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The Conversation – Robert Gasson

Rumble in the special needs jungle

Reports that can produce a startling headline often land with a splash. So it has proved with Chance UK’s recent Too Young to Leave Behind. The children’s mentoring charity, in partnership with FFT Education Datalab, boldly proclaims that “over 90 per cent of children excluded at primary school don’t pass GCSE English and maths (a pass being a grade 4 or above)”.

It caused quite the stir. This comprehensive and in-depth report looked at data on 3.2 million children, 4867 (0.15 per cent) of whom were permanently excluded, and came up with what some may see as shocking statistics: 97 per cent of those excluded from primary had SEND, and 67 per cent of those with an exclusion or suspension from primary were in receipt of free school meals.

 “Exclusions start a devastating never-ending cycle of difficulties for the child,” states the report.

Cue: behaviour tsar, Tom Bennett’s response:

On this occasion, I find myself agreeing with him: Exclusions aren’t the start of this process. However,  without doubt they are a significant marker that needs are not being met. 

So I also have a lot of sympathy for former children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield’s take:

We absolutely should be in putting more effective multi-agency support in place for these children and their families. However, to suggest, as Longfield has done, that we should ban primary school exclusions is to go too far.

We were recently referred a key stage 1 child who had broken the eye socket of his teacher. With current levels of funding and support, what else could reasonably be done for a pupil responsible for that but exclude them?

The easter break also saw the release of a new episode of Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women podcast featuring Amanda Spielman. After a gallop through her life prior to becoming a regulator, the podcast  canters through the growing number of contentious issues putting pressure on schools, taking Michaela School’s prayer ban as an example, before a fine display of dressage around the legacy of Ruth Perry’s death.

I would describe Spielman’s approach throughout as ‘to the right’, but oh how ironic to hear her lament the pressure put on headteachers by so many issues, none of which include Ofsted! Her narrative is that you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, and tough messages need to be given. If she’d ever actually led a school through an inspection, she might have a better understanding of why people are still feeling so emotive about this subject.

This podcast was lambasted by many: 

Emotion aside, I thought it was actually more nuanced than you might pick up from the social media response. Either way, I would recommend a listen.

Confederation of School Trusts CEO, Leora Cruddas is always worth a listen, and she is joined here by Reach Foundation CEO, Ed Vainker to discuss MATs as anchor institutions. These are described as large employers and charitable organisations who are stewards of public resources. 

Cruddas takes us through her view of civic leadership, where trust leaders work with others across the community for purposeful collaboration, particularly focussed on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. Vainker meanwhile describes how his trust has worked on this, perhaps delivering the best line of the piece:

“A great school is necessary but not sufficient if we want all children to thrive.”

This podcast not only sets out a vision for this work, but also the how it could be done, given the ongoing debate about behaviour and the failure of the state for those  experiencing disadvantage (see above). Given all the political quick fixes that we’ll be bombarded with this election year, here is a refreshing look at how to achieve better outcomes with a longer-term strategic view of how to improve communities anchored by trusts.

It is an interesting and informative insight into how the whole system could look, if all MATs took the view that they should meet the needs of all the pupils in their communities.

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