“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish depending on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein.
I want to make my first blog post about SEND pupils in this country because I think it is one of the most obvious moral injustices of our education system and one of the biggest challenges we face. I also want to write about it because we have increasingly concerning news that the picture doesn’t seem to be improving; we are not moving in the right direction. I like the quote above which was shared with me by my Head of Department. Firstly because Albert Einstein was SEND- a piece of info that helps breaks down some mental barriers some might have on this issue. (Secondly, because it made me think how wonderful it would be if we could teach fish to climb trees; get out of the pond, broaden horizons etc.)
This blog isn’t about how we should support our Albert Einsteins. This is about something a little bit more concerning: the next Albert Einstein might not actually be in school in the UK and the likelihood of that is increasing. Two concerning stats on this that have come out of this School’s Week report: the number of children with statements or an EHP (an Educational Healthcare Plan- a legal document that plans for and protects provision for individuals pupils) who are waiting for a school place has more than doubled (4,050 from 1,710 in the last year) and the number of children and we have gone from 17 SEND pupils being permanently excluded without a managed moved to a shocking 102 pupils (over the last two years). They aren’t in a school. It begs the question- where are these children and what are they doing? I’m not suggesting they have been abandoned/no one knows physically where they are but we should be concerned both about the educational opportunities being missed by these students and also the pressures being placed on others in these communities as a result- parents, pupil referral units etc. Obviously, whether or not they are the next Albert Einstein is irrelevant. (Could be the next, any of these people…)
(By the way if you question the use of the word ‘shocking’ and think those numbers are small please remember that in education policy, whenever you are talking about pupils every number counts.)
These stats are particularly worrying for me, and I imagine for others, because up till now my question when it comes to SEND has been: how do we improve the offer within our schools? But now we seem to be learning that, in fact, we should worry about whether or not these are in them at all.
I have a guiding principle as a class teacher: when you look at a situation- in the class room, across a school or nationally- ask yourself the question, if this was my child, would I accept this? (e.g. I printed off some revision resources for my class recently and it didn’t come out perfectly. The feeling of guilt when one student told me her Mum wasn’t impressed was enormous. I mean- what would I think if my child came back with some dodgy revision guide? Lesson learnt; take the time to reprint! Or save trees and put it up online which I have done previously and would obviously have been the better option. Anyway…)
The answer is obviously ‘if my child was SEND I would not accept this.’ I would be deeply frustrated if they were missing school. The response from policy makers and the government should be exactly the same. How can we crack down on parents taking children on holiday in term time by emphasising the value of attendance and then leave these students in limbo? It is more than a little absurd and raises the question of public confidence in our education system- all parents should feel their child’s needs are being addressed. All potential and future parents should be confident their children’s needs will be addressed. We must hold the same aspirations and hopes- both academic and beyond- for all children.
Also, this goes beyond public confidence to social justice. SEND students are more likely to come from socio-economically disadvantaged families. That factor compounds their academic progress in addition to their other needs. As a result, schools that serve communities with high rates of socio-economic disadvantage often have a disproportionately high number of students with special educational needs and disabilities. This creates pressures in various ways. Professor Sonia Blandford, Founder and CEO of the wonderful Achievement for All has written a great blog piece for the Fair Education Alliance about this. She mentions a number of crucial strategies that should be used to tackle the problem. Worth a read.
One thing she mentions is the importance of teachers engaging with the National SENCO Award- the Masters level qualification you need to be working towards to co-ordinate whole school SEN efforts. She’s right. However, here’s a concern shared with me by a teacher friend who is interested in progressing in this way- the salaries just aren’t there in the same way as with many other whole school jobs she is looking at. From her perspective she could take on another, similarly rewarding role, and get paid more without the specialisation of a the Masters degree. This should be addressed in schools- we need to recruit champions across the system to lead for these students and for the staff who want to support them. (Wait- turns out it might be hard to tackle educational injustice without government investment in the school system? A controversial conclusion.)
I’m really not an expert in this area and am here to learn so if you’d like to educate me or add others comments would be greatly appreciated! If you want to look at what the experts are saying I would reckon that the Centre for Inclusive Education is a stellar place to start. Also, other bits of wider reading always welcome.