exclusionA generation of children with learning difficulties are at risk of being left behind in school if extra government support isn’t put in place, a leading figure in the sector has claimed.

The warning came from ADHD Foundation CEO, Dr Tony Lloyd. Speaking at the ADHD Foundation annual conference in Liverpool, Dr Lloyd welcomed this week’s announcement by education secretary Nicky Morgan about new initiatives to improve academic attainment for children, including testing for 7-year-olds, but has asked that provision is put in place to protect the 24% of children in England with learning difficulties – including ADHD – so they are not denied the same opportunity to achieve their full potential in the classroom.

“This can only happen if there is greater emphasis and provision, so these children are identified within the first year of school and that schools actively support assessment processes to ensure early intervention,” Dr Lloyd said. “Without this commitment, many very gifted and able children with additional needs and learning difficulties will score poorly in tests and their educational prospects hindered.

“We also don’t want worried parents frantically chasing a diagnosis for their under 7-year-old, apprehensive that a diagnosis is the only thing that will guarantee their child the support they need.”

In her announcement earlier this week, Mrs Morgan announced plans to re-introduce national tests for 7-year-olds as part of measures aimed at tackling underachievement.

But Dr Lloyd has called on the government for the creation of “a 21st century education workforce” that is trained to understand the learning needs and mental health risks of children with learning difficulties, to ensure that these children have access to appropriate assessments of need.

“We want ministers from both health and education to ensure greater collaboration between schools and health providers so that these young people with mental health difficulties have access to the NICE guidelines multi-modal services,” he said.

The average cost of ADHD to health services is said to be more than £22,000 over a lifetime, but the cost to education services – at the period in life when the need is most acute in childhood – is just over £45,000. Dr Lloyd says this disproportionate weight on the education system urgently needs addressing, citing early intervention, better trained teachers and improved access to psychologists and clinicians to assess children, as imperative in improving outcomes for children and reducing long-terms costs to the state.