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Which schools are best for students with additional needs?

Updated: Dec 7, 2023



This will be the first in a series of blogs on this topic! For a long time I have been concerned about how parents and families select schools for their children, particularly if the child has additional needs.


I am going to start by looking at the percentages of students identified as having special educational needs (SEND) in each school in my local area. I am based in Lancashire and, if I look at secondary schools within 5 miles of my home, I can, using publicly available data, plot that information. The numbers range from 3.7% to 17.4% over the 20 secondary providers within 5 miles of me.



If I extend the analysis to the whole of Lancashire, the picture is as follows. The range is now from 3.7% to 40.3%!


Why does this variation matter? For a number of reasons....

  • Money, The guidance on what is known as the "notional" SEN budget for mainstream schools is here. Schools have a duty to ensure that the provision called for by a student's special educational needs is met. The "notional" budget assumes that the first £6000 of additional provision is met by the school. But the calculation of the amount of money received to fund this provision is not a count of the numbers of children represented by the graph above. In Lancashire, the factors used to determine the amount of "notional SEN" funding that the school receives are included in the document here and include measures of deprivation, low prior attainment, and student mobility. None of that is wrong, but that money arrives in a school's budget whether or not they actually have any children on the SEND register and how it is spent is up to the school....

  • "League tables": When you correlate the SEND figures with the most recent performance tables it is clear that the schools with the lowest percentage of SEND are far more likely to have good progress figures and be successful in the league tables and, conversely, those with high numbers of students with SEND are far more likely to have performed less well. FFT - an organisation which provides wide-ranging and reliable analyses of educational data - illustrate the point with this national chart which shows that students with SEND are much less likely to have positive Progress 8 (P8) scores - P8 is the measure by which schools are judged. The more students with SEND you have as a school, the less well you will do in the progress measures and league tables.

  • Ofsted ratings: Like the league table positions, it is far more likely that the school will have a less good Ofsted rating if it has a high percentage of students with SEND.

It is logical, really - the more students that you have with additional needs then the harder it is for them to make national average levels of progress at GCSE and the more of the school's resources are going to have to be deployed to meet the individual student's needs. So the system creates an incentive for schools to see students with SEND as a burden and to seek to reduce their number.


So should a family choose a school for their child that has a high percentage of such students on the assumption that that the school "does SEND well"? Or should the family choose a school that has a lower number of such students and typically a better league table position and Ofsted rating? Should a family whose child does not have additional needs avoid schools with a high percentage of SEND or should they choose a school which values individual needs? And what about those families who, for whatever reason, don't really have a choice of secondary school? These are the questions I am aiming to address in the next few posts!


Next.... why does the "SEND register" matter? Who determines who is on it and what are the implications of the register for students, parents and schools......



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