Inclusion Now 61

What will happen to Disabled children and Young people under proposed ‘Levelling Up’ measures?

By Richard Rieser, World of Inclusion

Published at the beginning of February 2022, at the height of the ongoing saga of whether Boris Johnson should go or stay, some might cynically argue that the Levelling Up White Paper was released to take the pressure off the Prime Minister. However, the approach taken is likely to give up clues about what will be in the forthcoming (Easter) and much delayed Department for Education SEND Review.

Levelling Up does not offer new money but instead consists of proposed solutions, based on a historical, geographical and multi variable statistical analysis of the social, economic, educational and health disparities across the UK, and in particular England. Solutions that are largely leading to repackaging and redistribution of funds, in already announced Government initiatives. It proposes 12 new initiatives including several measures for education. These include setting up 55 Educational Investment Areas (EIA) where in normative KS 2 test results of 65% of pupils meeting standards in reading, writing and maths with a pledge that 90% will be achieving these levels by 2030 with similar improvements in KS 4 Standard 8 measures. Schools in these areas that repeatedly require improvement by Ofsted, will be handed over to ‘strong’ Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). The Oak online platform developed during the COVID-19 pandemic will be nationalised to provide ‘high quality curriculum and learning support.’

The existing Supported Internships for young people with Education Health and Care Plans will be doubled, providing learning placements in workplaces with job coaches for 6 months to 1 year, to prevent them just revolving on schemes and make real progress towards economic independence. Parents will welcome extra funding for respite and £45million to get the SEND system working more effectively.

The 55 areas selected as Education Investment Areas to raise school standards include: Bedford, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Bury, Cambridgeshire, Central Bedfordshire, Cornwall, County Durham, Coventry, Darlington, Derby, Derbyshire, Doncaster, Dorset, Dudley, East Sussex, Halton, Hartlepool, Isle of Wight, Kirklees, Knowsley, Leeds, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Norfolk, North Northamptonshire, North Somerset, North Yorkshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Oldham, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Rochdale, Rotherham, Salford, Sandwell, Sefton, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, South Tyneside, St. Helens, Stoke-on-Trent, Suffolk, Sunderland, Swindon, Tameside, Wakefield, Walsall and Wirral.

To achieve this, Science and Maths teachers will be paid a retention bonus of £3000 per annum and schools that have repeatedly been shown by OFSTED to require improvement will be forced to join successful Academy School chains. They will also be given support to tackle attendance issues.

The National Education Unions, who represent the largest group of teachers and those who work in schools, commented  “Whilst the National Education Union welcomes any new investment in schools it is vital to note, as the National Audit Office (NAO) has pointed out, “there has been a relative re-distribution of funding from the most deprived schools to the least deprived schools.” (1) “We can see that many of the areas now targeted for support have been among the hardest hit by education cuts over the last decade – on the Government’s own watch, and entirely of its own making”.

None of these measures will make a great impact on the growing disparity on attainment of Disabled and non-Disabled students in mainstream schools, which remains a gap of around 50%, or improve social and creative outcomes.

Twelve years of this Government austerity has led to school cuts, which have largely destroyed the support structures in schools provided by teaching assistants and seen centrally employed specialist teams of teachers greatly diminished. Government ideology against inclusion, of creating a market place in education, using normative test results as the currency, together with mantras of choice, effectively removing Local Authority powers to plan rationally for need and replacing it with undemocratic, expensive and failure prone academies, has created a toxic situation for children and young people with disability or special educational needs.

Behind all this is a failure to understand what needs to happen to create an equal and inclusive school system in England. Several of these failures of understanding were masterminded by Mr Gove when he was Education Secretary, and now seem to be being replicated as he leads Levelling Up. A narrow curriculum which emphasises retaining knowledge, rather than skills and understanding which should be taught in a flexible, child-centred manner and flexibly assessed is the biggest barrier to inclusion. The normative testing regime, which has been likened to an ‘exam factory approach’ leads to the internal, external and informal exclusions currently rife in our schools, especially in academies. Disabled students, including those from black and racially minoritized groups as well as students from deprived and under resourced backgrounds are more likely to experience institutional prejudice leading to very unequal outcomes. Equality is about understanding the barriers that lead to differential outcomes and putting in place effective solutions and resources to resolve these barriers. The Government continues to fail to understand that their ideological stance on education is the root cause of the systems failure.

