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The Issue Runs Deeper than Funding

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Last Tuesday (19/3/22), the government released their long-anticipated SEND review green paper entitled: ‘right support, right place, right time’.  I was aware this date was coming and was asked to prepare some opinions on its content should anyone request my thoughts as a SEND advisor.

The ‘headlines’ of the paper were released at midnight on Tuesday before the full paper was published around 10 hours later.  Many education organisations had already formulated blogs spaces and responses by the time I woke on Tuesday (6.30am-ish, pretty good for my 2-year-old human alarm clock!).  I was a little underwhelmed by the headlines – and also by those initial responses.  I am generally left feeling cold when huge sums of money are thrown about by the government – fully aware that the quantities feel impossible to conceptualise but also easy to manufacture and spin.

When I got a chance to consume the contents of the full paper in more detail, the underwhelming emotion turned to one of frustration.  There were obviously some decent suggestions featured amongst the main selling points (simplifying and digitising the EHCP process and improving workforce training being a couple).  There were also some dubious ideas (limiting the number of schools a parent can choose from seems the opposite of inclusive). 

The frustration for me however stemmed from a deeper-rooted issue – that of institutionalised ableism.  There were 296 mentions of the word ‘needs’ across the document, including 46 references to ‘high needs’ and 22 references to ‘complex needs’.  There were also numerous mentions of ‘identifying needs’.  There must be a change in mindset – all our children have the same ‘needs’ – the need for high quality education, the need for high quality responsive educators, the need for compassion, the need to feel safe, the need for representation in the people working in our nurseries and schools, the need for strong links with families.  These needs shouldn’t require deeper scrutiny or identification for our children with learning differences or disabilities.  They should all be obvious before a child even arrives at a setting.  Previously when I’ve raised the issue of language linked to ‘SEND’, I have had responses along the lines of ‘you are focusing on the wrong thing, it’s just semantics’.  I strongly believe that until there is a change in mindset around the systems we have in place to support young children with learning differences and disabilities then we can’t make effective progress in this area.  As Emily Lees stated in her recent ‘Beginners Guide to Ableism’, ‘language shapes our beliefs and attitudes’. 

What must be identified are the barriers to education and learning.  What adjustments are necessary for us to be truly inclusive?  The green paper unfortunately re-enforces the notion that children with ‘SEND’ are problems to ‘fix’.  All the money in the world won’t make that the appropriate mindset for our learners.  We need to celebrate differences and diversity, and change our provision so it can effectively meet every child’s needs.

The most concerning thing I read in relation to the SEND Review was also published before I woke on Tuesday morning. One of the main headlines on the BBC news website that morning read: SEND review: Children to receive earlier support in new government plans.  Good coverage I thought.  Towards the bottom of the article there was a comment from a headteacher (who I am very confident has the best of intentions, but who is working within those systems where a mindset change is necessary).  She was talking about a new trial where ‘experts’ use ‘data’ to identify children who might need earlier support (I’d need a whole other coffee break to expose that particular topic).  The following quote from the headteacher relating to earlier autism diagnosis left a really sour taste: "We can just get on with treating the child and getting the best education for the child as soon as possible," she said, adding she hoped every school could benefit from the same model.   I am sure that this article was read hundreds of thousands of times last week.  I am also sure that the vast majority of readers didn’t feel a hint of negativity when they read about this great new scheme that helped accelerate the treatment of autism.  And therein lies the problem.  

We ALL need to talk about ableism.


By Stephen Kilgour, SEND Advisor 

The consultation for you to add your views on the SEND Review green paper is open until 1st July 2022. You can find it here. 


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