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Consistency!

I knew, from long experience, that it was true, but the reality has shocked me. The inconsistency between secondary schools when working with students with additional needs is striking.


A child and their family should expect the same quality of provision regardless of which school they attend - this is true across all aspects of education, but it is imperative when we are looking at provision for additional needs. Over the past few months, whilst running the Finding Common Ground project, the inconsistencies have been extremely marked. Allowing a student who has sensory issues to have a slight change to the school uniform - no problem in some schools, impossible in others. Allowing students who struggle with crowded corridors safe spaces at break times - fine in most places, a battle to secure in others. Modifying teaching and learning practice to support students who are on the pathway to an ADHD diagnosis and find it very hard to sit still - done automatically in some schools, impossible in others..... What about a student who needs a reduced timetable due to severe mental health needs - why is that so very difficult to achieve for the family I was talking to yesterday?


I can see why so many families turn to the EHCP process to get the provision formally written down. The explosion in the number of EHCP applications is indicative of the number of families who feel that their child's needs can be met in no other way. But the process is slow, formal, often contested and not always fit for purpose. What about all those families who don't have the energy or capability to fight for their provision? Are those children just left to fail to thrive in our schools?


Sadly, from my conversations over the last few months, it seems that the more "academic" the school, the more it is focused on "results" the less supportive it is of any form of individual need or disadvantage (this correlates with research from the Sutton Trust). This says something profound and challenging about our humanity and our approach to education.


Let's start from the beginning - every child has the right to benefit from a education (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). If a child has a disability (which is a wider definition than many think) then schools have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments. There is no statutory definition of what those adjustments should be. Local authorities now define "Ordinarily Available Provision" which every child should benefit from - there is an excellent document from Portsmouth, for example. Inclusive High Quality (or "Quality First") Teaching is seen as the basic approach at a school level, but there is no agreed definition or measure of what that actually looks like.


It is a mindset shift that is needed. Schools must consistently welcome those who don't quite fit their structures, who need adjustments, who require individual attention. We must consistently look for best practice and find out how we can help these young people to thrive. These are the children and young people who need us most! We must welcome young people, collaborate with their families, listen to the other professionals involved - consistently ask "what can we do to help" not "why don't you fit our systems?". Schools so often see those who don't "fit the pattern" as a problem, avoid making appropriate adjustments and then encourage them to leave - we forget that each and every child deserves the very best education, regardless of need. That is why we all came into education in the first place and that is what all our families and students rightly expect us to provide.



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