School system failing pupils with additional needs
School leaders across England raise concerns that the current “rigid and discriminatory” school system prevents some pupils from reaching their full potential.
Eight in 10 (79%) school leaders say the current curriculum requirements are not providing the best outcomes for all of their pupils, according to a new report released today from The Key – the organisation providing leadership and management support to schools.
School leaders say the system is falling short in its support for schools, with more than two-thirds (68%) warning that they lack support to deliver the best outcomes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and more than half (56%) for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). Two-fifths (43%) also feel that those with an aptitude for vocational subjects are being held back.
One deputy head in the south east said: “For pupils with EAL and SEND the new curriculum is too difficult for some of them to make sufficient progress that is measurable.” Another commented that: “Both gifted and talented and pupils with SEN are restricted by the 'one size fits all' mentality of the new curriculum and assessment without levels.”
The findings come just a few months after a recent government research report revealed that some local authorities do not have any procedures in place to collect and review the outcomes of pupils with SEND[i].
Over the next two years, almost half of primary leaders (46%) and two in five (44%) secondary leaders are not confident in their school’s ability to sufficiently provide for pupils with SEND.
Speaking about support for children, one primary school leader from London said: “We used to have teaching assistants specifically trained to deliver interventions [for pupils with EAL] but this no longer happens.” While another said: “The funding for pupils with SEND is not adequate and the referral system for top-up funding is too difficult.”
Support in the form of teaching assistants may be set to diminish further, with more than two-thirds (68%) of the 64% of school leaders who need to make savings in 2017-18 planning to reduce their support staff.
Speaking about the findings, Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key said: “No pupil should get left behind because the education system doesn’t cater effectively for their needs or abilities.
“The national funding formula and high needs funding formula being phased in from 2018 do recognise the need for money to be allocated to pupils with EAL and SEND, however we must make sure that the curriculum recognises and allows for the needs of all pupils, and that schools are given the support needed to ensure those with additional or more complex needs can thrive.”
Of the 1,200 school leaders who completed the survey, many cited more funding, flexibility in the curriculum/assessments and additional specialist teaching assistants as possible solutions that would enable them to deliver better results for these pupils.
A headteacher based in the south west commented: “There needs to be less pressure on curriculum objectives and a best-fit model for assessment. For example, a strong creative writer doesn't necessarily need to have good handwriting or spelling that meets age-related expectations.” A special educational needs co-ordinator in the east Midlands believes that: “The system needs a greater amount of flexibility as it is very rigid, archaic and discriminatory.”
Despite the challenges, some schools are managing to employ interesting initiatives to ensure pupils with additional needs feel supported and integrated. To support pupils for whom English is not their first language, some schools have trained pupils as language interpreters, while others celebrate pupils’ different cultural backgrounds with activities or whole-school assemblies dedicated to a different language per month.
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Need support with some of the issues mentioned here?
To help schools support their pupils with EAL and SEND, we've made the following guidance booklets freely available:
The headline survey findings can be found here.