Is the Education system failing SEND Children?

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In July 2016 the DfE published their latest SEND statistics. Currently 1.22 million pupils have been identified with special educational needs – nearly 15% of the school population. That does not include those who are “out of education”, being home schooled or who have just not been identified.  I know that across this country thousands of teachers, support staff and local authorities are working incredibly hard to offer the very best education for young people with SEND. However, the current education system is failing this group of young people in a number of ways.

  1. The recent consultation document Schools that work for everyone does not mention SEND within its thirty-six pages. The system outlined in this document is not about everyone it is about a chosen few who will be selected at 11 to attend an elite school. The nature of the selection, probably a test, automatically eliminates the majority of those young people identified with SEND. So how will the Government ensure that this significant group will be included in the schools that work for everyone agenda?

  2. There is an expectation that all schools will offer a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of all its pupils. The National Curriculum launched two years ago was designed to offer content to be covered within each year group but gave schools the flexibility of what methodology each would use to best fit their school setting. However, in reality, the emphasis at KS1 and KS2 on English and mathematics, leading to teaching “towards the test” at the end of each key stage, has reduced the curriculum being offered. It would appear that children are no longer able to express themselves through their writing unless they have included six full stops, ten commas and at least three subordinate clauses. The need to consolidate and learn subjects in depth is vital for children with SEND but they also need to be able to excel in the more creative, artistic and practical subjects.

  3. As these pupils enter secondary school they are channelled towards the eight subjects that will make up the Progress 8 accountability measure that secondary schools will be judged on. Added to this is the push in most schools to aim for the EBacc suite of subjects. This has led to schools not being able to offer a wide range of subjects and many pupils with SEND are being restricted by the “buckets” they can take subjects from and being restricted to those subjects that the school offers.

  4. This will be exacerbated by the introduction of selective schools as it will put increased pressure on the non-selective schools trying very hard to be inclusive but whose results will not tick the accountability boxes.

  5. The current assessment regime currently “fails” a child at the end of year 1 after they have taken the Phonics check and achieved less than 32 words. This is reported as a fail. Schools are then expected to offer robust phonic intervention strategies in Year 2 at the end of which they will take the check again and possibly fail for the second time. Although the evidence suggests that systematic synthetic phonics is a successful methodology for the teaching of reading, it is not the only solution. There are a significant number of children who will not learn to read by this method but in recent years we have only taught our new teachers to teach phonics and have not given them the tools to teach reading by any other method.

  6. By the end of KS 1, having undertaken the SATs, pupils are given a scaled score and labelled as “working at national standard” If their scaled score is below the given parameters they are “working towards the national standard”. So by the end of KS 1 some of these children will have failed the phonics check twice and only be working towards national standard in English and mathematics. The negative language of this assessment system causes stress and anxiety for both pupils and their parents.

  7. As they enter KS 2 many young people are already not able to access the curriculum requirement for Year 3. For many, high quality, differentiated teaching will offer support but for some the need for a highly personalised curriculum (like many of our special schools offer) becomes more difficult for mainstream schools. The final year in primary school is dedicated to preparing for the SATs – a time when many of our SEND pupils should be consolidating and reinforcing the knowledge and skills they have already learnt. If they are not working at the level of the test then they are not going to keep up. By the end of the year they will be entered for the tests (because that ticks an accountability box for schools) but the scaled score achieved by these young people will indicate they are still working towards national standard. Many of these pupils will have made incredible progress over the four years but the language of SATS does not show this.

  8. The transfer to secondary school is an anxious and stressful time for young people and incredibly difficult for those who have SEND. Putting selection into this already challenging time is going to create even more challenges for young people and their families. It is often at this point that parents start to seek a specialist setting to ensure their child gets the best possible education that they can. The issue here is that we are in danger of imploding at the seams in our specialist settings. I find it incredible that funding can be found to develop grammar schools and expand existing schools to make them selective whilst at the same time we have more pupils than ever out of education due to the fact that parents cannot get an appropriate place for their child with SEND.

  9. For the last thirty years we have been striving for inclusive education for all our pupils. For some this will be provided in a specialist setting but for others it can be provided within a well-structured, inclusive mainstream setting. With more secondary schools opting for a selective route how can we be truly inclusive?

  10. Finally, we are now into the third year of the SEND reforms, across the country local authorities are all at very different stages of that journey. This has been borne out by the recent Ofsted and CQC Local Area Review letters, which indicate very disparate implementation processes across the seven authorities inspected to date. Unfortunately, these letters are not judgemental and only offer recommendations for the local authorities. With eighteen months left to go before full transition should be completed in March 2018 we still have a very long way to go.

  11. I was astonished earlier this week when I became part of a Twitter conversation about local authorities “buying-in” companies to write their EHCPs. I find this a really worrying state of affairs and have some real concerns about this. Firstly I am not sure this is legal, secondly how can the process be about co-production and personalised planning (as parents and pupils do not seem to be involved) and thirdly surely there is a huge safeguarding issue about local authorities sharing personal information with a third-party. It would appear that our most vulnerable young people have become a number in the drive to meet the 20 week deadline for the production of EHCPs.

Having been part of the education system for the last 40 years I have never been so dis-heartened by the lack of acknowledgement of the success and progress that our SEND pupils make if given all the right opportunities. The current system is failing these young people.

Our previous Secretary of State talked about all children, our new Secretary of State talks about everybody and yet we have created a system that excludes over 1 million children and young people. This is not about all this is about everybody minus the 15%.

Thank you to all those schools, support services and local authorities who are, against all odds, working their socks off to support young people with SEND. We need to fight the system and ensure that EVERYBODY means EVERYBODY!