New Special Needs Regulator
The government is investigating the idea of a new regulator of special educational needs
According to a report in CYP Now the government is considering launching a new regulatory unit for overseeing both special educational needs and mental health provision. These proposals were initially given a trial run in Manchester and there is the thought that they can be rolled out across England.
The initial proposal comes from Great Minds Together which was initially set up to teach children Life Skills as After School and Holiday Clubs across Manchester works with schools, families and local authorities. The Education Select Committee is considering the proposals.
The founders of the organisation have been asked to brief the select committee of MPs on their work and develop a policy paper for the committee.
It has been reported that within the trial over 150 families with children with special needs were engaged, and there was a total success rate in re-engagement of pupils with formal education as well as improvement in children’s engagement, learning and attainment.
The select committee has indicated that it wants an independent SEND watchdog to work independently of Ofsted and the Department for Education.
Ian Mearns, a member of the previous select committee, said that, “There is a crisis in the provision of SEND and SEMH across our fractured education system. The report in the last parliament from the education select committee raised a number of key conclusions and recommendations to address the current state of affairs; including the need for a focused, rigorous and regular inspection process for SEND and SEMH providers.
“I have met with Great Minds Together on a number of occasions and have read the ideas and proposals contained within their manifesto, including the framework for an inspection and resolution service.
"The manifesto is an excellent contribution to the policy development discourse, and I wholeheartedly support the principles which underpin their proposals. I have invited Great Minds to produce a policy paper for wider discussion, which will hopefully act as a catalyst for debate on this incredibly important issue.
Great Minds Together have proposed the ring-fencing of government funds for SEND and the abolition of council procurement processes for education and children’s services.
Under their plans, parents will be treated as experts and allowed to write their children’s education, health and care plans.
It is an interesting proposal for special needs which are genetically inherited, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, wherein some parents are indeed very fast to spot the sort of problem that they or their parents had with spelling or mathematics.
A very significant proportion of the schools that use the Dyscalculia Centre’s on-line test, and the learning materials that are provided for those who are found to have dyscalculia, copy and pass on the support materials that are provided with the test results so that parents can help support their children and bring their maths up to the level whereby they can be taught in the mainstream classroom.
Details of materials for teachers are to be found here.
Details of materials for parents are provided here
You can read more about all our services, including the on-line test for dyscalculia on our website.
The signs of dyscalculia: an introductory guide
How to estimate if an individual has dyscalculia without administering a test
On this website we have two tests for dyscalculia – one is a very straightforward free test which can be done in a matter of minutes; the other is a much more comprehensive test that can take between 20 and 30 minutes, and which gives a much more detailed assessment of the individual’s specific difficulties. The results of this more detailed test are also accompanied by materials that can help the individual start to overcome problem areas that the test reveals.
But if you do not wish to involve the individual in testing, but instead wish to make a preliminary diagnosis from your own observations, you might care to look at the issues set out below.
None of these are going to give you definitive answers about whether an individual has dyscalculia, but they can be indicative of whether it is worth investigating further. If you observe a number of these factors you might well decide that a more analytical test is going to be helpful.
1: Estimation. At different stages in a child’s development, the ability to estimate how many beans, books, counters or pens there are in a group comes into play. This doesn’t mean knowing that there are 35 counters on the table, but rather being able to estimate “30” as opposed to “100” or “5”. A refusal to estimate, perhaps combined with signs of anxiety or simply being reliant on pure guesswork, at a stage when others are willing and able to make a reasoned guess, is a suggestive trait.
2: Mental arithmetic is normally very seriously impaired in dyscalculic people. Again it is not so much the right answer to a mental arithmetic question that one is always looking for, but a guess or estimate of an answer that is in the right area. A failure to grasp the general area of the answer can be an indicator of dyscalculia.
3: Young people with dyscalculia have a problem dealing with all numbers, so counting backwards can be a particular difficulty, and dyscalculics will often find that they can’t undertake this task when others who might be poor at maths but not dyscalculic can at least make a valiant attempt.
4: Timing. Dyscalculics can learn to perform mathematical functions such as working out division questions, but invariably will undertake these more slowly than pupils and students who are poor at maths, but not dyscalculic.
5: Forgetfulness. Because of the genetic issues that cause dyscalculia, it is common for dyscalculic students who have learned a mathematical process such as long multiplication, long division or indeed certain times tables, then to forget what they have learned in a very short space of time.
