The special educational needs reforms are a lost opportunity

The Guardian has an interview with headmaster Barry Huggett in which he explains why he feels that education, health and care plans will benefit students with severe disabilities but not those with language-based problems…

The wall of Barry Huggett’s office is lined from floor to ceiling with neat rows of files – one for each of his 460 children. They’re packed with letters from staff detailing students’ needs: reports from occupational therapists, educational psychologists and speech and language therapists, to name a few. The school, which Huggett has led for some 20 years, only admits students with language-based problems such as dyslexia though, as he points out, teachers rarely refer to a child’s label.

“We’re interested in what their needs are, and it’s likely that those needs will change significantly with time,” he says, adding that many are actually comorbid, meaning that they have aspects of more than one learning difficulty. “You’re not stuck with one thing forever. If you label children there’s a danger that you teach to the label: ‘He’s one of those, so I’ll teach him this way.'”

At More House, teachers focus on finding students’ strengths as well as supporting their weaknesses. This means paying close attention to pupil progress, and providing a diverse curriculum – the sixth-form offers around 20 different qualifications to a year group of just 60 students…

The quality of education available to students with learning difficulties has developed a great deal since Huggett joined the school in the 1990s, when – as he puts it diplomatically – provision across the country “probably wasn’t desperately good.”

But there are still children who fall through the cracks. A lot of students join More House because they haven’t had a positive experience of schooling elsewhere…

 

…The acute shortage of specialist schools does not help the situation. “There is a huge need for places in schools like this,” he explains. “There aren’t many schools like More House around – we’re the largest, but we’re small.”

Years have passed since the Bercow report highlighted the paucity of provision for children with language-based learning difficulties, but little has changed. Although the green paper on special educational needs and disability offered hope, the lack of funding available to local authorities means reforms are unlikely to live up to expectations, says Huggett. He feels that an opportunity has been lost: “It seems that the whole thing has been downgraded. It will be delivered by local authorities who do not have the funding. It doesn’t feel like authorities know how it’s going to work. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

And while the introduction of education, health and care plans (EHCP) will benefit children with more severe disabilities, it is unlikely that they will help the type of young people who attend his school. He suspects that in future years, fewer of his students will be LA-funded. “There’s less money to go around, and – for the children we deal with – I think parents will find it harder to get an EHCP for their child. I’m intrigued to see how it will turn out.”

In the meantime Huggett is taking his own steps to tackle the shortage of special school places. He has ambitions to open a school similar to More House in the north of England, where there are very few opportunities for students with language-based learning difficulties…

More at: The special educational needs reforms are a lost opportunity

Your reaction to Barry Huggett’s comments and his concerns for the levels and quality of provision that is and is likely to be available for children with language-based problems? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…

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