Who Is To Blame?August 24, 2008
The biggest, single policy mistake in education in the last twenty years, the one that has undermined everything else, has been the attempt to treat badly behaved children as if they had a right to be in classes with their victims. This has been labelled as “Inclusion” and is often presented as simply an extension of policies aimed at including the disabled in schools; to a true believer children with problems and children who cause problems are one and the same. As a result the very idea of Inclusion has become anathema to many mainstream classroom teachers. My point in this blog entry is simply to ask how this has happened and where the line was crossed from the worthy objective of including the disabled to the insane dogma of tolerating the badly behaved.
The starting point for inclusion, and the starting point for blame, is the Warnock Report from 1978. This report in many ways began the Inclusion agenda and led to the 1981 Education Act. However, it clearly stated that special schools would still be necessary for:
“those with severe emotional or behavioural disorders who have very great difficulty in forming relationships with others or whose behaviour is so extreme or unpredictable that it causes severe disruption in an ordinary school or inhibits the educational progress of other children;”
It is hard not to view this as a turning point, but it clearly isn’t where the idea that extreme poor behaviour was to be tolerated began. It is, however, when the bureaucracy associated with SEN became the mess it is today. For this reason Baroness Warnock has since disowned some of the recommendations of her own report.
A series of education acts throughout the 1980s and 90s continued the trend for greater inclusion. To many teachers the turning point seemed to be the 2001 Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. It is not uncommon to hear David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who saw the bill passed, blamed as the architect of inclusion, with his own blindness given as evidence that he must have been a whole hearted advocate of all forms of inclusion. However, like the 1996 Education Act before it, the 2001 Act contained the following exception to who should be “included” in a mainstream school:
“unless that is incompatible with … the provision of efficient education for other children.“
Just in case there was any confusion as to what this means the Explanatory Notes for the Act stated:
“In practice, incompatibility with the efficient education of others is likely to be where pupils present severe challenging behaviour that would significantly disrupt the learning of other pupils or place their safety at risk.”
Again, it seems that there is nothing here to explain why inclusion should require that schools tolerate poor behaviour. However, education in Britain is not run by legislation, nor is it run by government ministers. It is run by a bureaucracy and several months after the Act was passed Blunkett moved on and was replaced with Estelle Morris, a minister who later resigned, apparently on the grounds of her own incompetence. The guidance that went out from the bureaucracy on her watch (specifically the Special Educational Needs Code Of Practice from November 2001) contained no mention of the fact that poor behaviour was what was referred to in the efficient education clause. In fact it is treated throughout as a form of SEN and bad behaviour is simply grounds to review the help given to the student:
“Where a school identifies a pupil with a statement of special educational needs who is at serious risk of disaffection or exclusion, an interim or early review should be called. It will then be possible to consider the pupil’s changing needs and recommend amendments to the statement, as an alternative to the pupil being excluded.”
And so without any legislation it suddenly became official advice that badly behaved students simply needed adjustments of their SEN provision rather than to be removed from mainstream schools. The balance doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, despite a succession of different education secretaries, none of who have lasted very long or had much of an impact.
However, before I blame Estelle Morris and leave it at that, a major part of the problem of having children incapable of behaving in mainstream schools must stem from the advice given on exclusions which says:
“Other than in the most exceptional circumstances, schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements. They should also make every effort to avoid excluding pupils who are being supported at School Action or School Action Plus under the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, including those at School Action Plus who are being assessed for a statement. In most cases, the headteacher will be aware that the school is having difficulty managing a pupil’s behaviour well before the situation has escalated. Schools should try every practicable means to maintain the pupil in school, including seeking LA and other professional advice and support at School Action Plus or, where appropriate, asking the LA to consider carrying out a statutory assessment. For a pupil with a statement, the school should liaise with their LA about initiating an interim review of the pupil’s statement.”
Although this is quoted from the most recent version of the guidelines (from September 2007) the advice itself appears to go back to DfEE Circular 10/99. This time David Blunkett is responsible, although yet again it is guidance given from the education bureaucracy (this time in central government), not the law of the land, which is the problem.
Warnock, H.M (chair), Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1978