Archive for the ‘Campaign’ Category

“A society where everyone matters”

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

by Jess Cahill & Yewande Akintelu-Omoniyi

This article is from the Summer 2017 edition of Inclusion Now. Join ALLFIE to receive three issues of Inclusion Now per year.

ALLFIE recently met Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children (CDC), which represents the national disabled children’s sector. We thought it would be an interesting time to talk to her as she has been working for the government on a review of residential special schools. Her report is due out in early winter.

We asked Christine how the review came about. She explained her own motivation:

“My first job as a professional was working on long stay hospital wards in the 70s and 80s. So that really left an imprint on me. In honesty I’d been trying to look at residential schools for quite a long time, and that’s partly because if children are a long way from home I want to know they’re there for the right reasons and in the right place and getting the right outcomes.”

As well as some political background, she explained that the review was partly triggered by her previous report this year on children in mental health inpatient services.

There are 324 residential special schools and colleges across the UK (“We can now tell you this, we couldn’t before we started.”). For the current review they visited 10% of these across the Ofsted spectrum, from “outstanding” to “requires improvement”, and talked to young people wherever they visited. They spoke to local authorities and looked at why some were placing a lot more children out of the area than others. And they put out a call for evidence, receiving around 130 responses from parents and other people, including from us at ALLFIE. At the time we met, they were digesting what they had found.

Christine talked about her impressions: “I think the strongest thing that comes out of it is that this is not a planned and coordinated system. I think the worst thing for the children and young people is that they repeatedly fail and that they internalise that failure. When you ask the kids “why are you here then?” they say “because I got thrown out of this school and I got thrown out of that school and I couldn’t live at home and I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that” and they see that as belonging to them. What they don’t see is this is a system that failed you, they see themselves as being failures of a system.”

“The phrase we use at ALLFIE is that children are being set up to fail,” we commented.

“Yes and I think that’s true. I think we saw a lot of that. The strongest thing that came out of that for me was just how powerful bullying is. We know that bullying is a really powerful dynamic but actually it was SO powerful for these groups of young people. They were very positive often about the schools they were in because they were the first places they hadn’t been bullied in.”

She also feels the mainstream is becoming less tolerant of disability, and that the effect of much of the positive work on inclusion that CDC did with ALLFIE, with similar organisations and with people like Richard Rieser around the time of the Disability Discrimination Act had been lost. “One of the things that shocked us was the amount of children who should have done really well in mainstream education and were not there because reasonable adjustments had not been made.”

“One of the groups of children we saw were children with autism, who were bright, able kids who were going to get 5 A to Cs, or they should have done, but people were just not making the adjustments. People were expecting them to be different than they were. They were young people with autism in massive schools without safe spaces. Often they would come out of that because their mental health wouldn’t cope, they’d get very anxious about it, or again they would do something, usually to do with behaviour, that would take them out of the school, and the minute they did that the future for them in terms of success would start to go down fairly quickly. Yet we know for many of those people fairly basic reasonable adjustments in schools can meet their needs.”

When ALLFIE submitted evidence to the review we were struck by how much people’s stories reflected huge forces which have shaped their lives negatively and left them feeling quite powerless, and we asked Christine what she thought those forces were.

“We’ve now got this huge array of different ways of running education whether it’s free schools or academies or local authorities. What we don’t seem to have behind that is a set of standards for all children.” She also identified that this had created a challenge in the system about who provides specialist services, such as peripatetic hearing impairment teachers, and who pays for them, where they were previously the responsibility of the local authority and a shared resource for all local schools.

Then the diversity of schools can lead to discrimination. “It appears that some chains of schools are excluding and other chains of schools aren’t. When there’s that narrow attitude of ‘how do I meet my targets? Well I don’t take children who aren’t going to hit them,’ then actually that’s fundamentally wrong.”

She also cited cuts to NHS services and social care, and not just education: “People have retreated back into their silos. The NHS does only what it has to do, schools only do what they have to do. The children we represent need really good creative joined up commissioning. We wanted to be clear that austerity bites.”

As well as individual factors which triggered a child being sent to residential school, whether a school exclusion, difficulties with their social care package or family breakdown, she was clear that local authorities were experiencing problems with capacity due to a bulge in the child population, and also lack of expertise which was often about poor planning in the system. “The best local authorities plan. They understand who their children are, they’ve got really good data, they understand place planning. Local authorities that are in more trouble just react: ‘Oh my god, what have we got to do here?’ Some of that is to do with the fact a lot of their staff have gone [due to cuts], but some will just always be better than others.”

