed. In some cases, it can take several years for a student to receive a formal diagnosis and get the EHCP that they need. EHCPs are a holistic approach to caring for a student. They are assessed in many different areas so that they are treated equitably.
In the US, things are a little different. Students can be valued for an IEP at any level of education. Dr. Marks explained that in the US, once it is brought to the teacher’s attention that a student is struggling they have 60 school days to make sure a student receives an IEP. During the waiting period, teachers must work with students to help bridge the gap, wherever they are falling behind. It seems that in the US system there is a lot less downtime when students are not receiving the help they need.
In the UK once a student has a formal diagnosis, they are eligible for a SENDCo. A SENDCo is a special educational need and disabilities coordinator. They work with a student one-on-one to help meet their educational needs. A SENDCo performs a lot of liaising with social workers and healthcare providers to ensure that students are receiving all of the support they need at home and in a medical capacity. This is different from anything we have in the US. Normally, a teaching assistant would be the person to have this sort of contact with the student. Then the teaching assistant would reach out to the school counselor for any other resources a student may need. The services offered in the US are not that extensive; it seems like aspects pertaining to social work are not really addressed from an educational front.
I still have a few questions from today’s lectures. We touched a bit on immigrancy and disparities individuals who learn English as an additional language face. Generally, these students would receive a SENDCo/ be assessed for an IEP. Although having English as an additional language is not a disability, these students still need quite a bit of additional help. How would these students receive the fullness of help they need if they are just settling in the UK? I know that in the US it is common for refugees to not even attend school. Since education is heavily prioritized in the UK would this be different? I am also wondering how the metrics for measuring immgrancy to schools can be improved. Right now it is solely based on language, however, many immigrants already speak English, so this is not an apt practice for measuring disparities.
This afternoon we heard from a brilliant lecturer, Jo Gibbs about Stockport, which is another resource for children with special needs. Stockport is a UK-based industry that works with schools and families to advocate for children. They operate out of the Greater Manchester Conurbation. They utilize a restorative approach, which is based on a US model used to rehabilitate relationships within the prison system. They have found there to be a correlation between establishing good processes, skills, and values among youth who are thriving at school and at home. There are 5 key members of the Team Around the School (TAS) team: the school, the social worker, the age plus worker, and the school nurse. All of these members work to help children thrive. It is important to work with families to promote agency; Stockport prides itself on collaboration with the families. Stockport tries to urge families to help themselves. It would be amazing to have such a wonderful program as Stockport in the US one day.
Finally, I could not end today’s blog without mentioning that we went on a canal tour in Birmingham. It was really cool to explore the city in this way and learn a bit of history along the way. We ended the evening by eating at Cafe Juju’s, which honestly was one of the best meals we have had so far. I ordered the bass and was super surprised when my plate came out with a whole fish on it. My compliments to the chef!