Inclusion and the Special Needs RacketFebruary 27, 2010
Some months back, I met the education spokesperson from the opposition group of my local council. Naturally, I mentioned that, of all the policies pursued locally, inclusion was the most disastrous.
“No,” she assured me, “All the evidence shows that students with special needs are better off in mainstream schools.” Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to enquire what evidence.
Now, every so often I get into a discussion online about inclusion. Examples include here, here and (now) here . (Please note the calmness, good humour and respect for the opinions of teachers shown by the pro-inclusion side). I have also talked about this issue in a number of blog posts such as here , here and here.
To sum up: the disaster that is inclusion has seen many children who are unwilling or unable to learn forced onto our schools. The main provision for this extra responsibility has been the special needs racket, the process in which a huge amount of paperwork is generated and children are labelled with medical or psychological conditions they usually don’t have by people with no medical or psychological training. Students are routinely selected for labelling if they are badly behaved, academically weak or have pushy parents. Sometimes (for instance in the case of ADHD) we can’t even be certain the conditions exist in any real way, rather than as a list of behaviours which may be caused by a multitude of different factors including deliberate choice by a student to act in a particular way.
Once the system is in operation most effort appears to go into maintaining mountains of paperwork. However, SEN staff also organise and teach withdrawal lessons, support students in lessons, interfere with teachers (particularly over discipline) and generally find ways to lavish attention on students, particularly the badly behaved. In my experience it doesn’t seem to help students with genuine needs and in many respects it does amount to spoiling and encouraging the badly behaved. Every teacher I know has a story of horrific stupidity by an interfering SENCO or SEN teacher, often involving appalling behaviour being excused.
Anyway, the reason I am returning to this subject is that I have recently become aware of some of the research into the issue. It had been known for quite a long time that the more inclusive a school was (i.e. the more SEN students, statemented or unstatemented, a school had) the worse its GCSE results would be (Lunt, 1999). However this correlation could always be explained away as it did not look at the results of SEN students in particular or consider value-added results. After several years the government actually commissioned some research (Dyson, 2004) which considered more detailed data. A group of academics used data from the National Pupil Database from 2002 and used advanced statistical techniques (multi-variable regression analyses and multi-level modelling, for all you geeks) to identify the effects of inclusion on attainment. They looked for any effect “inclusivity” (i.e. the proportion of students with SEN) had on Average Point Scores in the various key stage exams. They considered three categories of students. Those without SEN, those with SEN but not statemented for it, and those statemented for SEN.
They found that for Value Added (in this case calculated as the difference between a student’s APS score and what would be expected from a student with their prior attainment):
“At KS 2 the analysis suggests that, as school inclusivity increases one unit (in percentages), a school’s average pupil VA score decreases by 0.018.
At KS 3 the analysis suggests that, as school inclusivity increases one unit (in percentages), a school’s average pupil VA score decrease by 0.111.
At KS 4 the analysis suggests that as, school inclusivity increases one unit (in percentages), a school’s average pupil VA scores decrease by 0.026.” page 137
And for Average Point Scores:
At Key Stage 1:
“It appears that the effect of increasing a school’s inclusivity has a negative effect on APS scores and this effect is more pronounced for pupils with statements.” page 143
At Key Stage 2:
“there is a strong relationship between a school’s inclusivity measure and its APS score…It appears that the effect of increasing a school’s inclusivity has a negative effect on APS scores and this effect is slightly more pronounced for pupils with statements.” pages 145-6
At Key Stage 3:
“there is a strong relationship between a school’s inclusivity measure and its APS score…It appears that the effect of increasing a school’s inclusivity has a detrimental effect on APS scores and this effect is particularly pronounced for pupils with no special needs.” pages 149-151
At Key Stage 4:
“There is a strong relationship between a school’s inclusivity measure and its GCSE & GNVQ point score. As school inclusivity increases, GCSE & GNVQ point score decreases… It appears that the effect of increasing a school’s inclusivity has a detrimental effect on GCSE & GNVQ particularly for the non-special needs group.” pages 152-155.
It would be nice to think that this would have been written up as definite proof that that inclusion was harmful for all concerned and politicians would have rushed to reverse the policy. But, of course, this was a government report and it is not a good idea to write a report that shows a complete failure of government policy, and so by the time the authors had taken into account case studies, anecdotal evidence, the size (rather than the direction and probability) of the effect and the reasons for inclusion other than academic benefit, they claimed in the Executive Summary that:
“There is nothing in our findings to suggest that the current national commitment to maintain pupils in mainstream schools wherever possible is likely to have a significant impact on overall levels of attainment at national and LEA level, nor that it need have an impact at school level.” page 13.
I found the statements I have quoted above by sifting through Appendices III and IV (the graphs in Appendix IV make things particularly clear). I wonder if any of the education ministers at the time bothered to do that? I only recently discovered the report existed (when it was used as evidence in favour of inclusion) so it clearly hadn’t been shouted about from the rooftops.
The second piece of research I want to bring to your attention is a more recent study. Another government commissioned report looked into the use of teaching assistants. In two waves, data on thousands of students along with observations and surveys were collected and used to see what effect teaching assistants had. On the whole it confirmed what most teachers already knew, they can be helpful to teachers, and improve discipline and atmosphere within a class. However, if we recall that in most schools they are deployed specifically to assist students with SEN then, the effect they have on the achievement of the students they directly support, would tell us a lot about how SEN provision in our schools works. The research found:
“• At Wave 1 and 2 there was there was a consistent negative relationship between staff ratings of the amount of support a pupil received and the progress they made in English and mathematics, and at Wave 2 in science. The more support pupils received, the less progress they made, even after controlling for other factors that might be expected to explain the relationship such as pupils’ prior attainment, SEN status and income deprivation. A similar though less marked trend was found with measures of the amount of support taken from the systematic observation data.
• Further analyses showed that the negative effect of support was not attributable to pupils who were making less attainment progress being allocated more support over the year, and results were not attributable to any bias resulting from missing data.
• There was evidence that unsupported pupils in year 9 made less progress in those classes that had a higher proportion of pupils receiving support.”
Now, there is plenty of other evidence in the report about all the good teaching assistants do. They only fail in one important respect: improving the academic achievement of the students they support.
So, with regards to the policy of inclusion and the special needs racket. We now have large scale statistical evidence that including kids with SEN in mainstream schools has a negative effect on their attainment and a negative effect on the attainment of others without SEN. We also know that the most expensive part of inclusion, the employment of large numbers of teaching assistants (116,000 more since 1997 according to the party of government) to support students in lessons actually only harms the achievement of SEN pupils. Now these are the government’s own studies, coming up with hard data that shows that the policy of inclusion and the special needs racket are harming the achievement of the very children it was meant to be helping. This is not a surprise to those of us who have seen it causing this harm right in front of us. We can see that more and more kids with SEN in the mainstream lowers expectations. We can see that some of the students who have received the most support through the deployment of teaching assistants have become helpless to the point where they won’t pick up a pen without asking for help first. The question is: will any politician, of any party, have the courage to say this disastrous policy isn’t working and bring it to an end?
Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Koutsoubou, M., Martin, C., Russell, A. and Webster, R. with Rubie-Davies, C.. Deployment and Impact of Support Staff in Schools: the Impact of Support Staff in Schools (Results from Strand 2, Wave 2). 2009
Dyson, A., Farrell, P., Polat, F., Hutcheson, G., & Gallannaugh, F. Inclusion and pupil achievement (Research Report RR578), 2004
Lunt, I., & Norwich, B. Can effective schools be inclusive schools?, 1999.