(UK) Schools Week: "Dramatic rise in...special educational needs"; system overhaul needed

Mar 15, 2020, Schools Week: Time for an alternative perception of alternative provision

DR SAM PARRETT OBE CEO, London & South East Education Group A dramatic rise in pupils being diagnosed with special educational needs means many schools are facing significant challenges. We have to rethink our systems and assumptions accordingly, writes Sam Parrett London South East Academies Trust consists of seven schools, only one of which is mainstream. The others – two alternative provision (AP) academies and four special schools – look after children whose needs can’t be met in the mainstream system at particular points in time. Young people between the ages of five and 18 arrive at our schools for a wide range of reasons. For some, it’s the culmination of various difficult behaviours. For others, the result of a one-off incident. Some pupils are with us for a short time while others will stay on a longer-term basis, particularly in the latter two years of compulsory schooling. Others still are assessed as having specific educational needs, get an ECHP and move into specialist provision where their needs can be best met. This may sound straightforward, yet it’s anything but. Many who come to our AP schools are more than capable of achieving qualifications and progressing into further/higher education and ultimately into a fulfilling career. But two things conspire that limit their opportunities. First, against a backdrop of limited budgets, the default is to move “difficult” children on, and ultimately make them someone else’s problem. It’s a truism to say that permanently excluding a “difficult” child can release pressure on staff and indeed, other pupils, but consideration is rarely given to the needs and entitlements of the excluded children. Second, often able young people are seen as too much of a liability for a mainstream school’s performance measures. This is especially the case for pupils who are unlikely to make the grade at GCSE. With accountability measures as they are, the bar for exclusion is certain to remain low…. Structural reform can only create more perverse incentives. What the system needs is an overhaul in terms of what constitutes progress, achievement and success, and fairer national funding to ensure the calibre of AP is always high….