Category Archives: ADHD

On the exodus of pupils with SEN from state funded to private education


“Over the past decade the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in private schools has almost trebled, with an extra 52,594 taking places, according to a recent report by the Bow Group.

Some time ago I was asked to write a comment on the exodus of pupils with SEN from the state to the private sector. Before that request, I confess, I had not given this matter much thought. I was aware of many parents sharing concerns about their child’s stressful transition to secondary education, and about several local families who were considering private education for their sons and daughters, driven by a fear that if they did not act soon, they would not be in a position to choose, such were the troubles and problems they faced.

Here’s a link to a copy of the full report by the Bow Group –,%20the%20Truth%20about%20Inclusion.pdf

My own work and professional concerns more frequently lie with those young people whose lives are blighted by the double-edged sword of difficulty in addition to often deep-rooted social deprivation and lack of opportunity. I have raised my concerns this past 24 months with the Dept for Education and with Sarah Teather in particular, about the escalation of additoinally resourced provision, units, learning support centres, call them what you will, that house increasingly small numbers of pupils typically excluded from local mainstream schools. There lies a whole pandora’s box of trouble, and is a matter that disturbs me greatly.

But back to this request to add comment to an article for the Independent Executive ––  about the exodus of pupils with SEN from state funded to private education. Here is an extract from my article –

Many children and young people with special educational needs have been dealt a debilitating blow by both our previous and current Government and its educational policies. The inclusion agenda has been blindly adhered to, regardless of consequence, casualties or cost. There are many children and young people whose lives have been blighted by the inclusion agenda, which promises so much, but delivers so little. Discussions about education placement have been marginalized as issues of provision have come to the fore, so much so that in many local authorities, real and urgent debate about the future of young people excluded from mainstream schools is taken out of the public domain.

Mainstream secondary schools too frequently over-promise and under-deliver, when it comes to the reality of provision following primary-secondary transition. Parents are persuaded that the early difficulties their child experiences are settling in problems, transitory matters that will soon resolve themselves, but it is possible to anticipate that concerns on-going at six weeks after transfer, are likely to be more pressing concerns and difficulties, some six months later.

Parents who have been swayed by the hard-sell of mainstream secondary provision, are frequently disillusioned and disappointed by the lack of care and apparent concern of those professionals working in the school’s Inclusion or Special Needs Department for their child’s needs. The needs of the young person that were formerly prioritised by the primary school, are now sidelined by the secondary as other more urgent and challenging needs absorb all resources, time and personnel.

What our good private schools do well, is recognize the need that all parents have, for time to discuss their child, time to discuss the petty and minor concerns as well as those more significant matters, time to reflect on progress and celebrate success. It is this unburdening the load of parental responsibility, this joint sharing of concerns, that reassures and calms the parent who has reached a point beyond which, only trouble lies.  It is about giving time and attention to the needs of each and every individual.

Our state education fares poorly in comparision, although our best performing schools recognize that need to understand and know each and every child and each and every family, that make up its whole.

What parent wouldn’t be swayed, where a place in a private school is within reach, by the Headteacher who regards their child as an asset, as a cherished and valued member of the school community, over the Headteacher whose only contact with the parent is to issue warnings, to formalize parental contracts, to exert pressure… It sounds stark, unreal almost, a falsehood, but that is the reality some parents face – a visit here that reassures, a meeting there that terrifies and causes such a rush of anguish and concern.

The transition of a child from one school to another, house moves and relocations aside, almost invariably comes about after some crisis or breakdown in relationships, communications, confidence and trust. In my role as SEN Consultant, I have been invited to attend many multi-professional meetings, where the final outcome is a decision by the school to exclude a young person, to pass on the burden of responsibility to another, to exert such onerous conditions that the likelihood of a return to the same setting, is marginal.

As a parent, as an active member of my local community, I am aware of many parents who have felt a great sense of injustice, who have felt robbed of choice, compelled to accept ever more restrictive conditions, as their child’s problems at school escalate and the school closes its ranks and pulls up the drawbridge.

Both sides and courses of action, are understandable. It is this choice that parents seem to be making in their droves, where it is even remotely possible, to move a child from state funded to private education, that intrigues. Aside the Bow Group, I wonder how much more attention is given to this great and current matter?

Private schools that appreciate their true value and appeal to parents of children with special needs, may be in great demand as the exodus of children with special needs from the maintained to private sector is in its infancy.

The reform of our special needs system and the vast sweeping changes in our educational landscape may come far too late to restore hope to many parents who remain fearful for the future, and fearful for their children’s prospects of making a successful transition to adulthood and independence.

What parent, after all, does not want their child to have friends, to be a part of a community, to feel valued and wanted? What should be the birthright of us all, presents as an elusive dream to some.

