EEF SEN in Mainstream Schools

Five recommendations on special education needs in mainstream schools

I can’t help but feel that this EEF guidance report on supporting SEN in mainstream has slipped under the radar a little, probably because it coincided with an unprecedented global pandemic, but maybe because it doesn’t really offer anything new or different.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with (most of) the main premise of the report, it is evidence based (although it is disappointing to find that there is no research into the impact of the graduated approach in England), and it may be that it brings those same messages to new audiences – a good thing, because I’m not sure many more people than SENCOs and other SEN practitioners engage with the Code of Practice or the Regs.  A broader range of educators are, I think, likely to engage with the EEF guidance, though.  The frustration, for me, is that this is not a new message, that SEND learners basically need the same things that all learners need, that all teachers are teachers of SEND etc., but, as always seems to be the case, it just doesn’t go far enough to actually make it happen.  I don’t think I can ever read a report like this from the perspective of a non-specialist, but I’m also not sure it even delivers a clear and consistent message within its own pages.  I am all for anything that promotes the key messages that SEND learners need the same high quality teaching and learning experience as their peers, but I’m also very cautious of anything that perpetuates things that are currently a barrier to that becoming a reality.

Certainly a main theme of this guidance is that SEND learners need, and are entitled to, high quality teaching and learning, and access to time with their class teacher(s), and yet one of the five recommendations is still focused on maximising the use of TAs, and states that the individual and small group interventions are ‘often’ delivered by them.  Surely, if we really want our SEND students to receive equitable high quality teaching, then those interventions should be delivered by qualified and accountable teachers (unless it is a non-academic intervention, in which case it should be delivered by an appropriately trained individual).  If there was a high attaining student with a gap in their knowledge, or they simply weren’t clicking with a new concept or skill, I’m pretty confident that the subject teacher would be the one to sit with them, either individually or in a group with others having the same issue, and provide that intervention, not a TA.  What is it that keeps stopping us from offering that same high quality teaching intervention to all students?  The guidance report itself states that students with SEND ‘have the greatest need for excellent teaching’ and yet still advocates for the most targeted teaching to be delivered by non-teachers.

Another core premise of the report is that the evidence based strategies that are proven to best support SEND in the classroom are actually really simple and, if not already in use in many classrooms, would be easy to introduce.  Again, this aligns with the message that all teachers are teachers of SEND and that what SEND students need is, mainly, within classrooms and lessons.  The report also, however, perpetuates the misconception that SEND is too complex, with too many requirements that have to be externally sourced, and that it is too broad to expect teachers to learn every possible permutation of SEND that might be present in their classroom.  I know there are elements of truth to this.  I know that some children are more likely to need the input of outside agency specialists, and that EHCPs form part of an LA, and national, system that remains – despite reform – pretty bureaucratic and statute bound.  But, perceiving this as complex and specialist is still a symptom of a segregatory, us and them understanding of disability; it isn’t the problem it is being made out to be.  We bring outside agency individuals in to support aspects of behaviour, social care, to deliver PSHE and to deliver music lessons, and it is not considered to be unmanageable or complicated.  We adhere to strict, externally accountable and high stakes requirements in order to be able to host GCSE examinations, usually for large groups with different combinations of subjects and papers, without considering it so complex that it can only be managed by specialists.  And teachers are not required to have an in depth knowledge of every possible additional need that they might one day teach any more than they are required to know every possible socio-economic or environmental factor that might have impacted on any learner who enters their classroom; you only need to get to know the children you actually have.  We can stop making this into a problem that we don’t need.

I have a couple of other little niggles with the report (I have already blogged about funding for SEND here – Money Where The Mouth Is – and I don’t think this blog is big enough to cover the ‘SEND student’ or ‘student with SEND’ conversation, or the report’s lean towards the biopsychosocial model of disability and my concerns about that) but, ultimately, if the message that students with SEND need the same things as all learners and that these things are, largely, already available in our schools, is being repeated and extended to new audiences, then that can only be a good thing.  Until, though, we can shake off the shackles of the prevailing and entrenched approach to inclusion that is in place in most schools, reports like this are not going to be the revolution our children actually need and deserve.

The ‘us and them’ Effect

One of the main motivations for striving to support students with additional needs without segregation of space (or anything else) was to try to foster greater equality-rich diversity within the school community.  Everyone learns, eats, socialises, transitions from A to B, celebrates, and is sanctioned together.  It seemed logical to me that this would be enhancing and enriching for everyone involved.  What new and exciting can come from sameness?  Creativity and learning occur at the boundaries between things that are different.  For children with additional needs, I hope that truly being part of the main will give them access to the best quality resources, empower them to feel entitled to that, and that they grow up and enter adult society demanding that it is made to work for them too.  For our students who do not have an additional need, well I have hopes for them too.  That, as a minimum and among other things, an opportunity to live and work alongside those who might seem different to you will feel as normal and routine and mundane as it should feel and that the enhancements and improvements to the structures and systems we make to be more truly inclusive will be beneficial to everyone in the school.  It makes sense to me that better knowledge, understanding and empathy must come from experience.

