Skip to main content


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.



No comments received for Parents of SEN children desert mainstream as inclusion fails them

Please login to post a comment.

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Moving the desks won’t make the results better

    Bernadette John, our Director of Special Educational Needs, despairs at yet another pointless idea from The Department of Education. The school admissions system is, apparently, now taking the blame for the lack of social mobility which is blighting opportunities and depriving the nation of much-needed talent.

  • About the number one UK trusted school guide.

    The Good Schools Guide is the UK’s number one school guide, helping parents in every aspect of choosing the best education for their children. Trusted by parents for over 30 years, the guide includes unbiased and candid school reviews and in-depth articles on education-related issues. It is available in print, online to subscribers or through GSG’s expert consultants. Uniquely, each school is selected on merit alone. No one can buy their way into the GSG’s good books. And from famous names to local treasures, their writers visit every single school, interview the head, speak to pupils and parents, analyse academic…

  • For 'Grammar Schools' read 'Fee-Paying Schools'

    One criticism of grammar schools is that they take a disproportionate number of children from privileged backgrounds. A far smaller number of grammar school pupils receive the pupil premium than pupils in comprehensive schools.

  • Sad stories of wasted opportunities for children in need

    Buttle UK is a charity which supports disadvantaged children. One of its more imaginative and bolder initiatives has been to fund places at boarding schools for children who are thought likely to benefit from the opportunities this would provide. The project has been sensitively designed so as not to create divisions between children and their own families and social milieu.

  • Time and places

    The initial furore over National Offer Day is over - although, of course, the next one - Primary School Offer Day - is only six weeks away and we'll have to go through the whole miserable experience again. We, at The Good Schools Guide, along with everyone else, get worked up on behalf of children who are not allocated their first choice school or, far more worrying, children who get offered none of their six choices. It isn't good enough and shouldn't be happening.

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The Good Schools Guide manifesto for parents