We also discussed why some parents actively seek residential schooling for their child. Christine had found that some, particularly parents of autistic children, thought specialist provision such as the “24 hour waking day curriculum” would give their child the best chance in life, but there was also a group of parents who struggled with their child’s care and found residential schooling more acceptable, believing that it would meet all their child’s needs, rather than leaving them to battle with separate authorities themselves.

“We’re trying to untangle these things because they’re difficult. Families should get choice, they should be able to choose lives for their children, they should get the very best. But is the very best you want as a parent the very best you want as a child? Are they things that we have really good conversations about? I’m not necessarily sure they are. And if we decide we’re going to fund these children at this cost and we take it out of the local system, are we then putting less money in the local system for more children? I think there are some really difficult dynamics behind this.”

The report had not been written when we met so Christine couldn’t tell us exactly what her recommendations would be, but she did define for us what a good inclusive education system would look like for her: “I’m not saying it was perfect before, but I think we have moved away from a good inclusion system and I think one of the things we will want to recommend back to government is an inclusion strategy. I think a good inclusion system is an education system that sees its purpose not solely about academic achievements, although I’m not saying that’s not important, but about educating children to be part of a whole society where everyone matters. I think we have got a system that’s become increasingly narrow about defining a cohort of children that succeed, and if you define a cohort of children that succeed you in effect define a cohort of children who fail.

“There are some really good inclusive schools. The quote always in my head is from a head teacher from a school in the North East. ‘We may be an 800 place school but we have 800 individual children with 800 individual sets of needs and a good school meets 800 individual needs.’”

“One of the challenges we wanted to bring out in the review is that assumption that because a decision was made at 9 that your child should be in this school does that mean they’re there till they’re 18? Should we see more children going for what is needed and coming back again?” The review may propose that residential education should function more as a system of shared expertise, which a child attends temporarily with the aim of assessing them and returning them to their community with a package of support. “One of the other things that happens to children is when they move away and then become young adults they have real issues about friendship groups and circles, so should we assume that going away is for the whole of your childhood or should we ask some questions about that?”

“One of the most frightening things about the first review that I did was watching children come out of their community at nine, ten, eleven, twelve and never returning.” She was uncomfortably reminded of her past work in long stay hospitals and that era’s attitude that removing disabled children permanently from society was “kinder for them”.

However she also felt there was a balancing act to get right. “One of the things we got wrong when we closed hospitals and introduced inclusion is we forgot that people make friends with people like them. So you’d have one disabled person in an able-bodied environment and isolate them entirely, because actually they wanted to talk to people who shared the same views, who shared the same challenges. There’s something about how you build those friendships and those worlds without saying the answer is to put all the disabled people in this environment and they can all talk to each other.”

We also asked how CDC could enable children to understand that they have rights such as the right to mainstream education, and Christine explained that just telling people about rights is not enough – children and service providers need to understand how these work in practice, so CDC have produced toolkits for practical activities, and worked with a theatre company acting out some of those situations.

We were also interested in how she felt about the challenges of representing a sector which has often very mixed views. “I think we are on a road to citizenship for young people. I don’t think we’re anywhere near the end of that journey yet. And I think each generation that comes along has to challenge for the next. Organisations like ALLFIE, because they have disabled people at their heart in a way we don’t, are part of that challenge. Looking forward I think we will keep falling out with ALLFIE and I think it’s a really important thing that we do, provided in the end what we have is a constructive dialogue. You’re the essential grit in the machine. One of the things I’ve learnt in my career is the need to learn from disabled people about their experiences.

“I recognise regularly the frustration of the disabled people’s movement that things do not seem to progress in the way they need to and most of the time that frustration is one that’s shared. I might regret this but I would encourage organisations like ALLFIE to keep being frustrated and to keep pushing us to move and to change.”

My thoughts on “Schools that work for everyone”

Monday, January 9th, 2017

My name is Yewande and I am an office volunteer at ALLFIE. A few weeks ago, I was working with our Campaigns Coordinator Simone, looking through the new Government consultation. It is called “Schools that work for everyone”.  Their plan is to make schools more selective and to introduce more grammar schools. So my job was to find out if the consultation showed how these changes are going to affect disabled pupils (including those with SEN). The subject of grammar and selective schools has always been a controversial one so I was interested to see what the new Prime Minister and her Government’s take would be on them. This blog post is going be about what I think of the consultation.

Worryingly, there is no mention of disabled pupils or those with SEN in the consultation. My view is that grammar school and selective education is not good for disabled children and young people. I believe that education should be inclusive of all children and young people regardless of ability. Inclusive education is a fundamental human right, and should be taken seriously.

