I read the article by Laura McInerney in the Guardian about the high percentage of excluded pupils who are also disabled and/or have Special Educational Needs (SEN), and the difference in exclusion rates between mainstream and special needs schools, and due to it being summer holidays I didn’t manage to share my thoughts before the newspaper closed the article for comments. I really want to though because so many of the comments remind me of the ones left for the Secret Teacher blog piece from May this year called “I’m all for inclusion in principle, but it doesn’t always work”. (I wrote about this here)
The particular comments which spring to mind from Laura’s article and the secret teacher piece are those which generally blame the child, so my first thought is that no amount of funding can change things when people (including teachers, headteachers and other participants in the ‘SEND system’) continue to demonise children who don’t fit neatly into the stereotypical ‘Special Needs Child’ box. It’s too easy, and dangerous to have a ‘mainstream’ vs ‘special needs’ culture, because it allows views of those with the potential to discriminate to go unchallenged, and let’s be straight, it’s discrimination when disabled children or children with SEN are treated like they don’t belong in a mainstream setting, just because the things that disable a child or prevent a child from learning are not being addressed. I think by always talking about funding when highlighting the numerous barriers faced by pupils with SEND just keeps the fire burning and we will keep on going around in circles.
As I understand it, mainstream schools are expected to fund the first £6k of a pupil’s SEN provision. What happens then is anyone’s guess in many schools, but what should be happening, either alongside the consumption of this £6k ‘pot’, or after it’s been used up (which is usually far too late), is a thing called statutory assessment.
1. Is this a fluid process where everyone is proactively preventing failure and planning for success by requesting/undertaking a statutory assessment? Not always.
Shift over to special schools, where funding is different, and pupils must have (had) a statement or be attending for the purposes of being assessed. It might have been that the special needs school received a fixed amount per place, which was there whether a child filled that place or not. It could be that staff who work in special schools have 2 pairs of hands, and can feed, hold resources, take to toilet, clean and dress 2 pupils at the same time, as is my theory for why 1:1 support often ‘isn’t necessary’ in special schools. This would be a major saving of funds.
2. Did/do special school pupils all have statements/EHCPs? No.
So if pupils (in any type of school) don’t have statements or EHCPs, which should detail specifically what the childs’ needs are and what provision is required, the funding element is irrelevant because at the point of ignoring and consequently not acting on a child’s SEN, that child is not receiving what he or she needs, to be on an equal footing. And equal footing doesn’t mean being the same, it means having the right support, when they need it, to make the most of the opportunities available to other children.
3. What is the reason for 1 and 2 above ie. pupils not being assessed or not having statements/EHCPs, other than not having SEN? Because it is allowed to go on, repeatedly, even though parents complain and appeal. Nothing is done about it.
If discriminatory and stereotypical views are allowed to prevail about where a disabled child/child with SEN ‘belongs’, (and in my view the slant of people with such generalised views is usually towards special schools), then views of what kind of ‘behaviour’ is appropriate must also be swishing round in there too. For example, a child who ‘makes noises’ is not going to be seen as being ‘disruptive’ in a class of, say, 10 children, 5 of whom also ‘make noises’. ‘It’s just what ‘they’ do’. However, in a class of 30, one child ‘making noises’ might be singled out as being disruptive, because that isn’t behaviour displayed by the majority (especially if the view of the school is that a child with those kinds of behaviours doesn’t belong in a mainstream school).
Ofsted don’t help either. Inspectors are not always highly skilled in assessing the area of SEN. In a special needs school, pupils could be sat around smoking pot and it would pass as outstanding because the kids were all very calm and relaxed. A disabled adult once told me he used to go to the cinema and he was able to just go in to see whichever film he wanted to, without paying, because no-one ever approached him for his ticket. Same goes for Ofsted. Because inspectors often don’t know much about equality duties, stuff just happens, and it goes unchallenged.
The bottom line for me is that until we get some accountability, which doesn’t involve parents having to go to a tribunal or initiating a judicial review, nothing will change. If LAs are not penalised for failing our children, they will not bother to assess. They won’t bother to issue a statement or EHCP. They won’t bother to specify provision. They won’t bother to ensure the provision is received. They won’t review the provision. This increases the chance of a child being ‘disruptive’, and excluded, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief because the opportunity to speak up on behalf of a vulnerable child who could lose someone their job has passed. ‘Behaviour’ can be in many forms, and not all behaviour requires changing. Often, dangerous behaviour is simply because needs are not being met, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent behaviour which becomes so distressing for the child that it ends up in exclusion, and they don’t involve funding: Tolerance, compassion, empathy, advocacy, friendship, respect. These things can’t be funded. People can’t be forced to be tolerant for example, but they can be held to account if they aren’t.
This is not about money and I’m worried the issue of ‘inclusion’ is becoming far more complicated than it needs to be; it’s about guts, courage and fearlessness, and I’m not talking about the child. If every parent, teacher, SENCO,headteacher, journalist, lawyer, came together collectively to stop what is I believe an out of hand situation, we might have a better chance of creating some new statistics.