Two years ago I wrote an article titled ‘Is Inclusion Over?’, in which I highlighted how, for the first time in 30 years, we weren’t just having to look at the ‘how’ of inclusion, but also revisit the ‘why’.
Having seen stories both then and now of children deemed unlikely to attain the heights of KS2 or EBacc tests being pushed out of schools, it suddenly seemed necessary to reassert the principles of equity and effective education underpinning the inclusion of children with special educational needs and disability in their schools and communities.
There’s a wider discussion to be had on the implementation of the SEND Reforms, and certainly more work to do on SEND funding – but further reforms and funding aren’t enough on their own. If we really want inclusion to work, then more consideration needs to be given to SEND learners and other vulnerable young people across all areas of education policy and practice.
Here, then, are my 10 proposals for improving SEND provision. They don’t involve allocating spend to a distinct ‘SEND policy’, but rather working collectively to shape developments currently affecting the education system as a whole.
1. Have a proactive minister
Give the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work – a role currently held by Sarah Newton – the responsibility of reviewing any government press release, statement or speech that mentions disability, to ensure that such messages are positive, inclusive and factually accurate. It could be argued that the government has been creating a ‘hostile environment’ for people with disabilities; it could take a significant step towards remedying that by proactively fostering a measurably more inclusive environment.
2. Have a proactive commissioner
Along similar lines, give the Children’s Commissioner the responsibility of reviewing every DfE policy. Publish impact assessments on the effects each policy might potentially have on children and young people with SEND, to which the DfE would have to respond.
3. Revise the training courses
Every workforce tender – from initial teacher training through to headship CPD – should include a requirement to demonstrate how it will support staff in meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND. Despite pupils with SEND representing between 10% and 20% of the overall school population, wider professional development funding dwarfs the amount available for SEND-specific CPD.
When a teacher attends training on, say, teaching primary science, it should address how to support SEND students. Similarly, when a soon-to-be headteacher undertakes their NPQH, SEND should be covered at every stage. This won’t detract from the need for separate specialist input – such as the SEND Code of Practice, for example – but simply recognise that every class and every school includes SEND students.
4. Include send within school improvement schemes
Every school improvement fund and contract should include outcomes for learners with SEND and demonstrate the impact it will have on them. The DfE is currently recommending that schools make use of the SEND Review tool, which can usefully embed SEND concerns across every part of the school improvement process. Ofsted could also recommend a SEND Review of its own, similar to the ones currently carried out for Pupil Premium.
5. All headteachers to sign the #drawnin pledge
The ‘Drawn In’ pledge (see end of article) is a proposition intended to tackle the ‘pushing out’ of pupils mentioned above, which some schools are already building into their inclusion policies. It doesn’t preclude the lawful exclusion of pupils who threaten the safety and well-being of their peers or staff, or indeed the transfer of any children who may need additional support or provision.
6. Set time aside for reflection
Test the culture around SEND in your school by reflecting on five questions (see ‘5 reflective questions’) or by looking into the many tools designed to carry out the same purpose. Whichever approach you pursue, be sure to stop, check, reflect on and adjust your SEND provision at least once per year.
7. Drop the catch-up narrative
None of what I propose here entails lacking ambition for children with SEND – quite the opposite. We need to focus on the best possible outcomes for all learners, as part of a narrative that talks about learners with SEND at university, in top jobs, setting up businesses and thriving in apprenticeships.
Yes, many learners with SEND will never ‘catch up’ or reach age-related ‘norms’, and some will never live independently – but valuing only those who will sends out a message of exclusion, while devaluing the work that mainstream special schools do to help these children achieve.
8. Research what works
We know a lot of what works when teaching SEND children, and much of that theory has been embedded into how our special schools and inclusive mainstream settings operate. Yet there’s still not enough funding spent on capturing and researching how it works in practice. One way of tackling this would be to set up a SEND strand within existing Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funding.
EEF’s recent work in the area of SEND is certainly welcome, but a dedicated funding stream and a wider range of research approaches would help to accelerate the impact of said research and drive better outcomes for children and young people with SEND.
9. Mind the gap
Schools should consider the entitlement of experiences for every child, and keep a close watch on any widening gaps between pupils’ experiences of extracurricular activities. This is partly why we set up Every Child Should (everychildshould.uk) – to consider how schools and their partners can develop the social and cultural capital of all children and young people, including those currently possessing the least, but potentially benefiting from it the most.
10. Account for outcomes
The Minister of State for School Standards should be assigned responsibility for the school-based outcomes of children with SEND. Outcomes for children and young people with SEND should be an integral part of School Standards – not an addition or bolt on, but right at the core of the work.
The highest standard for schools to aspire to should be achieving for all their charges.
The ‘drawn in’ pledge
- I will never propose or encourage moving a child from a school unless it’s in the evidenced best interest of the child
- I will never advocate or action the moving of a child as a route to improving school results
- I will not use any method to reduce the attractiveness of my school to particular groups of pupils
- I will actively review our processes and messaging on a regular basis to ensure we don’t create a sense that some groups are not welcome in our school
Find out more at drawnin.uk
5 Reflective Questions
1. How many people with SEND are in my school, class and organisation; how does this compare with my peers, local community and the national population?
2. How do I ensure individuals with SEND are visible in class, at school and within my local community?
3. Do I speak of ‘learners with SEND’ as a homogeneous group?
4. How do I measure the impact I’m having on individuals with SEND?
5. What networks that support learners with SEND can I access?
Anita Kerwin-Nye is a national leader in inclusion policy and practice; she was previously the founder and lead of Whole School SEND and The Communication Trust, and currently seeks to the champion the work of, among others, Every Child Should (everychildshould.uk) and Cultural Inclusion (culturalinclusion.uk)