This blog article contains my view on the summary report of the green for the proposed changes to the SEN system in place. This could have positive implications for children in school with ADHD and next week I’ll be reporting on the full green paper in an easy read and accessible way, next week, to say whether I think it’s worth the paper it’s written on.
Today, I’ve been pouring over the new green paper on how it is going to tackle Special Educational Needs (SEN) issues in mainstream schools moving forward and I am reading it with bated breath. It’s not that I’m all about doom and gloom but it’s correct to say that no government party has made significant enough progress for supporting children with special educational needs in schools. How do I know this? I was a child with SEN in a mainstream school.
I’d love to say that much has changed in the 29 years since I started school, but the reality is very different. Of course, I’m under no delusions that knowledge has improved in certain areas, but whether that knowledge is able to be applied practically is what really counts. Sadly, it is that practical area where many different factors and complications in providing support arise.
While I’ve started reading the green paper entitled ‘Right Support, Right Place, Right Time’ I am sure you will understand that something of this magnitude takes time to digest and I intend to go over it with a fine toothcomb. So, in writing this week’s blog article I’ve gone off the summary report of the paper, which basically gives an overview on the focus of the green paper including its main points.
Apparently, the green paper itself will focus on inclusivity, which is all well and good, but many people seem to have this warped version of what the term actually means. They seem to think inclusivity is just equality dressed up, when the truth is it means so much more. Inclusivity is about including those who aren’t automatically included. People who struggle to access opportunities due to lots of different barriers in their way. Sound familiar? Yeah me too. To sum it up inclusivity is basically the actions we take to reduce these barriers.
Ok, so what are the barriers for people to SEN accessing mainstream education? It’s not just enough to say that if you can’t access mainstream then you belong in a special school. A lot of neurodiverse children are very clever and adaptable so while they coast along surviving but struggling, their peers without barriers thrive. The way I see it, through my both experience in the field and knowledge from my job as an education lecturer, the barriers to accessing mainstream education for children with SEN come down to three main categories: funding, lack of transparency and accountability.
We all know that funding is the big key player in this so let’s talk about that first. What it boils down to is this; every single mainstream school in the UK is grossly underfunded which means they struggle to find the resources for all the children they have, let alone children with additional needs. I was shocked the other day to find out that one of the factors that is considered for a child qualifying for an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) is that their school must have spent £6000 attempting to meet their needs within the school (£6000 is nationally prescribed threshold per pupil per year- found under article 6.99 in the SEN Code of Practice). Where the heck is that money coming from? Even pupil premium for the most disadvantaged pupils only pays about £350 per term for each individual and I’m not even sure that money is included. So basically, the government has set this high standard in terms of supporting a child with SEN but give them sweet FA to back it up with! This touches on the accountability issue but will get to that a little later.
I know I’ve already mentioned this is in a previous article but how an earth a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) is supposed to support around thirty neurodiverse individuals in an average one form school while also teaching thirty more individuals part time is beyond me. I mean does anybody know what the paperwork is like for these things. Just a referral for something such as ADHD or ASD is usually 30 pages of questions and that’s before a diagnosis is actually sought. Again, the issues of a SENCO only being available part time is down to funding. Most schools cannot afford to employ a full time SENCO unless they have two classes per year group and then that figure of thirty neurodiverse students in a school on average increases to sixty anyway.
“The three biggest issues in terms of the current special educational needs system are funding, transparency and accountability. The summary report seems to only recognise two of these, but without accountability, people can just do what they want.”ADHD Girl
Now that I’ve thoroughly annoyed you with the lack of funding issue, let’s move on to the next one, lack of transparency, this has a lot to do with one of my previous blog articles. Right now, referrals and accessing support is like a postcode lottery so how can we set the same standards nationally but have different ways of implementing them locally? I understand the LA’s role in our democratic system, where areas may have different needs and thus may warrant different support. However, SEN difficulties and conditions do not vary per geographical location so this should be a national issue not a local one. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; the government’s response to children and indeed adults with SEN should be a nationally transparent and consistent approach.
The last issue is perhaps one of the biggest. Bigger than funding or transparency because without accountability you have nothing. Everybody might as well do what they like and say well at least we tried, without fear of consequence. Don’t get me wrong; trying is admirable, but when it comes to accessing support- trying should not be the excuse. Support for SEN is not optional, for many struggling individuals it is necessary and more than that; it’s a basic human right.
