So much of what I hear about the issues surrounding inclusion is based on ideas and ideals. It would seem to me that within our education system there is a rising crisis around the problems that trying to be inclusive bring and no one is really tackling them at a system wide level (And by this I mean at Government level – not LA where people are desperately trying to solve issues). I feel that over the last decade government initiatives backed up by accountability have made being inclusive a thankless struggle for most schools and teachers. Why be inclusive when the rewards are there for higher achievement, progress and academic standards? As we reach out for the Promised Land for many they just hear “Sorry – you don’t fit here”. Let’s face it – that’s how we have been celebrating success in education for a very long time now. There is no high standard for inclusion – there is no Ofsted grade – yet.
But, as I said there is a foreseeable crisis looming and it’s on a national scale:
Exclusions are up and rising.
Home education is rising.
Teacher training is not adequately preparing new teachers for the complexities of behaviour management.
Expensive private and alternative provision is putting unsustainable strains on Local Authority budgets for children with SEND. The impact of which is felt by all schools.
The number of EHCP applications is rising at unprecedented levels.
The number of tribunals where the Local Authority is seen to be unlawful is rising.
Our school system is disjointed and accountability between school leaders is fragmented and broken.
It would seem that Ofsted are looking at this issue and the consequences may be something for many school leaders to be worried about. It will be too late to address these issues during an inspection. The fall out could be another damning bullet into the corpse of professional moral.
At my school we currently run a 36 place Alternative Provision within the mainstream provision of over 600 pupils. It is complex, it can be very difficult to manage… but it is inclusive and it does have many rewards that help to make the school better than its component parts:
Playtime’s and lunch times are a joy.
Friendships are forged across mainstream and specialist.
Expertise across the school supports all provisions and is higher than in any school I have ever worked.
Tolerance and understanding are a natural part of the daily ethos.
There is a real sense of belonging in ALL children at our school.
We, as a school, are daily proof that children with the most complex of needs CAN have a successful education within a mainstream setting. Though, we also aknowledge we have much to do and it is NOT easy.
The more I have been thinking about the issues surrounding inclusion the more I believe that systems like the one we run are a big answer to the problems facing education. Let me explain:
Most LA’s are spending huge amounts of money to educate children with complex SEND either out of county or within very expensive private organisations (I have seen this at over 10 million in some LAs for not more than 150 children). On top of this Special Schools are usually oversubscribed. Therefore, to solve the issue we either create more Special Schools or meet the costs of private provision. Both are extremely complex and with less and less money in the system unsustainable as a long-term answer.
But, imagine we changed mind-sets? That schools were rewarded for being truly inclusive… that data was better understood (13% of my Y6 cohort going in to SATs in a few weeks are in Specialist Provision and won’t be sitting them – but will be on ASP and my national outcomes). Imagine if more schools took a higher number of children with complex SEND needs closer to where they lived and alongside their brothers and sisters? You see, my provision is cost effective. There is one head teacher… there is a large system to help run things effectively. Therefore, I cannot see any Specialist Provision being more cost effective than us – I know that money is a dirty word, but lets face up to the realities that we have to be cost effective. Now, imagine if the Local Authority could use those millions going out to private provision to create more mainstream provisions like my school – I work out that in my local authority this would be at least 16 provisions of 30+ and would create capacity for at least 500 children. This could mean that those children in Special Schools who could succeed in mainstream – and there are many – could have their needs met and this in turn would create capacity within Special Schools that mean that children within a Local Authority did not need expensive private provision or to go out of county.
I know – bonkers idea. I wonder though why it wouldn’t work? I understand that getting it in place would be a nightmare… but if enough mainstream schools came forward and the system began to reward them… Imagine what could be achieved as a society? It just takes vision and some bravery within the leadership.
Any way – Damien Hinds has acknowledged the issue and will be speaking at this week’s NAHT conference to lay out his plans. I wonder what idea will help us out of what is becoming the biggest issue within education. I really hope it’s not another speech without substance – ideology over no action. I hold my breath.