Parents are too quick to resort to the use of medication to deal with unruly behaviour, Amanda Spielman, the UK’s chief inspector of schools, has told the Times.
Responding to a report that the number of prescriptions for drugs like Ritalin for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had doubled in the last 10 years, Spielman said:
The fact that it seems to have become the norm for a whole swathe of the social structure to medicate as a response to behavioural problems feels like a very big warning signal.
If there’s that many behavioural problems, what is it telling us about what ought to be preventable?
Is it located in the family? Is it located in the education or the peer group? You don’t just want to try to block out the symptoms, you want to say, is there something that can be solved?
But writing in the Guardian Daniel Lavelle, who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six and prescribed Ritalin, defended the use of medication.
Spielman’s comments, he said, were commensurate with a growing hysteria around ADHD and the revelation that some students use drugs such as Ritalin to help hone their concentration.
‘Far from being dangerously common, ADHD has been found to be woefully under-diagnosed and is reportedly costing the UK taxpayer billions of pounds every year,’ he said.
If the condition is missed in childhood — and it often is — then it has been proven to lead to long-term unemployment, difficulties in forming relationships and to other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
ADHD is not an imaginary condition concocted by a cabal of embarrassed middle-class parents. There are now objective tests for the condition. Ritalin can be an effective drug when prescribed properly at the correct dosage — it is not a “chemical cosh”.
The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), which Spielman heads up, is currently developing a new Education Inspection Framework, which it will be using from September 2019 and will be consulting on from January.
In a recent speech at the Bryanston Education Summit she acknowledged that the ideal school inspection for parents would include a greater focus on behaviour, and that, ‘Enabling proper parental choice means telling them more about what life will be like for their child in a school.’
At the Wellington Festival of Education, she returned to the topic saying she would like to see behaviour get the attention it deserves in school inspections, ‘probably through a separate behaviour and attitudes judgement’.
She also backed the use of sanctions as part of a school’s behaviour policy and said low level disruption should receive the same attention as serious disruption and bullying.
She added that there was ‘no doubt’ that technology has made the challenge of low-level disruption worse and said she supported recent calls to back heads who have banned mobile phones in their schools.
‘The place of mobile phones in the classroom seems to me dubious at best,’ she concluded.
Spielman’s comments follow an earlier call by Culture Secretary Matt Hancock for more schools to ban mobile phones. In an article for The Telegraph he said:
I admire headteachers who do not allow mobiles to be used during the school day. I encourage more schools to follow their lead. The evidence is that banning phones in schools works. Studies have shown mobile phones can have a real impact on working memory and fluid intelligence, even if the phone is on a table or in a bag.