If we examine the 55 Education Investment Areas on 2 variables 1) percentage of 2-18 population in special schools [average for Local Authorities in England 1.33percent] and 2) percentage of children with Education Health and Care Plans [average for Local Authorities in England 3.25 percent], then it becomes very clear that any blanket strategy could be disastrous for the inclusion and life chances of Disabled  children and young people and children and young people with SEN labels. The figures are from the DFE 2021 School Census. If we divide the 55 up by whether they are above or below average on these 2 variables, we find the following.

The low segregating Authorities: 8 have lower than average numbers on EHCP plans and 12 have above average numbers on EHC Plans. The largest Group of 33 Authorities are above average segregators and also have above average numbers on EHC Plans. These 33 Authorities will need to reduce reliance on use of special schools and improve their inclusive teaching at school support levels to bring down reliance on EHC Plans and segregated provision. Apart from being very expensive in terms of Higher Needs Budgets it also leads to poorer outcomes for the cohort and children less able to transition to useful adult lives.

The low segregating authorities  include: Bedford, Bradford, Cambridgeshire, Central Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Doncaster,  Kirklees, Leeds, Luton, Norfolk, North Somerset, North Yorkshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Peterborough, Plymouth,  Sandwell, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Suffolk, Swindon, Wakefield,  and those just above average such as East Sussex, Bury, Walsall; all in the past have either had a conscious policy of developing inclusion or by virtue of their geography have funded inclusion in their mainstream schools such as Cornwall, Norfolk, Suffolk or North Yorkshire. What has been achieved here needs to be preserved and built upon.

The Government is putting their faith in academies to bring about improvement. The Education Data Lab have questioned the idea that moving weak schools to strong MATs as an answer, showing that in the EIA many of the existing academies are performing below par. Brahm Norwich and his colleagues at Exeter, analysing the National Pupil data base that in the last 10 years, those schools that have become academies have reduced the numbers of students identified with SEN at a faster rate than the community schools and has partly led to the big acceleration of numbers in special schools. This does not bode well for those schools and Local Authorities that are more inclusive. Is inclusion to be sacrificed for meaningless league table results?

What is needed is a new approach from the forthcoming Green Paper that values inclusive practice and rewards schools for each individual student’s achievements. This would require a social model of disability/human rights approach to education.

Table: The 55 education investment areas (below)



The 55 education investment areas  
SEN2 2021 %  in special school of 2-18 popln % of 2-18 population with EHC plans  
England 1.33% 3.25%  
Bedford 0.99% 3.28% Nottingham 0.93% 1.83%    
Blackpool 2.23% 4.35% Nottinghamshire 0.88% 1.86%    
Bolton 1.57% 4.01% Oldham 1.77% 4.29%    
Bradford 1.16% 3.44% Peterborough 0.61% 4.09%    
Bury 1.36% 4.67% Plymouth 1.34% 4.59%    
Cambridgeshire 1.18% 4.00% Portsmouth 1.45% 3.94%    
Central Bedfordshire 1.20% 3.44% Rochdale 1.52% 4.10%    
Cornwall 0.58% 3.12% Rotherham 1.66% 4.31%    
County Durham 1.64% 3.69% Salford 1.87% 4.42%    
Coventry 1.53% 3.00% Sandwell 0.95% 3.18%    
Darlington 1.49% 3.72% Sefton 1.54% 3.87%    
Derby 1.69% 4.56% Somerset 0.96% 3.19%    
Derbyshire 0.86% 2.69% South Gloucestershire 1.13% 3.86%    
Doncaster 1.11% 3.50% South Tyneside 2.12% 5.08%    
Dorset 1.35% 4.45% St Helens 1.40% 3.39%    
Dudley 1.67% 4.07% Stoke-on-Trent 2.04% 4.43%    
East Sussex 1.39% 3.53% Suffolk 1.06% 3.99%    
Halton 1.79% 3.76% Sunderland 1.70% 3.62%    
Hartlepool 1.42% 3.70% Swindon 1.33% 4.23%    
Isle of Wight 1.45% 5.08% Tameside 1.59% 3.63%    
Kirklees 0.95% 3.61% Wakefield 0.89% 3.28%    
Knowsley 2.14% 5.31% Walsall 1.34% 3.91%    
Leeds 1.07% 2.89% Wirral 1.93% 4.72%    
Lincolnshire 1.50% 4.43%  
Liverpool 1.79% 3.57%  
Luton 1.34% 3.51%  
Manchester 1.68% 4.33%  
Middlesbrough 2.01% 4.12%  
Norfolk 1.22% 4.65%  
North Northamptonshire 1.44% 2.90%  
North Somerset 1.21% 3.04%  
North Yorkshire 1.09% 3.10%