Working in Special Education, particularly in a 2 – 19 school, you get to see young people with a wide range of additional needs work tirelessly to succeed during their time in the school. The pedagogical knowledge of the staff and the resilience and determination of the young people lead to many making remarkable progress. It makes you realise the futility of the generalisations often applied to those we teach, as they continually confound and amaze. However beyond school we are still in a situation where the potential we help to build in our students is not necessarily realised once they leave us. Society as a whole struggles to continue to support the work that has started and build on the momentum that has been created.
The statistic that 65% of people with a learning disability would like to work (Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities 2011), but less than 7% have that opportunity (Department of Health 2014) is quite shocking and an indictment on the very nature of our society.
The reasons for this are multitude, but one which I have been coming back to recently is the way in which we communicate our pupils’ capability to those who are less familiar with them. Do we make the most of our detailed knowledge of what our students are able to do and the level of independence that they are able to demonstrate? Do we ensure that those who know them less well are able to see their potential before they see any presumed limitations? Do we work effectively with parents and carers to ensure information is communicated in a way that has currency beyond the administrative systems of EHCPs, Statements and Annual Reviews?
One of the key issues is the extent to which Special Schools are compelled to accredit their students’ work in a manner which broadly reflects a mainstream methodology of assessment against a predetermined criteria. The use of certification to articulate a unique personal developmental journey can at times be a blunt and naive tool which may carry little value beyond the school and the family. The less familiar will not necessarily be aware of the difference between the three Entry Levels or understand how this relates to the more common GCSE. The titles are often opaque, referring to things such as ‘Personal Progress’ and ‘Personal Development’, yet this is what they are, personal. The difficulty is that those beyond the family, beyond the school don’t know the person and therefore are less likely to be able to infer their capability from the language of accreditation and the lack of personal detail within.
So how do we ensure that the wide range of organisations our students come into contact with post-19 are supported to be able to make decisions that maximise the potential of those we teach, rather than allow conservative presumptions about disability to curtail it?
One way in which we may better articulate what we see in schools and what families see in homes is by making better use of carefully constructed media based evidence. The use of video, captured within the community as well as classroom and family contexts, may make knowledge of the young person’s ability unequivocal, reducing the risk of conservative interpretation of written report based evidence. It may also provide a tool with which to better hold providers and services to account if they suggest that a person is suited to a particular route, or requires a particular level of support, that is not a reflection of their true ability or need.
It also needs to be accessible to all who need access to it, easily and quickly. Too often the volumes of evidence of progress captured by schools is inaccessible, hidden away in files, or simply too vast for those less familiar with the person to make effective use of it. Maybe its time to explore the extent to which the systems of accreditation, and how we as schools are held accountable by them, fulfill the purpose for which they are needed.