My heart goes out to those young people whose difficulties render friendships problematic, whose learning needs isolate them from the social and academic lives of their peers, who  struggle to get by in an  often uncompromising environment.

I applaud the efforts of those school who take time to get to know not only the students in their care, but also their families, to really know and understand what is going on in that young person’s life. Private or state education – excellence comes in many forms. It is about who strives to make a difference.

 “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted…”

Mother Theresa of Calcutta



On fear and excitement – a child’s perspective


I’m clearing out my closet, so to speak, disturbing much that has lain undisturbed for some goodly duration. It is cathartic, and has left me wondering at some of the earlier work I have carried out with children and young people through service level agreements with schools near and far.

So here, vastly abbreviated, is the summing up of a project on transition planning for Year 6 pupils in UK primary schools, shortly before transfer to secondary education. The comments of one young man in particular, impressed me with their clarity and perception.

The project was based over a 6 week period on secondary transfer. This session is on fear and excitement. What it is we fear most in the transition to a new school and what it is that excites most, that may help banish some fears at least, to a far away place. 

Here is the response of George, aged 11 years. George has a combined diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with some specific learning difficulties.

I’m worried about –

  • Going to secondary school and not getting the work right
  • Getting told off for things that other children have done
  • Getting enough help – I don’t think I get much help anymore
  • Feeling some punishments are unfair because the teachers haven’t listened to me
  • My spellings and my literacy
  • New teachers not knowing me and my problems (my ADHD)
  • Sitting still and being told off for fidgeting even when I can’t help myself
  • Missing some teachers I’ve known for a long time
  • Having a good partner to work with in class – what if I don’t know anyone?

I’m excited and pleased about –

  • High School and finding some new friends
  • Collecting more football cards over the Summer
  • Getting some good comments and house points for my maths
  • Sports at the new school, football, swimming, cricket and hockey
  • Getting better at my spelling and writing with my Mum
  • Drawing and doing art lessons
  • Overcoming my dyslexia and getting better at reading and spelling

It is easy to think in this highly commercial age, that the wants and needs and aspirations of our young are material, about gain and acquisitions. I read through this project today and it was a salient reminder that for some young people, overcoming difficulties, having friends, feeling valued, having support needs met and fears allayed, are all-consuming desires.

We do well to heed the words of our young when they tell us what really is important, what matters. For when we do not listen, those needs will make themselves apparent by their actions, through fair means or foul, when words are no longer enough.

How Green Was My Valley?


Specialist Colleges for Young Adults with LDD: Our Past or our Future?

I have been privileged to discover something about the kinds of provision that may be offered within the rarefied world of the Specialist College for young adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD), most, if not all, under the protective arm of Natspec –

As I write this blog-post, the sun spreads its warmth through my study windows and BBC Radio 3 is playing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which seems most fitting, somehow.

I am pondering what part the specialist college may play in the mixed economy that is our provision for children and young people with special educational needs, post-the SEN Green Paper: Support and Aspiration. In doing so, I am trying to fathom if the ideals and values enshrined in such colleges, reflects our past or our future?

My knowledge of specialist colleges, of all the intricacies of their timetabling, their intake, their aspirations, their educational and vocational outcomes, is evolving. I owe a debt of gratitude to Ruskin Mill Educational Trust for opening my eyes to the wealth of opportunity that exists for many young people with LDD, post-16, and for inviting me to visit two of their specialist colleges , The Glasshouse College in Stourbridge, West Midlands and The Ruskin Mill College near Stroud, Gloucestershire. But to clarify, this blog is not a marketing pitch for either or a commissioned piece that will extol the virtues of both through rose-tinted spectacles. It is my observations and perceptions of what is happening to provision for young people with SEN/LDD as we rest on the precipice of a new order, post this long-awaited Green Paper.

How Green Was my Valley? I have taken the title of this blog from the1939 novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn. That sense of nostalgia, for a golden era, for the halcyon days of a youth long past, seems fitting.  In the landscape and setting of these specialist colleges, enhanced as many are by vast acres of farm and woodland, how can we not say, how green is my valley?


The view at Ruskin Mill College, Gloucestershire, gives a glimpse of the beauty and tranquillity of the landscape and of the harmony that exists in abundance in the natural world, with the helping hand of man –

How do we harness the glory of our natural heritage for the good of our young people with LDD yet still meet the demands of those who distribute funding or who sit in judgement of its outcomes – the Young Person’s Learning Agency (YPLA) and Ofsted respectively?

NATSPEC (The Association of National Specialist Colleges) is a membership of over 70 independent specialist colleges providing ‘inclusive further education for learners with complex learning needs and/or disabilities.’ Independent Specialist Colleges (ISCs) provide FE for over 3,800 learners who require a personalised learning programme and multi-disciplinary specialism and support to make their transition to adult life.

