2022 Summer Term


  • Follow the sun
    Geoff Barton contemplates the finishing line in what has been another extraordinary year for school, college and trust leaders. More
  • Inclusive Education
    Will the government's new special educational needs and disability (SEND) green paper address the illusion of inclusion? ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland investigates. More
  • Be at the Heart
    Deputy Headteacher Gurpall Badesha says joining ASCL Council is one of the best things she has have ever done and it's made her a better leader, thinker and professional. More
  • A Friend in Need
    A crippling condition forced Kate Dixon to give up her vocation, but ASCL Benevolent Fund provided help in the darkest of times, she tells Julie Nightingale. More
  • Keeping Young People Safe
    Former headteacher Tom Goodenough highlights the work of Violence Reduction Units and how, with the support of schools and colleges, they are protecting young people from a life of crime. More
  • People First Development
    Placing people development at the heart of appraisals not only benefits teachers, it can also have a positive effect on pupil achievement. Denise Inwood from BlueSky Education explains how and why. More
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Will the government's new special educational needs and disability (SEND) green paper address the illusion of inclusion? ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland investigates.

Inclusive Education

Many of our members will recognise this young person’s lived experience. 

At nursery Sajid was experiencing some delay in reaching expected milestones and nursery teacher Jane said he ‘lacked confidence socially’ but felt sure he would ‘catch up’. Sajid appeared to enjoy nursery. He played with others and was regularly invited to his peers’ homes. He was described by parents of his friends as shy. 

By the end of Year 2 Sajid was diagnosed with autism, complex dyslexia and acute anxiety and had an EHCP [Education, Health and Care Plan]. By Year 6, Sajid has TA support for a half-day every day. He worked with his TA at the back of the class or in an adjoining quiet room. At lunchtime he spent time with a small group of pupils, all of whom had identified SEND. 

As he transitioned into secondary, his attendance dropped. He is in the bottom set as his school feels he can best receive additional TA support there. By Year 10, Sajid regularly misses school. He has dropped humanities and languages and is following a reduced curriculum. 

Do we think that Sajid is gaining from an inclusive education? Or is he really demonstrating what Rob Webster, Reader in Education at the University of Portsmouth, is calling in his new book ‘ The Inclusion Illusion’, describing how children with special educational needs experience mainstream schools? 

The SEND green paper, now published, after a long-awaited SEND review, aims to address this head on. The question is how. On the one hand, the new schools white paper is explicit: “All schools will provide a high quality and inclusive education within the resilient structure of a strong trust, sharing expertise, resources and support to help teachers and leaders deliver better outcomes for children.” 

On the other, current funding lines and structures around SEND lead to a system managed through a heady mix of ‘integration’ into school life and ‘segregation’ to meet need. 

Any recalibrated SEND system must define a shared vision for inclusion and make this integral to school improvement, indeed central to, the infrastructure of the entire school system. 

What’s different now? 

From an ASCL perspective, we want to see urgent and systemic change that is designed around meeting needs, not a plan to reduce spend. We have an ever-increasing population of young people identified with learning difficulties who cannot access the curriculum without significant support. 

For context, it was only eight years ago that the Children and Families Act promised to ‘fix’ these same questions of how we put the right support in place at the right time and in all the right places, to ensure every child, no matter their postcode, receives the support they need to thrive. 

This next shift in legislation and guidance must be comprehensive, ambitious and innovative. The consultation lists a detailed collection of initial ideas rather than a fully fledged plan of action, giving us the opportunity to shape this change. 

What are the highlights? 

The government clearly believes the only way to achieve change is to centralise, then create “a single national SEND and alternative provision system”. 

It suggests a stronger focus on early intervention to ‘upstream’ the support children require to access school and the curriculum. 

It aims to introduce a set of national standards to bring consistency of offer (which sounds fairer, but is it?). It will set tariffs that align spending on SEND provision nationally. 

All these initiatives will be overseen centrally by the National SEND Delivery Board and managed regionally by local inclusion boards. 

It also proposes a legal duty on councils to introduce “local inclusion plans”. These plans will be supported by the creation of a “local inclusion dashboard”, which will set out the role and responsibilities of partners offering provision for children and young people with SEND, aged 0 to 25. 

There will also be a separate consultation on a new SENCo national professional qualification for school SENCos. 

Are the proposals ambitious enough? 

The government summarises three key challenges central to the problems facing the SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) system today: 

  1. poor outcomes for young people, 
  2. poor navigation of the system for everyone involved and 
  3. poor value for money, despite significant investment. 

There are some easy wins, such as the principle of standardising and digitising EHCPs, but there are some more complex issues to deal with. For example, with 82.7% of young people in AP identified as having SEND, it makes sense to bring SEND and AP provision together and strengthen the offer of specialist expertise to mainstream schools, but this will require significant planning and must take into consideration how to strengthen quality too. 

In ASCL’s view, this needs significant and sufficient funding. More resources are needed if we are going to bring children with acute needs successfully into mainstream with the required specialist support or to offer them a specialist setting locally. 

What changes do we want to see? 

We need to foster a culture of collaboration between schools, support systems, parents and pupils. There are some excellent and progressive international examples where the education system emphasises and facilitates collaboration. 

Portugal’s reforms ended the dependency on diagnostic labelling (this remains in our EHCP process) and established a legal framework requiring all children’s needs to be supported at a regular school level. Local multidisciplinary teams are responsible for all students having access to and participating effectively in education. 

Italy closed its special schools in 1977 and made exclusion as a punishment illegal. 

Finland has improved its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ratings each year, by focusing on improving the lowest performing quintile and supporting the most vulnerable in schools. 

We can learn from these if we are to avoid making the same implementation and systemic mistakes that have thwarted the 2014 SEND reforms. 

Despite claims of additional funding, the system remains underfunded, and too often defaults to a combative relationship with parents. The government must understand or explain the importance of SEND in schools, and the extent it is seen as investment, rather than spending. 

So, what now? 

The difficulty with the ‘right time, right place’ idea behind the green paper is that it does not fully articulate a strategy for SEND. Rather it is a melting pot of (some very good) proposals, without a clear route to funding or implementation. 

What schools need is a greater and clearer vision for inclusion – one that will ensure that young people like Sajid are made to feel welcome, are engaged and fully participate in school life. 

ASCL will be responding to the government’s consultation on the SEND green paper, and we would urge you to respond as well. You can do so online here: tinyurl.com/3jstrwut – the deadline is 22 July 2022. 

We need a mobilising and ambitious vision for inclusive education, one that means we can all work to the same goal nationally. We need to be clear what good inclusive education means. There is a huge hearts and minds exercise to be done. 


The Inclusion Illusion: How children with special educational needs experience mainstream schools, by Rob Webster, www.uclpress.co.uk/products/152465 

Margaret Mulholland
ASCL SEND and Inclusion Specialist

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