Having an ‘us and them’ approach, based on the notion that there are able and disabled people or students and SEND students, is what facilitates us to not use qualified teachers for some of our most vulnerable learners.  Beyond the school gate, it is what allows us to turn some people away from public spaces because adaptation to meet their needs was not deemed to be ‘reasonable’.  It is clear to me that both the immediate and long term interests of some students would be hindered, even halted, by this approach.  The risks of this way of working run deeper than just access to resources, though.  That same lack of access, to both education and to experiences, could deskill and distance people and make it harder for them to fight back.  In schools, I fear that our currently prevalent approach to inclusion literally teaches our children that some people sit outside of the systems that we are told time and time again are the best, are right, and are their entitlement.  It’s an old adage, but we might talk the talk of inclusion but it is our actions that speak loudest.  Having segregated systems, whatever we call them, sends a message – it confirms, consolidates and perpetuates an ‘us and them’ mentality.  Not spending time with people you perceive to be different to you generates misunderstanding and apathy, even mystery and fear.  At best, it’s a ‘not my problem’ problem but, at its worst, it’s the underlying cause of the harmful demonisation of people with disabilities as scroungers and a burden on society.  We all benefit from diversity, but if we aren’t living it then how would we know?

I wouldn’t exactly say that the findings are surprising, but if you haven’t seen Scopes 2018 ‘disability perception gap’  policy report, it’s certainly an interesting read, albeit somewhat jarring.  From the outset, the findings show that most people significantly underestimate the prevalence of disability in society and this then, of course, has a knock on effect on all the other results.  If the majority of people surveyed don’t, by their own admission, see disability in their day to day lives, how can they form an opinion that’s balanced and fair?  It does also raise the question, why are they underestimating in the first place? Why are people with disabilities missing from so many people’s lives?  One of the starker (darker?) findings in the report is that the perception that people with disabilities ‘get in the way’ either some or most of the time quintuples with distance from disabled people, i.e. people who  do not know anyone with a disability  are five times more likely to have this belief than those who do.

Sc In the Way

Another question asks about whether attempts to give equal rights to disabled people have gone too far or not far enough  and shows the same pattern, although there’s a lot more that surprises me about this data than just that, if I’m honest.  And it is their typo, not mine, by the way.

Sc Equal Rights


Scope Quote

I agree, of course… but what are we doing in education – whilst our students are so receptive to new information, learning how to function in a community, and preparing for successful and happy adulthoods – to help achieve this?  What do our students learn about themselves and others through, not our words, but our actions, systems and structures?  And, maybe more importantly, what opportunities to learn are we denying them? 

The revolution will not have disabled access; part 2

Original post here.

Before we can even begin to build a better society, surely we must step back and envisage the society we are trying to build.  Since writing my original blog on this subject, some change has taken place; the ‘not all disabilities are visible’ realisation, or at least some additional mainstreaming of that realisation,  for example.  It probably isn’t the only thing, but it is the thing that has popped into my head and it does illustrate my point – it’s true, not all disabilities are visible, but also it is one small aspect of a much bigger, more complex issue, even if you narrow that issue right down to simply being able to access appropriate toilet facilities in public spaces.  I’m sure it has created some improvement for some people, and this is right and good, but if we stepped back and envisaged what a society with truly equitable public toilet access would look like, surely it wouldn’t be this.  Surely it wouldn’t be the standard male / female cubicles plus one larger cubicle with some grab bars, probably a baby changing table, and a ‘not all disabilities are visible’ sticker on the door, plus (if you’re very lucky) a functional and well maintained Changing Places facility?  I think we should celebrate steps in the right direction but, if you think about what real equitable access for all would look like, I’m not sure we’d still feel like celebrating.

Society having a better understanding of ‘not all disabilities are visible’ is better than it not, but it still perpetuates a harmful ‘us and them’ mentality, it still facilitates a segregated (and often second rate) approach, and it still engenders the ablest self-satisfaction – the celebration of those visible signs of our kindness – that is, perhaps, the biggest hindrance to real progress that we have.  True inclusion is not a token gesture or a box ticked in some building regulations, and it certainly isn’t a sticker on a supermarket’s disabled toilet door, but it’s something that has to saturate every aspect of society for every person.  The reality is, and I’m back to talking about toilets again, there are still people who cannot use the loo when they go shopping.



And what about in education?  What is it, ultimately, that we are trying to achieve for children with additional needs?  Is the end goal ‘inclusion’ itself, and all its visible signs and indicators of existing, or are all these things actually segregators and the end goal is something much more fundamental, intrinsic and subtle?  I’ve heard SENCOs (not all of them) talk about TAs like they’re currency, and about segregated spaces for SEND like they’re creating an empire, but surely all that these things tell us is that the school at large isn’t fit for purpose for all of its pupils and that it is this that should be addressed, not scaffolded and accepted.  Academic and adult outcomes for those with additional needs are dire, so whatever we are doing for them in education is not working.  The things they need – qualified, experienced, accountable teachers and to be part of a community where they are fully involved and valued – are right there on the next corridor, so why are we keeping them away from it and wondering why, for them, education isn’t working?  Or, even worse, accepting that not working is enough for those children.  If we step back and envisage what a truly inclusive school would look like, would it be the one with the biggest ‘inclusion area’ (an oxymoron if every I heard one) and most TAs, or the one where all children achieve without the need for those things?

The end goal has to  be a school, a city, and a society that is fit for purpose for all of its people.  There may not be anything obvious to celebrate about that.  And good; there shouldn’t be.  Equality is a fundamental human right, not a gift given by a powerful majority to a grateful-for-what-they-can-get ‘other’ type of person.  Whether it’s access to an equitable, high quality education or just being able to have a wee while you’re out doing your shopping, true equality has got to be something that just happens, whoever you are.  Otherwise, it isn’t really equality.

