SEN schools – why we need more of them
The table in the corridor shows that so-called ‘inclusive education’ isn’t working, argues the Undercover Teacher…
Walk around many primary schools and you will see them: cosy nests tucked away in corners of classrooms or corridors.
Ask children why they are there, and they will gently explain: “Oh, yeah that’s Daniel. He needs loads of help with his learning from Mrs Smith” (the 1:1 teaching assistant).
Every few years I have had “that Daniel”. The one you and the other teacher spend most of the class handover discussing.
The child with acute SEN, which the school can barely support. Their EHCP is a litany of acronyms you have not even seen before, never mind comprehend.
Their education psychologist report puts their level of understanding in the bottom one percentile and with the abilities of a child half their age.
Your heart drops as you realise that the provision you will be continuing for this child is a salve. Come INSET you and their 1:1 will install the child and their ‘classroom’ into whichever spare corner can be found.
As children progress through KS2, this will inevitably be outside of their actual classroom as they will be on an individual curriculum detached from the learning of their peers.
Hopefully, the child will have a 1:1 who follows them from one class to another so you have some idea of what to do.
Teaching the child is a hope rather than a given: learning delivered by a TA using whichever resources you can find as you lack the training to understand what the child needs. And the time.
You may need to plan an individualised curriculum for this child, but that is alongside all the learning for the other 30+ pupils in your class.
Leaving the question: do you prioritise the learning of one child over that of the rest?
The number of children with an EHCP has increased by 10 per cent since 2021 alone. As many of us know all too well, getting an EHCP for a child is a battle, especially in EYFS or KS1.
Post-Covid, those with acute mental health needs has skyrocketed, yet there is little provision for SEN children.
In my county, there are less than 20 SEN schools compared with nearly 500 mainstream schools.
Of these, the majority are for children with complex needs or ASD who would never have attended mainstream.
Only one offers education for pupils with mental health needs that preclude them from mainstream schooling as a whole, but who can access the mainstream curriculum.
There is no provision for children who are profoundly dyslexic.
At a time of shrinking budgets, the provision for these children becomes a question of ROI – Return on Investment.
Can we justify the TA’s salary being spent on one child who will not do SATs, versus supporting the learning of four children who will?
As the Timpson Review noted in 2019, SEN children are persistently more likely to permanently excluded or off-rolled, compared to their peers without SEN.
Anecdotally, we have seen that in our local high school: children with complex needs arrive in Year 7 but will have left for ‘home schooling’ by the end of Year 8 – if the academy will even accept them in the first place.
These are children that fell into a gap made for them.
Their needs could not be properly supported by their teachers; they ended up working outside of the classroom setting to support their learning because no SEN school place was available; the high school cannot provide this level of provision so won’t take them.
And then you have a child who finds themselves with neither a SEN nor mainstream school place.
The most frustrating, wretched, maddening aspect of all this is that along the way the child gets lost.
Daniel becomes “that Daniel”: an administrative and logistical problem to be solved. A child who is confused and disconnected from the world around them and who loses friends as their peers outgrow them.
The fortunate children won’t notice this; their needs leaving them disconnected from the perceptions of others.
The unfortunate will, and we witness the slow decline in their behaviour and self-esteem. The slump in the shoulders and the falling of the head as they trudge to their educational purgatory.
In June, the government announced funding for up to 60 new SEN/Alternative Provision schools creating 4,500 new places.
But will these be in metropolitan areas or the rural counties that are often forgotten? Until then, schools will carry on trying their best. Making the least bad choices to support pupils in a failing, under-resourced system.
The writer is a primary teacher in England.