Archive for March, 2019

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Inclusion: Gone but not forgotten

March 11, 2019

When I trained as a teacher (I did a PGCE from 2001 to 2002 and my NQT year from 2002 to 2003) the government had a policy of “inclusion”. As was universally understood at the time, this meant reducing the number of children in special schools and forcing students with special needs into mainstream schools. Other elements of this policy included a marked reluctance to exclude out of control children, and a large increase in the number of teaching assistants. I recall this time as very difficult for teachers, and the policy of inclusion as being unpopular within the profession. By the 2005 general election, this policy had become massively controversial, and afterwards the government backtracked and the policy of inclusion gradually ended. As ever, politicians were not terrible forthcoming about the change of policy, although it seemed obvious to teachers, and at times ministers seemed to be declaring they had no knowledge of the policy ever existing. By 2010, and with a change of government, there was an explicit commitment to end inclusion.

In recent years, progressives have used SEN as a trojan horse for dumbed down education and tolerance of poor behaviour in schools. The argument is that academic and behaviour standards should be low, in case students with SEN are discriminated against by the demands of having to learn and behave. Often it is simply assumed that there is a vast reserve of children who are unable to cope with an academic curriculum and explicit instruction, or unable to control themselves, and these students must be in mainstream schools. Sometimes it comes down to numbers. It can be amazingly difficult to get progressives to answer questions such as “what percentage of students do you think cannot access an academic curriculum?” or “what percentage of students do you think cannot cope in a school where rules are enforced?” But sometimes progressives will admit that the population of students they are appealing to is tiny in number, but still insist that all mainstream schools be able to cope with students with the most severe SEN even if that means lowering expectations for all children so as to remove obstacles for this small minority.

It is in this context that I have encountered what I can only call inclusion denialism. This is the claim that the policy of inclusion, of forcing as many students with SEN as possible into mainstream schools, which was tried from around 1997 to around 2006 and was abandoned, either never ended or, in some accounts, never existed. It is simply assumed that everyone still believes wholeheartedly in the policy of inclusion; that it was never controversial and it was never reversed. On Twitter, simply for mentioning the fact that there was a policy of inclusion that was unpopular and abandoned, I have been blocked; accused of hating the disabled, and some edutwitter trolls have even demanded that I be reported to my headteacher and governors for my appalling views. This is particularly baffling to me, as not only did I teach during this era and pay close attention to the public debate, but I did my masters dissertation on SEN policy, and the policy of inclusion was a major part of what I studied.

So here, for the sake of teachers who are to new to the profession to remember the policy of inclusion, and for the sake of rebuttal to any inclusion denialists, are a small sample of links and documents to confirm that this policy existed and was then abandoned.

To begin with it’s important to be aware of what the data shows. It’s worth looking at the graphs on pages 10-12 of this document from 2018 where it is explained that there is:

A general trend of the proportion of pupils in special schools falling until 2007, with evidence of some plateauing in the early 2000s. Since 2007 the proportion of pupils in special schools appears to be rising slightly.

I have put the other resurces in roughly chronological order.

