Guerrillamum's Blog


Excellence for all – what should students learn?

I was asked to write a guest blog piece for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference a few weeks ago – which turned into three separate posts. The first of these is ‘Excellence for all – what should students learn?:

We would all like our schools to aim to achieve excellence for all. However, when the children involved include those with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities the goal of truly achieving ‘Excellence for all’ becomes much more difficult to achieve. I have two boys aged 12 and 14 who have special educational needs and who are being educated in mainstream school. They have always been mainstreamed, and for them, inclusion, with places in specialist settings co-located in mainstream schools has been their best route to success.

Roughly one in five students will have SEN at some time in their education. A little over 2% of all children in school will have a statement. Most children with SEN won’t have statements. However, Part 3 B ‘Special Educational Provision – Provision to meet needs and objectives’ – of my children’s statements has always referred to the need for the child to have ‘access to a broad, balanced, and differentiated curriculum, including the National Curriculum, with modifications which will ensure that tasks and activities are commensurate with (the child’s) level of attainment.’ This should be the aim for every child, whether schooling takes place in a mainstream or special education setting. Schools should also implement current and up to date policies relating to disability and equality. With all of these things in mind, children with SEN should be able to access the same curriculum, in as meaningful a way as possible, as other children in their school.

However, this is not the whole story. Children with SEN often have the need to learn additional things when they are at school, skills that will enable them to access the curriculum more effectively, and which will enable them to develop independence skills. In an ideal world, these children will have access to therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or to perhaps be able to benefit from the services of a physiotherapist as appropriate. Extra support such as specialist teaching support and teaching assistants are also necessary to help children with SEN develop good numeracy and literacy skills. If a child can at least read, they can begin to access most of the mainstream curriculum. Some children will benefit from prioritising social skills training, life skills training or similar.

In today’s schools learning does not cease at the end of the school day. Most schools run lunch time and after school activities that all children can access. Indeed, disability legislation states that all children should be able to take part in the life of their school. However, this is not always what happens in practice. After school clubs are as much a part of the life of the school as any other aspect of school life. Yet some children are excluded from after school activities simply because the schools do not have funding for after school TA support and their LEAs do not always allocate money to TA support for after school clubs. This is a grey area that I have found difficult to resolve. It is a great pity because children with SEN who have access to after school activities have better outcomes both socially and educationally.

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How will the Pupil Premium be funded, and how will it impact on Education?

I am very concerned that the funding for the Pupil Premium will be found by cutting support staff. Please see ‘Four out of five education authorities will shed staff’ – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/four-out-of-five-education-authorities-will-shed-staff-2109411.html

There are all sorts of children who benefit from being able to have learning opportunities with support staff and this will impact immediately on levels of achievement across the board. However, children with special educational needs rely on support staff to have their needs met in school.

I quote:
‘This will threaten the extra support staff drafted in to help with teaching numeracy and literacy ….. ‘

If we lose extra support staff in schools, this will have an immediate impact on all children, but especially on those children with special educational needs who do not have statements.

I don’t yet know what the spending review will bring for schools but the rumblings I am hearing are not good. Last week the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) reassured us all by saying that new money had been found to fund the pupil premium. In last Friday’s Guardian a ‘senior no 10 aide’ was quoted as saying: “The money for this will come from outside the education budget. We’re not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall.” On Friday the DPM repeatedly said that the funds for the Pupil Premium were ‘additional’ saying that he wanted the money to come mainly from outside the education department, rather than simply from outside the school’s budget or by cutting ‘non – essential’ education projects such as after school clubs and youth groups. ‘Mainly from outside the education department? Already this is a little different from what the ‘senior Whitehall aide’ is quoted as saying. Also, we know from the Guardian that the DPM’s plans to fund the Pupil Premium from sources outside the education department are being opposed by Treasury officials who believe that the funding should come from within education funding. However, the Deputy Prime Minister said the Pupil Premium would come from new money so I expect the DPM to make good on this commitment.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies is not optimistic about the eventual effect of the Pupil Premium: Last Friday’s Guardian also said ‘The Institute for Fiscal Studies had a gloomy first take on the proposal. While it praised the policy as “broadly progressive”, it had concerns about its effect: “Given the scale of the cuts in departmental spending to be announced next Wednesday, it seems likely that overall school funding will be cut in real terms,” said a spokesman for the institute. “If such cuts are shared equally across schools, then the pupil premium could (depending on its final size, and on the cuts to the overall budget) lead to a net result where schools in affluent areas see their funding go up on average, while schools in deprived areas experience cuts in funding.”