Potential Plus UK is a national charity that supports many neurodivergent young people with high learning potential. We work collaboratively with parents/carers, teachers, other professionals and the young people themselves to ensure that they receive appropriate support and provision for their educational and wellbeing needs.

We are responding to the Department for Education’s 2022 green paper ‘SEND review: right support, right place, right time’ as a majority of the young people we support will be impacted by the decisions taken. We want to use this opportunity to aid the Westminster government in making fundamental changes that will help these young people to thrive educationally, socially and emotionally. We want to ensure that these young people are not measured as ‘failures’ in the system or against a ‘minimum standard’ but have the right for not only their barriers to learning, but also their abilities and strengths to be identified and supported.

In a survey carried out by us over one week in June 2022, there were 233 respondents:

81% of the young people supported by Potential Plus UK, who have been identified as having high learning potential, had suffered from anxiety. In addition to this, 34% of them had suffered from other mental health issues.

A high percentage of these young people have at least one additional need, with 77% having sensory issues, 51% ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and 31% ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

32% of parents felt compelled to seek an EHCP (Education Health Care Plan) to try to meet their child’s needs.

23% of parents had to make the decision to home educate because their child’s educational and wellbeing needs were not being met in school.

The parents of 38% of young people supported by Potential Plus UK said that their current school does not meet their child’s high learning potential needs at all. Only 9% said that the school met their child’s needs completely.

The parents of 32% of young people with high learning potential, supported by Potential Plus UK, said that their current school does not meet their child’s SEN (Special Educational Needs) or additional needs at all. Only 17% said that the school met their child’s needs completely.

Beyond the statistics there are heart-wrenching stories about the negative impact of inappropriate provision for high learning potential and special educational needs on the mental health of our young people.

What comes out strongly from the survey is that although the child’s high learning potential might be identified early, their strengths and abilities mask their SEN or additional needs, meaning that these are frequently not identified until secondary age. This is similarly the case when SEN masks their abilities. This not only leads to inappropriate provision and support by the school but leaves the young person with questions about their identity, feeling isolated and with severe repercussions on their mental health.

The key points that Potential Plus UK will put to the Westminster Government are:

  • High learning potential should be identified early and used as an indicator for masked SEN/additional needs
  • Teacher training is essential to aid understanding, identification and provision
  • Young people with high learning potential and SEN often present differently and can require different approaches
  • There must be balanced support and provision for both the learning barriers and the strengths of young people with high learning potential and SEN or additional needs
  • There must be a strengths-based approach that recognises the potential of these young people and supports them to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.

About the author: Julie Taplin is the Chief Executive of Potential Plus UK. After graduating from university in German and Business Studies, Julie gained her Diploma in Marketing and worked for a multi-national company in Hamburg before moving into the charity and education sectors in the UK. Julie has worked for Potential Plus UK since 2005 and been its Chief Executive since 2018.