The school system works best for schools who have no children with SEND on roll. Schools who aim for inclusion have greater budget struggles, a tougher time impressing on performance tables and as such greater difficulty getting to OFSTED Outstanding. There’s no equity. Society would largely agree that schools should be inclusive of the needs of children in their local area, irrespective of level of need. But what is the consequence when schools decide not to, putting up barriers to either not admit such pupils or to move them on: through official exclusions, unofficial off-rolling, early annual reviews of EHCPs or merely making the school environment unconducive to neurodivergent children, and therefore a less appealing choice for parents and carers? Could the system be changed so that consequence was felt? What would a system look like that actually incentivised schools to be more inclusive?
The financial cost of being inclusive
Picture the inclusive school. It accepts many students with EHCPs onto their roll. It makes the adjustments to ensure they stay there throughout their school career. It learns about students’ needs, where students don’t already have an EHCP, and takes steps to ensure that statutory assessment for an EHCP can be undertaken. It makes reasonable adjustments to ensure successful outcomes wherever possible. Financially, it finds the first £6000 from its own SEN notional budget (More info on SEN notional budgets here, for the uninitiated) to pay for the provision listed. It receives high-needs funding but that is likely to cover only a fraction of what it costs to put in the resource required, perhaps a second adult in the classroom for that child or some other form of specialist support. It therefore has to dig further into its SEN notional fund, shrinking the pot for students at the SEN Support level. Every time the school accepts a child with an EHCP/successfully applies for an EHCP, its high-needs funding increases but this is outweighed by paying the first £6,000 from its SEN notional fund and making up the high-needs funding shortfall. Financially, it would have been better off being less inclusive.
The results suffer
Keep picturing this inclusive school. As fewer children with SEND meet age-related expectations throughout the school system, the inclusive school is likely to have poorer results by many measures. It is therefore less likely to be given a judgement of Outstanding by OFSTED, for whom attainment data forms a not insignificant part of their judgement (see the inevitable correlation between outcomes and OFSTED judgements here). If your school is exceeding national attainment averages for students with SEND, you might have 40% at age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1, 30% at the end of Key Stage 2 and a Progress 8 score of -0.4 at the end of Key Stage 4. Rather than a pat on the back, try getting percentages like these through OFSTED; particularly important in a small school that might pride itself on being inclusive, and for whom the results of students with SEND could hit the performance data hard.
Better off financially being exclusive
Picture a school that is not inclusive. It tries hard to have a low number of EHCPs and is hesitant to apply for new ones. The parents of children with SEND go elsewhere, where their children’s needs will be better met. Those children are replaced by children who may not have need. The school’s SEN notional fund – which will be the same as the neighbouring school that has 20 children with EHCPs on roll – remains largely untouched. This school doesn’t need to find the first £6,000 of provision from their own budgets for each child with an EHCP, as the inclusive school does. Not ringfenced, the school can spend their SEN notional fund wherever they need to. The school’s academic results will, in many cases, be higher without the presence of children with complex SEND. This is especially relevant in primary schools, where the primary measure of success is still attainment rather than progress. Despite the focus on curriculum in the new OFSTED framework, first-hand evidence and anecdotal experiences tell me that your externally-reported data is the strongest tool, or greatest weakness, that a school has. The exclusive school is more likely to become/remain Outstanding than the school that works hard to meet its duty to children with SEND. With this attainment factor, alongside the financial incentives to find a way to close your school gates to children with need, universal inclusion within the mainstream school system will remain a fantasy.
In the next blog: how to fix the system