How far from the medical model have we actually moved?

How far from the medical model have we actually moved?

It has been playing on my mind for a while now, that what seemed so clear cut in the earlier stages of my time as a SENCo,  is not actually the reality of what I see happening on a day to day basis, both in education and beyond.  How far from the medical model approach to understanding disability in society, and specifically in education, have we actually moved?  A quick twitter poll – always an excellent way to grossly oversimplify a complex and emotive issue – did demonstrate that I am not alone in feeling this way.  Mainly, though, it demonstrated that most people are not willing to continue to simply accept the limiting rhetoric that exists around disability and inclusion.  That might be for a different post.  The reality, though, remains too far deviated from the ideal for us to get away with not thinking about it.  My twitter poll and subsequent conversations also highlighted a lack of clarity around definitions so, for arguments sake, this is what I am using for the purpose of this post:

Medical Model – The person is disabled by aspects of their own body.  They are, effectively, ‘broken’ and therefore should be fixed or simply they cannot access society, or at least not all aspects of it.  The ‘problem’ lies within the individual.

Social Model – The person is disabled by barriers and deficits in society.  Those barriers and deficits could be physical or social / attitudinal.  All people have the same right to access society so these barriers and deficits must be addressed.  The ‘problem’ lies in society and the physical environment.

I do think, at some level, we talk the talk of the social model.  The Equality Act is explicit in its assertions of equal rights and the leveling of the playing field and, in education, CaFA and the Code of Practice secure the rights of learners who require additional and different.  Just typing out the retrograde concepts in that definition of the medical model made my skin crawl.  I’m not so sure, though, that we walk the walk of it.  Not quite medical model, maybe, but not really social model either.

Take, for example, the use of teaching assistants (I know, I’m obsessed) when a student has an additional need that prevents them from accessing the lesson without that support.  Where does this provision place the ‘problem’?  What is it that needs to change in order to address it?  I’m not saying that it is a medical model approach – the child might not even be in the room if it was – but I am saying that it is not quite social model either.  The ‘problem’ is that the environment or something within it (teaching style, pitch, content) is not fit for purpose and so it is the environment that needs changing.  Putting a TA with the child facilities the environment to stay the same.  More like papering over a crack rather than properly fixing it.  Putting a stepladder next to the barrier instead of dismantling the barrier.

It isn’t just the TAs.  Most of the artifacts of inclusion – the SENCo, the SEN Register, provision maps and IEPs – place the change, the difference, the deviation from the norm, in the child.

Maybe we have halted here on our journey to properly achieving a social model approach and, with it (or maybe a few steps beyond it) true equality, equity and justice for all sections of society, because real structural and systemic change is hard.  Maybe it is because too many people, power holders at various levels, have accepted not enough as good enough for some people.  Maybe it is because the able majority like those visible signs of inclusivity because it makes us feel good about ourselves.  Whatever it is, we have a mammoth task ahead of us if we are going to change things.

No one thing is going to make that change, but each and everyone one of us can make a start.  Evolution, not revolution.  When things aren’t working for one of the children we teach, we should be asking ourselves, ‘where does the problem actually lie?’ and then doing something about that, not scaffolding the child into the existing, not good enough situation or space.  This may require big change, but it will also facilitate access and inclusion for more than just that child and for more than just that day.

This may require big change… but that is exactly what needs to happen.

The Inclusion Delusion

a.k.a. Why do we keep doing it if it doesn’t work?

delusion (noun): an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument

There are plenty of complaints being made about the state of SEND and inclusion in education and it is not my intention to outline them here (NB – I hear, and know of personally, plenty of positive stories too, but they are by no stretch the majority, probably not even 50/50).  But what if the issue is not how badly or well inclusion as we know it is being done, but the very existence of inclusion itself?  I’m not saying we throw the baby out with the bathwater here – where we are now is a point on a journey –  but it’s time to take the next steps and here’s why.

The thing we call inclusion is not effective.

  • Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.
    Labour Force Survey, April to June 2017, via
  • After housing costs, the proportion of working age disabled people living in poverty (28%) is higher than the proportion of working age non-disabled people (18%).
    HBAI 2015/16, via
  • Four years on from London 2012 [Paralympics], nearly half (43%) of the British public don’t know anyone who is disabled and the majority (67%) feel awkward around disability.
    Scope (2014) ‘Current Attitudes to Disabled People’ via
  • 2% of working age disabled people do not hold any formal qualification and only 6.5% of working age non-disabled people do not hold any formal qualification.
    Disability Facts and Figures from 2014 via
  • Over one quarter of disabled adults say that they do not frequently have choice and control over their daily lives.
    Disability Facts and Figures from 2014 via

Whichever way you look at it, adult outcomes for those with disabilities are pretty dire.  Actually, I do believe that education for children with disabilities has improved over time i.e. it’s better than it was historically (and, actually, some of the data specific to education does reflect those improvements) but still, the adult outcomes are dire.  Dire for both of the things we learn at school – the academic stuff, information and qualifications as well as what we learn about how to be part of a community and find our place in society… both of which add up to, among other things, employability.  Can these adult outcomes really be the result of only the aspects of inclusion that we all acknowledge are going wrong?  Or, is it time we start acknowledging that the aspects of inclusion that appear to be working well at school level do not lead to positive adult outcomes?  For me, it’s obvious that they wouldn’t.  We have to look at what teaching and learning looks like for the students who are ‘included’ in mainstream education.  If we put aside, for a moment, whether or not the systems we have designed and agreed constitute the right (mainstream) education for our children are the very best right they can be (I will leave the conversations about how frequently and how we should assess, feedback, behaviour manage, and design curricula, largely, to other bloggers), what we have in place is at least the enforced best-ish right that we have a the moment.  If we have an education system that, for the moment, has been put in place and enforced as right and ideal for the children and young people of our country, what does it mean – whether you agreed with it wholeheartedly or not – if any children and young people sit outside of that system?  What does it tell them about themselves? Their rights? Their place?  What does it tell everyone else about those students who sit slightly outside of the system?

