Mainstream school, exclusion and special needs

Mainstream school, exclusion and special needs

One of our most popular articles was a post sent to us by a SENCO who asked to remain anonymous. They contacted us again – this time with their thoughts on exclusion, mainstream schools and students with behavioural special needs:

Schools are between a rock and a hard place. They are asked to include children with varying needs. But they also have to raise standards, and the more pressure there is to achieve this, the more the misfits stand out from the crowd. So itís not surprising that some children get Permanently Excluded.

That may be the end of the schoolís problem, but itís the start of a much bigger challenge for the Local Authority. When Little Johnny (I know, but itís more boys than girls) is expelled, the Authority has to find him educational provision within 6 days. A standard solution Ė supposedly temporary – is the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). It costs about 4 times as much as mainstream (which budgets £4,000 pa for a no-special-needs child). The PRU may be a distance away from LJís home, so on top of the c. £400/week PRU cost comes the expense of the daily taxi and taxi guide, in many cases. The cost-meter whizzes round and round.

In a PRU, LJ will meet others of his kind, and others of many other kinds, and this is where his troubles escalate. Children with emotional difficulties caused by horrendous family problems may have to mix with mildly autistic wallflower types, rough-and-ready brawlers and the odd yet-to-be-diagnosed psychopath.

Stopping this volatile compound from exploding is a skilled team of special needs teachers and TAs, doing their very best to help LJ and his classmates, manage their frequent peer conflicts and yes, advance them in the National Curriculum.

Meanwhile, the PRU tries to get LJ back into mainstream. Not so easy, as most schools are full to bursting already. And thereís a persuasion challenge: LJ is likely to need additional resources, and during his stay in the PRU he may have picked up extra poor habits, and possibly fallen further behind his peers in mainstream.

What is the schoolís incentive to take him on? We used to give schools £3,000 as an introductory sweetener, but not any more. If push comes to shove, the Authority can force a school to take him Ė not the best way to start a long-term relationship with the child, youíll agree. There have sometimes been tears Ė from the headteacher.

Another possibility is for LJ to be sent to a special school. Now this gets really expensive. The average figure I see is £24,000 p.a., but it can be a LOT more: weíve sent a couple into a neighbouring county to a school that charges c. £70,000. Plus a long taxi ride each way, 190 days a year. Is that the best for LJ? Eventually, heís going to have to reintegrate into mainstream society.

And the more we learn about people, the more variety we see. There are not just two kinds of children, ordinary and special. There will always be variety within the classroom.

So for educational, social and pressing financial reasons, Local Authorities want to see schools do far more to retain children in mainstream. Resources have been devolved to schools, so that they can be expected to cater for additional needs up to an extra £6,000 per year, making £10,000 in all; this is a suspiciously round figure and doesnít map onto reality, so the Government is now pumping in another £215 million nationwide to help:

The next phase in the game will be to make schools account much more carefully for how they spend SEND money. Gone (we hope) are the days when a ruthless management might grab the extra cash and spend it on e.g. a swish ICT suite on the pretext that it also helped the poor learners. SENCos may find themselves becoming para-accountants, as well as para-educational psychologists and para-social workers.

Sadly, some schools, seeing the expense and hard work of carefully targeted, costed and evaluated interventions, may see permanent exclusion as the easier option. The result is that the PRU receives a file from the school that looks like a prosecution case, full of evidence why the governors should approve the exclusion, rather than material towards applying for an EHC to address the childís needs.

Up to now, the Authority for which I work has a long-established custom of not challenging exclusions. But the money well is running dry and in any case there is a duty towards the misfit, isnít there? If schools have been given the tools, they will be expected to finish the job, if it can be done at all. So watch for a change in approach by Local Authorities to exclusions: they may start to oppose, or at least require schools to put the parents/carers in a position to apply for an EHC.

And a good thing, too.

Donít tell anyone, will you?

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