Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds has warned mainstream schools that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not ‘somebody else’s problem’ and it cannot be left to a few schools and colleges to provide for them.
In a speech to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (5 July) in Manchester, he said there was now a steady movement of children with special educational needs out of mainstream schools and into specialist provision, alternative provision and home education. At the same time, rates of exclusion have begun to rise.
‘And I hear too many stories about off-rolling, with schools finding ways to remove pupils, outside of the formal exclusions system,’ he added. ‘And of what is, essentially, pre-emptive exclusion, where parents looking at secondary schools are actively or in some way subtly discouraged from applying to a particular school for their child.’
‘This is not okay,’ he stressed. ‘SEND pupils are not someone else’s problem. Every school is a school for pupils with SEND; and every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils.’
While accepting that specialist provision may be the right choice for children with complex needs he said mainstream schools and colleges should be able to offer strong support for many more children and young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, as well as high quality SEN support for those without plans.
He added that he intends to both equip and incentivise mainstream schools to achieve this and the Department for Education (DfE) will work with the schools inspectorate (Ofsted) to ensure its accountability system sufficiently rewards schools for their work with pupils who need extra support, and encourages schools to focus on all pupils, not just the highest achievers.
Other SEND priorities mentioned in his speech included closer collaboration between the DfE, the Department of Health and Social Care (DoH) and NHS England to support local authorities and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to more effectively plan and commission SEND provision; and greater efforts to help young people with SEND access opportunities that will help them find employment.
Concerns about the national rise in the proportion of children attending special schools and the reasons behind it have also been raised by Peter Gray and Brahm Norwich, co-coordinators of the SEN Policy Research Forum. In a letter addressed to Damian Hinds and published in the TES they suggested that many parents of children with SEND were being forced down the special schools route for reasons other than ‘parental choice’. It calls for clearer and more positive policy on inclusion and entitlement for children with SEND.
The UK government has already commissioned a review of school exclusions, which is being led by former Minister and MP Edward Timpson. One area he has been asked to look at is the disproportionate exclusion of SEND pupils. The review is expected to report by the end of the year.