After the events of the previous week, the last few days have seemed positively calm! In this week’s blog I’d like to discuss a number of policy related issues.
I spent the end of the week in London, at the Department for Education.
Our topics of discussion ranged from building new schools to developing provision within mainstream for children with additional needs.
It is interesting to note that in the last 10 years, the majority of children with EHCPs are now educated in special provisions and special schools. The number 10 years ago was 30% – now it is over 50%. The consequence of this is that special schools all over the country are facing a crisis in relation to space and capacity. We know that this is the case in Oldham and Tameside. The system cannot keep sending increasing numbers of children into our schools – we don’t have enough space!!
Without getting into a huge discussion about the merits (or not) of inclusion within mainstream schools, there appears an absolute imperative that we find solutions to reverse these figures. If we are not careful, we are heading into a perfect storm. More EHCPs being produced with no capacity within the special school system will lead to poorer quality schools. This has the potential to dilute our effectiveness.
The very best mainstream schools celebrate diversity and, as a result, standards for all children are very high. Unfortunately, many other schools have a very narrow view of ‘diversity’ and seek ways to move children on at the first opportunity. All of this is set against a backdrop of changes to the curriculum and the introduction of Progress 8, a change in the way exams are assessed and a change in how schools are inspected.
My discussions with officials and ministers explored how we can begin to ‘incentivise’ mainstream schools to avoid our children, at times, being marginalised and ‘pushed out’.
I struggle to believe the solution is merely financial, i.e. give schools more financial incentives to support children with EHCPs. I do, however, wish there was a way that we could ringfence money for those children that need it the most. I hold a fundamental belief that money should always follow need.
The way forward will, almost certainly, involve training and support. For too long some special schools have operated in a ‘bubble’. We need to be proactive in enabling mainstream schools, in developing colleagues’ understanding and knowledge, and in training them through high quality professional development. We should be in a position to influence curriculum design and differentiation.
I am coming to the conclusion, however, that the main driver for change needs to come via the inspection system. Ofsted inspections can be a significant driver for change. School leaders across the country have to respond to the Ofsted framework. I see this in many ways as being positive. If you look at the present framework and its emphasis on British values, behaviour and diversity – it has helped shape behaviour. School leaders have to pay regard to the framework. Let’s explore how we can place young people with additional needs at the heart of a new framework. Schools that are already doing this successfully will rightly be celebrated – the ones that have poorer records of working with youngsters with additional needs will be forced to change.
It’s the ideal time to work with the department and Ofsted as they are presently consulting on a revised framework. We owe to it all our children to get this sorted.
Have a good week,
You can find all Graham’s previous blog entries here