How do we embrace ALL children?
How do we embrace ALL children?
Simon Knight, Director of Whole School SEND writes for Teachtalks
It is becoming increasingly hard for school leaders to make decisions that are purely in the interests of children. The pressures that schools are facing are compelling them to often make the least worse of a series of unpalatable choices and those relating to children identified as SEND are no different.
Reduced financial resources is key to this, with headlines in the news that regularly tell of the number of TAs being reduced, of subjects being dropped or class sizes continuing to grow. Behind the headlines, additional resources are going unpurchased, additional professional expertise uncommissioned and needs unmet.
Whilst the code of practice makes claims of every teacher being a teacher of SEND, the context in which teachers work is making many of them do this with one hand tied behind their back. Held accountable with unrelenting authority, whilst being denied the support necessary to foster success.
This is further exacerbated by a capacity crisis within Special schools that is seeing children with a greater degree of complexity remain within the mainstream sector, even where families would prefer that their child accessed a specialist setting.
There is also an accountability imbalance that sees attention drawn towards children in receipt of the Pupil Premium, with greater transparency, accountability and strategic planning required for those identified as socio-economically disadvantaged than those identified as having an SEND.
And finally, there is little recognition for being inclusive and little in the way of sanctions for not being. It takes courage and a strong moral compass to decide to be a school that serves the entirety of its community.
So, what could we do to enable the decision to embrace all children within a school’s community an easier one to make?
One area that needs to be strengthened is the consistency with which Ofsted inspects SEND. A sharper lens more forensically applied would help to ensure that all schools leaders became leaders of SEND. Part of this should include strengthening the information to be published by schools to a level equivalent to that required for Pupil Premium.
Ofsted should also be given the ability to mandate SEND Reviews in the same way that they mandate them for Pupil Premium or Governance. Compelling schools that are failing to educate those with SEND successfully to look more deeply at what they do, may enable them to make the necessary improvements for the benefit of all.
But most importantly, across every inspections, whether it is Section 8 or Section 5, there should be a minimum set of questions that every inspector should ask in relation to SEND, That would mean that there would be a minimum set of questions that every leadership team would need to answer, and one of the first on the list should be, “Is the SENCO on the SLT and if not why not?”.
We also need to find better ways to build flexibility into educational structures and move away from the often dichotomous choice between mainstream or specialist settings. By building relationships between the two and offering pupils a greater degree of mobility between settings, we can support schools to target those areas that are most likely to be successful in each context. The combination of the two may offer better outcomes than either could do on their own.
This could be further supported through the development of locality-based structures for the exchange of knowledge between the phases and sectors through collaborative professional development opportunities, secondments and team teaching in one another’s classrooms. Seeing the way in which some schools are able to make the seemingly impossible possible, may raise collective expectations of what schools are able to achieve and for whom.
There also needs to be a better way of celebrating inclusive practice and drawing attention to those schools that enable children to succeed irrespective of the degree of challenge they present with. Perhaps the time has come for the data that is published about schools to clearly reflect the extent to which their intake is representative of the community in which they work. By having this combined with more traditional school data sets, the public and the wider profession can begin to see more clearly whether schools are successful by manipulating who they teach.
By shining the spotlight on SEND and celebrating those schools who serve their communities rather than themselves, we can begin to build educational communities that see the value in difference and champion diversity, in the knowledge that they will be valued rather than penalised for doing so.
Simon Knight is Director of @WholeSchoolSEND Occasional contributor to @TES (Joint) Headteacher Designate of an amazing Oxfordshire Special School (Starting Sept.18). The Whole School SEND Consortium is committed to improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND by networking, collaborating and unlocking the answers that exist within the system.