I also believe that when it comes to selective education, a limited view of “ability” is being tested. The test criteria are most likely to be very narrow; as a result many disabled pupils will not be able to pass, due to the nature of their impairment. The testing will not be broad enough to accommodate the fact that people learn in different ways, especially when you have an impairment.

One of the main points of the consultation is that some schools will still remain non selective. If parents of disabled children cannot get them into selective schools, then the next step usually would be to send them to a non-selective school. This may seem like a positive development; however it is still a cause for concern. It is fair to say that more of the funding will go to selective schools, because the Gov. wants to make most schools selective. When the funding goes to the selective schools, it means that non selective schools will have fewer resources. This will result in non-selective schools having fewer students and fewer good teachers. Most parents and teachers do not want to be part of a school that does not have enough money. Low student and teacher numbers can lead to poor quality education, and may even mean closure for some non selective schools. This puts parents of disabled children and young people in a difficult position. If their child or young person is not getting a good education in a non-selective mainstream school, many of them will feel that they have no choice but to send them into segregated provision, by that I mean special schools and special units.

In conclusion, I believe that the Government plans are a huge step back for inclusive education. Even if a small percentage of disabled children and young people are chosen to attend selective schools, it is still wrong because education should welcome all pupils instead of fitting a few into narrow criteria. The disabled pupils who get selected have less chance of receiving an inclusive approach to their learning, even if they are struggling with certain aspects of it. We should find ways of improving our education system for disabled pupils by exploring various learning styles and showing teachers the different ways that children and young people learn. The Government also should provide funding and resources for schools to develop an inclusive ethos.

The Government is showing that inclusion is not a priority for them by not mentioning disabled pupils and students in the consultation. If more parents start to feel that they have no option but to send their child or young person to segregated provision, the less chance there is for children and young people to be educated together. If children and young people of all abilities are not educated together, there is less opportunity for us to create an inclusive society.


Yewande Akintelu-Omoniyi

ALLFIE Office Volunteer

How grammar schools excluded me as a disabled child

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Our anonymous writer tells us how he was barred from grammar schools in the eighties due to disability.

As a young child starting infant school I was often absent from school due to various illnesses, and the fact I was born with disabilities didn’t help the situation. Due to my unavoidable absences my infant school teachers saw me as behind the rest of the class and basically an obstruction to other pupils’ learning. As I was seen as a “struggling student” I was not given extra help but instead left in a corner to play with Lego as others were learning. I was lucky as I was reading and writing ahead of my peers, only all my learning happened when absent from school from my mother and grandparents.

Eventually time passed and my peers and I were due to move up to junior school. This was when my mother was informed I would not be with my peers but placed in a “special school” to help me catch up with children my age. I was then sent to a different school which I had to travel to via minibus everyday due to the distance. The staff at this school were obviously more aware of pupils’ abilities as I came top of the class throughout my junior school years, even with continued absences. When I was in my final year the headmaster attempted to get permission for me to sit the 11 plus exam – a special school pupil apparently had no need as they wouldn’t pass or qualify for local grammar schools. My headmaster gave me his own version of the test and then sent the results and a personal statement of my abilities to my local grammar school and Manchester grammar school, explaining that although I was disabled I could manage all the work without any problems. Both grammar schools replied to my mother and my school explaining that, although academically I could easily be accepted, they could not take students who couldn’t participate fully in their curriculum, which included an extensive sporting requirement. I accept this may not be the case in all grammar schools but in Manchester and Altrincham in the mid eighties this was their excuse.

In 1986 I started at my local high school where I found in the first year I was bullied extensively – and not just by other students. The work I was given consisted of workbooks and papers I had already completed at my junior school, as since I was ahead of some of the other pupils, teachers had given me the work  so I had something to do, never expecting the same work to be handed out at secondary school or that both grammar schools would refuse me. As anyone can imagine, along with the bullying, being bored in almost every class resulted in me not wanting to be at the school on most days. Although my absences were less now they were still more often than most and a lot of teachers decided I was lying about my disabilities and other illnesses to get out of attending school, so if I was being accused of truancy for the first two years I felt I may as well play truant. I would leave my house to go to school most days and end up going all over the country finding and visiting libraries, art galleries and museums – probably giving myself a better and more intense education anyway.

I left school in the early nineties with two GCSE grades F and G – not a great start to life – so I worked for a year, then attended a general vocational course at my local college, going on to study English literature and ESOL/TEFL as it was known then, becoming a qualified adult literacy support teacher and a qualified ESOL teacher.

