It was my ‘Old Nemesis’ on New Years Eve who said I needed to follow my heart. All my other blogs were, and I quote, “Synthetic Pap” according to @theprimaryhead but when I blogged about SEND I started to sound like the ‘real’ me. Now, I could dismiss much of this as New Years Eve merriment – An Expresso Martini (this drink really does exist!) too many but I have learnt to listen to what others say, even when I don’t want to (fingers in ears, la la la!).
My issue is this. When I directly address the SEND agenda I feel inadequate. The more I think about it the more I realise I have a long way to go to get it right (And I have run a marathon over the last year!). That’s not to say my school is no good at inclusion. It is. I have terrible data to prove it. I know this is a glib throwaway comment but it is true. My school does inclusion but it comes with a cost. If data is used as it is in any other school during my next Ofsted then I hope the inspectors have a masters degree in mathematics because if they don’t I expect many stupid and pointless conversations to start with, “You say you are good but your value added…”
Here’s the rub. Maybe inclusion shouldn’t be the crowbar to beat schools bloody with. Instead, we must hold schools to account for more than, ‘One Week in May’. Those outcomes have too much weight. They pulse through the lifeblood of education with unquestionable authority. When 1 child equals 2% and the difference between success and failure is 93% or 87% the margins are tight. Therefore, why would any school leader, who wants to keep their job, take that local excluded child, ASD child or Downs Syndrome child? Let some other school do it… … …
That is one of the most uncomfortable sentences I have ever written.
Those labels should have no place in schools. They should just be footnotes in the incredible futures each and every soul has yet to write. Even with ‘life without levels’ I know that those footnotes will in fact (on paper and in the papers) be meaningless in the education narrative because inclusion is not always about the ‘real’ stories because you can’t measure them numerically. If someone found that formula another part of my soul would shrivel. The ‘real’ stories can not be written about with out losing their ‘real’ meaning.
Why is it that every family does not have access to a local fully inclusive school that welcomes them with love and understanding? Why is it, that in my experience, most mainstream schools don’t want to learn from special school outreach teams. They just want to hear, ‘we have the room to accommodate’ the problem. We should be ashamed that our school system has to segregate, divide and pass on… Now, I am not some martyr on this. In 11 years of headship I have only permanently excluded once and that was in my ‘inclusive’ school and within the last 14 months.
To do inclusion properly you have to stray off the usual path. If results are your only focus then inclusion is JUST an illusion. If you can’t accept walking in to a classroom to “F off you.., who are you?” without wanting to haul that child out on a disciplinary then inclusion is not for you. Now I know this is, initially, an incredibly naive thing to say to other school leaders (especially mainstream heads). Our jobs are on the line daily and the margins are tight – always. But, you have become a head teacher or senior leader for a reason. If you are where you are because you have risen to meet that role, then you know that deep down, in your gut, everything I say is right and true… If only we had the strength to follow it through? It would be better if we were just honest about this. Maybe, we should display big banners over our entrances that say, ‘The criteria for entry is XXX. Good luck!’ Though, I have pretty much become sick of hearing heads tell me how tough they have it. I was one of them 2 years ago. Bemoaning a P8 in Year 3? I have read many blogs recently that say SEND? Not here! I’m a hard working teacher… That can only be based on a results mentality. No ‘teacher’ in their heart, without the results pressure, could truly feel that? Could they?
One of my favourite films is Force Majeure. A family eating lunch in a mountainside restaurant see a ‘controlled’ avalanche rolling down the mountainside towards them. The father reassures them but as it approaches it grows and blind panic erupts. The mothers instincts are to shield her children. The father, grabs his mobile and runs. The film then deals with the fall out. In education too many school leaders turn and run when faced with complex SEND. We are scared because it is hard. It really is. So hard that I can not blog about much of it. So tough I am quite often at a loss as to what to do next. That is where so many on us go wrong. Rather than admit we struggle, we don’t know what to do… We pretend all is fine. We cover up what should be an educational odyssey. We do this because we are scared.
In the Thick of It episode where Hugh Abbot betrays his colleague Glen Cullen over every thing he holds dear. We see the fear in education over the moral need. Glen’s son attends a special school and is very happy there. Initially Hugh supports this but politics forces him to vote against special schools and utterly use his close colleague by publicly quoting him as saying, “Inclusion is NOT an illusion”. The Thick of It has proved to be rather prophetic and this episode is even more cutting in my opinion.
Surely, when you trained as a teacher inclusion, not test results, were the thing that you held dearest? Therefore, is inclusion something you see as the biggest issue holding you back? If so, that is not your fault. Inclusion is about the leadership ethos. It is so much more than one week in May. Leaders need to be brave. They need to turn and face the avalanche knowing that sticking with their family is as important as surviving.