Over the course of the last six years, the Special Education sector has experienced an imbalanced degree of attention from the political classes. On the one hand we have been overwhelmed by change, but on the other underwhelmed by interest. The state has expended hundreds of millions of pounds, but little in the way of care. The focus has been on the systems and legislation but not the young people themselves. And this has consequences.
One of the more obvious results of political disinterest in the education of children with learning disabilities is an absence of appropriate teacher training routes. Currently we fail to universally provide an equal opportunity and place an equal value on training experiences in Special schools and the data on how many teachers we need isn’t even held. This is coupled with a lack of intellectual investment in the systems which evaluate the quality of education on offer in the Specialist sector, and a lack of public accountability for the £3.2 billion spent every year on meeting the needs of some of the most complex and vulnerable children in society. After all, despite 89% Good or Outstanding, there has been no analysis of Special school inspection outcomes by OfSTED. Furthermore, whilst Mainstream is released from the shackles of ‘Levels’, P-Scales are renewed as a statutory requirement. Whilst ‘Outstanding’ Mainstream schools are freed from scrutiny, ‘Outstanding’ Special schools are treated as being merely ‘Good’ by comparison. We see significant investment, both intellectually and financially, in the realisation of the potential of the socially disadvantaged, but nothing to support those with a learning disability. And society is poorer for it.
This trickles down. The political ambivalence, becomes pedagogical ambivalence. Who is working out what works for us? Certainly not the EEF, who stipulate that applications should come from ‘…mainstream Primary and Secondary schools’. Yet, we in Special schools are equally vulnerable to the plausibly implausible, grasping at pedagogical straws in order to satisfy our desire for ‘progress’. We are just as likely to wear a Thinking Hat in order to decide how a child learns best, or to introduce the latest label specific panacea, and this has real implications in the classroom.
This has real implications for children. Children who have one shot at education and despite the 0-25 agenda, have little to nothing post 19. Children who, because they have a learning disability, because they have additional needs, are expected to place a high visibility vest over their head for playtime in the name of ‘Inclusion’. Because nobody knows any better.
And it’s not going to get any easier for Mainstream, who beacause of a lack of analysis of Special school placement need, even on the most simplistic demographic basis, are about to find both volume and complexity increase significantly. Ironically we in Special schools are unlikely to be significantly affected by this. If we are full we are full!
So it is time that this disinterest stopped. The Secretary of State for Education is just that, her mandate is for all children, not just those in Mainstream. So the next time she asks, as she did when interviewed by Schools Week, “Special schools, how do we run those?”, she may want to spend a bit of time working out the answer, and then talk about it publicly.