Developing Inclusion in England
Richard Rieser looks at the state of government policy.
Just before Christmas Damien Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, allocated an extra £125 m to Local Authority Higher Needs Budgets for 2018/19 and a similar amount for 2019/20. Unfortunately this is a sticking plaster which will not address a double perfect storm of a funding crisis for SEND and a crisis of anti-inclusion brought about, often unintentionally, by Government policies in England. This followed an autumn of effective campaigning by parents and education unions.
The drivers of this twin crisis are identified in a number of reports including by the Select Committee on Education and the Local Government Association. Reforms in 2014 extended the age covered by the new Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) from 0 to 25 replacing the 3 to 19 Statement. Despite lip service to the presumption of inclusion, it placed no accountabilities or incentives on schools to be inclusive. Instead a raft of measures have created disincentives: a more rigid national curriculum moving away from creative subjects; tougher tests; the loss of National Curriculum levels and P scales for those working below National Curriculum levels; the introduction of Progress Eight measures that understate progress of pupils from lower levels of achievement; freedom for schools to introduce zero tolerance behaviour policies; growth of free schools and academies with their own admission policies; real terms reductions of school budgets by 9%; pressures and reductions in Higher Needs Budgets; reduction in powers of local authorities to nake provision forcing them to rely on independent providers; reductions in local authority advisory and educational psychology services; inadequate CAMHS provision; and lack of training for schools.
Some statistics indicate the scale of the problem. The number of children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans or Statements has increased by 35% in five years, 2014-2018 from 237,111 to 319,819. The number of children and young people being educated in specialist schools and colleges went up by 24% during the same period. The number of parents taking Local Authority decisions on EHCP to SEND Tribunal has increased from 3,147 to 5,697 registered appeals from 2014/15 to 2017/18 and of those that go to a full appeal 89% are found in favour of parents. In January 2018, 4,152 children deemed to have special needs had not been found a school place (up from 776 in 2010). Latest exclusion data for 2016/17 show 46.7% of all permanent exclusions (6x the rate for non-disabled pupils) and 44.9% of fixed term exclusions (5x the rate for non disabled pupils) are pupils with identified SEN (14.3% of school population). A NAHT survey of 600 primary Headteachers showed 94% found it harder to resource SEND than 2 years ago and only 2% said top up funding was sufficient to meet EHC Plans .
The Secretary of State’s intervention, which includes £100m for LAs to build extra provision such as mainstream resource bases or more free schools and setting up an advisory panel, are too little too late to alter the imbalances in the education system. These go back to New Labour turning its back on inclusion in 2007, when Andrew Adonis, the architect of academies, told the Select Committee, ‘Labour did not have an Inclusive Education Policy’. This followed the introduction in 1997 by Labour of an inclusion policy that led to 60% of children with statements attending mainstream schools and strong LA support for inclusion. The flight from inclusion was magnified by the Coalition and Tory governments opposing the ‘bias to inclusion’. The Select Committee (July 2018) say government measures inadvertently affected inclusion. The notion of inclusion challenged the medical/special needs label model of the status quo and its vested interests, such as special school heads and proprietors, medical professionals and entrepreneurs moving into SEND provision.
These vested interests have been allowed to develop and market their segregative services to parents, who increasingly feel the mainstream offer is not meeting their child’s needs. Yet when we ask most Disabled children and their parents, they want their child to be happy, not bullied, to have friends and be included, to make progress on what they can do rather than be penalised for what they can’t do and to be valued with support and adjustment so they can thrive.
Children’s learning is continually assessed by their teachers through activities such as class work, homework, reading, and tests. There are also external assessments at specific points of a child’s education, Year 1 Phonics, Year 2, Year 6 etc. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) league tables compiled every three years have exercised politicians more than inclusivity. Pressure to compete internationally has led to many measures that act as barriers to children with disabilities. This is reinforced by narrow floor targets enforced by OFSTED and schools not being rewarded for the often great progress children with SEND make below the normative tests.
The main pressure on Higher Needs Budgets is from parents abandoning mainstream and seeking often expensive independent placements through the tribunal system. 6% of pupils with EHC Plans in independent schools took 14% of the Higher Needs Budget in 2017/18. The LGA studies identify that if the trend is not reversed with a big boost to inclusion in mainstream (down to 46% of those with EHCPs in 2018), this will lead to the Higher Needs Budget of English Local Authorities being between £1.2b and £1.6b overspent by 2020/21. School budgets are also seriously affecting school SEN support as teaching assistants and mentors are cut to make up the shortfall. The government need to understand the negative implications for SEND and inclusion and go into reverse.
Labour are committed to a fully inclusive National Education Service with restoration of budget cuts and full adoption of Article 24, but even if they form a government change will still be needed in attitudes, practice and policy. However, a Labour government is the best chance of re-establishing an effective inclusive education system . .
Education Select Committee (July 2018) ‘Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions’ https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmeduc/342/34202.htm and ISOS Report on SEND Funding for Local Government Association, Dec. 2018 http://www.isospartnership.com/uploads/files/LGA%20HN%20report%20published%2012.12.18.pdf
 NAHT September 2018 Empty Promises :The Crisis in Supporting Children with SEN https://www.naht.org.uk/news-and-opinion/news/funding-news/empty-promises-the-crisis-in-supporting-children-with-send
 Angela Rayner MP September 2018 https://schoolsweek.co.uk/labour-party-conference-angela-rayners-speech