Thoughts on inclusion……a personal view

Wow! What a debate to start the New Year with! In my last blog I concentrated on the ‘mechanics’ of the system and said that pondering on what it means was for for another discussion….well this is it!

Since I have been teaching there has been a shifting view on this with the closure of special schools and a move towards more inclusive mainstream classrooms. This has largely coincided with the actualisation of ‘care in the community’ and the shutting down of homes for adults with mental health issues. Both of these have had their disastrous moments; the notion of putting bewildered and often frightened children and adults in settings they cannot cope with is a seriously flawed one. Newspaper headings in the ’80s and ’90s screamed about unsolicited killings of innocent people just going quietly about their business , attacked with knives and samurai swords; inevitably the perpetrator was ‘under the doctor’ but had stopped taking medication or was released from psychiatric care with no further supervision. ‘Care in the community’ became sarcastically synonymous with a lack of care, with the unwary public like lambs to the slaughter…literally! In education, campaigning parents fought to save their children’s special schools and told heartrending tales of the inferior provision they were now being subjected to!

So what is inclusion? Is it about SEND or something deeper?

When I was at school I was bullied….primary and at grammar school….it didn’t help that my mum was a teacher at the latter! I wasn’t one of the high flyers….they existed in their own rarified atmosphere and were largely left alone. I was in the middle-to-bottom group with the street fighters and the rebels…..the ‘back row’ girls! I caused my poor mum endless heartache….truanting and being rebellious……I hated school with a passion! Ironic eh? (maybe that’s what drew me to a PRU!) The point is I never felt ‘included’….I was on the outside looking in….I sought acceptance, but never really achieved it! I couldn’t wait to leave!!!

My son ( grown up – he has given me permission to speak about him) was diagnosed with a right-sided weakness when he was a baby! I knew there was a problem but an eminent paediatrician dismissed it! It was thanks to the tenacity of my health visitor that he attended a Child Development Centre and received a diagnosis. His early years were punctuated with agonising treatments eg serial plastering and intense physiotherapy. I remember my despair when a lady at the clinic said ‘never mind love…these children compensate by having very nice natures’. She was trying to console but her words cut me to the quick! What did she mean? Was he going to be severely disabled? Mentally impaired? I read @nancygedge and empathise so much. It feels like your child is being written off! As a baby! Fortunately he responded to a degree….he still has stiffness and you can see it more when he’s tired….but he has a nice nature….and is bright….and has been to university and got a good degree!

When he went to school there was talk of statementing. He had to wear a leather and iron caliper which fed into a leather boot. The school were great! The staff patiently undid his caliper for P.E. The prongs were forever springing out of his boot! The headteacher spent ages wrestling to put them back! He found sport difficult. I can remember one sports day the young male teacher heaved him on his back and ran with him! His great friend had cerebral palsy and needed a TA for her physical needs. Was the school inclusive? You bet! And we are going back over twenty years now!

Secondary school loomed and I admit I was apprehensive, remembering my own miserable years. He was so happy at primary and had many friends but we had moved away and he wouldn’t know anyone at his new school. We chose a small high school with a young, new head; we liked her vision and her ethos and her sense of caring. On his ‘taster’ day she was there to greet him personally and looked after him. His best friend was a bit of a ‘hard nut’….often fighting and in trouble….but he had a big heart and looked out for my boy! I waited for the bullying to start….his limp….his lack of sportiness and physical strength….but it didn’t. He was so content there with loads of friends and this has continued through college and higher education!

So I come back to my original question. What is inclusion? Is it about SEN? Obviously, for some kids, yes. My son was fortunate to manage in mainstream…others with his condition had a more debilitating kind and needed specialist provision. Its not just about SEN….I was *normal* but existed on the fringes until I went to college as a mature student to do my degree.

At my own school ( no real surprise I was drawn to a PRU) the children often have a mixture of both….undiagnosed SEN and behavioural issues which isolate them socially…..this is a debate we need to have. Otherwise we will end up with ‘care in the community’ which effectively excludes adults for the rest of their lives.

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Inclusion or exclusion? The great SEND debate!

I am writing here to expand on my comment on Jarlath’s recent blog on inclusion and the special school click here Entitlement? Yes. Inclusion? No There is a debate to be had here and it needs all of us who care about SEND to join in with it.

I stated that inclusion is a double – edged sword and I stand by my view. There are children who genuinely cannot cope in a conventional school setting, and the reasons are numerous…..size, shape and layout of buildings….large numbers of children….insufficient adult ratios…..SEN……the list goes on! This is before we consider children with severe medical and behavioural issues who need access to highly specialised equipment and staff! Whether the ‘inclusionists’ like it or not, we do need separate provision for some children; anything else is downright cruel in my opinion! If they saw the relief on some of the children’s faces when they come to our PRU they would realise that a small, nurturing setting is just what some children need! Not just the kids….the parents too! They are tired of fighting ‘the system’ and it’s a relief for them to see their children happy and settled and making progress in their behaviour and education! I appreciate there may be different issues for children with diagnosed SEN who need small, specialist provision but in essence we are talking about the same things!