Whilst NATSPEC’s membership is modest and its provision across its 70 colleges, would seem to represent a very small minority of our students with LDD, the aspirations of many of its member colleges are high, celestially so, in some cases. Talk of accessing ‘the four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire through the three Kingdoms of Nature’ or of working with ‘hand, head, heart and place’ (Ruskin Mill Educational Trust – Vision, Values, Purpose and Method) abound in college literature. Frequently the influence of Rudolph Steiner, William Morris and others seeps through so that trying to understand the practicalities, of what actually happens, may be a slippery concept, something that detracts from the romantic rural idyll of these special places.

Yet ponder these matters I must.

The value of the specialist college in transforming lives

There is no doubting the value of the specialist college, that selection of the most appropriate educational placement, in transforming the lives of young people with LDD. I do not for one moment question that real transformations are taking place. What I query, perhaps, is how much difference this experience may make to the trajectory of that young person’s life, if after the three-year placement, the end outcome is a return to low-paid, subsistence level menial work, or at worst, a dependence on families, friends and the state for the next six decades of that person’s life?

How much more could be done for young people with recognized SEN /LDD if such experiences and placements, part-time or otherwise, could be made accessible at a much earlier stage in that person’s life – 14 – 16 years perhaps, or 11 – 16 years for some students?

What more could be done if, in addition to re-engaging students with learning and in that love of the land and purposeful work that is so enshrined in the values of many specialist colleges, there was also a redoubling of effort to achieve a higher level of academic skills, including business skills, so that the student left the placement with so much more than a craft or skill that, with the best of intentions, is little likely to lead to prosperity, despite the high price we attach to hand-made artisan goods.

It is a pity that the case studies provided by NATSPEC in ‘Celebrating Achievements’ have not included any student who has gone on to prosper, to earn their living, however precariously, by using the artisan skills they have acquired through their placement.

The American based site Common Good Market shows a remarkable dedication to promoting the work of many artisans and crafts people –  I do not know its equivalent in England, but this is surely inspirational stuff for the specialist colleges of England and Wales.

The co-founders of Common Good Products, Rick and Elizabeth Conrad, have, I believe in common with the ideals behind many specialist colleges, a notion that they are making a difference to the local economy, to driving social change by mindful choices about what they buy and produce.

We have fully committed ourselves to supporting and fostering a new vision about economic, environmental, and social change—by buying and promoting locally produced goods. 

This is why we decided to start Common Good Market. We hope you will join us in making a commitment to become more purposeful in the decisions we make about the products we buy for our homes and our families.’

Rick and Elizabeth Conrad, Co-Founders

Common Good Market

But here I am drifting from my theme.

I ponder how best the skills and competencies of these young people may truly be measured, if, as I have heard say, students may achieve a level of competency in some craft areas in six months, that is the equivalent of that achieved by apprentices, over a three-year placement? I would that there were so, and that there may be evidence that matches the claim, that holds tight to scrutiny, that has a value in the reality of the market place.

I must finally refer to a report that is remarkable in its claims, though unsurprising, and one that I am astounded has not attracted more media attention. I suspect the timing of its launch on 11th March 2011, shortly after the publication of the SEN Green Paper has not helped, and of course, I may be vastly underestimating its significant impact. It is the DEMOS report on The Forgotten Half – a Demos and private equity foundation report by Jonathan Birdwell, Matt Grist and Julia Margo. It is available to download for free from

The DEMOS report claims that whilst graduate unemployment has repeatedly hit the headlines since the start of the recession, it is the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university that are the least protected in the labour market.

‘The Forgotten Half explores the school to work transitions of these young people. It finds the educational offer is severely lacking and makes recommendations for how to provide the employment premiums that will give this forgotten half of young people a fair shot at the labour market.’

Of this 50%, a significant further percentage will have special educational needs and/or disabilities.

I said at the start of this blog that I am pondering what part the specialist college may play in the mixed economy that is our provision for children and young people with special educational needs. I do not know that I have answered that at all in my meanderings. I am sure of the place and value of these colleges. Perhaps, I am not convinced, that those who fund, who deliberate provision and placements, and commission services, are as aware as they could be of the high value of these specialist colleges.

I am not certain, also, if the colleges themselves truly appreciate their value in an increasingly competitive market-place with a vision that is not clouded by a sentiment for the past.

Special needs & inclusion – WEF speech


I was invited to speak at the Westminster Education Forum special needs seminar on 2nd November 2010, at the glorious home of the Royal Society, London, a splendid setting for a vigorous debate from the collective wisdom of many in education. 

