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EDGEWORK®: Maximising outcomes by moving from the ‘controllable’ to ‘influenceable’ parts of the SEND system

by | Mar 28, 2023 | High Needs and children's education, Local government transformation | 0 comments

Funding isn’t enough – we need a sustainable plan for improving children and young peoples’ experience of school.

This week a headline grabbed my attention on the BBC News website: Overcrowded specialist schools: ‘We’re teaching in cupboards’. Parents and carers, teachers and concerned citizens everywhere were doubtlessly horrified at the thought of our most vulnerable children and young people spending their school days in such conditions. Some of the children and young people mentioned in the report felt unable to attend school as a result, violating their human right to an education.

The article cites a lack of special school places as the reason for children and young people being taught in cupboards, and mentions the £2.6 billion being promised by the Department for Education (DfE) to provide new places. Whilst this will likely be an important part of the solution, increasing capacity on its own doesn’t reflect the complexity of the problem of special schools being oversubscribed and will never provide a sustainable plan for improving children and young peoples’ experience of school.

To do that we need to look system wide at the underlying reasons for the lack of places; what is causing some children and young people’s needs to escalate to the point of needing specialist education and why are we increasingly unable to meet complex needs in our state funded mainstream schools? Inclusive approaches in early years can support some children whose conditions are masked until later, when needs are higher. Are we supporting these children early enough?

When we talk about our EDGEWORK® approach to change, we often ask people to think beyond the parts of the system that they can control and look instead at the areas they can influence in order to achieve better outcomes for children and young people with SEND. Within that influenceable space sits an army of teachers and support staff. If some of this investment was spent giving teachers the tools they want and need to better understand the individual needs of children and young people with SEND, and helping them to meet those needs, would we be able to provide fulfilling school places for some of our complex children and young people within their local mainstream schools? Some children’s life chances can be improved if they can be supported in mainstream but many are currently in special schools. Freeing up those spaces makes room for children and young people with more profound needs to be supported nearer to home.

Better support for children, young people, families and professionals in the prevention space needs to be an essential part of this work to ease the strain on special schools. Exclusions from school, breakdown of school places and non-attendance are all traumatic experiences which contribute to needs escalating over time.

At the moment, the system is extremely poor value for children and young people and their families, and taxpayer costs are escalating unsustainably. There is no doubt that investment in special schools is desperately needed. But every special school placement we prevent through better meeting the needs of a child or young person in a more inclusive way not only provides a child with an enriching school experience, but also eases the pressure on places and on the tax payer.