Gove’s Vision for Education & Special Needs

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The title is a misnomer, actually, because I am referring to a vision that Michael Gove set out at a debate on special needs on 1st February 2010, prior to the General Election and the formation of the Coaltion Government.

In a rather roundabout way, I have come across my notes from this meeting, which I attended on the invite of Michael Gove and Sir Robert Balchin, at the Westminster Debating Hall just over one year ago.

Generally, I would say I am more efficient in my note-taking and store endless notes and files on numerous visits and meetings, not always with an end outcome in mind,  but in the event that in such an eventuality, they are available.  In this instnace, I am remiss, because, despite there being much that is of interest here in filling a few gaps for me in my understanding regarding this Coaltion Government’s view on SEN, I clearly failed to do anything with the notes I made at the time.

So, here are very abbreviated notes that arise from a debate on special educational needs, on 1st February 2010, at Westminster, from a range of speakers on the day, and from Michael Gove’s key note speech to his audience. It was actually, an inspiring day because it brought together the diverse views of many who would not normally stand shoulder to shoulder, or see eye to eye, on such matters and raised, for genuine debate, many important issues.

Where I have quoted extracts, as much as I can reliably ensure, these are verbatim, taken from Michael’s Gove’s, or others, address on that day and reflect phrases or words emphasised in some way.

Michael Gove set out a vision for the future of special educational needs that emphasised the need for parents to be in the driving seat, that lessened the adversarial nature of the tribunal system.

Gove commented that it is not necessarily about a need to lower ‘expections of academic achievement’  but that it may be necessary to ‘adjust our expectations’. There are many genetic, environmental as well as educational factors influencing special needs. There is a need to separate out special needs, disability and medical conditions, needs that are not usually clearly defined.

Groups of parents, including charitable trusts, should be able to fund and create new specialist schools based on models developed in Sweden and the USA, to replace the 9,000 special school places lost over the past decade.

Schools that have been deemed outstanding at Ofsted inspection, should have the right to be self-governing Academices. Maintained special schools could also take advantge of that move to Academy status.

At this point, the mother of a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder was asked to describe her experiences of setting up a school for her child with ASD.  This school is now known as the Rainbow School. Forgive that I do not have in my notes the name of the lady speaking. Here is an extract from the Rainbow School site –

“The Rainbow School is an independent special needs school for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Rainbow School is located on two sites (primary and secondary) in Wandsworth, South West London and was founded in 2000 by parents of children with autism.

Rainbow was the third school of its kind to be opened in UK, the School offers a structured programme of intensive intervention based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Verbal Behaviour(VB). We provide pupils with a broad and balanced specialised curriculum adapted from the National Curriculum. All of our pupils receive one to one teaching throughout their day, as well as opportunities for small and large group work.

We are a non-profit making charity (no. 1082599) registered with the Department of Children, Schools and Families, (no. 212/6405). We are also registered as a company in England and Wales (no. 4041459)

Founded in 2000 we can currently accommodate up to 20 children with diagnoses of ASD from 5-12 years.

From September 2010 we have received DfE approval to cater for up to 50 children and young people with autism”

My notes include the following comments from this speaker:

‘The new school was established initially in a pre-fab hut on the site of a mainstream school. It began with 3 chhildren, and was not classed as a school initially because the numbers were too few.

In September 2002, there were 4 children attending and in 2010, there are 18 – 20 children within the existing space. Planning pupil intake and finding premises has been the biggest challenge. Colleagues in special schools have been very supportrive. The biggest challenge to the schools future has been money & premises.

This new school took on a big gamble in taking on commercial debt to fund new premises to enable up to 50 children to attend. The progress children are making in this school is incredible.’

A further contribution to Gove’s speech was made at this stage in the meeting by Mr Chapman, the Head Teacher of a Special School and the first to seek Grant Maintained status in the early 1970s. At that time, central costs of running the school went from 13.1% to 1% of the overall budget. All teachers were required to take on further training in SEN – (I have this recorded as a PGCE in SEN, but I am uncertain if my note-taking is accurate here).

Inclusion is often interpreted in very politically correct terms. Mr Chapman is a strong advocate of inclusion that includes an access to social activities, to education, to a community. Examples given included taking part in country dance lessons in a wheelchair. There is a need for ‘legitimate peripheral participation’. It is quite okay for young people to be to be on the periphery of an activity, participating on own terms.

