The Green Paper and Inclusion: A view from Dame Christine Lenehan
Christine is the Director of the Council for Disabled Children
The SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper is very clear about the poor outcomes and experiences of Disabled children and those with special educational needs:
- Inconsistent levels of support
- Unmet need
It also lays out the problems with the current system that is caught in vicious of cycle of late intervention and increasing demand:
- Slow and adversarial process for accessing support.
- Huge increases in the number of statutory Education Health and Care plans issued each year
The vicious cycle is well known to children and families as over stretched, as under resourced, and with unresponsive services which sees families moved up through levels of crisis – often into a ‘solution’ for their child that they would not have sought themselves.
Most families want all of their children, regardless of SEND labels, to go to the local school, build local friendships and be part of the local community. The system’s approach, which escalates to crisis management, often undermines that early on. Once this is broken it is very hard to restore.
On first reading, the Green Paper rightly identifies that the solution to these challenges lies in a more inclusive mainstream education system. The Green Paper’s proposal to develop standards on what support should be made available universally in mainstream settings is bold and could drive a far more consistent approach across the country. However, to truly deliver an inclusive system we must make changes to the wider framework that schools operate in. This includes the rigid and narrow mainstream curriculum, behavioural policies that take little account of difference, and accountability measures that penalise inclusive schools. Neither the SEND Green Paper or Schools White Paper appear to have actively sought to address these mainstream policies.
The Green Paper has bold ambitions, but we need to understand how it will be delivered:
- What will mainstream schools need to change in cultural mindsets, which currently lead to the over exclusion of Disabled children and those with SEND?
- How can we make sure that all teachers, indeed all staff, are trained and supported to work with children with SEND and see them as a valuable part of the school community?
The Green Paper is surprisingly light on the ‘hows’:
- How will we make SEN Support a process that is embedded and ensures children get their needs identified and met at the earliest opportunity?
- How will we incentivise schools to engage?
- How will we ensure MATs focus on supporting children in the mainstream rather than moving children to special and AP?
The Alternative Provision measures in the Green Paper are welcome. The Government should make sure that children in AP get a consistent, quality education, and are regarded as children who are expected to succeed and thrive rather than fail. But we also need to make sure that improving AP does not provide the basis for moving more children with SEND labels into this provision and away from mainstream.
There is much to think about in reforming SEND policy and legislation, and we need to ensure that the Green Paper consultation process is fully utilised. There are glimmers of hope for inclusion. We need to make sure they are magnified.