It’s time the tide turned and all schools began to champion their work with children who have SEND. In fact, it’s time the government began to champion schools who look after and educate our most vulnerable children. Clearly, according to the school accountability measures, some children matter more than others.
Those children who are predicted to have a positive Progress 8 score obviously matter more than others!
SEND is in trouble!
Too many mainstream schools are declaring that they cannot meet the needs of students with Statements or EHC Plans; Special schools are full; PRUs are full; millions of pounds are being spent on educating children in independent specialist provision. This will only change if schools are ‘credited’ for their work with vulnerable children. Let’s start to give recognition to those schools with high percentages of SEND. Let’s shout from the roof tops about those schools with challenging cohorts who have low exclusions and inclusive practice.
‘These schools get extra money’ I hear you cry. Yes, they do get Pupil Premium and extra SEN funding, but is it really enough?
We all know that mainstream pupil funding is not fair or equitable across the country. The government are currently in the process of (hopefully) putting this right. However, we also have a SEND post code lottery. Funding levels for pupils in the SEN system vary wildly from authority to authority. Special school provision is inconsistent and in some areas non-existent! Pupils are forced to travel miles to schools away from their own communities or experience being placed in schools that are not equipped to meet their needs. In many areas children experience fantastic provision and an excellent education. We just need this to be the case for all and not just for some.
Ofsted could really make a start with this one. A framework for inspection that credits schools for their high numbers of vulnerable learners would have immediate impact. It would change the level of stress and pressure on head teachers instantly. Rational and experienced head teachers are being forced to make decisions about their cohorts and admissions because they fear for their jobs. If teachers’ and leaders’ salaries were higher for working in these schools, they would attract the most talented and committed professionals. If the government had a league table based on inclusion, then we would solve the problem overnight. Why can’t we look closely at accountability and make sure that schools with high numbers of SEND learners are not penalised through our fragile accountability measures.
Parents with children who have SEND need to have confidence in their local community school, whether an academy or otherwise. Children with SEND need to be at school with their friends and peers from their own communities. If a parent gets the slightest inclination that the local school is not 100% committed to their education, then they will select another school. This means that schools can easily prevent SEND children from attending. After all, it’s the parent’s choice that counts. Why would a parent ever even consider sending their child to a school that intimates, even slightly, that it cannot meet their child’s needs?
Moral purpose, values and statutory responsibility are being eroded on a daily basis in our schools. Until our accountability system aligns with inclusion then this will only get worse. As complexity of need increases then so does the pressure on the school system. More intervention is required and more pastoral care is essential. Schools are mopping up the mess left by the slashing cuts to public services. Schools are becoming the one-stop-shop for care and intervention. Just recently the government have rightly acknowledged the need to invest in mental health support for our young people. This is fantastic and long overdue, but once again it seems to be falling on the responsibility of schools. Let’s not train and embed specialist mental health practitioners in schools but instead let’s train our teachers to be mental health practitioners. Great idea considering they clearly have not got much else to do!
So, do some children matter more than others?
- Who are the most important children in your school?
- Do you, teachers or leaders, worry about the impact SEND children will have on your results?
- Do you consider their negative Progress 8 predictions and worry about your future?
- Do you look at the dates for the January school census and just wonder if there is any way you can get them off your school roll so they won’t count on your results?
- Do you worry about what Ofsted might say about pupil progress when resources are being directed in to SEND support, leaving you with the challenge of delivering the mainstream curriculum?
- Does your SENCo complete reviews under extreme pressure because they know that they will struggle to fund the necessary interventions knowing funding is tight?
- When you advertise in the local paper to attract new admissions do you say how great you are with SEND pupils, encouraging them to your school?
- Does your SENCo actively encourage SEND admissions at your open evening?
Lots of questions and no easy answers. I don’t blame head teachers for their decisions and choices relating to vulnerable, challenging and SEND children. I blame a system where some children seem to matter more than others.
Dave Whitaker is a special and alternative academies principal based in the northern England. He is a founder member of the Heads’ Roundtable: “Schools work best when adults believe in children and children believe they belie in them.”