Who wants children with SEN?

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I read with interest and much sympathy the comments made by Nigel Utton, headteacher of Bromstone primary School in Kent. He claims that SEN children are being let down by a system clogged with the need for schools to achieve target grades. He accuses some schools, particularly academies, of placing children in annexes and segregated provision in order to improve their performance.

It’s strong stuff and although not representative of every school, it must be increasingly difficult for headteachers to maintain their principles of inclusion when the stakes are so high and gaming so prevalent.

To some extent, the issue of the time and effort needed to support a child with additional needs has always created tension within the system. Even before accountability was so high on the list of schools’ concerns, some headteachers were juggling their school rolls and positioning to avoid accepting children with SEN.

In every locality, there was at least one school with a reputation for finding ways to use the system to their advantage and avoid taking children who they considered would be a challenge to accommodate. These were usually the same ones who found ways of edging pupils out if they did admit them and problems emerged.

Now the disincentives seem to be growing rather than receding. It has been suggested that the way in which EHC plans will be funded will also be detrimental to those schools with a higher than average proportion of children with SEN.

A report in the Guardian at the end of last year highlighted some headteachers’ concerns over the impact of new SEN funding. Speaking out in ‘Headteachers left confused over SEN funding rules’, they claim that the need for schools to provide the first £6,000 towards SEN provision will unfairly weigh against those supporting a higher than average number of pupils with SEN. Add to this, the need to work more closely with parents and other services and, if done properly, those schools who are truly inclusive are likely to find the task of remaining so, even harder.

Where is the recognition of this? Somewhere amongst all the performance tables there should be a method for acknowledging that some schools are working flat out in difficult circumstances. Results should perhaps be weighted in a schools’ favour if they welcome and work successfully with a higher than average number of pupils with SEN. Nowhere is there real acknowledgement of the additional commitment that doing the right thing by SEN children requires.

If you scan through Ofsted reports the judgements continue to speak for themselves. Nothing is changing. The schools most likely to make outstanding are those with the predictable catchments. The noise around pupil premium and SEN reform seems hardly likely to change the fact that some schools are easier to work in than others and some heads prioritise their own careers above the fortunes of the students and staff they should serve.

Well done to Nigel Utton for speaking out. He can afford to, he’s off now to nurture his own fledgling consultancy. Now it’s time for those who are staying in the game, to speak out too.

Suzanne O'Connell, new Editor of Every Child Update

Every Child Update