Segregated education on the grounds of physical or perceived academic ability is not only a disgrace in this day and age but can also ruin people’s lives. If I had been accepted at a grammar school, given something to learn and not repeat and not been discriminated against due to my disabilities, my life may have turned out very differently.

Grammar is bad

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Nigel Utton, former headteacher and chair of Heading for Inclusion, explains his views on the government’s proposals to increase the number of grammar and selective schools.

When I was a primary Headteacher in Hampshire all of my children were well prepared for the move to secondary school.  The vast majority went to Amery Hill Comprehensive which shared its facilities and even provided some teaching, particularly in modern languages from reception right up to year 6.  The Headteacher and I had regular meetings and our staff worked with colleagues in respective departments to ensure the children went up with confidence and enthusiasm.  They already knew the building, staff and other pupils well and had a very positive transition.

Moving to the selective model in Kent was a tremendous shock.  My school fed into at least six different secondaries; two grammar schools and four secondary moderns with some children being shipped further afield when the place planning went wrong – which it regularly did.  Until the children had the results from their 11+ exams none of us knew where they would be going.  The curricula, especially the languages learned were different in each school.  Preparing our children for transition was a cumbersome affair with the secondaries offering sporadic activities mostly to years 5 and 6 to try to tempt the children to their school.    On these grounds alone we should resist a return to a selective education system.

The argument that grammar schools somehow increase social mobility is frankly a lie.  Comprehensive schools do that – as I know from my own experience.  I was the first from my family to go to university because my comprehensive school had that aspiration and provided me with the broad education to get me there.  Working in Kent, where, due to political cowardice, selective education has continued unchecked, I have seen first-hand how aspiration is stifled almost at birth.  Parents of preschool children have often already decided which of their offspring are ‘grammar’ children and which are not.  This goes very much along class lines – with the parents’ own educational experience being a key factor.

My educational philosophy is that all children should be educated in local inclusive schools.  My preference would be for a curriculum based around children’s individual needs both emotional, physical and academic.  Kent’s model is based in segregation.  Children with impairments are largely educated in separate ‘special’ schools; children who fail the Kent Test are sent to secondary moderns at age 10/11 and those who pass are sent to grammars.  Where the model fails is that children do not fit into simple categories.  The Kent Test is divided into language and mathematical components.  To go to a grammar school children have to achieve above a particular score in both.  Hence children who may only have exceptional mathematical or language ability are denied a place at the ‘best’ schools.  Every year I watched extremely talented children being rejected by the system.  The knock on effect on self-esteem was tangible.  I was horrified talking to adults in Kent who had failed the Kent Test who actually still remembered their scores decades later.

What I hated most was seeing how divisive the system is in social terms.  Right from reception class adults and indeed classmates refer to children as having grammar or non-grammar potential.  Enough educational research on teacher/parental expectation shows us that these early attitudes have potentially devastating long term effects on a child’s learning and actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The best comprehensive schools educate all the children, building on their strengths and developing areas where they may struggle.  Children learn with their local peers creating a positive cohesive community.  Parents and the local community work together to ensure that their school is a place which contributes to a common cause.  Bussing children around to different areas, as happens in Kent and other selective authorities, at best renders difficult and at worst destroys this essential function of education.

A child’s ability is not fixed at the age of 10 when the tests are administered.  Surely the key task of education is to develop children beyond where their abilities seem to hold them.  Putting in a glass ceiling is anathema to an educator.  Segregating children into different types of school with different aspirations is everything that many of us have been fighting against.

The fact that some comprehensive schools, particularly those in areas where deprivation, lack of aspiration and generational underachievement, do not seem to provide the same levels of education as those in more affluent areas with a different demographic, is not an argument against comprehensive education per se.  It is an argument for putting massive educational and financial investment into those areas to raise aspiration and provide hope through building coherent communities.  Creaming off a small elite of children into a grammar school merely creates social division and a hierarchy of worth.

Sir Keith Josephs visited my comprehensive school when he was Secretary of State.  As Head Boy I was asked to welcome him to the school.  At the time he thought that assisting bright children into private education was the way forward.  To a standing ovation I told him that those of us in my school were totally opposed to his scheme and were proud to be at a comprehensive school.  Having been a teacher for 23 years, I am even more convinced that I was right.


You can read our press release on the Green Paper here.

Please join us or donate to us to support our campaign for education for all.

How Blind Victorians Campaigned for Inclusive Education

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Disabled people’s voices are often missing from mainstream history, but texts reveal that a group of blind activists fought for inclusive education during the Victorian times: