We are currently in an era where many schools endorse and embrace the goal of full inclusion for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Undoubtedly, inclusion is the key to obtaining education and social equity.
Unfortunately, inclusion is often falsely translated to mean the “place” where teaching and learning occurs, stemming from the ideological belief all pupils should be educated in the general classroom – that instruction provided outside of this setting is akin to segregation. While general education can, and should, be strengthened to better meet the needs of all pupils, for many these practices alone are just not enough.
Interviewing a SEND specialist teacher, Elizabeth Turner, she explained that: “Pupils with learning disabilities are bright and capable but have seemingly unexplained and significant challenges with specific academic skills. These tend to be brain-based, and separate from home environment, pupil motivation or attitude, or other developmental delays.”
Forcing pupils with SEND into an environment in which they are unable to flourish can lead to frustration and behavioural issues. We know that these pupils experience one of the highest exclusion rates, as earlier this year it was reported that “pupils with special education needs (SEN) had the highest permanent exclusion rate and were over seven times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than pupils with no SEND”.
More discouragingly, The Rochford Review, a report commissioned by the government which evaluates statutory assessment arrangements for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests, found that 83 percent of pupils with SEND were working below the standard in reading and 90 percent below the standard in maths.
The statistics are clear, demonstrating the struggle for education equity for all pupils as a story still unfolding. To be academically successful, pupils with SEND require explicit and intensive instruction targeted to meet their specific learning needs.
The chair of governors of a primary school in Long Eaton, Marie Crowley, believes that “schools should ensure education is wrapped around the child, not the school.
“Each individual pupil should have a more tailored and well-designed plan that assesses their academic capabilities against the need for inclusion.”
To add fuel to the contentious fire, Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement to introduce new selective grammar schools has caused a debate which has raged on ever since.
The policy forms a key part of the Prime Minister’s agenda to increase social mobility for children from deprived backgrounds in England, but many criticise the exclusion of any mention of SEND throughout the entire paper.
Ms Crowley said: “The thought of grammar schools fill me with dread. We are starting to see it already with academies… they don’t want to take pupils with SEND in as it will lower their attainment and depress the school’s results.”
If that didn’t make life harder, not just for pupils with SEND but for their teachers, assessing and evaluating the progress of such pupils has been a widely discussed subject of recent.
At present, schools continue to grapple with the most effective way to assess and demonstrate the progress of pupils with SEND, whether they are working below, or well below the standard of the national curriculum tests.
We are certainly aware that for those working below the standard of test, it is recommended that schools use the interim pre-key stage standards; however, the message from schools is that these standards, whilst helpful in providing summary information, fall short of providing special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) with materials or processes to undertake detailed assessments that support with tracking pupils’ progress from their starting points.
Recommendations in the Rochford Review to remove the statutory duty to use P scales may have added further to concerns regarding assessing SEND pupils. SENCOs will likely feel reassured, therefore, that the latest government advice is to continue with P scales in 2017 until further consultation has taken place, which will lead to a final decision on this matter.
So, what do we do?
Carry on and accept the government’s plans for grammar school expansion, accept the findings of the Rochford Review and their alternative to P scales, and carry on with trying to incorporate and include pupils with SEND into every aspect of academic life? Probably the wise and safest option. But I can’t help but think, if we continue down this path, we will fail society’s most vulnerable children.
Elizabeth Turner (2016) (Email communication regarding inclusion of pupils with SEND in school) [Personal communication: 19 November 2016]
Marie Crowley (2016) (Telephone communication regarding pupils with SEND in school) [Personal communication: 21 November 2016]
DfE (2016) ‘Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions in England: 2014 to 2015”, p.5 <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/539704/SFR_26_2016_text.pdf> [Accessed: 21 November 2016]
Diane Rochford (2016) ‘The Rochford Review: final report’, p.9 <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/561411/Rochford_Review_Report_v5_PFDA.pdf> [Accessed: 22 November 2016]