How to fix a broken inclusion system

In the first blogpost, I argued that the system of supporting children and young people with complex needs is broken. It punishes schools whose Headteachers see inclusion as their duty, rewarding those who put up barriers to inclusion. What would a fairer system look like? What incentives would need to exist for balance to be restored into the system?

Can schools be shamed?

A table of schools within one Local Authority was sent round to me last year, with each school’s number of EHCPs on roll. Of these non-selective, mainstream primaries, 7 schools had over 10 EHCPs; 1 school had 21. 16 schools had fewer than 5 EHCPs on roll; 1 school had 0. It is hard to argue a reason for such variation within 1 authority. Some schools are inclusive, many are not.

Amongst SENDCOs, the exclusive school gets a bad name. However, beyond this, there seems to be little impact on a school’s reputation. If the public knew more about a school’s level of inclusion, would change be more likely? Society has the potential to make moral decisions when a reputation depends on it. Bars will stop using plastic straws; supermarkets will stop throwing away unsold food; companies will turn their lights off at night-time. They do this because they care about the planet and humanity. And in some regard, because their positive actions get celebrated and their negative actions get shamed; in short, their reputation is at stake. Could this be applied to schools? What would happen if there was public celebration of a school’s level of inclusion? If prospective parents had an awareness of whether their local school fulfils its duty to educate local children, regardless of need, would more schools start ‘doing their bit’?

This is difficult of course. Some schools are quite content picking the educational cream of the crop – children who in some cases provide less complexity and who in many cases are more likely to get to age-related expectations. Likewise, some parents and carers are quite happy sending their child to a school where they know their child will sit alongside peers who are likely to present neurotypically. For these reasons, celebrating inclusion (and by definition, shaming schools who fail to be inclusive) is unlikely to be enough, and may only serve to further entrench the idea that some schools cater for students with SEND, while others don’t have to.

If publicising data around inclusion may only serve to further entrench these difficulties, what about providing financial incentives to being inclusive?

Could it actually pay to be inclusive?

A school can fight hard not to admit students with complex SEND; they receive neither shame nor consequence for taking such a stance. The school has no incentive, other than a moral one, to become more inclusive. Unless you cut its budgets. Every school receives an SEN notional budget based on factors relevant to its cohort, including deprivation in the local area, but not linked to the number of EHCPs or to the size of its SEN register. If this budget were boosted in schools that are inclusive in their practice and reduced in schools that are not, could this be enough to redress the inclusion imbalance in a local area?

It is not my argument here that neurotypical children should suffer because their school leaders are hesitant to serve the needs of children with SEND. However, the inclusive school needs and deserves the SEN notional budget more than the school that has fewer children with EHCPs. Those schools who are more inclined to accept children with more complex needs should be rewarded, not punished for doing so. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be at the expense of those who are less inclusive, through a recalculation of the following year’s SEN notional fund allocation. Take money away from schools who aren’t inclusive, in order to allow schools working inclusively to be properly funded to do so.

But if you’re financially rewarding inclusive schools, how do you measure inclusion?

Measuring inclusion

Inclusion cannot be measured according to the size of an SEN register. We have seen before that if you incentivise a large SEN register, schools are far more likely to load their register irrespective of need, having no incentive to reduce or to accept when children no longer need specialist support. Furthermore, if you count only the amount of EHCPs in a school, you are doing a disservice to those schools who are less desirable to parents. Parents of children with EHCPs can ensure that consultation paperwork is only sent to more desirable schools – this too is not of itself a fair measure of inclusion. If you only use exclusion rates or academic attainment of children with SEND as your measure, schools are given yet another incentive to err away from accepting children with the most complex needs.

The calculation for inclusion needs therefore to be broader than this. It could be an equation that factors in:

  • % of students on roll with EHCPs and the difference between this and your Local Authority average.
  • % of EHCP consultations responded to positively – i.e. saying that you are able to meet need (regardless of whether or not the child ends up on roll at the school)
  • % of children with an EHCP by the end of year 9, who remain on roll until the end of year 11 (removing the temptation for unofficial off-rolling)
  • Attendance and exclusion rates of children with SEND

The resulting score from this equation would see some schools scoring highly for their inclusive practice, while others drop down the inclusion league table, as schools that don’t do their bit for inclusion.

I’m heartened by the similar work that Mime (Making information Matter) has done, in conjunction with NASEN, to publish an Inclusion Index for Local Authorities. However, unless such statistics dial down to the individual school level, there will continue to be a feeling that some schools are doing their duty – in spite of the financial and academic-outcomes reasons not to – while others look the other way.

Reputation + OFSTED + budgets = change

If the resulting score were known locally, published by Local Authorities as part of the school application process and celebrated with an ‘inclusive schools’ Kitemark, change might be possible. If OFSTED considered it of relevance to their inspection, change would certainly be possible. If budgets were affected as a result of a school’s level of inclusion, change would be unavoidable.

4 thoughts on “How to fix a broken inclusion system

  1. I generally agree with your overall premise, however I would like to query a couple of your comments.

    You say early in your article that there can be no reason for the huge differences between numbers of EHCP pupils at different primaries other than a school’s willingness to be inclusive. There may of course be other factors: is one school a one form entry in a leafy suburb compared to a 300 on roll in a deprived area? Equally, perhaps there’s a fantastic SENCO in one of the schools constantly putting in EHCNAs to try to get as much support as possible for their pupils while a new SENCO in another school may not yet have that level of confidence to keep demanding the LA step up. Perhaps a small school simply cannot meet the needs of pupils with complex issues because they don’t have the staffing/provision/physical space to do so. There are myriad reasons why there could be differences. In my MAT, our one form entry primary was asked to take 5 separate pupils through the Fair Access system, while other primaries in our LA were not asked to take any. This is an issue of an incompetent LA, and nothing to do with schools per se. I do recognise, however, that on the surface your statistics are alarming and would seem to suggest different levels of inclusive intent from schools, which may in fact exist regardless of the context of each school.

    You also say that schools with high numbers of EHCP pupils deserve the notional funding more than others. It may be that schools with fewer EHCP pupils are using their notional funding to support pupils making progress so that EHCPs remain unnecessary at that time. This would be the ideal scenario, in fact. Inclusive schools should be doing all they can to ensure pupils can access the curriculum and make progress; if this isn’t happening, then they could apply for an EHCP. Maybe this is happening in a number of schools you suggest may be eschewing the idea of inclusivity.

    I don’t mean to sound critical, by the way. I just hope to give a little more context behind some of your statements.


    1. Thanks, appreciate your comments and your time in writing them. In some of those cases (leafy school, small school), it is possible they need the SEN notional less than those other schools. LA incompetency? Hard to mitigate for. Schools doing work that’s so good they don’t need EHCNA? I agree it’s an issue but in my proposal the school that replies positively to consultations and has good attendance and exclusion figures can still achieve a good ‘inclusion score’. Thoughts? Not straightforward I appreciate


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