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.