We have, for example, agreed that the right people to teach are teachers – people with a certain level of a certain type of qualification, accountability and monitoring.  Why, then, would it be right for some children to be taught by teaching assistants?  (Disclaimer – I’m talking specifically about teaching and learning; teachers are not the only kind of adult a child might need in their lives).

We have agreed, also, on a curriculum to cover everything at a student needs to go to be a successful adult, and this is reinforced by measures such as EBacc and P8/A8… so why would it be okay for some children to be denied full access to what we’ve agreed is the ideal?  There’s a matter of principle here, but it isn’t to be insisting on subjecting vulnerable learners to a curriculum that wasn’t designed with them in mind, but maybe we should be making sure the ideal we have designed is broad and flexible to meet the needs of everyone whose needs need meeting.  The current attainment measures, Ofsted and League Tables force schools (kind of – it can be resisted, of course) not to do this and make it so that each school has little choice but to simply be a better or worse version of every other school; no true diversity or choice.

Maybe there isn’t a way to really separate teaching and learning from everything else you learn in school but, at least to some extent, the other side of the coin of education is what we learn about ourselves and our place and role in communities, society and ever shrinking world.   This aspect of our education and learning plays a huge role in shaping the society of tomorrow.  How can we expect our young people to go on to be fair and equitable, open-minded employers and colleagues when what we’ve shown them in their formative years is that some people sit outside of systems and that there’s something else in place, that someone else deals with, for them?  How can we expect our ‘included’ young people to go forth and take up their place in society if we have not equipped them with the knowledge and skills they need, or the understanding of their worth and place in society, that they deserve – one that is the same as that of their peers???  Scope’s ‘Enabling Work’ (2015) found that a ten percentage point rise in the employment rate amongst disabled adults would contribute an extra £12billion to the Exchequer by 2031.  We all benefit from a more inclusive society.

I am not, by the way, advocating an ‘inclusion under one roof at all costs’ approach, and nor am I admonishing the role of special schools; in fact, I think specials schools are one of the few examples of genuine diversity and potential quality choice we have in our education system and, additionally, the schools themselves are often great examples of how a wide variety of abilities and needs can learn together.  That might be another blog for another time.  A significant barrier to true inclusion (i.e. no inclusion) is the lack of diversity and choice parents have because of the nature of how schools are monitored and forced to compete on narrow measures of success.  There’s little point in schools all following the same formula, seeing the same problem and overcoming it with the same solution, but that is also another blog for another time.  My point is that sitting some children outside of the systems we have designed can only mean one or both of two things – either the systems we’ve designed are discriminatory OR we are accepting that not all children have an entitlement to the best education we can currently think of.

The thing we call inclusion is not inclusive.

I have to re-look up the definitions of the medical and social models of disability embarrassingly often in an attempt to reconcile them with my own experience and observations… and I still end up with more questions than answers.  This is my best understanding of the two models right now, though:

Medical Model  →
Deficits lie within individuals and the focus is on fixing those deficits (medicine, psychology etc.) or to institutionalise / segregate.

Social Model      →
Deficits lie within society and the focus is on fixing the deficits in society in order to make it more inclusive.

I’d be happy to be corrected or pointed in the direction of more thorough or accurate definitions, having a clearer understanding might clear up some of my questions too, but – for the time being  – these are the definitions I have in mind and these are the questions they raise for me.

Firstly, how far from the medical model has education actually traveled?  It seems to me that EHCPs, SEND Registers and the artifacts of ‘inclusion’ in general (TAs, SENCOs, inclusion departments and corridors) all place the deficit within the child by identifying their differences and additional needs and then looking to use a system of add-ons and exceptions to the existing system to accommodate and compensate.

Secondly, how much of an improvement is the social model anyway?  I mean, of course, it’s an improvement on the medical model… but how much of an improvement; surely this isn’t what we are aiming for?  Or maybe it’s just that we’ve misunderstood or cut short the progress of the social model? Whatever it is, it just doesn’t feel like enough.  What I mean is this; we identify the deficits in society and then put in disabled toilets that meet the needs of some but still not all, ramps that send the ‘included’ around to the back and through a side door, and we have schemes and initiatives to support those with disabilities into employment but fail to create an education system that prepares all students to be employed nor teaches all students to be inclusive employers and colleagues.  This isn’t really addressing the deficits in society. It’s papering over the cracks and accepting a two tier system.

