Ethnic minority pupils disproportionately identified with special educational needs

Pupils from ethnic minority groups are over-represented for some types of special educational needs (SEN) and under-represented for other types compared to white British pupils, according to new research led by Steve Strand and Ariel Lindorff at the University of Oxford.

Using data from the England National Pupil Database from 2005–2016, the report looks at all children age five to 16 in England who have been identified with different types of SEN. As well as identifying ethnic disproportionality, the report also considered whether socio-economic factors, such as poverty and neighbourhood deprivation, or children’s early attainment, had any impact on pupils being identified as having SEN.

The key findings of the report suggest:

  • Black Caribbean and mixed white and black Caribbean pupils are twice as likely to be identified with social, emotional and mental health needs as white British pupils.
  • Asian pupils are half as likely to be identified with autistic spectrum disorders as white British pupils.
  • Indian and Chinese pupils are half as likely to be identified with moderate learning difficulties as white British pupils.

While similar research has been done in the US, it is the first time a study with this detail has been conducted in the UK.

Source: Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of special educational needs (SEN) in England: Extent, causes and consequences (December 2018), University of Oxford

Interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder

The National Council for Special Education in Ireland has published a systematic literature review of the research evidence available on educational interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Among other questions, the review, by Caroline Bond and colleagues from the University of Manchester, considered what works best in the provision of education for people with ASD. The literature review included 85 best-evidence studies published between 2008 and 2013. These studies were considered to be of at least medium standard for the quality of evidence, methodological appropriateness, and effectiveness of the intervention. Most studies focused on preschool children and children aged 5–8 years.

For preschool children, two interventions were rated as having the most evidence:

  • Interventions designed to increase joint attention skills, usually involving one-to-one delivery of a play-based/turn-taking intervention by a teacher or parent
  • Comprehensive preschool intervention programs, which offered a comprehensive educational experience for the child, targeting areas such as behaviour, social skills, communication, and learning

For school-aged children, three interventions were rated as having the most evidence:

  • Peer-mediated interventions – group interventions with peers to support the development of social skills in children with ASD and/or help peers to interact more successfully with children with ASD
  • Multi-component social skills interventions, which included several elements, such as social skills training, peer support in school, or the involvement of parents in supporting the child’s social skills
  • Behavioural interventions based on behavioural principles were also used to target challenging/interfering behaviours in children with ASD, often based on an initial functional assessment followed by specific interventions

Source: Educating Persons with Autistic Spectrum Disorder – A Systematic Literature Review (2016), The National Council for Special Education

Identifying and supporting EAL pupils with special educational needs

There are many studies on English language acquisition, and also on special educational needs (SEN), but less is known about how to help SEN pupils who speak English as a second language. It can be hard to identify these pupils and provide them with appropriate support, and sometimes SEN is mistaken for a lack of English knowledge, and vice versa.

To address these challenges in the US, a new review from the Institute of Education Sciences and REL West synthesises findings of current policy practices and research on identifying and helping pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) who also have special educational needs.

As part of the review, the authors examined 52 articles and reports published between 2000-2015 that met criteria for topic and study design (experimental or quasi-experimental), looking for patterns that occurred two or more times in the literature. They also looked for patterns in policy in the 20 US states with the largest EAL pupil populations. Their review uncovered the following information:

To determine if an EAL pupil has a special educational need, the authors suggest considering the following:

  • Quality of teaching;
  • Rate of progress in expressive and receptive language given English language baseline;
  • Native culture norms;
  • Adjustment to new culture; and
  • Other factors affecting academics, like socio-economic status, attitude toward English, personality etc.

Authors found that teachers do not always know why EAL pupils are not progressing, and that their referral processes are poorly designed. To address this they suggest:

  • Professional development;
  • Parental involvement;
  • Using data from many sources; and
  • Developing guidelines and ways to track pupil data.

Source: Identifying and Supporting English Learner Students with Learning Disabilities: Key Issues in the Literature and State Practice (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/REL West.

Primary school size matters for some children

A new article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis looks at primary school size and academic performance, and concludes that for most pupils there is no causal relationship.

The authors used administrative records on 691,450 pupils aged 8-11 who attended 1,417 schools in North Carolina between 2004 and 2010. The data contained end-of-year maths and reading scores, pupil demographics, classroom identifiers, and a set of school-level characteristics including total enrolment, average daily attendance, suspensions, expulsions, crimes per 1,000 pupils, and geographic locale.

The primary analysis provided no evidence of a causal relationship between school size and overall pupil achievement, regardless of whether school size was measured at the school or year level.

However, two subgroups were significantly harmed by increases in school size. The maths and reading achievement of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) was lower in large schools, as was the reading (but not maths) achievement of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. The authors suggest that SEN pupils may be particularly sensitive to increases in school size either because larger schools are less able to match their needs to relevant support programmes, or because they are more sensitive to the weaker social bonds that may be inherent in larger schools. The authors also cite previous research that suggests that disadvantaged pupils who receive less attention at home may benefit from the greater individual attention provided by smaller schools.

Source: The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement (2015), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(1).

Teachers stereotype pupils from poor homes

A study published in the Journal of Social Policy has found that teachers stereotype pupils according to their level of poverty, gender, and ethnicity.

The study used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which followed almost 12,000 children born in the year 2000 in England. At age 7, for almost 5,000 children, teacher judgements on whether a child was “well above average/above average/average/below average/well below average” at maths and reading were collected. The children also completed tests in Word Reading and Progress in Mathematics. Results from the two assessments were then compared.

Children from low-income families, boys, pupils with any recognised diagnosis of special educational needs (SEN), and children who speak other languages in addition to English were less likely to be judged ‘above average’ at reading by their teacher – despite performing equivalently to their counterparts on the reading test. In maths there were fewer differences, although boys were more likely than girls to be judged relatively highly at maths. Black Caribbean pupils were significantly less likely than their equivalently performing White counterparts to be judged ‘above average’ – along with children from low-income families, and those with any recognised SEN.

The report suggests that efforts should be made to develop relevant interventions and strategies within teacher training and professional development; and avoid the reinforcement of stereotypes during policy intervention and associated publicity.

Source: Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment (2015), Journal of Social Policy, 44(3).

Predicting success for pupils with disabilities

A systematic review in Review of Educational Research uses meta-analysis to consider in-school predictors of post-school success for pupils with disabilities. The examined predictors of success include various aspects of education, employment, and independent living.

The study gathered data on 16,957 individuals from 35 sources published between 1984 and 2010. Analysis revealed a small but significant overall association between the in-school predictors and post-school outcomes.

The authors reported that their findings “showed positive relationships between predictors and outcomes in almost all cases” and that although the effects were small, they were meaningful and robust.

More specifically, the authors highlighted that their analysis showed positive effects for widely studied areas (such as vocational education, inclusive classrooms, and paid work) and understudied areas (such as Student-focused Planning and Parent Involvement, and interagency collaboration).

The paper includes discussion of implications for practice and suggested directions for future research.

Source: What works, when, for whom, and with whom: a meta-analytic review of predictors of postsecondary success for students with disabilities (2015), Review of Educational Research