  • October 1997: Excellence for all children. Government green paper declaring the intention to increase and promote inclusion.
  • December 1999: From exclusion to inclusion: final report of the Disability Rights Task Force Report from government task force arguing that schools must follow the principle of inclusion.
  • May 2001: Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 Legislation requiring mainstream schooling for children without a statement and requiring LEAs and governing bodies to “prevent the incompatibility” where students with SEN could not be educated in mainstream schools.
  • November 2001: Special Educational Needs Code of Practice and Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs  Guidance for schools and LEAs. The former declares as a fundamental principle that “the special educational needs of children will normally be met in mainstream schools or settings”. The latter document “provides statutory guidance on the practical operation of the new statutory framework for inclusion” and warns that OFSTED will be monitoring schools and LEAs who use exceptions to the rules and the Secretary of State will intervene if they are found to be acting “unreasonably”.
  • December 2001: Disabled pupils ‘inspire teachers’ BBC news story about the policy of inclusion.
  • July 2002: Special schools ‘must stay open’ BBC news story about Conservative opposition to the policy.
  • October 2002: Special needs school pressure BBC news story about the policy and the effect on behaviour.
  • January 2004: Removing Barriers to Achievement The Government’s Strategy for SEN Government document most notable for confirming that LEAs should take account of the consideration that “the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time as mainstream schools grow in their skills and capacity to meet a wider range of needs”.
  • April 2004: Special education policy ‘a disaster’ BBC news story about teacher’s union NASUWT opposing the inclusion policy.
  • August 2004: Tories to review special schools BBC report about Tories calling for special school closures to be reviewed.
  • February 2005: Special schools or inclusion? BBC news story discussing controversy over the policy.
  • June 2005: Turning point for special needs? BBC report about the political controversy and disillusionment around inclusion. Call for special schools review BBC report that David Cameron as a hopeful for the Tory leadership calling for a review of the policy and education minister Lord Adonis claiming the changes had only been minor.
  • November 2005: The Thick Of It Episode 3 of season 2 of this comedy series shows the policy of inclusion was well enough known to be used as the basis for satire.
  • March 2006: Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence Education minister Lord Adonis tells a select committee: “We do not have a view about a set proportion of pupils who should be in special schools, but we note that in fact the proportion has remained roughly static in recent years. If that is the view that local authorities take in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities, we are absolutely content with that. We have no policy whatever, I should stress, of encouraging local authorities to close special schools or withdraw resource provision where they do not believe that is in the best interests of their localities” in contrast to January 2004 above.
  • May 2006: School inclusion ‘can be abuse’ BBC news story about an NUT report criticising the policy of inclusion.
  • June 2006: Education and Skills Committee Special Educational Needs The select committee report observes that “statutory and non-statutory guidance, and… the Government’s original 1997 position” was a policy of inclusion that the government no longer supports and argues “The Government should be up-front about its change of direction on SEN policy and the inclusion agenda”.
  • July 2006: Special needs education ‘not fit’ BBC news report about the select committee report on inclusion calling for the government to clarify its position on the policy.
  • December 2009: Lamb Inquiry After almost 2 years, a government inquiry reviewing special needs provision reports back, making no mention of the policy of inclusion.
  • September 2010: Minister seeks more parental choice on special needs BBC news story reporting on the coalition government’s explicit commitment to ending “the bias towards inclusion” which dates the policy to 1997-2005.
  • May 2012: Q&A: Special Educational Needs BBC report on government reforms of SEN education and the background to them.

I hope this makes the point. There may be a couple of complications. There were moves towards moving more students from special schools to mainstream before 1997 and, as I argued in my masters dissertation, there is a tendency for policy literature to suggest that policies had been in place longer than was actually the case. Additionally, even at the height of the policy of inclusion, there were those who would defend the policy by talking as if “inclusion” was only a desirable virtue, not a highly contentious policy. However, hopefully these sources should make clear the reality and history of the policy of inclusion and provide some warning about what to expect if policy makers try to turn the clock back.

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More on School Chain Shaming

March 3, 2019

I wrote here about “school chain shaming” and the involvement of the TES website in sharing accusations about two MATs.

They began their contribution to the shaming campaign by finding a flimsy pretext to share the following uncorroborated accusation from John Tomsett’s blog:

In the blog, Mr Tomsett refers to “a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called ‘flattening the grass’ rolling assemblies”.

The blog goes on: “Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en-masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour.

“Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry.

“If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner.

“The students are the ‘grass’ which is ‘flattened’ by the experience.”

The TES named a MAT which did have a practice referred to as “flattening the grass” without actually providing any evidence that it resembled the practice described above.

In the aftermath of sharing this gossip, they then printed pretty much any accusation they could find about the MAT (no matter how different or vague); called that “flattening the grass”, and claimed it corroborated the original story. One of their earliest reports even flatly contradicted the original accusation. This is what they reported about one of the former employees attacking the MAT:

The senior leader [the TES source] …. said the executives did not select children in advance to target, but rather “just indiscriminately picked on children either in the line or in the assembly”.

The TES campaign has continued since then, dragging in another MAT, so that now, on the basis of what seems to be a handful of disgruntled (probably ex-) employees over 80 schools have been smeared on the basis of an original accusation that nobody now seems able to support.

A TES journalist has continued to defend this story, on the grounds that the people coming forward to accuse the school is sufficient evidence to support the story, rather than simply down to the fact that when you show that you are willing to smear dozens of schools, former employees with a grudge will get in touch and people who know it is not true will steer clear of you. In fact, far from there being anything unusual about this, I easily found hundreds of teachers who thought the same thing could be done to their school:

Shamed schools have learnt to their cost that there is nothing they can do to put the record straight. So we cannot expect to see the named trusts challenge the details of the story. However, after showing my willingness to challenge these stories, I was contacted by two edutwitter users who were willing to give me an anonymous account of what happened in their experience of the trust. Obviously, I acknowledge that my sources are just one side of the story. My claim is not that they can prove what happened in all 80 schools in the two trusts, only that if the TES had actively sought corroboration for the original accusations, and had not just been interested in dishing dirt, they would have found this other side to the accusations.

