There are a small number of circumstances where I feel that mainstream education is unsuitable for a child. Even then I see many benefits when provision is integrated. This blog is about how it seems to me that too many children are being put forward as needing specialist provision rather than having their needs met at a mainstream school.
I believe that mainstream schools are not even scratching the surface of this provision. I feel that too many want to push children (usually global delay or lower end SEND need) away from their mainstream setting under the line of, “We cannot cope… We do not have the resources… This need is beyond our experience/ expertise… we do not have the funding…” This makes me sad. I believe they do this and forget the basic code of what it is to be a school. I believe they do this because they are scared that SEND means statistical, system or operational failure when under the inspection, or any, scrutiny. I believe this is another reason that inspections have failed schools because they rely on statistics far too heavily. Trust me when I say how scary it is when 14% of my Y6 this year is in specialist provision. Last year I had 35 bits of blue in Raise On Line because ALL my stats are put together. My team spends days unpicking the data. My dash board is 4th Quartile even when mainstream results are good. I can prove to anyone how good my school is once they are there… but their preconceptions are VERY negative because they have been fed this statistical rubbish for too long. Most have no idea how to interpret it and assume the school is pulling a fast one. My school looks like it is failing children because of Standardised Testing.
OK… I am mouthing off there quite a bit. Let’s gather some perspective.
My school runs both specialist provision and mainstream provision on the same site and integrated into much of what we do. It is not easy. It is a daily journey. It is the single most amazing experience I have had in my educational career. I am constantly feeling utterly inadequate and scared… but I am becoming a better head than I thought I could ever be. I am lucky because I have a team of experts who do outreach into mainstream schools. These people allow me to see what good teaching can do to meet the needs of the children we have. We have to review the needs of children across county to see if they met the criteria for a place in our specialist provision. In our county this need is banded from 1 to 10 (10 being the very highest need and funded accordingly). It is not the perfect system but it gives some indication of need. I am amazed at the number of mainstream schools that feel they cannot cope with band 1 or 2 children. These children are usually in KS1 and falling behind the rest of the class academically but still able to read and write in the upper P scales. They may display lower level disruptive behaviour and quite often the school is not meeting their needs. It is almost as though they give up under the white flag of we cannot cope. They want this child taken away so that they can concentrate on the other 29 children. What they fail to see is a good teacher; a good school, will meet the need of this child. @HeyMissSmith used the two words ‘…expect perfection…’ in a tweet this week. High expectations, i find, are the most powerful secret to uncover in school success. It’s cost effective and it works wonders with ALL children. Good, strong leadership, advocacy and high expectations. Not surrendering to failure and handing a child over.
But it is not easy. Nothing is, it seems, in education these days. I recently heard of a specialist school inspection where an inspector was obsessed about cursive handwriting? When our accountability system is so inconsistent and dangerously overpowered I can see why schools worry.
A secondary colleague came out to my school this week and he asked me some questions that I think are not being asked by enough of us in primary mainstream education.
How come a child can get to secondary school and fail and when we track back there was no identification of the root of that child’s needs? No serious support? There was plenty of holding and nurture but nothing that really addressed the hardest part? It was as though the child got through their primary education but no one thought about the next stage properly – the long term aims.
I have heard these immortal lines many times. “They won’t last in secondary…” It is usually said because the person saying it has a fixed idea about what is expected at secondary and believes it is in direct conflict with what is needed for the child. Many of these children are the ones that mainstream schools feel should be in a specialist provision. The two are at odds. On one level we get children through primary and on another we do not meet their needs. In my experience we are talking about a small minority of children but when I think about the children in my school I can identify children who will struggle at a secondary school. Sometimes as early as Nursery… So, what am I doing about it?
This is a key point; what am I doing about it? If I am spending my energy trying to remove a child from my school because I believe I have no capacity then a lot of energy is being spent here and not on the child. I agree that something must be done and I also see certain behaviour issues that need immediate resolution (of the swiftest and clearest type) but this blog is not about behaviour. It is about schools who say they cannot cope because of learning needs. No school should have to do that. All schools should be advocates for learning and the diverse spectrum it displays. All schools should be brave enough to stand up and champion ALL children. I still have much to do and learn about this but I know that the specialist part of my school is teaching me things I did not know. I wish that all schools and all teachers spent more time with their SENCOs and their children with SEND and took the line of hope and belief in the children at their school. That together they sought help, not at a deficit, in a partnership of keeping children in their mainstream settings. Special schools are amazing places but they are there for children who cannot have their needs met in mainstream. They are not there for children who can have their needs met in the right mainstream school. This is what I see when I hear politicians and Ofsted talk about a good school. I believe that a good school is one who develops their SEND practice and ethos so that inclusion is not just a word.