Thursday 17 March 2016

Academies for all? Does this help our #SEND children?

I know that you sometimes have to try and take press reports with a pinch of salt, and not make snap judgements based on what you read... but I'll have to admit to being a little disturbed when I read the announcement direct from government about the 'new vision for the education system'.

Not once in this summary were Special Educational Needs and Disabilities mentioned. OK, OK, I get that it's a minority issue, but that doesn't make it any less important. Not if we're heading towards an 'inclusive' society rather than the days of yore when children with 'problems' were sent off to institutions...

Making the move to Academies is placing accountability firmly with each school - and other than moral standards, what exactly is the appeal of admitting a student with special educational needs or disability, when it's all too true that they need more support and therefore more cost allocated to them? When I first called to enquire about visiting schools in our area with a view to our autistic girl attending, several came up with excuses or reasons not to even let us over the threshold (we don't have the right resources, we don't have enough space in school, our staff are not trained well enough, we only have 3 TAs in the whole school...).

'At the heart of this vision is empowering parents to hold schools and the system to account. A new parent portal, the first of its kind, will provide information on school performance, guidance on how the school system works and information on specific aspects such as a clearer and fairer school complaints and admissions system.'

Wouldn't it be great if that parent portal gave the truth about how many Head Teachers turn away children with additional needs simply because of the extra cost burdens which would be placed upon them? Of course, that would be considered illegal and in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act - but how many parents have the money or the knowledge to fight through that legal system?

And next: 'The white paper follows the Chancellor’s budget commitment to invest in the next generation including funding for schools to increase the length of the school day, helping young people develop the skills they need to compete globally.'

Do we really believe that a longer school day is going to help my autistic child compete better globally? Should that be the focus for her?

'We have not only the best qualified workforce in history, but also a workforce that is increasingly focused on constant self-improvement, that is driven by the evidence and which like other professions is breaking new boundaries, sharing what works, challenging one another and unleashing greatness'

There seems little point in having a qualified workforce if the expectations placed upon them are causing them to leave the profession in droves. I could list many articles I've read recently from teachers who are so dissatisfied with the mess the system is in, and I can honestly say I haven't read anything supporting any of these recent Government initiatives yet.

Special School Head Jarlath O'Brien makes a great point in his article How SEND is the Achilles Heel of mass academisation - namely that special support teams are likely to become a part of history. Are teachers also going to be trained to be educational psychologists, speech and language, sensory processing disorder, and autism experts, on top of their increasingly difficult day jobs? Of course I live in hope that extra ring-fenced money will be given to each Academy to support their inclusion of SEND students....

Nicky Morgan, I am more than disappointed. These are worrying times. I'm still hoping someone out there can set me straight and tell me it will all be OK....?

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