Surely, the right thing to do is create systems that intrinsically work for everyone?  Not to stick with what we’ve got but find ways of making it work for those identified as having additional needs.   There are children in mainstream for whom it is absolutely right and there are children in special schools for whom it is absolutely right… but what about the children in special who feel, and whose parents feel, that they should have been able to be (or stay, usually) in mainstream?  And the children in mainstream who are identified as SEND and taught on a separate corridor by a separate team?  Not to mention all the children, identified as SEND or not, who are out of education or home schooled against their families and their own wishes?  And what of all the not identified as SEND who are coping, barely coping, or not coping in the school systems we have designed?  True social model would not only be accepting and identifying the deficits in our systems and addressing them in a way that penalises the system, not the individuals. Designing a functional system would need to be from the ground up; one that works for everyone and accepts them as unique and varied individuals, not flawed versions of an ideal.  For me, inclusion means being part of a community that truly works for you and values you and what you bring, interacts positively with the other communities around it,  and where each individual piece of the jigsaw is as crucial to the overall picture as the other pieces.

Which brings me to my third question about the social model – do our current systems (in education and society) play a part in creating the concept of disability?  Of course, some people have diagnoses and needs that are less commonplace but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  Dis-abled literally means to be prevented from being able to do something.  In a true social model, a truly inclusive society, no one would be prevented from doing something they want and need to do (a deceptively complex concept in itself – we all have things that we can’t do but what I mean is not being able to do the normal, everyday things we need to do to thrive in the community, infrastructure and society we live in) and we could all have our identities, including disabled identities, but no part of that should be hindering or negatively life impacting.  There are so many ingrained ideas and received wisdoms to overcome, for example, some people will still require carers but we can move away from understanding it as a carer / service user relationship and move towards requiring a carer as the purchase or entitlement to a service, through the tax and national insurance system, just like getting the bins collected or having a gardener or a cleaner.  If our education system had genuinely been designed to properly meet the needs of all children, and we didn’t require inclusion in the way we do now, then who would be disabled by that?  To be clear, this isn’t about erasing disabled identities or denying the existence of diversity or different; it’s about not allowing any off those things to negatively impact on a person’s life experience.

Ultimately, a school is the students.  All of the students.  Sometimes I think the whole concept of inclusion simply absolves teachers and schools of responsibility to some of their students.  Legitimises and promotes segregation, even.

This brings me to the final question about the social model – why don’t we move forward?

This is the aspect of inclusion that keeps me up at night.  We have had a fairly recent, so recent we are still dealing with the implications of it, overhaul of SEND and inclusion in education with the Children and Families Act (2014) and the New Code of Practice 0-25 (2014) being implemented.  What problems this solves and what new ones it has created is not what I want to talk about here but, I will say, that I don’t think that the language used in either of these documents prevents or hinders progress being made.  The question I’m asking is bigger than those two documents, bigger than education, and sits somewhere up there at the societal level – why do we keep doing it if it doesn’t work?

What we’ve actually achieved is a society that continues to not work for everyone but has a range of rules and restrictions, add-ons and afterthoughts, that maybe make it work for a few more than it would have, albeit often through segregated provision, and give the illusion of inclusion.  It allows establishments and authorities to tick the box of inclusion.  But it isn’t really inclusion.  True inclusion is no inclusion.  The revolution will not have disabled access, just access for all.

Maybe we don’t move forward because to the majority of us, who were denied access to the full, broad range of diversity through segregation in education and society in our own formative years, the current approach feels like enough.  And maybe we don’t move forward because the ground-up change that would be required to achieve it feels like too much.  Maybe the reality is that the society we are living in and the infrastructure we have in place just isn’t ready yet… but we are, of course, ready to start.

The structural change and societal shift needed, the increased enforcement and accountability, valuing of diversity, improvements in representation and opening of doors, is not going to happen overnight.  There’s no use throwing ourselves at a brick wall… but we can chip away at the bottom of it.  We are each only in charge of making good choices in our own lives, homes, classrooms, departments, schools, MATs, businesses, communities and authorities.  The more of us that do – the more of us that are chipping away at the wall – the better.

Eventually, that wall will fall.



As is so often the case, Twitter is excellent at making clear the extreme polarised views on an issue when, in reality, there is no black and white ’answer’ that will satisfy the argument.  The reality is that different approaches work in different schools… and each school should work in the way that works for their students, families and community.  The reality is, different schools use recognised words and phrases to mean slightly, even significantly, different things – booths in one school might be an entirely different provision to booths in another school, in the same way that ‘no excuses’, ‘silent corridors’, ‘warm strict’, and  whole load more controversial concepts actually mean different things in different schools.  None of these things can be wholeheartedly accepted or rejected because there is no unanimity.  The important thing is that we don’t simply accept the booths.  With whatever influence you have, in whatever setting you’re in, the important thing is that we question the booths; why are we doing this?  How are we doing it?  Who is affected?  What do we want to achieve?  If anything good comes of these little Twitter storms, it’s that it makes people think about things anew.

Without getting too specific, (shaming any individual or establishment is not my aim here), I have seen booths used in a way that I cannot get on board with, even with every intention of respecting and accepting a school’s autonomy to work in the way that works for them.  The internal isolation room was set up in the ‘panopticon’ style, with a semi-circle of outward facing booths, each with three high sides, with a desk for staff placed so that they could easily see every student’s back.  I don’t think it was intentionally dark but, with the position and height of the booths, it was eerily so.  Everyone’s back was to the door.  Students placed in the room started an hour before school and finished an hour after, a book was allowed but no work provided, and the limited number of toilet trips were timed with an egg timer.  Talk, misbehave, or fall asleep, and the whole thing had to be repeated the next day.  This, inevitably, resulted in some students doing long stretches.  The room was closed down on the spot – all students sent back to their lessons – by Ofsted, in on a monitoring visit, on a dreary, grey day when that was not the lowest of the low points.  If this was what was unanimously meant when schools declared themselves to be using booths, #banthebooths would be the very least of appropriate responses.  What was the aim of these booths?  What was the intended outcome?  To punish, test, torture and break the students?  To teach them a lesson by making them suffer?  To keep them out of circulation, out of the way, for as long as possible?  I feel that there might be some horror and outrage at what people have just read; trust me, we don’t need to worry about the school in question any more.  I hope it was an isolated example.

