Speak Truth to Power part one

Now that I’m back at home from my visits to London, I’ve had a little while to think about where we go from here as far as education and SEND is concerned.  I thought, being as I have a dual investment, as it were, in its success, that I’d put some ideas down on paper, get some discussion going, that sort of thing.

We all know – or those of us with an interest in the area anyway – that there is too little good practice going on that is shared, and that too few people know about it.  Too few people feel they can change what goes on, even when they do know about alternatives.  It is my personal view, backed up with nothing better than a hunch, that many of the people with good ideas – the people who actually carry them out – are too far down the hierarchical pecking order to get their voices heard.  Patchy is the word that is bandied about.

We all know that, in the field of special educational needs and/or disabilities, the consequences of getting it wrong are very great for the children concerned.  There is, as the lady said, a moral imperative in the work that we do.  So let’s put the arguments behind us and work together to get it right.


I’ve had a bit of a think and I’ve arranged my thoughts into themes, from the general to the particular.  I’m very good at big picture stuff, but not so hot on things like details, so don’t expect to see too many of them here – if you have any good ones, add them to the comments below.  Because I’ve had many, many thoughts, I shall split them into a couple of posts.


National Government

In my view (and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you will know this already) the government in the form of the Department for Education, needs to look at the purpose of education and whether the system we have is fit for it.

Personally, if the purpose is to fit all of our young people out with the skills and knowledge they are going to need in order to live an independent life as possible, I don’t think we are doing very well.  There are pockets of greatness, yes, but pockets are not what we are after, are we?

We have got to a situation where Education is serving itself, rather than the children, and we have an almighty job on our hands to change the prevailing culture.  Success comes in many forms, and so does accountability, so that really needs to be looked at.

League tables and end of school examinations and accreditations need to be changed.  Alternative forms of accountability need to be considered, and exams/accreditations that allow children and young people with SEND to show what they know in positive way need to be found and celebrated.

If you’ve got any ideas about how we could go about making the system of accountability and exams better, I’d be grateful if you could add them to the comments.


The role of inspection

I wrote to Mr Harford last month about what I would like him to inspect as far as services for children and young people with SEND are concerned, and I agree with many that there is an important role that Ofsted can play as far as ensuring people are getting their best start.  However, it also seems to me that Ofsted has a lot to answer for for instilling a culture of fear in our schools, and fear is bad for learning and bad for SEND.  So, we need to know that inspectors will look at all sorts of data, the qualitative and the quantitative, when they are making their judgements, and have in mind the most vulnerable as well as the brightest and the best.  We need them to challenge the tick box culture that is strangling education.  We need to believe that this is what they will do.

If a school isn’t doing as well as it might with their vulnerable kids, what are Ofsted going to do about it?  Is there a way where they can help, rather than simply pronounce judgements?

As an aside, I think it would be enormously helpful if the four categories were abolished and sent to the bottom of the ocean in a concrete overcoat.  Either a school is a good school or it isn’t.  That’s all we need to know, frankly, and the same goes for teachers.  Anything else just encourages window dressing.



We need co-operation and collegiate working, not competition.  Teachers in different schools need to be able to meet together.  Training needs to be improved, inspection simplified, and flexible provision ensured.  Above all, we need a culture change.   We need to stop seeing children with SEND in a medicalised way.

Thanks for reading.  Please do contribute your ideas in the comments.


11 thoughts on “Speak Truth to Power part one

  1. I do agree with all that you say, Nancy, as I’ve seen it first hand. I have seen specialist schools transformed for the worse by concentrating on data collection to satisfy OFSTED and to the detriment of the good work they were doing with the children individually beforehand. The difficulty is trying to measure SEND children as a group when they are all so individual. Maybe greater collaboration between parents and school as to collecting information about the effectiveness of the education and life skills (glad you mentioned those) is the way forward? Parents know if their child is making good progress and receiving good teaching.
    Lynn McCann

  2. Good piece Nancy. “We need to stop seeing children with SEND in a medicalised way” – this is absolutely true and it is the only way we will get schools (and inspectors) to appreciate the disablising effect of the environment.

    We also need, I think, to mainstream SEN issues: they are always represented as ‘special’ issues for ‘special’ kids and teachers and even ‘special’ inspectors. This is getting worse as the Children and Families Act (CFA) has caused greater confusion and eroded the confidence some teachers etc had in their understanding of the system. But teachers, governors, heads and Ofsted inspectors should all see that they have a responsibility to ensure they are informed and can critique the system and practice for themselves. If all teachers should be teachers of SEN, so should all inspectors. And this goes for senior Ofsted staff too.

    Equally, all Education Secretaries should understand the SEN system and mainstream it as an equality issue not sideline it to the field of ‘families’ and ‘care’. This personalises troubles rather than making these issues ones of public responsibility.

    Finally, and I know I keep on banging on about this (see http://educationalrightsalliance.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/ofsted-schools-and-law-inspecting.htm), but unless our schools’ inspectorate complies with its own framework and ensures children’s statutory rights are protected (under the CFA and Equality Act) we can forget them playing any constructive role in creating genuine change. Just yesterday a tweet from a school celebrated that it had been graded outstanding but a cursory glance at its website provided no evidence of:

    (i) an accessibility plan (required by the Equality Act);
    (ii) medical needs policy (required by the CFA);
    (iii) equality objectives (required by the Equality Act and its Regs); and
    (iv) equality information (required by the Equality Act and its Regs).

    I am not saying the school does not have all of these things but their absence from the website should lead to further inquiry.

    I have been asked by obvious to flag up such cases but every report I look at (and compare with the school’s website) raises such inquiry. Ofsted really needs to get its act together.

    Schools cannot and must not be allowed to select which laws they comply with. No matter how good a school appears or how ‘nice’ it seems to be to disabled children, compliance with the law is a basic necessity and Ofsted would not stand for this type of legal non-compliance in any other area or with any other group of children.

    So let’s start with helping schools to understand and apply the law. Equality is not about a la carte dining, it’s a table d’hôte.

  3. That should read:”I have been asked by Ofsted to flag up such cases but every report I look at (and compare with the school’s website) raises such inquiry. Ofsted really needs to get its act together”!

  4. I think Teaching School Alliances like Simon’s have much to offer in terms of sharing good practice. Simon’s is a Special School and can draw on those pockets of greatness and share them to a wide number of schools.

  5. Some of us have been banging on about collegiality for decades but just as we force children to compete (the sole purpose of education in the UK is to rank order students) – well so too schools are riddled with competitive careerists who care not a fig for children’s learning and seek only to climb higher up the greasy pole.

  6. I have always been concerned about exams for SEND children. Special dispensation in exams means that they are given extra time to sit them, but how is that helpful for the likes of a child like mine who is dyslexic? He is exhausted by having to think much harder so the offer of an extra 40 minutes to complete an exam paper is not helpful. What I would suggest is that they have special breaks in an exam, for example sit for 30 minutes of the exam and then have a 10 minute break, which could be supervised in a closed environment. The exams results could be identified with a mark after the grade, for example “maths Grade B (assisted) which would indicate to employers that the student was competent in obtaining this level of maths, but required more time to complete the paper, due to a disability or learning difficulty.

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