Tuesday, 31 May 2016

SEND Reforms: After the Conference debate

Commenting after the debate on Motion 40 (SEND Reforms) , Christine Blower, General Secretary said:

“The Government is missing the point with the focus of its SEN reforms. “Hooked on top-down reform, the Government has spent recent years requiring every local authority to overhaul the method of statementing children’s additional needs. Meanwhile, they have ignored the impact of a heavy and narrowing curriculum, bulging class sizes, and the loss of specialist SEN services. Funding is key to this." 
“In a survey this Easter, 97% of primary members told the NUT that the Government’s policy on curriculum and assessment is not working for children with special educational needs. “In a parallel survey, 65% of secondary teachers said they have seen a negative impact on the educational achievement of their students from a lack of specialist services for SEN. 70% of secondary teachers believe that Government policies are actually making it more difficult to include SEN pupils."
“England led the world on developing inclusive education for many decades, and has exported these principles and values. The principles of competition and deregulation revealed in the new White Paper will let down pupils with special educational needs and is a risky experiment.”

Read the full text of the motion by clicking here

SEND Reforms Motion at NUT Annual Conference


Conference notes that the number of students who have Special Educational Needs has decreased by nearly 6% since 2010.  Conference further notes that nearly half this decrease has occurred since the SEN reforms of September 2014. 

Conference also notes that the proportion of students with a Statement of SEN or an Education  Health and Care Plan, taught in mainstream schools in England, has  declined from 61.1% in 2001 to 54.8% in 2010 and to 50.8% in 2015.

Conference reiterates its support for inclusive education and recognises the urgent  need for training for all teachers in SEND and inclusive pedagogy and the need for  the removal of a narrow results based curriculum and league table culture which is  damaging the implementation of inclusive education”.

Conference is concerned that, since the introduction of the new Code of Practice in 2014, many students, who were previously considered to have SEND, are being denied access to additional funding and specialist teaching.  Conference also condemns the cuts to public services which have resulted in many local authorities abolishing specialist SEND support teacher posts.  Conference believes the fragmentation of the education system, through the increase in academies and free schools, has made it virtually impossible for local authorities to plan, deliver and review the provision needed for students with SEND. 

Conference is also alarmed that classroom teachers now have greater responsibilities in meeting the needs of students with SEND, but they have received no additional resources or training. Conference believes that this has increased teacher workload and reduced the number of support staff posts in schools. 

Furthermore, Conference believes the incessant push, by the Government, to “raise standards” is having a detrimental effect on students with SEND, who are falling further behind their peers.   

Conference is particularly alarmed that students who fail to gain a grade C or higher in English and Maths GCSE are required to resit it until they are 18 years old.  Conference believes that education should be enjoyable, relevant and useful.   

Conference believes that the Government’s agenda of accountability and standards is at odds with a democratic and inclusive education system. The SEND reforms were not undertaken with students’ needs in mind; they are merely a cover for further funding cuts to the most vulnerable in our society.  Conference believes that all students, including those with SEND, deserve to have a broad and balanced curriculum, which embraces their abilities and allows them to develop at their own pace. 

Conference is most concerned about the proposed negative impact on SEND of  introducing a single National Dedicated Schools Grant, which includes the Higher  Needs Block and will lead to drastic cuts in provision. Conference supports levelling  up to get rid of differences in funding, not taking money from the historically better  funded urban  areas

Conference instructs the Executive to: 

1. Work with other trade unions to stop further job losses in central services and to school support staff, including taking strike action;

2. Lobby the Government to restore spending on services for students with SEND to pre-austerity levels;

3. Demand that all trainee teachers, including those on school-based training, such as Teach First or School Direct, receive comprehensive training on SEND as part of their course;  

4. Campaign against mandatory English and Maths GCSE retakes;

5. Work with other interested organisations to design an alternative, meaningful inclusive curriculum, which celebrates achievements of students with SEND; and

6. Campaign to end the constant testing regime that causes many students with SEND to feel marginalised and failed.  

7. To build the campaign up to and including strike action  against the imposition of a National Funding Formula and to highlight the dramatic  impacts the proposals will have on SEND provision.

Monday, 22 June 2015

There’s more than one reason to hate an exclusion...

@ChocoTzar is a Secondary Head Teacher, and former SENCO. This article first appeared on the Labour Teachers blog, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author. 