To me, the ‘booths or no booths’ argument is too vague and somewhat redundant but, within that, the conversation about that tier in an escalating system of sanctions, probably (to generalise) somewhere between a detention and a fixed term exclusion, is very much valid and worth having.  Personally, I do think something needs to bridge that gap. There has to be recognition that some behaviour incidents are more serious than everyday behaviour issues but external exclusions must be kept as extreme responses to extreme circumstances.  It would be great if we could universally achieve that edutopia of structures so strong and lessons so engaging that behavior systems are barely used.  But, alas, teachers remain mere humans and our students remain mere humans too, but juvenile ones, and part of our role as educators is to educate them socially, behaviourally, morally and personally.  This necessitates a fair, consistent, flexible and well thought out behaviour policy, and I think some kind of internal exclusion is a valid part of that.  The important thing is that we don’t just accept but question and carefully consider how it’s done.

So, what is it that we are trying to achieve with this provision, whether its booths, an internal exclusion room, or something else?  Here are some suggestions, though I’m happy to take ideas and additions!

  • It’s a sanction for poor behaviour. This could mean anything from straightforward punishment i.e. designed to be boring / not enjoyable, to an opportunity to reflect on an incident.
  • To bring a student ‘out of circulation’. This could be part of a punishment i.e. time away from friends / isolation, or a practical measure i.e. time to get to the bottom of a situation, for dust to settle or for emotions to run back low.
  • To minimise impact on access to learning. To be a short term intervention that increases the chance of future success, whether that be by avoiding external types of exclusion or reducing risk of recidivism.
  • To (and perhaps this is actually a combination of all of the above) provide a personal learning experience for the student that will help them avoid similar situations in the future.

To me, if you’re provision is designed to meet key, child centred and well intentioned objectives, and is monitored and analysed to ensure those objectives are being met (i.e. minimal recidivism, low (or no) impact on academic outcomes, and even improved behaviour and academic outcomes afterwards), then it’s probably okay.  And it probably isn’t going to look the same from school to school.

It seems unreasonable to write this post without including a little bit about my own setting, so here it is; my school has no booths and no internal exclusion or isolation room of any type.  We do, as I think all schools probably need to do, internally exclude sometimes.  Sometimes a student’s behaviour may necessitate a response that represents an escalation from the standard behaviour sanctions.  They may, for a variety of reasons, need to be ‘out of circulation’ for a day or two.  But, crucially, the message we want them to receive from that response is not that they are being segregated and rejected from our community but that they are an important part of our community and we want to help them choose to behave in a way that is fair to themselves and to others.  When students are internally excluded at my school they are placed in a staff office – admin or academic – and spend the day, yes, away from peers and out of lessons, but also in conversation with staff who they may or may not already have a relationship with, seeing an aspect of school life that they may or may not previously been aware of, seeing people working hard but also being supported to work themselves as well as reflect on the reason they are there.  Where they are placed can be tailored to the individual and the situation… some offices are more conducive to independent study / revision and some more suited to interaction with office staff… and, most crucially, what happens in the internal exclusion can be tailored to the individual and situation.  It’s a sanction – they’re away from their friends and it has, inevitably, a huge propensity to be boring – but, in reality, it is not so unpleasant as the room or the booths approach, it’s individualised and restorative and it is not based on a premise of near total segregation.

So, we don’t have booths but that doesn’t mean that I’m siding with any #banthebooths movement or, indeed, the counter movement.  We need to stop trying to make black and white a matter (and this is far from the only example) that is actually quite complex.  What works in one school might be absolutely right for them but no good in many other settings.  What one schools means when they say they use booths might be very different to what the school next door means when they say the very same thing.  Schools need to be able to operate in the way that works for their students (within reason, of course; don’t set up a weird little torture prison in your school) and, actually, it’s difference between schools that creates diversity in the system and takes us a step closer to giving parents genuine choice and meeting the needs of a greater number of young people.

Not Ready But Ready To Start

When I first started writing my blog, Twitter was an important but a rather negative place for me.  I can remember stopping my car, pulling over, because I’d hear my phone trill – the Twitter notification – and not being able to bear having the response sat there without my justification, explanation, clarification or retaliation to go with it.  With hindsight, it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time.  Writing a blog about something that matters to you feels a bit like putting your heart outside your body for a battering and, if I’m honest, I still experience anxiety every time I put something new on my blog.  I feel very differently about Twitter though; in fact, I love Twitter and it plays a huge role in shaping and reshaping the provision in my school, how I describe and explain it, and how I understand its place in the wider conversation.  I no longer stop the car to look at Twitter notifications (but I do look at them straight away when I do stop!).  Over the years, the demographic of who I follow on Twitter has changed from being mainly SEND related organisations and other SENCOs / teachers, to increasingly being parents of children with SEND, support groups for parents of children with SEND, and adults with disabilities, and it is this, I think, that has influenced my actions the most.

