There was a blog today on the Guardian website by the Secret Teacher. It’s not a series I read that often but it was suggested that I should take a look at this one. You can find it here if you fancy a read.
If you do then you really must read Nancy Gedge’s response which is blistering.
What concerns me most about this Secret Teacher, apart from the byline which implies special schools provide ‘Expert Care’ rather than education, is the lack of recognition of the improvements that the school could and should make to ensure that they improve their ability to meet the needs of all. It talks about the things they did and the problems they faced, but fails to indicate any sense of awareness that it is they who need to improve. It is they who have failed, not the child.
One question that I would ask relating to this is whether when a child leaves mainstream for special, or when a child is excluded for other reasons, is the school compelled to evaluate why this happened and put in place an action plan to reduce the risk of it happening again? Are souls searched, or is it a case of out of sight out of mind?
Reflecting on this, things need to change within education if we are going to be able to meet the needs of all as well as we possibly can, and calling in the cavalry in the form of specialist provision is not always going to be a possibility. Go and find out how much capacity there is in the system if you want to find out just how stretched special schools are in some parts of the country. Many are full and cannot take further referrals which will mean less opportunity for transfer out of the mainstream when the going gets tough. There is underinvestment in provision, despite the millions spent on the SEND reforms, meaning that as the complexity of our pupil population increases, mainstream schools will need to develop their ability to meet the needs of those with more significant learning disabilities. And this is a responsibility we need to share.
So on a positive note, what is happening that may ensure that we develop our collective ability to successfully address the challenges that mainstream schools face in meeting the needs of those with SEND?
One area in development currently, and one I am involved in, is the notion of impact evaluated SEND reviews. London Leadership Strategy have received funding from the DfE to look at developing a review process for SEND and then report back on the impact over the course of a year. You can read more here:
The intention is to place SEND at the heart of the school improvement process in mainstream, something that may be helped by a limiting OfSTED grade for SEND, although that is another discussion and one which would need very careful consideration.
Another development is the creation of a pilot study for SEND teacher training covering 11 programmes nationwide, with a wide range of different approaches, both mainstream and special school based. This is being externally evaluated and will run for the 2015/16 academic year. However, if the work is to have any sustainable impact then it is essential that the outcomes are effectively disseminated and opportunities created for those with an interest in SEND to develop a subject specialism in this area. This must be in addition to the enhancement of what is currently available within solely mainstream ITE if we are to get close to claiming that every teacher is a teacher of SEND.
However one thing that would transform the ability of mainstream schools to better meet the needs of children with SEND is to develop better relationships with the very sector which they look to when the going gets tough. To move towards better collaboration with the aim of investing in the development of mainstream’s ability to meet more complex needs. To learn from the best of mainstream and the best of special. After all, once you have developed a better understanding of what it is we do, you might begin to realise that you too can provide ‘Expert Care’.