I saw that there was a bit of a ding dong on Twitter about a video featuring @tombennet. I chose not to watch the video as I have met Tom on numerous occasions and he’s visited my very inclusive school a couple of times. I know that Tom advocates meeting the needs of ALL young people so I’m not certain what he said, in the video, that upset some people that I have respect for!
Seeing the comments flying around was a really uncomfortable read; with the usual suspects dropping in to support either side of the debate. However it did make me stop to consider the impact of the openly inclusive ethos at Passmores which we celebrate loudly; as do one or two of my colleague headteachers when they tell the parents/carers of some young people (almost without fail those with additional learning challenges) that they can’t meet their child’s needs but Passmores can! This has led to over 50% of school age young people with an EHCP in our town attending Passmores (there are six secondary schools in Harlow) and I accept that this poses an increased challenge for us to meet all of their needs.
A few of the tweeters seemed to confuse SEND with poor behaviour, which showed a surprising level of ignorance for people that have been teaching for some time. The big point of the argument was how unfair it was to expect staff to meet the needs of a group of young people that included those with SEND and/or the negative impact on the learning of the ‘other’ students in the class.
I struggled with this whole premise if I’m honest. Our job is to meet the needs of the community we serve. That community includes many young people from different cultures, religious beliefs etc. I think stating that we shouldn’t be expected to meet the needs of students with SEND to be as ridiculous as stating we shouldn’t meet the needs of Catholics or left handed people.
The argument seemed to be about the wrong issue in my opinion. Schools should be inclusive of the whole community they serve but that inclusivity should not disadvantage anyone else. It really is that simple. However if schools are not equipped with systems and staff to support the young people and teachers then it will be very difficult to avoid the negative impact on others that inclusion can have, on occasion.
So whose fault is it? If a teacher makes no effort to plan well differentiated lessons, that meet the needs of all students, then that is fundamentally unacceptable of course. However it is the responsibility of the head/governors to ensure that the teachers have the requisite skills and resources to be able to do so and if they don’t the governing body should ensure they hold the head to account for that.
It is unacceptable for a school to actively discourage young people from being members of their school because they can’t be bothered to think through the support required and it is even worse when that decision is driven by league tables or ofsted judgements. In my mind any school that isn’t sharing the whole community responsibility for young people with SEND should only receive ‘requires improvement’ at best when externally judged. However, as we know, it has definitely been the complete reverse of that and this seems to be one of the flaws that Ofsted have yet to rectify.
The funding of schools that go above and beyond their ‘share’ of SEND needs to reflect the complexity of the work they do. The current system is full of tensions with local authorities under resourcing EHCPs because they don’t have enough money and schools having to lose their best in class support staff (called co-educators at Passmores) as we are funded at such a low level that it doesn’t encourage schools to train, and keep, experienced, high quality staff as they get increasingly expensive every year.
Inclusion is fundamentally about ‘botheredness’ and resources; and if either is missing many people are negatively impacted – staff and young people regardless of whether they are in receipt of an EHCP or not – and that is unacceptable.