Tuesday, 29 September 2009

SEN Provision

The recent action from Brain Lamb and the DCSF prompted me to think about the proposition that most parents would like their child educated in their local school provided that the school really could/did provide for their 'whole person needs'.

For me, the touchstone is :

"Every child having their needs met through their local high performing school"

Several challenges there, so it's an aspirational statement that cannot be universally delivered at the moment (maybe even never, but that should not stop us striving for it). So let's dissassemble the statement:

"Every child" - OK, there will always be a small number of children whose needs are so 'large' that a mainstream school could not reasonably be expected to provide. However the onus should be on the school to demonstrate that the individual pupil themselves or the rest of the pupils will be totally unreasonably disadvantaged by having our challenging pupil on roll - and this is not primarily about ££ as the resources available for such pupils are huge and the cost of alternative provision or hospital provision could be released to facilitate adaptation of facilities and staff capabilities.

"...having their needs met..." - the five outcomes of ECM, not just academic! If meeting those needs involves adaptations then let's make sure we make them. Those schools who think that their role in life is to prepare pupils for passing exams need a big wake-up call. We need rigorous accountability frameworks to make sure that all of the needs of our children are delivered with equal effectiveness. Let's face it, some of our brightest pupils are equally disadvantaged by their lack of social skills as our less-able ones are by their lack of academic skills! I personally came through a highly academic route, going to university a year early only to find myself totally unprepared for the new environment.

"through their local ... school" - not necessarily 'at' their local school but where possible that local school should have the pupil on roll and either bring in or send the pupil out to appropriate providers where the local school cannot (N.B. not 'will not' - which is a separate debate) meet them. This could be third party provision, on-site 'resourced provision', whatever...

"Local high performing school" - yes, we should aim for every school to be Outstanding in all respects. This is about personalisation, not ramming kids through a sausage machine - a vocational route suits little Johnny, an academic route Suzy, Henry 'simply' needs to be helped interact with the world...

"Local ... school" - The idea that we bus pupils, some of the already most disadvantaged pupils, for an hour or more at each end of the day is ridiculous in this day and age. not only that, but the cost is horrendous - something like £7m pa in my authority! I suspect that we could do much better with that money than spend it on buses, taxis etc.

And now the 'undiscussable' - the can't do/won't do debate. As we ask around the system it becomes very clear that the focus on academic results has led some schools to a 'won't do' approach. Capabilities/Skills can be trained, but if the ethos of the school is not truly inclusive then children who are less/disabled in any way will be discriminated against. This is not about schools, it is about staff. A school is an abstract entity that does not discriminate, it is the staff who work in/for the school, led by the Head, who discriminate - perhaps unwittingly. Let's aim for every school to have some form of 'Inclusion Chartermark' as a signal that even though they may not have reached the destination of full inclusion, they recognise the need and have started on the journey. How do we get this debate into the open?

Leadership - and if you are reading this then you are a leader - is (amongst other things!) about clearly articulating a vision, understanding the gaps and helping people fill those gaps to get to the vision. Openness and honest/committed dialogue are critical and in we can take people, even the doubters, with us if we show that we have a great Vision and are totally committed to delivery in a way that meets the needs of the most important players - the pupils. It is too easy to avoid or sideline the doubters, yet they are only doubting because they cannot see how our Vision meets their needs; we have to value this resistance and learn from it, not sideline it. We all know that a convert is often the best advocate.

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