The first thing that the Twitterverse has got me thinking about is the place of my opinions about inclusion and disability rights in the wider discourse.  I think my opinions have a place – as a SENCo, as a teacher, and as a person in society who feels strongly about how I want the society I live in to be – and I talk about the things I talk about because they genuinely matter to me, they impact on people who are important to me, and they impact on me personally; we all benefit from the diversity that a fair and just society affords us.  I know, also, that I’m shouting from the edges.  I am not a person with a disability, nor am I a parent of a child with SEND, but I am learning, I hope, to spend more time listening to the voices that are shouting from the middle and, perhaps even more importantly, to the silences that come from that same place.

That isn’t to say that I don’t believe there’s a role of us at the edges… far from it.  Every marginalised and oppressed group in history has attained their entitlement to equality through the strength of their combined voice from the middle with the support of their allies at the edges and, in the same ways, the drive for disability equality (including true educational inclusion) is no different.  But, in other ways, I think it is different.  I have long been asking myself why the inequality and oppression of those with disabilities – in education and in society – is so widely accepted and, in some cases, even openly celebrated (e.g. schools celebrating having loads of TAs or a building being proud of having disabled ramp access around the back) and I don’t know the answer… but I do have some thoughts.  There is always the presence of an unequal power dynamic between an oppressor and the oppressed but, perhaps, more so when the oppressed group is those with disabilities.  The things that have been put in place in the name of inclusion are a step in the right direction but rarely go far enough.  Not far enough to actually meet the needs of the full diverse range of people that make up our society (e.g. the limitations of a standard disabled toilet facility for those requiring an adult sized bed and overhead tracking / hoist systems).  So what do they go far enough to do?  To make an able majority feel that they’ve ticked a box? Made an effort? Get that feel good factor and sense of self-congratulation that we’ve done something nice for those we perceive as less fortunate?  The word ‘disability’ represents such a diverse and broad spectrum of people and such a significant proportion of society that any sweeping statement to describe those with disabilities is likely to be homogenising and alienating, even offensive, and that is not my intention.  By the very nature, though, of disability, it includes people for who mobility, communication, processing of the world around them, seeing or hearing is a challenge and, as a result of this, creating that unified voice to shout from the middle is going to be that bit harder than it has been for other oppressed groups.  The role of the allies at the edges is crucial.

A second thing that Twitter has got me thinking about is disabled identities and how my views and way of working relate to this and, again, I can only approach this from where I stand.  I have often said, when trying to make my stance clear, that there is no such thing as SEND children and children; only children… or that there’s no such thing as disabled people and people; only people.  I stand by these statements but only so far as to mean that there is no dichotomous, two types of human and there’s no way of dividing us that should negatively impact on the way in which people access society, or their human rights and entitlements.  This is not about erasing disabled identities, in fact, the very opposite; this is about celebrating the creativity, interest, progress and joy that living in a diverse and just society gives us.  We all benefit from living in a diverse and just society.  Of course, in my own school we have students with identified learning needs, diagnoses and physical, visual or hearing impairments, in the same way there are students with different abilities, skills, eye colours, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and shoe sizes – the point is that all of these things should be embraced as part of what makes that person unique.  None of these things should result in a young person being denied access to their full high quality education as part of the main of their school community.  ‘Inclusion’ operates on the basis that some people would not be included in what was happening if it wasn’t for this thing we call inclusion.  Have an inclusion department is like having a ‘not racist’ department; shouldn’t it go without saying?

My third thought for 2018/19 is about how we can synthesise two dissonant themes that run concurrently through the discourse around inclusion and SEND provision that I see, and dip in and out of, on my Twitter feed every day.  On the one hand, there is a sense of urgency – our young people have waited too long; there are children whose needs are not being meet right now; this is the time for change.  And, on the other hand, there’s the recognition that society and education is not ready – teacher training doesn’t prepare them, school funding doesn’t facilitate it, and societal attitudes, systems and structures don’t allow it.

We aren’t ready.

But we are ready to start.

It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead and clearly nothing is going to happen overnight.  There are lots of structural and systemic changes that need to take place that aren’t even on the cards right now, but each of us is only responsible for our own attitudes, behaviours and choices.  And I really strongly believe that, if we all take control of what we can take control of  – our own selves, our families, how we interact with the community, our school, our department, our classroom – that change will start (or continue to start) to take place.  There’s no use throwing yourself at a brick wall, but you can chip away at the bottom of it and, eventually, that wall will fall.  Specifically thinking about inclusion in education, it can be difficult, particularly with the constraints of the LA, funding et cetera, for a lone voice to implement change even at the school, department or classroom level.  But we can all, regardless of our situation, make a difference to the one thing that constitutes the first step and the bottom line of inclusion and disability equality: attitudes.  The moment you stop seeing children and SEND children as two different types of student, and start truly celebrating and maximising on diversity, change can start to take place.  The high quality and high expectations we bestow upon the most able is the entitlement of all students.  The individualisation and care we afford our least able and most vulnerable student is the right of all children too.  If you wouldn’t deal with a gap in the understanding of your most able child by putting them with a TA, don’t do it to your least able.  If you wouldn’t exam factory and push your least able, most vulnerable students to the very limits of their mental health, then don’t do it to your most able student either.

