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Inclusion and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): Is this an education system in crisis?

 

As someone who has worked in SEND for twenty five years as a teaching assistant (TA) in both mainstream and special education, as Portage worker, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator and  having recently authored a book relating to SEND, I have found myself becoming increasingly alarmed by the many media articles over the past few months (House of Commons: 2019, Guardian; 12/2019, Nursery World: 2019) relating to the breakdown of SEND provision for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

In 1978 Mary Warnock was charged with reviewing the education of children with SEN who at the time were being educated in institutions away from their home. I was fortunate to be working as a Portage worker when the first SEN Code of Practice was commissioned by the Department for Education in 2001.  The code very much supported the role of Portage. A Portage worker visits very young children (0 – 3) who have either been diagnosed with SEN at birth or subsequently. They carry out developmental programmes through play, set out by alongside the child’s parents to support their holistic development. They also support parents with the emotional challenges of having a child with SEN as well as with appointments with a range of multi agency professionals.

My own experience was that the service became a lifeline for many parents who were getting over the diagnosis of a SEN for their child and who were bewildered by the education system, and the new push for children with SEN wherever possible to be educated in their local mainstream schools.  However as time has moved on these services have been diminished.

In 2014 the Code was redrafted jointly by the Department of Health and Department for Education and the name changed to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Code of Practice (SEND). This new piece of legislation was seen by many as being positive, and indeed a leading charity working with educators of children with SEND claimed that the new code represented ‘a transformation in the way support is provided for children and young people with SEND up to the age of 25’ (NASEN).

However five years on, it would seem that the revised code is proving difficult to administer and I wonder whether it is indeed fit for purpose?  Announcing a new major funding bid of (£700m) for children with complex needs,  the Education minister has called for yet another review of provision – maybe this suggests that the system of inclusion is failing large groups of children and I wonder why this may be.

A recent review carried out by the Educational Select Committee (2019) discovered that the

  • the new code is still too bureaucratic
  • parents trying to get Education Health Care plans (EHCP), (the documentation that replaced Statements of  Special Educational  Needs) are still finding the process cumbersome and time consuming and too focused on what the child cannot do rather than what they can do
  • parents are still expected to ‘know the system’ and receive limited support from professionals when deciding which school to send their child to
  • parents are being left ‘exhausted’ by a system that is not yet efficient enough to support children and their families.

Alongside this Local Authorities (LA’s) budgets are being cutback, which inevitably has an impact on their ability to implement a range of services for children and families as effectively as they should.  At the same time the country has been through / is currently going through a period of austerity which means that local authority budgets are cut back drastically and this has an impact both on the services which they can offer and on all school budgets.

These budgets affect not just mainstream provision but also special schools. It has a further impact on the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that teachers and teaching assistants receive. One practitioner told me recently that the only training offered at the moment through local authorities is safeguarding because this is legislative. Yet many teachers and teaching assistants require more extensive training in order to work with children with specific developmental and health needs. To say nothing of the fact that many children with SEND also have medical issues which require staff to be fully trained to support children with feeding, respiratory issues and to administer life saving treatments.

It seems to me that teachers are becoming overwhelmed with the requirements of a ‘standards driven curriculum’ which might  suggest that children with SEND do not receive the level of support they require as they struggle to make the progress that other children do. It would appear that the system is indeed in crisis and that more funding and support from local authorities is required if true inclusion is to be available for children with SEND.

In my view it is vital that all children should grow up to accept difference and diversity.  The inclusion of children with SEND into mainstream schools is an essential part of children growing up to accept difference and diversity and should continue wherever possible..

  • What are the major challenges you face when supporting children with SEND in 2020?
  • How do you think the system could be improved?
  • How effective do you think inclusion is for children with SEND?

Penny Borkett                                                                                  

February 2020

 

 

We told you so – but are we being heard?

We told you so… but are we being heard?

With the recent election bringing a hefty government majority for the foreseeable future, it’s time to ask ourselves what this may mean for young children and those who work with them.  TACTYC has been campaigning vigorously in opposition to some of the policies of the Conservative government, so it can be discouraging to wonder whether some of these may be steamrollered ahead in spite of informed, evidenced objections from the profession

There is one government policy I fear will now go ahead, regardless of all our efforts to the contrary.  I expect that when September rolls around, hundreds of thousands of 4-year-olds spending their fledgling weeks in reception will be taken aside and tested in English and maths, for the sole purpose of providing data points used to judge schools 7 years later.  Conservative ministers have been adamant that it will go ahead.

We know it won’t work.

When a description of the test design was published, TACTYC published a critique pointing out concerns about how it would work in practice (http://imx07wlgmj301rre1jepv8h0-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Young-children-as-guinea-pigs-TACTYC_.pdf)   We said the baseline design failed to address the substantive problems with baseline assessment that have been repeatedly identified by education experts, teachers and parents.

