The following is my first article published by The British Psychological Society in Assessment & Development Matters, Vol 3 No 1 Spring 2011 – http://www.bps.org.uk/
I was asked to extend my thoughts on a particular conference speech I had given for the Westminster Education Forum on ‘Next Steps for Special Educational Needs’. I have hoped to capture and crystalize my thoughts on on our current educational climate and some of the key concerns of our age.
Inclusion or Special Schools – the Future Direction for Policy
Mainstream or special school – thoughts on a need for a fresh perspective
This article is written prior to the publication of the Department for Education’s Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). My interest lies in how our discourse around SEN has been constrained so that the language of failure of policies or doubt in our ideology is erased from the equation. Whatever the outcomes, our inclusion agenda endures as an untarnished ideal, enshrined in a climate of fear that permeates all areas of decision making: a fear of offending current political sensibilities; of dissent and tribunals; of league-tables and Ofsted ratings.
Provision v placement
What has been lost in this past decade is a capacity for open discussion between all stake-holders of issues relating to effective provision for young people with SEN against a relevant curriculum, within appropriate settings. These issues extend far beyond notions of mainstream or special school and extend to issues of curriculum, of current examination and qualification systems and of external school support for SEN.
This lack of capacity is compounded by a rapidly changing landscape whereby 2,662 establishments have opened since 1997. In the same period, 4,420 schools have closed, including over 200 maintained special schools, an action that has sent sharp messages to schools and parents about the desirability and sustainability of specialist provision. Hard hit has been provision for pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties, with specialist and enhanced resource provisions closing their doors to future intakes.
Issues of provision have dominated the agenda at the expense of much-maligned issues of placement. The gulf that exists between mainstream and special education is exacerbated by a curriculum that serves the needs of our SEN population poorly, affording them neither academic success nor technical or vocational skills or qualifications.
|Number of establishments opened in England since 1997||Number of establishments closed in England since 1997|
|Type of establishment|
|City technology college||0||City technology college||12|
|Community special||172||Community special||374|
|European schools||2||European schools||0|
|Foundation special||0||Foundation special||5|
|Voluntary aided||208||Voluntary aided||316|
|Voluntary controlled||106||Voluntary controlled||218|
|Non-maintained special school||19||Non-maintained special school||14|
|Independent mainstream school||532||Independent mainstream school||779|
|Independent schools catering wholly or mainly for pupils with SEN approved under Section 347 of the 1996 Education Act||19||Independent schools catering wholly or mainly for pupils with SEN approved under Section 347 of the 1996 Education Act||17|
|Independent schools catering wholly or mainly for pupils with SEN not approved under Section 347 of the 1996 Education Act||372||Independent schools catering wholly or mainly for pupils with SEN not approved under Section 347 of the 1996 Education Act||71|
|Grand total||2,662||Grand total||4,420|
(Source: Daily Hansard: Written answers – 6 November 2008 Column 766W)
Policy challenges and opportunities at school and Local Authority level
The following challenges arise from my work at the chalk-face with schools, pupils and families and in collaborative and consultancy work with public and private sector services:
- Discussions of placement, erased from the agenda, must re-enter the discourse of children’s needs
- There is a need for an informed school workforce with an understanding of the breadth and range of SEN and high expectations of success for all pupils. “Even for pupils at School Action Plus level and with Statements … provision was often not meeting their needs effectively, either because it was not appropriate or not of good quality or both.” (HMI Ofsted, 2010)
- There is a need to reduce an emphasis on identification of SEN based on literacy and numeracy attainment at key stages, where that may not in itself denote a special need
- The needs of many young people with behaviour, emotional and social development (BESD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), frequently marginalized in our schools, should be prioritized where evidence indicates these categories of SEN are our long-term and high-cost SEN “…pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD) were disadvantaged in that they were the least likely to receive effective support and the most likely to receive support too late.” (HMI Ofsted, 2006)
- A move away from the ‘steam-roller’ approach to inclusion that prioritises mainstream inclusion even where a young person’s access to that education is curtailed through exclusion or other means, will support greater collaborative working. This challenge was outlined by Ofsted in 2006: “Mainstream and special schools continued to struggle to establish an equal partnership. Good collaboration was rare.” (HMI Ofsted, 2006)
- There is a need to act accountably and recognize that the collective silence of LA services about the quality and reality of mainstream SEN provision and outcomes for many young people is not helpful
- The need to plan for long-term pupil needs is paramount in our strategic and financial planning. This remains a challenge several years after The Audit Commission’s Local Government Summary stated that “Council budgets are rarely based on the full unit cost of forecast need, and financial planning does not often extend beyond one year.” (Local Government Summary 2007)
- Recognizing local, regional and national educational establishments, including independent sector special schools offering residential 38 or 52 week care and education, should form a continuum of provision to guide our decision making in meeting pupil needs.
There is a need to distance ourselves from the constraints of the past, from the chains of the inclusion agenda. We all play a part in focusing attention on what matters: securing a quality of education, of life chances and opportunities for young people with SEN. It should be permissible, possible and desirable to consider issues of provision, of a relevant curriculum and of placement. Only when we can truly state the reality of a situation, can we plan for a more flexible and effective approach to managing pupil special needs.
‘The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review: A Statement is not enough.’
HMI Ofsted Ref: 090221/2010
Inclusion: does it matter where pupils are taught?
HMI Ofsted Ref: 2353/2006)
Out of Authority Placements for Special Educational Needs –
SEN Audit: Local Government Summary 2007