Once, as an NQT in a tough Birmingham school, I remember my head of department despairing about a Year 8 boy in his tutor group. He was a bully, disruptive and afraid of no one. “He spat out a sweet and forced it into the mouth of another kid; I mean, what else does he need to do to get thrown out?” I agreed then; now I know it isn’t so simple.

This is not an apologist blog. I am in no way suggesting that any child deserves to have their lessons disturbed or to feel intimidated; I believe very strongly in discipline, in standards, in a line that cannot be crossed. Staff deserve to be able to do their jobs without worry or harassment or putting up with crap. And this is why my exclusions are so high. But I have worked extensively across my career with children that are forgotten, on the edges, that have few people to care for them. I’ve been a SENCo, the Senior Designated Safeguarding Officer (CP), and Inclusion is at the heart of my philosophy. I’ve sat with angry children's about to be excluded trying to get hold of an adult (anyone really) to come and take them home. I’ve visited homes without carpets, beds, food, and had to ask about why their son wasn’t in uniform or completing work. I’ve met with parents so angry at the world, so poorly parented and educated themselves, that trying to explain that their daughter calling a teacher a “f***ing c***” is actually offensive falls on deaf ears. Essentially, by the time some children reach me aged eleven the game is pretty much up.

I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life and I don’t quit easily. Excluding a child, even for a day, feels like I’ve given up on them. That is not to say some don’t deserve time out – and their class mates and teachers certainly deserve a rest. But staying at home is often not a deterrent. Often parents aren’t home, or don’t supervise the work we send home for completion, and sometimes we believe it is unsafe for them to be home for that long. I am also aware some children that come in to misbehave so that they get sent home – missing school without their parents getting a fine for persistent absence can be a blessing in disguise. Recently one of my senior leaders sat in a return from exclusion meeting with a Year 8 girl and it was obvious that there were no boundaries at home. This can be common; kicking against boundaries at school, where we mean what we say, can be a real challenge. However, this young lady quietly asked her mum to spend time with her. “Why would I want to do that?” replied mum. “You’re a bitch. I hate you.” After the meeting my Assistant Head needed a good cry; why should this girl ever bother to do anything for her mum? The people that provide the support she needs are the other naughty girls at school – and that who she is out to impress. My own PA once had to step between a child and his father, who was about to punch the twelve year old in Reception. Later that day the boy punched another child; I wonder where he learnt that?

The resulting effect of exclusion on the educational progress of these children is horrific. And this is something that weighs heavily on my shoulders. Each exclusion moves them further away from where they should be, as if trapped in ever hardening concrete. Sometimes poor behaviour in lessons can be triggered by not wanting to be challenged intellectually. “It’s hard,” “I can’t do it,” followed by disruptive behaviour – or even refusing to get through the door. By withdrawing the student from the lesson the others can learn – but that student doesn’t learn, and falls further behind; the work gets even harder and they cease being part of the class community. It is an ever widening circle. Trying to accommodate students in another class, or in an isolation room, can be two solutions – but you have to have the staff, and if the child continues to refuse the situation only escalates. Frequently they give up attending altogether.

But the line is the line. I will do everything I can to slow children running towards it; if they cross it I have few alternatives. Negotiated transfers and managed moves. Alternative provision. Interventions, mentoring, workshops, programmes, visits to prisons and visits from ex-inmates, drug addicts and the homeless. Working in partnership with other schools with the same values… all bring about varying degrees of success. They’re expensive and can often aim to shut the barn door well after the horse has bolted. Some of the most depressing days are when there is no alternative but to permanently exclude (PEX) a child. After the paperwork is completed I attend a governors’ panel where I present the school’s case for the PEX. The parents/carers then present their case. My governors are brilliant, they always ask the child for their view – and this is when the hardened, confident shell cracks. The local authority summarises whether we have followed the procedure accurately and all parties can ask one another questions. The governors then choose whether to uphold the PEX or not. Luckily my governors have never overturned one of my decisions by I would imagine this would be horrendous – what confidence do they have in my decisions?

Every year I receive £4000 per student to educate them. If I PEX a student I have to return this money (or a percentage of it if later in the year). I am also fined £5000 by the local authority. This penalty goes towards educating the child somewhere else (e.g. a PRU) and costs incurred trying to arrange this education. It is also designed as a deterrent. I then also have a space in my year group that is usually filled by another hard to place child, which I cannot refuse, thus leading to the merry-go-round of challenging students. Last year I had to PEX a student with us for six months, who had come to us after being PEXed from a PRU.