We said it would take valuable time away from the important settling in period of building relationships.  Teachers said:

  • The tests themselves take 10 minutes each (20 minutes in total in theory) but the admin involved in setting-up, taking the child out of the classroom and inputting the results doubles that time at least.
  • And worst of all, we’re pretty much having to ignore the whole class! I couldn’t tell you much about the children, who they play with and how they approach things. We have also noticed a dip in their behaviour as we aren’t there to model everything for them. Awful, awful, awful.

We explained that children would need to fail at some questions before moving to another area.  Teachers said:

  • The structure of the questions was not useful. If a child could not count with any 1:1 correspondence, they were still asked about ‘how many altogether?’ If children did not know the initial letter sounds, they still had to try to read the word ‘sun’. Ridiculous!
  • Children feel in their first experiences of school that they can’t do something. How does this promote resilience?
  • One child became upset and said “But I can’t read” when faced with the word recognition.

We said it would not be a reliable guide, since young children’s learning is embedded in real experience, not demonstrated in response to yes/no abstract test items.  Teachers said:

  • Not set up to tell you anything worth measuring. “Point something out in a picture” is supposed to measure language skills. “Recognise four numbers out of 20” = can recognise numbers.
  • One child could not name a nest, but when I told him it was a nest he then told me all about nests, baby birds, mothers who go and collect worms for them to feed them and how they learn to fly. But he couldn’t say ‘nest’ so that was a NO.
  • The test was inaccessible to many EAL pupils. For example, one child did not understand ‘show me the grass, point to the grass’. Outside in the garden I said to the child ‘what is this’ whilst touching the ground; there was an instant response ‘grass’.

 We said its coverage was too narrow, ignoring crucial areas such as personal emotional well-being, self-regulation curiosity and creativity.   Teachers said:

  • It’s not a baseline. Call it what it is: a maths and English test.
  • Good way of seeing how children perform in formal situations (and the answer was not that well. Children were overwhelmed but now we ‘formally’ know that).
  • We felt that the Characteristics of Effective Learning are the best indicators, and these are not explored through the baseline at all.
  • It also contains a bizarre section where children are asked to create an ending for a story and then not allowed points if their ending deviates from a very dull and uninspired sequence. Why would we want to promote a lack of imagination? Ridiculous!

Where does this leave us?  When reasoned, evidenced argument, a colourful march to Downing Street, and a petition with over 76,000 signatures makes no impression on government policy, how do we see our function as advocates for young children and the professional role of early years educators?

We are currently being consulted on the government’s proposed changes to the EYFS, particularly focussed on the Early Learning Goals and EYFS Profile, but with profound implications for the whole of the EYFS.  We can and should respond to this (https://consult.education.gov.uk/early-years-quality-outcomes/early-years-foundation-stage-reforms/). TACTYC’s response is available here  and you have until the 31 of January to send in your own version.  Let us hope this consultation will involve real listening.

Big questions are circling in my mind about our role in advocacy:

With the government supposedly committed to developing evidence-based policies, why do we so often find that our input seems to be discounted when decisions are made?

How can we enhance the status of early years professional expertise, in order to be taken seriously in policy discussions?

How can we stop early years education being used as a political football and, instead, move towards development of joined-up, long-term goals and policies which will benefit young children and their families?

Shared identity, shared vision, shared voice

For 40 years TACTYC has advocated and lobbied for professional development in order to ensure the educational wellbeing of young children. During that time, there have been countless policies and initiatives that have directly impacted professional practice for those working in early years. While many of these have claimed to be ‘evidence informed’, the evidence that has informed them has often been generated outside the sector in service of policy makers rather than the children who, as Bridgett Plowden so eloquently said, are at the heart of the education system.

As we celebrated our 40th anniversary last year at our ‘Back to the Future’ conference, we heard from many of the founding members of our organisation. The passion, commitment and determination of these in dominatable activists was truly inspiring. Those of us who heard them speak found ourselves lifted beyond the daily drudgery of ensuring that we are compliant with the latest directives.

The conversations that followed helped us find a renewed sense of identity, a new courage and commitment to work together for change and to help others to develop their professional identity too. We felt ourselves to belong to a powerful community, committed to empowering others and challenging the status quo.

Professionalism extends beyond compliance with performance indicators. Sadly, not all those working in early years have the confidence to speak out. This confidence comes from being part of a community, from finding like-minded individuals who share your vision and affirm your views and values.

TACTYC continues to advocate and lobby for professional development in order to ensure the educational wellbeing of young children. We have expanded to include those working and studying and providing training throughout the early years sector because it is the voice of those within the sector that must be prioritised in decisions about it.

Our new blog is your invitation to join the conversation, to speak out and be heard so that, together, we can work to shape our sector and prioritise the voice of the early years professional in political discourse.

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