Human progress is slow to happen and sometimes hard to see: in an era as troubled as ours, the world can easily look as though it is regressing at speed. But look back, and you may see how far we have come. I grew up in a world where grim words such as “handicapped” and “retarded” were part of everyday speech, and disabled people were too often shut away. People put money in charity tins to salve their consciences, and then went back to their ignorance. A sure sign of the way society kept some people at arm’s length was the inhuman use of the definite article: people knew about “the deaf”, “the blind” and “the disabled”, but didn’t give them much thought. John Harris, who has a special needs child, writes in The Guardian.
And then you look at the English education system – or, more specifically, the arrangements and policies for kids with so-called special educational needs – and wonder what happened. Cuts are deepening, and there is a rising sense of children who do not fit in being pushed out lest they threaten the gods of discipline, rote learning and competitive exam performance.
At the last count, 4,152 children deemed to have special needs had not been found a school place (up from 776 in 2010), and most of them were forced to stay at home without any formal provision. Even if they are in school, thousands more are increasingly being denied the support they need.
Amid an across-the-board spending squeeze, dozens of local authorities are running high needs deficits. Across England as a whole, there is reckoned to be a £400m gap between what councils say they require for their high needs provision and what the government is providing. So schools are cutting back on teaching assistants, special needs training and outside help. If you have a child with special needs, or know anyone who does, you will know what all this entails. One-to-one provision at school often makes the difference between a child progressing or withdrawing. Without such support, it can feel like the sky is falling in.
In the London borough of Hackney, where a brilliant group of parents is fighting cuts to special needs provision and organising a legal challenge under the banner of Hackney Special Education Crisis, this latter cost now accounts for around half of a nearly £6m high needs overspend. It also threatens to create a vicious circle: more children leaving mainstream schools as their special needs provision gets cut, rising bills for special school places, even more cuts as a result.
Meanwhile, many lives are getting more difficult. I spoke this week to the mother of a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was five. After three unsuccessful attempts, he now has a formal education, health and care plan that in theory makes his provision dependable and accountable. But the support at his inner London school has been diluted, and she now worries about him being bullied. Looking ahead to secondary school, she says, “We worry won’t be able to get him the support he needs. We’re going to have to battle.” Another mother told me about her 10-year-old son, recently excluded from school for two days, and promised provision that has yet to materialise. “I have a document, and I go to meetings, but I don’t see any results,” she said.
We all know what modern English education policy is all about: results, league tables, a fixation with “discipline”. The stupid Tory obsession with grammar schools is of a piece with that. Where, you wonder, does special needs education fit in. The beginnings of an answer, perhaps, lie in a government announcement in 2017 that under the auspices of the free schools programme, there are to be 19 new “special free schools”, providing “high quality provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities”, to add to around 30 free schools that have already opened. Some councils’ policies are seemingly starting to reflect similar logic. If this causes anyone disquiet, they should get in touch with a pressure group called Allfie – the Alliance for Inclusive Education. “What we’re fighting against is segregated education,” one of their staff members told me this week. “We’re talking about an ideological drive.”
Read the full article Segregating pupils with special educational needs leaves us all poorer
Has the support for special needs pupils been slowly decreasing at your school? Have the school and the parents fought for more funding? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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