This is from a teacher, no longer working at the MAT:

I trained with [this MAT], then worked at one [of their schools] for a few years, and visited lots more. I’ve never been in a flattening the grass assembly, but have visited a school newly taken on, and discussed the plan for how they go into a new school with senior staff. Flattening the grass is just an assembly to state the rules when they take over a school. People are missing the context. They’re going into very difficult schools and enforcing order. In the minutes found where the term ‘flattening the grass’ went public: the point before ‘flattening the grass’ is a kid was expelled for setting the changing rooms on fire at another school they had just taken over. In the point that mentions flattening the grass, it finishes with reporting that students sought out a member of staff to say they felt safer in the school.

From the minutes with the names of the schools removed.

I’ve seen people fixate on the ‘rolling assembly point’, It’s a “rolling assembly” is just because in most schools you can’t get all the kids in the school into the hall at the same time. They only have the assembly once each. It only happens when they take over a new school, to set the new rules. I have only been in a behaviour assembly once, a few weeks into term with 1 year group, because a large minority were behaving poorly across the school, so the rules were firmly restated to all. It is certainly not a regular thing in the trust to have behaviour assemblies. I don’t think the assemblies are particularly nice, because every time they state a new rule a kid makes a fart noise or shouts something. You can imagine. They then pull them out and issue a detention. When they first take over a school detentions are in the hall, because so many kids test the system. Lots then fail the detention, so isolation the following day will be in multiple rooms. There’s a huge spike in consequences after they take over, but it soon settles when the kids accept it. They then gradually introduce more rules. They aren’t trying to destroy kids, just settle the school down so teachers can teach and kids can learn.

I never heard the pre-selection line [i.e. the claim that kids were chosen in advance to be shouted at], and generally the behaviour policy is that you don’t shout. It explicitly says that you’re supposed to issue sanctions in as calm, detached and unemotional way as possible to not give kids the reaction they often want. I’ve had training in the behaviour system multiple times from very senior staff in the trust. No one ever told me to shout, and in fact they all emphasised that point that getting angry or pretending to generally doesn’t work. I disagree with [this MAT] on several things, but these reports, and the social media reaction, seem totally over the top.

This is from a teacher currently working at a school in the MAT:

The first time I heard the ‘flattening the grass’ phrase was looking around a [the second MAT named in the story] Academy when I was looking for another job. My life under the previous organisation of my school had become so awful that I was considering leaving teaching after 15 years, not just the school.

When we found out [the MAT in the original story] were to take over [my school], there was a huge amount of apprehension among staff. This was partly due to their reputation and partly due to the inevitability of redundancies. These weren’t due to anything other than a significant fall in students on roll that had never been addressed, with teachers replacing those who left, rather than taking advantage of natural wastage.

When [the MAT] arrived, I was present in some of the assemblies. They were done by year group because there wasn’t a space to contain all our students. I saw one child removed, having stood up and sworn at the member of SLT delivering the assembly. No one was otherwise singled out or shouted at. Moreover,  vulnerable and SEND students had already had a meeting with the new principal, where the new expectations and rules were explained so that they would not be subjected to undue stress.

As [the MAT] sent in a team to patrol the corridors and help the resident staff and SLT to enforce the new standards, each was paired with an experienced member of staff to ensure that no vulnerable students were put in difficult situations because those challenging them were not aware of their circumstances. To address one particularly ridiculous claim, I’ve never had a lesson on shouting at students.

A second reason I haven’t become involved in any of the [MAT]-bashing online is because I’m too concerned about the reaction of people I otherwise respect on Twitter. I realise it’s a wildly unpopular view at the moment, but I’m happier in my job than I’ve been for years. I can actually teach. In the first few weeks after take over, I regularly failed to plan adequately, with 10 to 15 minutes left at the end of the lesson where I had to make up activities. This is when I genuinely realised just how poor behaviour had been before. I’d been subconsciously planning to include spending 25% of lesson time dealing with low level disruption.

Don’t expect to see stories like this in the TES any time soon.

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