So what does accountability actually mean? Well, obviously it means holding somebody accountable for their actions and making sure they are doing the right thing. So, who is accountable for making sure SEN provision for children is good enough? That special privilege would belong to the independent governing body Ofsted. They not only inspect schools, but they also evaluate the children’s services provided by a local authority.
“At what point are the government held accountale for setting unrealistic expectations and not providing the funding to make them achievable. It’s not enough just to say vote for somebody different next time because thats four years of education lost for some.”ADHD Girl
This presents one or two teething problems for me. Number one; Ofsted never gets a really truly accurate picture of how a school operates! How can they? They are there for 2-5 days! What they walk away with is a snapshot and on that snapshot they make one big decision. I have been in many education settings where upon being told there is an Ofsted inspection, we all have had to work late to cover our own backsides in terms of the paperwork. This isn’t due to lack of effort in keeping up to date. This is more to do with the unmanageable practicalities and pressures put on those working in education in terms of doing their job.
Number two: Ofsted can only assess the SEN provision offered to pupils who have already been identified as having SEN issues. You wouldn’t believe how many parents have come to me and said their concerns for their child possibly having SEN are being ignored or brushed aside by their child’s school, particularly if there child is intelligent and not far off hitting their benchmarks. This is down to a number of issues; firstly one which we’ve already talked about the SENCO is stretched far too thin and another is more identified needs means they have to spend more money that they just don’t have. In other words a lack of funding directly affects accountability because if a school is given high expectations and identifying a child with SEN may have an impact on this due to funding or time restraints then it make them less likely to want to take on that additional responsibility.
Number three: If Ofsted is, what it claims to be, an INDEPENDENT governing body, then at what point does the government itself take any accountability for the educational laws they created themselves? I’m all for delegating when the work load if high, but delegating does not give you a free pass from accountability. You’d think the Secretary of State may be the answer to that question, whose job it is to listen to civil servants and experts working in the field to address issues and elevate concerns.
While I don’t doubt the education secretary is a very busy individual, I have to ask; have they been living under a rock all this time? Because these SEN issues have been ongoing for as far back as I can remember. Perhaps the fact we have had six Secretaries of State for Education in less than 12 years may have something to do with it. I mean does nobody want the job? Is it just that difficult? My theory is that Education is a highly complex area and the only people who can truly understand it are those who have practically worked in the field and seen these issues first-hand. You’ve also got to raise the concern of how many MPS from the conservative party have actually attended mainstream education themselves. The answer is two-thirds of them are privately educated! So I decided to do a little digging on this and found to my unsurprise that half of the last six Education Secretaries were privately educated. Furthermore, not a single one of them has a background in education. While one could argue this isn’t necessarily mandatory for doing the job, it does mean that you have to heavily rely on experts in the field.
The issue may be that the cabinet minister for education isn’t looking far beyond their own department and their own agenda. I know that seems extreme to say, but I fail to grasp how if they were consulting with experts in the field and people who actually have to work amongst the laws and regulations that they set, that we would still have the education system and SEN system that we do. I understand that as a politician you have to balance ideology with practicality but when it comes to getting an education and people with SEN having their needs met then there should be no compromise or excuses.
“How can we ever live in a fair society if people don’t have access to education and support from the very beginning?”adhd Girl
I’m really crossing my fingers and toes that the government address these issues in their green paper (I’ll be reporting on my findings next week). Their review summary of the green paper sets 3 main points for children with SEN moving forward; financial sustainability, navigating the system and inequality (which effectively is code for what we’ve put in place is clearly not working but we don’t want to admit liability). The fact that they’ve addressed 2 of the 3 issues I’ve raised is encouraging and intriguing, but it would be optimistic to say I’m hopeful.
The thing that makes me nervous is that the government have this horrible habit of making demands for high standards but giving no practical WAY (i.e.. Funding) of being able to carry them out. While it would appear there are some positives in the summary report such as the need for consistency and less bureaucracy, the fact they don’t see accountability as one of these issues makes me worry that this green paper is nothing more than a series of good intentions. I hope I’m wrong, but we shall wait and see…….