I trained to teach in 2004. Whilst I don’t think I realised it at the time, looking back now I wonder if this represented almost a golden age for inclusion in our schools. 

Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration. I’m certainly not going to suggest that everything was perfect or that every school in the land was fully inclusive. However, there was certainly a clear drive from within government, Local Authorities and schools themselves to create a more inclusive education system.  

However, it would appear that the progress that was made on inclusion during this time is now being put at risk.

The DfE’s own statistics show that since 2010 we have seen a year on year decrease in the percentage of children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans attending mainstream schools. We have also seen reports of a significant increase in children with EHC plans being home-educated and a rise in the number of children with recognised needs, but without a school place. Many of our own members who lead special schools are telling us that they are now exceeding their pupil admission number (PAN) in order to meet the growing demand being placed upon them.

As far as it is possible schools should be a microcosm of the communities they serve.  They should be places where children learn to value difference and diversity, and to recognise that everyone has something to offer. They should be places where a wide range of talents and achievements are celebrated.  The more inclusive our schools are, the more likely we are to create an inclusive society.

I am not suggesting that every single child should be in a mainstream school. However, I think we should be concerned about the apparent trend away from mainstream education for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The causal factors that have led us to this point are, as always, multifaceted and complex. 

There is no escaping the impact of funding cuts on schools. Independent analysis by The Institute for Fiscal Studies has established that schools have faced per pupil funding cuts of around 8% since 2010. We know from our members the very real impact these cuts are having. It means higher pupil to staff ratios, fewer teaching assistants and a cutting back of ‘non –core’ services such as family support workers or school-employed speech and language therapists. All of these cuts have a disproportionate effect on pupils with SEND.

On top of this our members  are also reporting that the top-up funding they receive for pupils with EHC plans is decreasing, with 50% saying they have seen a decrease over the last twelve months. 

The financial pressures are not limited to schools. Local services have also come under intense funding pressure in recent years and whilst these might just be numbers on a spreadsheet in Whitehall, on the ground they are having an enormous impact as schools struggle to access the expertise and support their pupils desperately need. 

In a survey of our members that we carried out this summer, 94% said that because of these cuts they are finding it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND than they did two years ago. The situation is becoming critical.

However, it’s not just about money. Whilst there are signs that things might be about to change for the better, for over a decade schools have worked within an accountability framework that has valued academic achievement and exam performance above all else. We have lived in a climate where Ofsted outcomes are closely linked to test results and where one year’s apparent underperformance can lead to threats of punitive intervention. Frankly, in recent times our accountability system has unfairly penalised those schools who have remained the most inclusive.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of schools still want to be as inclusive as possible, but they need the resources that allows them to be so, and an accountability system that doesn’t punish them when they are.

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Join James at Achievement for All’s annual conference!

James is one of the many experts participating in Achievement for All’s Every Child Included in Education conference on 17th October 2018 at Newbury Racecourse. Together with other industry experts, James will be looking further at what excellent provision looks like in the primary years of education, providing delegates with top tips and strategies to take back to their school.

Keynote speakers will include Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Shadow Minister for Education (children and families), June O’Sullivan MBE, Chief Executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) and Thelma Walker MP, member of the Education Select Committee, amongst many others.

There will be 13 expert panel-led sessions discussing and debating a range of topics such as managing transitions in early years, understanding children looked after, engaging children in reading and behavioural policies and vulnerable children.

A full list of speakers and breakout sessions can be found here

Tickets cost £90 and can be booked here. Achievement for All schools and settings are eligible for a 50% discount.

Parents and carers join free and group discounts are available. Email tickets@afaeducation.org for more information.