I’d like to be able to use more alternative provision. There’s a serious shortage of places, even before I quality assure the provision itself. If I opened an AP centre tomorrow morning it would be filled by the afternoon. I paid £4000 for twelve weeks of provision for a twelve year old. Add taxi fees (it is the other side of the city and mum has no transport and three younger children) and that cost doubles. £8000 for twelve weeks (and I only get £4000 to pay for the year). And for Year 11 a decent AP place costs over £12000. By choosing a more suitable provision for certain students I am taking money away from the others. It’s cheaper to PEX. How horrendous is that?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Inclusive Thinking

This article appeared in The Teacher magazine, May-June 2015

It is very clear that children and young people with SEN have been badly let down by the current approach to national policy. As a child, the feeling of exclusion can be emotionally devastating. Whether it’s from a sports team or a friendship group, the feeling can leave lasting scars.

But there is another form of exclusion that is being forced on schools across the country, one that will hamper every child’s development and wellbeing long into adulthood. It is the exclusion of children with special education needs (SEN) from fulfilling their potential.

According to a recent study commissioned by the NUT, SEN pupils are suffering from the consequences of the Government raising performance expectations while simultaneously slashing SEN services. It found schools struggling to cope with increased demands on already stretched budgets and resources.

“Inclusion has to be seen within the current wider education context,” explain Maurice Galton and John MacBeath, Cambridge professors and co-authors of the report Inclusion: Statements of intent, published in February. The findings present a damning picture of a fragmented system, where children with SEN lose out.

“The increase in the number of schools outside the mainstream [academies, for instance] has meant that the funds available to local authorities have decreased and by implication less money is now available for supporting special needs of all kinds and at all levels. At the same time schools are being held accountable, with the new inspection criteria increasingly focused on academic outcomes at the expense of social and emotional aspects of learning.”

The in-depth study was conducted in nine secondary schools and ten primary schools across London, the East Midlands/East Anglia and the Northern region. Researchers spoke with head teachers and SENCOs, investigating the limiting factors and external pressures that restrict the capability of schools to promote inclusion, and also explored the elements that enhance inclusive education.

"The overwhelming impression remaining after these school visits was that most schools were doing their best in a climate of uncertainty, increased parental pressure and declining support from the local authority and other complementary agencies such as health and social work,” the researchers noted.
SEN provision was shown to be inconsistent and at times counter-productive: competitive admissions policies and a focus on Ofsted ratings excluded those most in need of support for fear of ‘reputational damage’; variations of funding levels produced anomalies of SEN provision across the country and created a postcode lottery for SEN students; and an alarming number of schools were relying on unqualified teachers to lead classrooms, to the detriment of SEN pupils.

Inclusion means adapting to the needs of students, regardless of their ability. “With integration, the child fits into the school. With inclusion, the school adjusts to the child,” summed up a primary head teacher.

“It is very clear that children and young people with SEN have been badly let down by the current approach to national policy,” comments NUT General Secretary Christine Blower. “Schools face an accountability regime which undermines inclusive education and which is jeopardising some of the world-class inclusive practice developed in our classrooms. We need a longer-term and wider view of what success means so that all children and young people are valued and a wider range of effort and attainment is recognised.”

A limited number of free copies of Inclusion: Statements of intent are available to NUT members on a first come, first served basis. Please send copy requests to equality@nut.org.uk

The NUT is offering a two-day course in June on supporting the effective use of teaching assistants to support pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. This would be a useful learning tool for SENCOs, inclusion managers, members of senior leadership teams, and teachers with responsibility for the management and deployment of teaching assistants in mainstream schools. For further information go to: www.teachers.org.uk/node/16261

Reading for Pleasure

This article first appeared in The Teacher magazine, May-June 2015

Over 40 teachers took part in the NUT’s annual Reading for Pleasure Conference at Stoke Rochford Hall in April. Now in its fourth year, the conference was led by award winning children’s author, NUT member and successful campaigner Alan Gibbons.

Alan stresses the absolute importance of encouraging children to read for pleasure, explaining that while phonics can help with decoding, research shows that children need to be surrounded by books to develop a lifelong love of reading.

A range of guest speakers and workshop leaders also helped teachers engage with reading. Award winning author Bali Rai addressed the lack of diversity in children’s publishing, discussing the importance of reflecting all children’s experiences if we are to engage them in books and reading.
Paul Register from Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw) spoke about the role of comic books and graphic novels in building a love of reading. Paul’s talk, entitled ‘Using lines and circles to improve literacy standards’, demonstrated the breadth and depth of the graphic genre – utilising examples from Britain and the US.