6: Telling the time both in a 12 hour clock and a 24 hour time table can be very difficult for dyscalculics, and they often have a much greater difficulty with time that their fellows of a same age.
7: Being able to describe directions to proceed on a walk that they know very well (while most fellow pupils or students can do this) is another indication that dyscalculia may well be present.
8. The concept of zero can cause problems for dyscalculics, as this is, in many regards, a wholly artificial concept. It is noteworthy that the Roman Republic and Roman Empire was wholly organised on a mathematical system that did not contain a zero.
If you notice a number of issues from the above list being present in a child it is certainly worth considering whether the child is dyscalculic, and then if you feel that is the case, proceeding to one of the tests for dyscalculia on our site.
There are details of our on line test which can be administered by teachers on this website while if you are a parent considering the situation relating to your son or daughter there is further information that you may find helpful here.
Is it possible to diagnose dyscalculia without the individual taking a screening test?
By Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M.
Head of the Dyscalculia Centre
I believe that the answer to the question in the headline above is “only up to a point”. Without an individual doing a diagnostic test it is possible for a teacher or indeed parent to suspect that the child might be dyscalculic – especially if a range of symptoms associated with dyscalculia can be seen. But that is not the same as having a diagnosis.
And there is a secondary issue here – because suspecting that a child might have dyscalculia does not of itself help the child overcome the problem. What we need is to move from the suspicion that dyscalculia is present, across to an understanding of what should be done in terms of teaching the child maths.
What makes the issue more problematic is that it is quite possible than an individual child might also suffer from a related condition, such as ADHD, and the symptoms of one can mask the symptoms of the other.
It is, of course, more than likely that a child with dyscalculia will become frustrated by maths and describe the subject as boring, while blaming the teacher at the same time! And there is always the possibility that the child is quite simply not very good at maths – rather than suffering from a specific genetically inherited problem.
Now these differences can have a huge impact on the child – both in terms of work at school and life after school. Having dyscalculia means that the child simply doesn’t and won’t understand the issues raised in maths when taught in the normal way. Being “not very good at maths” means that with slower teaching, the child can gradually learn enough maths to be able to handle the sort of computations that arise in daily life.
A child who is not very good at maths will be able to learn how a timetable operates and how to play games that involves numbers. These activities may well be beyond the ability of the dyscalculic child, unless she or he has specific help.
What’s more, the problems that the dyscalculic child has can go beyond maths and can involve understanding the passing of time, telling the time (even with a digital clock), the properties of shapes, the notion of sequences, the concept of “zero” and so on.
Of course, in many ways it is possible get around these problems – but when they move into the issue of budgeting the family accounts as an adult the whole issue can get a lot more serious.
This is why it is important to discover early on if the child is simply poor at maths or possibly has dyscalculia. If it is the latter, then work should also be done with the child which considers issues beyond doing text book maths.
The Dyscalculia Centre offers a low-cost on-line test for dyscalculia. It is not in any way as definitive as a test administered by an educational psychologist, but it can be very helpful in guiding parents and teachers towards the areas of difficulties that the child is experiencing, and suggesting if dyscalculia is likely to be the cause of these problems.
Growth mindset and dyscalculia
Two of the most common side-effects of dyscalculia are low self-esteem and low self-confidence, and it is widely recognised that if these factors can be removed the individual can overcome his or her dyscalculia very much more quickly, than if those factors stay in place.
Unfortunately, those of us who work with children and teenagers with dyscalculia quite naturally focus on helping these children to handle mathematics – and although we may well do our best to help overcome the impact of low self-confidence we generally can’t find the time to do that much in this area. We are too busy focussing on the dyscalculia itself!
Meanwhile the same problem arises for the parent – daily life is busy, the parent may well be out at work, there may well be other children in the house all with their own needs.
But meanwhile the child is wondering why she or he can’t “get” basic maths. Is the individual really lazy or stupid? How come others can all do it so easily?
One very successful way of overcoming this dual problem of dyscalculia plus low self-esteem is the use of the “Growth Mindset” alongside a programme aimed at overcoming the effects of dyscalculia. With a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can be developed. It is not that they are doomed to be bad at maths forever because of their dyscalculia. That is merely the starting point from which they can grow.
Now this might seem to contradict the notion that dyscalculia is a genetic problem and as such cannot be “cured”. That is indeed true, but if the way the child’s brain works is seen simply as a starting point, then further progress can be made.