Local Authorities use the argument of the Every Child Matters agenda to prevent an individual approach to inclusion. The concept of ‘congruence’ is used as a controlling mechanism by Local Authorities. There is the possibility of greater autonomy for special schools that is not always compatible with the needs of Local Authorities to provide unified services.

Back to Michael Gove’s address.

Local Authorities like to control ‘change and development’. Many children with special educational needs need not be on the SEN register. There is a ‘system generated population’ of children, for e.g. everyone falling below national expectations of Key Stage SATs targets is assumed to have special educational needs.

There are perverse incentives for schools to have more children on the SEN register – value added means that schools can go up in the league table ladder, for including more childrne with special educational needs. Many schools play the funding game.

The Conservative Party ‘Commission on Special Needs in Education’ proposes to lift assessment of SEN out of the processes for SEN. A proposal to procure the services of a willing provider of assessment.

The Special Needs Profiles (SNPs) promoted in the Commission on Special Needs in Education, would replace the current system of Statements of SEN.

State funded special schools often do not cater for the most challenging pupil needs, which are then met by out of authority private providers at high cost.

Many examples were given from the ‘audience’ of examples of out of county placements, and I noted at this stage in the debate, there was the first sign of a heated exhange, as many of those attending wished to give their perspectives, as parents of childrnen with SEN, as Head Teachers of Special or Mainstream Schools, and as heads of various services, about the failure of mainstream and state-maintained special schools to meet individual needs.

Examples given included – the funding of an out of county provision at £70,000 per year for a young man with ASD, where a local autism unit at a cost of £11,000 failed to meet this young person’s needs.

A speaker from Youth Justice argued that the cost of keeping a young person in a prison or young offender institution averged at £400,000 per year (a figure reading back on my notes I find hard to believe, but have no good reason to doubt my accuracy). An argument was put forward for much earlier intervention and support by CAMHS (Children and Adults Mental Health Services). A comment was made that there are many individual providers meeting individual needs, but the battle is for a greater value for money in provision and outcomes.

There was much debate around the need for joined up thinking and shared funding between Health, Education and Social needs and around the needs of parents and children in rural communities not to be neglected, where often, their access to specialist provision lay in schools that were very far removed from the locality. An example was given that typically, in Norfolk, a young person must travel around 100 miles per day to access maintained day, specialist provision.

Michael Gove responded to some individual questions, in particular, to comments around the joined up service delivery of Education and Health.  He stressed the importance of creating services and supportive environments in the early years, including work with parents to prevent social deprivation being a further factor in a young person’s life.

Discussion moved back to Special Schools. Where special schools show they are excellent or outstanding at Ofsted inspection, they can consider (under Conservative plans) converting to Academy status.

The need for a key worker to be involved in the life of all children with special needs was discussed with ideas mooted for the increased role of the Health Visitor in playing a key part.

Michael Gove gave a plea for all intersted parties to make a response to the Conservative Party Commission on Special Needs in Education, with the comment that there is a need for all to be very specific and precise in focus and argument in responding to the Commission’s report as ‘it is details that change strategy and policy.’

And here we reach the end of my notes, and my little nostalgia trip for the past and for a glorious opportunity that helped me feel a part of that wider debate on education, and special needs. I do feel very privileged to have been invited to attend and take part on that day, an occasion that I found very inspiring and worthwhile.

Reading back on these notes and creating this blog post on the basis of my recall and still, untidily assembed notes, I am drawn to a certain caution, about the accuracy of all the finer detail, and who precisely was speaking when that was said, or that…

I am also drawn to a strange sense of deja vu, as many events and conferences I’ve attended of late, have expressed very similar sentiment and views, to those expressed by Michael Gove, on 1st February 2010, long ‘ere the General Election and his rise to Education Secretary as part of the Coalition Government. In particular, I am struck by the remarkably similar findings of the Ofsted Review of SEND in the Summer of 2010.

Much to mull over. Do leave your thoughts. I shall endeavour to contact the Rainbow School and establish the accuracy of my note taking and who was the speaker for the day. If there is anything here you feel merits revision or is stated inaccurately, please do let me know and I shall be keen to revise.

with my regards.

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