25th May 2017

Special needs schools have an important place in the educational landscape

Special needs schools have an important place in the educational landscape Cover Photo

Writing the foreword to the 2017/18 edition of Which School? for Special Needs, Adam Boddison, chief executive of Nasen, looks at the demand for special school places and how SEND legislation is progressing...

I am pleased to have been invited to write the foreword for Which School? for Special Needs for the second time. British schools are not only known for their quality provision, but also for their diversity. The modern British education system boasts many different types of school from academies to free schools, from independent schools to faith schools, and from grammar schools to special schools. But with such breadth and choice, it can be a challenge to find the school that best meets the individual needs of a child or young person, particularly in the context of special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). I hope this guide proves useful as you navigate this rich and complex educational landscape.

In 2016, the Department for Education published a green paper entitled Schools that Work for Everyone, which was primarily focused on increasing the number of grammar schools. However, despite the inclusive title of the green paper, there was no mention about expanding provision for children and young people with SEND. The green paper did not acknowledge the growing national demand for high quality special school places and nor did it acknowledge the contribution that special schools are making to the wider educational system. For example, a number of recent Local Area SEND inspections conducted jointly by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have formally recognised the value added when the specialist expertise from special schools is shared with mainstream schools.

This demand for special school places has implications for the recruitment of specialist teachers in terms of both quantity and quality. The Migration Advisory Committee within the Home Office have recently conducted some analysis into teacher shortages in England and their report, published in January 2017, is clear that there is an adequate supply of specialist staff available for teaching in special schools. In addition to this, there have been calls from some special schools to develop specialist initial teacher training routes for those who know from the outset that they would like to work in special schools. I would argue that one of the best things a school can do for a child with SEND is to provide them with an outstanding teacher and on that basis you need to be a teacher before you become a specialist. Whatever the outcome of this debate, the fact that the discussion is taking place at all demonstrates the importance of special schools as a core feature of our educational system.

There are, of course, some individuals and organisations who argue against the existence of special schools on the basis that if mainstream schools were inclusive enough, special schools would not be needed. This idea of inclusion meaning that all students should be in a mainstream school is now outdated and there is general agreement that inclusion is not a place, but an approach that can work in both specialist and mainstream settings. Mainstream schoolscan be just as inclusive as special schools if effective SEND provision is knitted into the fabric of the organisation.

The SEND data available from the Department for Education can be useful in determining both regional and national trends. For example, in the school census there is a requirement to report on both the number of children with SEND and their primary area of need. At a regional level, this data could be used to identify areas with high levels of particular needs and potentially more targeted local provision to reflect those needs. Alternatively, the same data set might be used to tackle the postcode lottery by identifying areas where competition for specialist provision is reduced. At a national level, the SEND data shows us that despite the changes in the school population over time, the proportion of children with statements or EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans) has remained almost constant at 2.8%. Similarly, the data around fixed term and permanent exclusions shows us that in general you are seven times more likely to be excluded if you are a child or young person with SEND compared to those without SEND. This is an area where special schools are making significant progress, since their exclusions are generally much less frequent than in mainstream schools.

2016 and 2017 have seen a number of government consultations including the Fairer Funding Review, the High Needs Funding Review and a consultation on the recommendations of the Rochford Review. The latter is particularly concerned with reviewing the approach to statutory assessment for those children with the most complex learning needs; i.e. those who currently use the p-levels system. The outcome of this consultation will impact on special schools right across England and some mainstream schools too, but only time will tell whether any new approaches to statutory assessment are more effective or not than current approaches. Lastly,

it has been ten years since the Bercow Report and there have been significant changes to SEND policy and practice during this time, so a follow-up has been commissioned. The Bercow Report: ten years on will consider speech, language and communication provision nationally.

Beyond England, it is worth noting that both Northern Ireland and Wales have consulted on the introduction of revised legislation around SEND and both intend to publish revised codes of practice in the near future. Beyond the UK, the system becomes even more complex and the approach to inclusion is dependent on a number of factors, not least the SEND policies and cultural norms of individual countries.

In conclusion, whilst it is clear that effective SEND provision remains both complex and personalised, the value of both special schools and mainstream schools as part of the wider mix of schools is clear. All schools in England do have a lot to offer, but much like the children who attend them, every school is different. The educational landscape will continue to change, but selecting the right school will constantly remain an important factor in determining outcomes for children and young people with SEND.

For more information about Nasen, visit www.nasen.org.uk