The problem we have is that in many situations the “growth mindset” is missing – and this makes it incredibly difficult for the dyscalculic child to move forward. And the problem can be reinforced if the parent is saying, “Don’t worry about spelling; I was never any good at maths and I’ve done all right.”
That seems reassuring in a way, but it also creates a barrier against progress.
So this idea of “Growth mindset” gives us a problem – it seems to go against the traditional vision of dyscalculia. But even if it can work, can it be used in a practical way in the school?
In fact a wide range of research shows that the adoption of a “growth mindset” programme in a school can help all the pupils and students in the school. It is easy to introduce, can be applied with a large number of pupils and students and it can help progress to be made with a whole range of difficulties that pupils and students might face.
The improvement in student learning among those who have undertaken a simple growth mindset programme is an increase in the rate of learning of around 20% - all for a few hours a year spent studying the growth mindset programme - a phenomenal achievement.
Indeed, as the TES review of the subject concluded in a review at the end of 2019, “such interventions would appear to be among the most cost-effective things that schools can do to increase student achievement.”
In fact even a single one-hour growth mindset intervention programme can have a phenomenal impact.
In such work, challenge seeking is established within the school – and different children work on different personal challenges. The children undertake a series of challenging courses – and through these they learn that they can indeed change and improve their lives. This then in turn encourages them to challenge themselves over the issue of dyscalculia. They are still dyscalculic, but now they believe that they can work with their dyscalculia so that it does not hold them back.
As the TES article concluded, “Growth mindset interventions are more effective when students in the school, on average, are more open to undertaking challenging tasks”. (TES 13 December 2019).
In essence “Growth mindset” is the idea that, with effort, it's possible to increase intelligence levels, talents, and abilities and overcome specific difficulties. Students who demonstrate a growth mindset believe their abilities develop over time, tend to seek out opportunities to gain new knowledge and broaden their skills, and do not typically shy away from challenges." (Kazakoff & Mitchell, 2017).
Against this, within the “fixed mindset” concept is the view that intelligence and issues related to specific problems such as dyscalculia are static, leading students to believe that their ability to progress is based not on their application and hard work but on whether they possess the required abilities.
Clearly the dyscalculic child does not have the ability to learn to undertake certain mathematical challenges, and so the child shies away from the challenges inherent with being dyscalculic.
According to Kazakoff & Mitchell, "Students who possess a fixed mindset are often preoccupied with the notion of high performance and will seek opportunities where they can prove their skills while avoiding situations where their weaknesses might be revealed." That of course does not help the dyscalculic child overcome her or his dyscalculia.
- perform better than students with a fixed mindset, significantly outscoring them in the areas of maths and literacy;
- are more likely to recognize the importance of effort in academic success;
- seek out challenging academic tasks to enhance learning; and
- value critical feedback.
Pupils and students with a growth mindset are generally given an education that incorporates nine separate approaches which are based on these points
1. Provide attainable challenges.
2. Give opportunities to face obstacles.
3. Teach and model good attitudes.
4. Teach how to accept constructive criticism.
5. View failure as learning.
6. Provide group learning opportunities.
7. Celebrate Successes and Minimize Failures.
8. Provide Opportunities to Celebrate the Success of Others.
9. Teach perseverance and the power of YET – as in you can’t do this yet, but keep going.
Thus a course for dyscalculic pupils or students can work alongside the teaching of the growth mindset so that the dyscalculic individual comes to believe that she or he is not pre-destined to fail, but is able to succeed, the success is more likely to be achieved, and will be achieved more quickly. The growth mindset in short greatly speeds up the learning programme, by giving the pupil or student the belief in ultimate success.
Dyscalculia, behaviour and personality
To be perfectly clear, you cannot tell if a person is dyscaculic just by looking at her or his behaviour or personality any more than you can tell is an individual is going to excel at football by considering his or her literacy ability.
There is in fact no dyscalculia pattern of behaviour, save a difficulty with handling numbers – not least because the behaviour that an individual exhibits can be something that is related to the person’s genetics or to something learned in the early years at home or to something learned at school.
Thus we can find that an individual who clearly is intelligent but reveals an ability with maths which is much lower than we might expect given that intelligence, may also be very disorganised, having a desk or bedroom (or later in life an entire house) which is completely chaotic.
But equally we can find dyscalculic people who are compulsively orderly and who really don’t like to have anything out of place.
