Filed under: Education and the new government, Special Needs Education | Tags: coalition cuts, disability, education, ellen power, full inclusion, Green Paper, Guerrilla Mum, mainstream settings, Minister of State for Children and Families, OFST£D, Ofsted, Sarah Teather, SEN, Special Educational Needs, special schools, specialist units co-located, successful outcomes, Teaching Assistant
I am sure that there is a science to reports and reviews of the type of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’. One would hope that a government body would conduct an efficient survey of SEN and Disability when tasked to do so. It does point out some things I recognise: the inconsistency in the quality of interventions, inconsistency in the threshold at which this intervention is given, and it also says that the parental perception of inconsistency in this respect is well-founded. Apparently the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs in the UK is in need of major overhaul. It says ‘The pattern of local services had often developed in an ad hoc way, based on what had been done in the past rather than from a strategic overview of what was needed locally’. I do recognise these things in my experiences of trying to access appropriate services for my children. These observations are to be welcomed. So why am I not jumping for joy at the prospect of a shiny new system for identifying and meeting the needs of those with disabilities and SEN at school?
Let’s be absolutely clear about something. It is one thing to make these conclusions and then using the report findings to do something to improve educational provision for children who have SEN and/or disabilities – this is what I am hoping will happen. It is something else again to make observations that focus on apparently ‘failing’ or ‘ineffective’ services with the aim of being seen to make ‘legitimate’ cuts. This is what I fear this report will lead to.
I am not helped in forming a positive view of the OFSTED report when I read: ‘The review found that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’. This is something about this report that I do not recognise. Both of my children have at some time in their lives been taught in mainstream settings and in specialist units co-located within specialist schools. They have accessed services that were provided to them within the context of a special school, even though they were not actually pupils at the special school. A range of teachers and professionals have worked with our children both in mainstream settings and in specialist provision. They have only been able to access specialist provision as part of, or following a statementing process, and after experiencing significant failure in a mainstream setting. Without specialist intervention I have no doubt that failure would have simply become more entrenched. Once in a specialist placement, their access to appropriate services and specialist teaching made their levels of achievement soar. Access to specialist teaching and therapy has been central to this progress being made. I just do not recognise the claim ‘that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’. I fear that this is a precursor to big cuts in SEN provision. It is my own view that this report is indicative of OFSTED being a public body that is out of touch with the general public. I base this on my own experiences of trying to obtain support for my own children, and what I know of the experiences of other parents in the same position.
The dedicated teachers, therapists, Teaching Assistants etc that one finds in specialist placements have chosen to work in these settings with children with special educational needs. They are highly trained and experienced. Should something happen to reduce the availability of specialist teaching placements, this would be an enormous loss to many children with SEN who cannot be accommodated within an inclusive mainstream setting. Teachers in specialist placements are committed to improving the outcomes of these children: it is a failing of teacher training that most teachers do not have the right training to meet the needs of some children with the most severe special educational needs who require specialist teaching. It is essential that we do not lose the opportunity for our children to access special schools or teaching within specialist settings should they need it.
I would be interested to hear what other parents make of this comment: ‘no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’. Has your child done best within a mainstream setting or did this fail for them? Have you valued the opportunity of having your child educated in a special school? If so what was it about a special school that worked for them? What do you think of your child’s special school? Has your child accessed specialist teaching in a language unit, autism unit, hearing support unit or other specialist unit within a mainstream school? Did this work out for your child? Lets make it a priority to reply to Sarah Teather’s Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views. Or parents can comment on this blog or at email@example.com – lets record our views somewhere – we may well be glad we did!
I hope I’m wrong, but this report is looking more and more like it will result in a weakening of our children’s rights to SEN provision, all in the name of cutting costs. I think there is a risk that the new government will devise future SEN policy or legislation that will further de-specialise special schools and further limit specialist provision within specialist units co-located in mainstream schools – these places are already like gold dust. Is this an OFSTED report, or an OFST£D report?