Then this morning I added a comment to Laura’s blog in which I urged her to investigate the national scandal of the rising exclusion of young children! They come to us with often undiagnosed SEN and we have an uphill struggle in getting them the help they need. Educational Psychologists are thin on the ground at the moment with the ongoing conversions of Y6 and Y11 statements and we have been told to buy in private support for new EHC plans! I would urge SEND professionals to look at the EdRightsAlliance click on http://twitter.com/era_tweet; and contribute to the discussion . A parent posted a comment which echoed my own thoughts that PRUS can often be a dumping ground for children with SEN…her own autistic children went there for a while when they couldn’t cope any more with mainstream. This is wrong on so many levels……to mix autistic children with SEMH is unfair…they need a different set of strategies; we have had INSET training but we lack the funds and the space to provide properly tailored provision….we are an assessment centre not a special school!

So what of the SEND changes? They seem good, sensible and reasonable at first glance. However scratch beneath the surface and the wheels start to come off big style! Why the insistence on conversions first? In a large county like ours we are talking hundreds! How can EPs focus on new referrals when they are meeting tight deadlines for these?! The criteria have changed too….SEMH not BESD….but there are children who will not be eligible for an EHC plan who need one. Pupils going to special SEMH schools need EHC plans so what if they cannot access mainstream? Will they be doomed to a life of exclusion, passed from one unsuitable school to another? This is already happening in some areas! The percentages for each of the criteria to be met have also been increased….these are not common knowledge yet but it will be much harder to get an EHCP! We need greater transparency because those in the know are already fearing the worst!

There is also the issue of funding in general for schools. It is clearly stated that the first £10,000 of any Plan is provided within school budgets but I have yet to speak to a Headteacher who recognises that! This is a smoke and mirrors exercise which denies children the help they so badly need. I would argue such funds should be ring fenced but it’s not likely to happen because it would quickly become apparent that cuts have been made in other areas; this is cynical and just plain wrong! When schools exclude they often cite money as being an issue ; PRUS are funded in the same way yet we are expected to pay for EPS and generally pick up the pieces of underlying SEN. We are paying for dyslexia and attachment specialists to come in and referring through to CAMHS and other services! As SENCO, that is my remit but it can be too little too late if the kids only come in Y6 !

I am due to attend a SEND day run by Jane McConnell from IPSEA looking at the legal side of all this and I cannot wait! I feel we need to be armed with as much information as we can in being aware of the statutory duties of the various bodies concerned! I heard only last week of an authority which has not published its local offer in clear breach of its mandate. I hope that between us we can keep up to speed with the current changes and hold the relevant agencies to account.

I feel I have dodged the question of what we mean by inclusion and how we can avoid the spread of exclusion but that is a conversation that needs to be had at another time. I want to tackle the system as it is now and iron out the difficulties and inconsistencies that currently exist ; our children are too precious for anything less.

I have been asked to add a key to explain the abbreviations! Sorry…it’s easy to slip into jargon! So here it is:

SEN….special educational needs
SEND….special educational needs and disability
SENCO…..special educational needs co-ordinator
EHCP….education and health and care plans (replacing old statements)
EP….educational psychologist
SEMH….social, emotional and mental health…..this replaces
BESD….behavioural, emotional and social difficulties
CAMHS…..children and adolescent mental health services
IPSEA…..a charity which supports parents through the legal maze click here http://www.ipsea.org.uk

Hope this helps!

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Civil War

I’ve re blogged because this goes to the heart of our dilemmas! Jarlath also blogged on this!

The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy

A couple of months ago I filled in an online questionnaire.  It’s not an out of character thing for me to do (although it has to be said that it is usually because I hope to profit from my time by being entered in a draw for some sort of Ladies Nice Clothes voucher), but this one was close to my heart in a different way.  It was a questionnaire from Mencap for parents of children with Learning Disabilities (such as Down’s syndrome) about their children’s experience in school.  They were particularly interested in experiences of mainstream school, and, as Sam stayed there until the end of Y6, I felt that I had something to contribute.

The main findings of the survey are published https://www.mencap.org.uk/news/article/parents-mainstream-schools-are-failing-our-children-learning-disability here in their press release.  Key statistics are:

  • 908 parents took part in the survey.
  • 435 reported having a child with a learning disability in…

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A Year in Review – The #Nurture 14/15 Challenge

Laura McInerney

This year’s #nurture1415  blog challenge involves listing 5 highlights of the year and 5 hopes for the next.

Right, well… here goes.

The Highlights

FOI selfie with Helen Lewis (my official 'court friend'). It was the end of the day. And we did ask before we took it. FOI selfie with Helen Lewis (my official ‘court friend’). It was the end of the day. And we did ask before we took it.

1. Being opposed in court by the Department for Education

That sounds weird, I know. It didn’t feel particularly good either. But the farcical situation of defending my simple ask that the DfE publish information about free school applicants and decisions, was one of the best learning curves of my life.

I spent months reading and writing court documents, and becoming conversant in Freedom of Information law. There were endless sleepless nights worrying about it all. Family and friends were bored to tears with me going on about it (and did an amazing job of turning up to support me on the…

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