I was asked to contribute, as one of a panel of five speakers, each giving their perspective on the state of SEN & Inclusion today.  Here is my contribution, which will later be published within the SEN seminar handbook through

WEF – SEN Provision – the next steps.

The prospect for change in our policy and direction is upon us.  Absolutely, we were sold a dream of an inclusive utopia, of an education system that was designed to meet the needs of all but a very small minority of children. That dream has become a living nightmare for many of our young people with special needs and for their families.

Localised interpretations of the inclusion agenda have constrained service professionals, many of whom, not much more than a decade before, were sending all and sundry to maintained specialist provision, according to the prevailing policies of the time.  

The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, driven by a flawed ideology that has dictated the practices and policy of many, at the expense of some of our most vulnerable young people.

We have some opportunity ahead to stem the tide of despair and frustration at the failure of our inclusion agenda, yet I fear we are in danger of becoming dazzled by the side-show of free-schools, that we forget where our attentions should lie.   

I hope we have some opportunity for change, for a new perspective that does not seek to distance itself from the past, but uses the past to inform our better understanding for the future.

Undoubtedly there were errors made in the past that condemned the lives of many young people to one, where a bleakness of outcome, a dearth of opportunity, became the norm through the move out of mainstream into specialist provision.

I recall, still, families who fled from a fear that their children’s lives would be blighted by the stigma of special school, made more unpalatable by their own experiences in the very same school not so many years before.

Ironically, now we see that a bleakness of outcome, a dearth of opportunity, exists for many young people whose needs have been marginalized in this drive to secure our inclusive utopia.  For them, opportunities to have an education and a curriculum that is fit for purpose, are few.  

I spoke of localised interpretations of inclusion that have driven an agenda to its extreme. Many young people with special needs are casualties of a hostile war of attrition in which parents’ battle on, frequently alone, against schools, local authorities and health and education professionals. There may be conflicting views on what constitutes appropriate provision between many services, but always, there is a united voice that promotes still the virtues of a mainstream education.

I am not talking about months of disrupted education, of temporary setbacks or minor defeats. I am talking about the many wasted, destructive years in the life of young people whose needs remain so poorly met and inadequately understood.

If such tight reins have been held over access to our within county, specialist provision, what chance our young people may benefit from the very great advances in specialist knowledge, treatment and education, our independent special schools, at their best, can offer?

Yet even here, at the end of the road, as it were, for our young people, there is a sense of resignation as we come to recognize that the majority of students entering 38 or 52 week residential care, will never achieve any real sense of independence or autonomy over their own lives.

Choose where we spend our finite resources, the needs of all should be our priority to address as early as possible. Where we scrape, pinch & economise, where we down-play, minimise & marginalise the needs of young people so their profile fits what may be possible to address in our mainstream schools, we do not do ourselves justice. We do not do our young people and their families’ justice.

There are many, whose needs have not been met, or have been met too late to make a difference. We see our evidence for this across a range of contexts, not least in –

  1. The increase in the number of exclusions from primary and secondary mainstream schools;
  2. The growth in our Additionally Resources Provision that could populate many a new school build;
  3. The increase in the number of tribunals over assessments and placements;
  4. The demand for places in our maintained specialist provision and
  5. The demand for 52 week residential special school places in the independent sector;
  6. The escalation of our NEET population;
  7. The pressure on our residential care services for young adults with special needs &
  8. The drive to increase capacity for life-long residential care for adults with special needs.

For young people, who may be born with an access all areas pass at birth, life presents challenges enough, without our burdening of their lives with the needs of others, in some mistaken belief that our actions will make virtuous saints of us all.  Children need their childhood.

The increase in strategies that use peer support to address special needs should alert us to the reality that many young people in our schools are placed with intolerable burdens of care for the needs of others.  

To be included, to be a part of a community, part of a society, big or small, we need to be able, as a very basic requirement, to commune with others, to have friendships. Many of our mainstream schools do not provide that community.

Perverse financial incentives drive many schools, desperate for secure funding, to hold onto young people with complex needs, long after the point at which their needs are being met.

However we dress up the language, however we parade the charade of inclusion, we do not do our best by our young people when we blindly follow an ideology that has failed a generation of our school population.      

I have chosen three policy challenges for government to address that matter to me personally:

(1)   The need to ensure that specialist services across health and education are available as a first priority, and not as a last resort, in our identification and assessment of special needs;

(2)   The need to move away from matching the most complex needs of young people with our least skilled and lowest paid members of the school workforce;

(3)   The need to take seriously the concerns of all young people, who fear for their safety and well-being in our schools, whether as a consequence of their own special needs, or as a consequence of the needs of others.

With my regards to you always

Heather M Stack