I keep reading and I keep getting cross.
I’d love to call the current state of affairs surrounding special needs provision in England a dog’s dinner but even my hounds metaphorically eat better than this state of affairs. There is no money. There is little to no provision for some children and young people, because there are no money or resources. Subsequently, thousands of children in schools are without adequate provision or even without school places. Tribunal appeal numbers are up and costing the tax-payer and private individuals hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But how did we get into this mess and how can we get out of it again? Here, I think it’s important to clarify what I mean by ‘we’ here. I don’t mean individual teachers and schools but rather it’s a collective ‘we’, not dissimilar to the well-known ‘royal we’, where I refer to education collectively, as a mess that we are all in. I think the ‘we’ who got us in the mess may well be just a small proportion of those who are now implicated in that larger ‘we’ that is indeed in a real mess when it comes to SEND provision in mainstream schools in England.
I think the mess started back in 2011, with the Green Paper from Michael Gove and Sarah Tether. They outlined how bad the then-current system was; it was not perfect but there were many strengths. It was decried as complex, cumbersome and restrictive. A promise of the new, proposed system was “freedom to drive improvements” and “freedom to work together to develop better services for children” between professionals. On paper this reads beautifully. However, 8 years down the line this has not been the case. The reality has been fragmented, underfunded provision nationwide. From Bristol to Leeds to Surrey, the lack of national guidelines relating to provision for SEND children and young people, exacerbated by funding no longer being ringfenced and schools having to ‘find’ the first £6000-worth of support for children, has led to children dropping out of school entirely, the number of home-school children increasing and the number of requests for EHCP assessments skyrocketing. The system is broken and cannot continue like this.
What can we, as educators and educationalists, do about it?
When I spoke to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties in April 2019, one of the key arguments I made, alongside the other speakers was the importance of early identification and adequate initial provision to meet need. The financial incentive to fuel this should be the increase in costs due to rising tribunal cases and appeals: if needs are met initially, tribunal numbers will drop, children will fare better socially and emotionally in school, and educational outcomes will improve to ultimately benefit the economy. Thus, there is a marketable reason to improve provision.
However, appropriate provision should not come down to the market and its effects. Children and young people should have the right provision for them, because it is the right thing to do. Inclusion starts in schools and lays foundations for all other walks of life. We need to value all our young people and meet their needs because we want society to function well and to provide them with better metaphorical food than the dinners I give to my hounds.