Sharon's spoke to a fringe event on Special Educational Needs, hosted by the NASUWT at Labour Party Conference in Manchester.
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Thank you - it’s a genuine pleasure to be here today, because as well as giving me a chance to listen to your views on this vital area of policy, it also gives me a chance to talk about the work that I’ve been doing as Chair of Labour’s Policy Review on SEN.
I believe that our education system should be judged on how well we cater for those who have trouble accessing the curriculum, for whatever reason that may be.
Now in many cases these may not be the pupils who will get straight A’s, and they won’t be the pupils who get Gove’s E-Bacc certificate.
They are most likely the pupils that this government will forget about when they are concocting new ways to judge the performance of both schools and pupils.
If you scan through the government’s document on GCSE reforms, you will see no acknowledgement of the problems that pupils with certain learning difficulties and other conditions will have condensing two years of learning into a 3 hour exam, studying a foreign language, or learning facts and figures by rote.
You will also find no reference to the Children and Families Bill, and the new SEN system which will be coming into full force at around the same time as these GCSE reforms.
It’s clear that this is a system devised by Michael Gove and for Michael Gove.
It is not a comprehensive set of reforms that will benefit all pupils.
But…I wanted to use this platform not to concentrate on attacking Michael Gove, although I’m sure you’d all be behind me if I did.
I wanted to use it to make the first announcement of recommendations to come out of our policy review.
We’ve got a shopping list of recommendations, which I think reflect the consensus of all of the views we received, and I’ll be talking about them at various points during the passage of the Bill, and beyond that up to the next election.
Today, though, I wanted to talk about teachers.
Around one in five children are currently identified as having an SEN, so in every class there are likely to be at least a handful of pupils who require extra support.
That means that every single teacher is a teacher of SEN pupils.
But not every teacher is trained how to be a teacher of SEN pupils.
If we expect our teachers to be good teachers for every child in their class – which we should and do - then we need to give them the skills and knowledge they need to be able to live up to that expectation.
The Policy Review has therefore recommended that every new teacher should undertake a minimum module on SEN as part of their initial training, which will cover identifying and adapting teaching for high-incidence conditions.
Further to that, we also want to see one INSET day a year given over to promoting good practice on inclusive teaching, sharing experience and refreshing knowledge on SEND.
That’s one in five training days for the one in five pupils with SEND.
This is not about creating specialists, although some may go on to that; it’s about giving every teacher the best possible chance of being able to teach the class in front of them, and a good teacher of pupils with SENs is a good teacher of all pupils.
I also want to look at how to raise the status of SENCOs.
We want the best teachers to take the lead on improving provision for pupils with SEN in their schools, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this isn’t always the case.
By saying that SENCOs should be part of the senior management team within a school, I believe this will do three things. It will:
…positively influence the choice of individual to perform the role…
…it will incentivise good teachers to work towards becoming a SENCO…
…and it will increase the ‘clout’ that they have within schools to drive improvement.
Finally, if we want our schools to be inclusive, then that should apply as much to the staffroom as it does to the classroom.
I believe that having people in schools who have overcome the difficulties they faced accessing education will not only have a positive effect on the policies and ethos of the whole school, but they will also be a role model to children who face similar difficulties. They can show them that they can do well and achieve with ambition, aspiration and the right support.
Yet I very rarely meet teachers who are disabled or have what would be regarded as an SEN.
I want to know why that is, and how a Labour government can remove barriers to the teaching profession for those with SENs and disabilities who, with the appropriate support, would make excellent teachers.
Those are just some of the proposals that I am in a position to share with you now – others are contingent on other policy reviews, and others on the government’s own plans.
It’s fair to say that accountability is a big concern, though.
Parents are rightly confused by where responsibility for the effective education of their child lies where they attend an academy or free school, and want to know who holds the levers to affect change.
What they don’t want to do is go to Michael Gove with their complaints.
What was also clear is that people are not sold on personal budgets, which effectively create a market for both advice and specialist services.
The pilot schemes haven’t got off the ground yet, but personal budgets are in the draft clauses.
I want to make sure that Parliament is not forced to vote on such a big change without first having the evidence that it will mean better provision for children and young people - and, for that matter, provide value for money compared to the current system.
I will therefore be looking at how we can stop the government from ramming it through without the possibility for that essential scrutiny.
I will end there, as I’m looking forward to hearing your views on how best we can achieve greater outcomes for children and young people with SENs and disabilities.
The Policy Review is a continuous process, and your comments today will be taken as part of that.