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England’s largest early years membership organisation, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, has criticised a study from the Institute of Education (IOE) for only focusing on children aged five and upwards.
The study, which saw the IOE collaborate with the National Children’s Bureau and the London School of Economics and Political Science, looked at the impact of school life on children with physical and learning disabilities, finding that behavioural problems increase for these youngsters during the ages of 3 and 7.
In response, the IOE wants to see schools focus on more robust anti-bullying policies for children with special needs, as well as stressing that parents also need help and intervention during this challenging time.
Alliance chief executive, Neil Leitch, comments: “This study clearly highlights the importance of ensuring that children with disabilities or special educational needs are given adequate support in their earliest years.
“However, children’s educational experiences do not start at school at age five. The vast majority of three- and four-year-olds attend some kind of early years provision, and so we would have liked to see the study take into account the impact of pre-school experiences on emotional and behavioural development as well. Given that the research found that the behaviour of both disabled and non-disabled children tends to improve between the ages of three and five, before subsequently declining at six, it may well be that schools should be looking to early years providers as examples of good practice in this area.
“We believe that it’s vital that all providers, whether maintained or non-maintained, have a strategic approach to addressing behaviour issues in young children, including those with disabilities and/or SEN. This, alongside a commitment to working in partnership with parents, is key to preventing behavioural and social issues later on in childhood.”
On the impact of school life, researchers say: “Our findings suggest that some early school environments may exacerbate behavioural problems for disabled children in ways that cannot solely be solved by learning support – because the underlying issue is behavioural rather than cognitive.
”Many disabled children find it increasingly difficult to engage with the social world as they pass from toddlers to the mid-primary school age. They also struggle with structured social contexts such as school. We need to gain a better understanding of the effects that schools have if we are to develop environments that do not, in effect, disable children further.”