Parents of SEN children desert mainstream as inclusion fails them
The proportion of children with special needs being educated in mainstream schools has dropped markedly in the last ten years. This is one of the headline findings in Ofsted’s annual report (released 1st December).
Parents are voting with their feet on the great inclusion idea, removing their children from mainstreams, particularly when it comes to secondary school. The result is that 43 per cent of children with EHCPs or statements are now in special schools, up from 36 per cent in 2007.
The Ofsted report suggests that the exodus to special schools is down to parents’ concerns that their child is not getting the help they need in mainstream schools.
Too right it is. Every day brings a call to our SEN consultancy service from a stressed parent witnessing their child floundering in a mainstream school and despairing at the paltry support.
At the best schools, with the best intentions, they often simply do not have the funding and the training to properly support the child. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers surveyed its members and found that half feel they do not get sufficient training to understand and meet their SEND pupils’ needs. And teachers' union the NASUWT reports that 60 per cent of its members believe they haven’t had the training they need to teach pupils on the autism spectrum.
Mainstream schools rely on the National Health Service to provide therapies such as physio, occupational, and speech and language therapy. Most parents feel they've got lucky if a child sees any of these therapists once in a year - while in special schools the teachers and therapists work side by side.
And then there are the schools which seem deliberately to make the child’s place in the school so uncomfortable that the family will move on. One parent came to us when the school told her that her son could not work at the levels of any of the sets in the school, so he would have to be taught alone. Too often this is the child’s actual experience of ‘inclusion’ – taught on their own, away from the rest of the class, usually by an unqualified assistant.
Families in the North and the Midlands are faring particularly badly. Ofsted says that one-quarter of secondaries in these regions are still not good enough, and its report says: “The geographic divides within the country are particularly acute for the most able pupils and those who have special educational needs.”
With schools becoming ever-more cash-strapped, we fear the provision for children with additional needs in mainstream is only likely to get worse. I’m afraid more often than not, our advice to the parent on the end of the ‘phone is that the child is likely to be far better off in a special school.