We are each just a complex mishmash of abilities and needs trying to function in a best fit but evolving world – each of unique and that’s what makes us the same – and maybe there’ll never be a big revolution… but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep working on change for the better.


Don’t smile until Christmas, and other questionable advice for NQTs

There were three pieces of advice given to me during my initial teacher training (four if you include ‘don’t do it’) that remain with me now almost 10 years later.

Number one; don’t smile until Christmas.

Number two; never turn your back on the class.

And number three; in the staffroom, sit with the radiators and avoid the drains.

Picture me now, a fresh faced 23 year old secondary geography NQT, back to the wall and stony faced, staring unblinking at my students before reversing carefully out of the room in search of colleagues who have taken time out of their busy days to exude their joy and declare their love of the job to anyone who will listen.

Continue reading: 

Summer Inspiration Stories

For longer than I haven’t, I have spent my summers working for a charity that provides play schemes and residential short breaks for children (5-18) with moderate to severe learning and / or physical disabilities.  No matter where I’ve been or what I’m doing, this is where you will find me in the summer holidays.  It is, first and foremost, a respite service for parents of disabled children and I know, of course, that there are many such organisations… but none, I truly believe, quite like ASAS.  Exceptionally good ratios (more staff than children!!!), our own accessible transport, incredibly low staff turnover (resulting in a team that knows one another and works well together), a high quality training and induction programme, and leadership that lives on the ground, leading by example whether its providing personal care or wearing a grass skirt and a shaving foam beard; we decide what we think our children will enjoy and then we make it happen no matter what.  We make the world work for us.  One of the reasons I became a teacher was to keep my summer holidays free for ASAS.  My first fights for fair access were to get ASAS children into cinemas and onto rollercoasters when the first answer was no.  The first step on my SENCo journey was a fifteen year old volunteer through the doors of this charity.  I don’t know where I’d be without it.  I don’t even know who I’d be without it.  All this time later, I need my summer work more than ever to contextualise, motivate and inspire me for the year ahead.  We haven’t let anything stand in the way of us sailing, caving, climbing and just generally having a great time… nothing is impossible with the right people and determination.

The summer scheme is, and has been for as long as I’ve worked for it, held at a special school where I used to work as a teaching assistant (yes, you read that correctly).  The school has, before, during and after my employment there, had its ups and downs, but it too – along with Mencap, who I worked for whilst I was at university – played a huge role in shaping my views and attitudes regarding inclusion and disability in society.  No matter what has happened and how much has changed since I worked there, my heart still lives at Green Meadows special school.  This summer, I have loved finding and reading the inspiring phrases that are now dotted around the school building and I’ll definitely be keeping these in mind as I go into the new academic year.


A key job for me this summer has been reviewing our approach to supporting students experiencing a decline in their mental health and wellbeing, including those who are showing us this through a deterioration in their behaviour.  The phrase ‘fight fire with water’ has really stuck in my mind throughout that review process.  In fact, the more I think about it, the phrase ‘fight fire with fire’ doesn’t make sense on any level.

There were hundreds of magic moments this summer, like every summer, that I’ll take with me into the upcoming academic year but I’m just going to talk about one wonderful place that we’ve been lucky enough to be going to for years.  I have, a longish time ago, spoke briefly about Nell Bank before.  If you want to know what inclusion – true inclusion – can look like, look no further; this is how you do it.

Nell Bank is a day and residential outdoor experience centre based in beautiful Ilkley, West Yorkshire.  It isn’t simply that Nell Bank is very inclusive, but the way that Nell Bank is inclusive that makes it special.  True inclusion is seamless and all-encompassing.  True inclusion is invisible.  At Nell Bank, there’s no separate entrance, alternative routes with ramps, or annexed areas that tick the ‘disabled friendly’ box; it all just… is… for everyone.  And I’m talking about climbing frames and assault courses here!  It is one of very, very few places where we can all go together and all have an equally good time – an adventure – together.  Whether its pond dipping (all raised ponds), splashing in the water play area, riding in the Nell Buggy (wheelchair accessible golf cart!), playing on the massive fort climbing frame (wheelchair friendly right to the very top!), or completing the superb assault course (see photos!!!), there is nothing here that we cannot all enjoy together.  Also, we just go for the day but I happen to know that their residential facilities include height adjustable tables, kitchen and beds, hoists, and a hygiene suite that has a bath with a lowering platform.



If I can make inclusion at my school as seamless and all-encompassing as it is at Nell Bank then I’ll be one happy INCo.  The holidays may be nearly over (for me, at least! My school reopens on 23rd August!), but I’m ready!  Thanks, ASAS, for another inspirational summer.

Mental Health Matters

As part of my summer holiday fun and relaxation, I have been working on developing a pathway for how we support our students’ mental health and well-being that goes beyond whole school strategies and environment but preempts the referral to outside agency stage.  Now, at T minus 2 weeks to (potential) implementation, I would really appreciate any feedback and advice anyone has about it!  Please note, much of this is already in place (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved!) and I’m fully open to any additional suggestions.  I have found that there are several very informative websites and guides and I’ve found them very useful… I’ve struggled, however, to find a specific and workable action plan to support the students; if anyone knows where I might find one, I’d love to see it!

Thanks 🙂


1: Mental Health Action Plan / Provision map:




2. Wellbeing Plan:

MH Wellbeing P1MH Wellbeing P2


3. Safety Plan:

MH Safety Plan P1MH Safety Plan P2