Likewise we might find that a dyscalculic child in class is one who is very quick to blurt out silly remarks which can get a laugh from the rest of the class (and disrupt the lesson). Yet other dyscalculic people become very quiet and withdrawn in class, perhaps embarrassed that they cannot undertake simple calculations.
From this we might anticipate that the former child is very “playing the fool” to avoid being laughed at by classmates because of his or her inability to add up or multiply, while the other is ashamed of the inability to do long division when everyone else can and so is withdrawing from the world in order to try to hide an inability to learn which she or he cannot understand.
Going further some dyscalculic children are known to be very light sleepers, while others are deep sleepers. Some are sensitive to some foods and some not.
In other words – dyscalculia can be associated with a whole range of other visible health, personality and behaviour indicators. But these are not directly signs of dyscalculia. The only thing that indicates dyscalculia is the inability to learn to undertake mathematical calculations at a level and speed that one would expect for an individual with that level of intelligence.
Thus we have to realise that some of these features of the child’s behaviour might well be genetically related to the dyscalculia, but others not.
The only way to tell if a person has dyscalculia is to have the individual undertake a test for dyscalculia. And indeed, if you want an indicator to see if dyscalculia is likely to be the cause of a failure to learn how to spell at a rate that one might expect given the individual’s intelligence, then our online test can be a useful guide.
But if you want a definitive test then you will need to see an educational psychologist who specialises in dyscalculia. You can find details of educational psychologists from the British Psychological Society and the Association of Educational Psychologists, both of whom have web sites with helpful information.
However having a formal test with a psychologist can be expensive, and simply being diagnosed does not mean that the individual automatically becomes better at doing maths. You still need to find a teacher who is specialised in helping dyscalculics. This is why as an alternative we offer our own online testing service – it is lower in price, but will still give a specialist teacher an indication of where the problems lie and how they might be overcome.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M. Head of the Dyscalculia Centre.
About The Dyscalculia Centre
The Dyscalculia Centre was set up in 2001 by Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M., as an operation that could assist schools and individuals interested in obtaining information about dyscalculia in general, supplying materials that help teachers support those who have dyscalculia, and offering a preliminary diagnostic test which pupils and students can take in order for teachers to gain guidance as to whether dyscalculia is a likely cause of the individual’s difficulties with maths.
Within this context it must be noted that it is not possible to diagnose dyscalculia through an on-line test, but rather the use of an on-line test can often give an indication of whether is likely to be the cause of a person’s problems with maths and can suggest how this might be overcome.
Where dyscalculia is suspected materials are provided free of charge which can be used by a teacher to help the individual in specific areas of his or her maths studies, as appropriate to the individual.
The Centre thus operates as a way of obtaining information about dyscalculia in general and introductory information about an individual’s possible dyscalculia, without schools or parents having the expense of calling on the services of an educational psychologist. Our advice, however, is that if the materials that the Centre provides do not help the individual start to overcome his/her difficulties then the help of an educational psychologist would be more appropriate.
The Dyscalculia Centre also operates a free advice service which is used by parents, teachers and professionals beyond the teaching profession around the English speaking world. In our early years we ourselves consulted with the DDIG group at Loughborough University, and we have since offered support and advice where requested to professionals and organisations as diverse as the state prison service of Arizona, prison officials in the UK, schools throughout the English speaking world, and GPs within the UK.
A wide range of articles on dyscalculia can be found on our website, and individual questions from interested parties are answered to the best of our ability without charge. However it must be recognised that a complete and detailed individual diagnosis of an individual’s situation vis a vis dyscalculia is not possible via an on-line service, and where an individual has very detailed or specific problems, or indeed multiple problems, an educational psychologist specialising in dyscalculia should be consulted.
Tony Attwood continues to oversee the service, and Tony continues personally to seek to answer questions about dyscalculia which are within the scope of the work of the Centre. However as noted above, where there are more detailed issues related to a specific individual, which are not covered by the scope of our on-line diagnostic test, such questions should be directed towards an educational psychologist specialising in the field who will be able to meet the individual and draw up an individual diagnosis.
Tony is the author of many of the articles on dyscalculia on our website, which are re-published from other sources, on our website, along with a number of original articles which arise from questions that are sent in by teachers and parents. You can find the latest articles on https://dyscalculia.me.uk and some of the earlier pieces on http://dyscalculia.me.uk/articles.html