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SEND: DfE ‘looking into’ how many schools are not inclusive

The government is looking into how many schools are not being inclusive enough for children with SEND, the children’s minister has revealed.

David Johnston told Schools Week while he doesn’t believe non-inclusive schools are “a widespread problem”, cases have been raised with him by MPs where a “particular school in their area may not be being as inclusive as it suggests”. 

He said the department is “looking at the extent to which it is happening, why it’s happening and whether there are any changes that need to be made a result.”

Johnston added: “We’re creating so many more special schools for the children that need special schools, but in the end the vast majority of children with SEN are in mainstream schools. And it’s important that those mainstream schools are meeting their needs.”

He told the Confederation of School Trusts’ SEND and inclusion summit they are looking at cases when “someone says to me ‘David I’ve got a school in my local area where we’ve got such high levels of SEN children and they don’t have a single child with an EHCP, they are all at the other schools and they’ve just been given an outstanding by Ofsted’. 

“We are looking at things like that, I don’t think you should not be inclusive to have that judgement.”

It follows Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver revealing how Ofsted will ramp up scrutiny of schools accused of “putting off” children with SEND for applying for a place. Johnston said he has spoken to Oliver about this too. 

‘Uncomfortable’ exclusions

The government’s SEND and alternative provision reforms, currently being trialled, are based on mainstream schools being more inclusive, with a bigger focus on early identification of need. 

But Johnston said he was “concerned” when he hears of schools in areas with “plenty of children with SEN” and “somehow this school seems to have nobody on an EHCP for example. And that’s key obviously for what we’re trying to get to”.

He had a “discomforting” conversation with a parent helpline “who said they had seen a big increase in parents ringing saying their child of [age] 5, 6, 7 had been permanently excluded”.

Johnston said while he doesn’t “deny that there are children at a young age can present really challenging behaviour”, his “personal view is that’s pretty extraordinary to exclude a child of that age” and he was “uncomfortable with that”.

“We are looking in the department at exactly what is going on there, because the whole thrust of our education reforms… is to trust headteachers that it shouldn’t be me sitting in Whitehall saying ‘right, this is what you should do’. 

“However, we also need every school that has on its website what an inclusive place it is to genuinely be inclusive.”

Schools Week investigation last year dug into inclusivity in mainstream schools. Basic data on how many EHCP pupils a school has can be problematic, as a low number could mean a school offers early support and that a statutory plan isn’t needed. 

Defends accountability measures

Johnston was quizzed by an audience member on what she coined as “disincentives” in the system for schools and trusts to be inclusive. 

He said “we want to look at exactly what is going on with schools” but “I don’t think this can be blamed on Ofsted, league tables, things like that. 

“I will absolutely defend Ofsted inspections and league tables and the performance measures we have, partly because… they’ve been so important to improve the level of education for disadvantaged children. 

“And there are people who say scrap them, scrap exams, scrap league tables, scrap Ofsted judgements. So I don’t attribute it to those, but I do nonetheless think there is something going on.”

This week Bury, one of the first safety valve councils, was slammed by inspectors over its “failing” SEND services. Under the scheme, councils agree sweeping reforms in exchange for extra government cash. 

Asked by Schools Week about whether this was a sign the programme isn’t working, Johnston said they have “confidence” in the scheme. 

“We think the safety valve programme really is working. It’s obviously a long term programme where the changes will take time. In Bury’s case in particular, they actually revised their plan with us quite recently. It’s also a new Ofsted inspection framework.” 

Johnston also said the department will “have more to say” about the new national standards for SEND it is proposing in the “coming weeks”. 

Last week it was revealed the government SEND reforms pilot – called the change programme – is nine months behind schedule. 

Johnston said they were “making lots of good progress”, adding: “Local authorities are on a spectrum of how fast they are delivering the changes, but we are seeing some local authorities absolutely on time with reforms that we’re rolling out and we’re pushing the others to be able to deliver everything that we’ve asked for.” 

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