The NUT hosted an exhibition of comic books in 1954 as part of a campaign to ban comics because of their “excessive emphasis on acts of brutality and crime.” Fortunately the world of comic books and the awareness of the Union have both moved on since those days!

Meanwhile actor and comedian Philip Simon led a session focusing on the use of puppets to engage children in stories and reading. Similarly, Tas Emiabata from Shakespeare’s Globe led a session focusing on active engagement with Shakespeare’s stories for young people – all participants were involved in acting out and engaging with the story and text of Macbeth.

Kate Boddy led a popular and successful workshop focusing on poetry, entitled ‘Rhythm and Rhyme – Performance Time’ which focused on supporting teachers to actively engage in poetry to support children’s engagement with words and rhythm. Finally, Karen Robinson (formally the NUT’s Head of Education and Equalities) led a workshop concentrating on the latest research on the wider curriculum impact of encouraging children to read for pleasure.

Reading for Pleasure is just one of the Creativity in the Classroom professional development opportunities offered. Other programmes include a partnership with the Globe to inspire and develop the teaching of Shakespeare plays, and Into Film to raise attainment in the classroom through the medium of film.

To find out more and to apply visit www.teachers.org.uk/courses

Dismissing children's languages- Michael Rosen

This article appeared in The Teacher magazine, May-June 2015 from , former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, on children’s languages being dismissed.

‘Realising potential’ – a motto to cherish:
teach by its aspiration – or perish.
‘Realising potential’ – a motto for today,
the inspiring axiom of AQA,
one of our great examination boards
stuffed with education’s overlords
who rule and regulate what must be taught,
the courses and papers which must be bought.
Along with their colleagues, at OCR
they know it’s time to raise the bar
to show the nation what’s worth knowing,
what’s to keep and what’s for throwing.

The method they’ve used is called ‘priorities’,
what they’ve done is target minorities.
Learned people who know their stuff
say some languages aren’t good enough.
So students fluent in Gujarati
Polish, Turkish or Punjabi
Bengali, Farsee or modern Hebrew,
many young bilingual students who
could get themselves a stunning grade
find instead they’ve been betrayed.

Blocked off from using what they know
many of these will not be slow
in figuring what the deal is here
the price they have to pay is dear:
languages in education come marked with a label
giving them positions in a language league table;
some hold a place as wisdom’s fount
while others now just do not count.
This insight they now find is matched
by the fact that language comes attached
to people: families, students who
find themselves at the back of the queue.

This nugget of wisdom, you recognise
it leads your pupils to the highest prize:
doing the best they can possibly do
informed and supported in their work by you.
All that needs is that spark that fire
to lead them on, higher and higher.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Designing the Curriculum- A job for TEACHERS !

This article was first published in The Teacher Magazine, September 2014.

The most effective curriculum for learners in your school is one that is custom-designed for them.

At a time when new statutory national curriculum requirements are being introduced in England, with a major review taking place in Wales, we need to remember that it is memorable learning experiences created by enthusiastic, talented teachers that brings learning to life.

Most of us have at least one memory of irresistible learning from our own time as students. Sometimes those experiences are life-changing, perhaps leading to a career choice or a lifelong love of literature, art, sport, languages or nature.
  • What is your most memorable learning experience?
  • What was it about the experience you recall that made the learning irresistible?
  • How could we design experiences to include the elements that make learning irresistible?
The role of teachers in curriculum design is explored within the NUT and the Curriculum Foundation’s CPD project, Year of the Curriculum. The Year of the Curriculum materials can be accessed, free of charge, online (see below).

They have been designed to recognise that teachers are time poor and teaching is target heavy; the programme has been designed to allow you to dip in flexibly, or to work through all eight units for deeper professional development and reflection. Above all, it has been designed to empower teachers and to help you to inspire learners.

Many individual teachers and teams within schools have already been inspired by the project. We hope even more teachers and school leaders will continue to use the materials to reflect upon their curriculum, and above all, to reclaim the curriculum for teachers, learners and communities.

Attend a CPD event on curriculum design
Do you want to design an engaging, student led curriculum? Attend a one day CPD event from the NUT and the Curriculum Foundation.
  • Tuesday 7 October, Bristol, Tony Benn House, Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6AY
  • Tuesday 14 October, Leeds, Novotel, 4 Whitehall Quay, Leeds LS1 4HR
  • Tuesday 21 October, London, Mander Hall, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD
Full details of the Year of the Curriculum project can be found by clicking here.  CPD places can be booked online at the same address.