Review by Jane Friswell

16 Oct 2016, 5:00

Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow

How resonant must be the title of Jarlath O’Brien’s Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow for the many parents of children and young people who gradually become invisible to our education system.

“Don’t send him in tomorrow, or the next day and the day after that…” is probably closer to the experience of many parents whose children are excluded from accessing a high-quality education that meets their particular needs.

O’Brien’s take is refreshingly personal and honest. Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow presents a view of education determined by the confluence of national testing, increased accountability, diminishing resources and a lack of investment in teacher training and development. Bravo! for clearly articulating this.

The reader is introduced to many examples of the undermining of children’s rights.

Sean’s story highlights how seclusion permeates, leading to invisibility, which “suits society in the same way that we prefer the elderly, those with dementia, asylum-seekers or prisoners to be cared for, managed, kept away, locked up or just made to disappear”.

O’Brien draws our attention to successful approaches within the special school sector in improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND. He asks why we are not highlighting these impressive results and learning how we can replicate them to improve the quality of provision for all young people with SEND?

Education providers should focus on promoting and developing independence in children and young people to help them to access employment and training, to lead healthy and fulfilling lives and to enjoy friendships. O’Brien identifies that this is not the case for many mainstream schools. The stranglehold of policy that promotes academic competition as the only outcome for educational success is often the narrow response schools feel forced to offer. Mainstream schools actively encourage children with SEND to look elsewhere, and parents report their children have been formally or informally excluded from school.

Being on the receiving end of an education system that fails to address the whole needs of your child can be a torment

Being on the receiving end of an education system that fails to address the whole needs of your child can be a torment and a battle for many parents. O’Brien’s reflective account of his early experience as a teacher and subsequent success as an enlightened headteacher and National Education Trust leading thinker does my heart good. I hear the voices of so many forgotten children clearly articulated, when he writes: “These children are in your classroom. They are in your school. Yet the way our education, and society more widely, is currently organised makes it very difficult for them to be seen, let alone thrive”.

As a parent of a young man with additional needs and a former special school teacher, headteacher and chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, I found this book a depressingly honest litany of how little progress we have made in improving our educational system for the excluded and marginalised populations it is designed to serve. However, O’Brien does offer potential solutions.

Will this book succeed in stimulating change in the wake of the most significant legislative reforms to SEND which, two years down the line, are not delivering promised cultural and systemic change for families and young people with SEND? Perhaps, but I do believe it will stimulate the passion required about improving lives.

Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow provides practical suggestions and solutions to address the many issues affecting those children who challenge us to think and educate differently. O’Brien invites us to come together to forge common perspectives, and consider carefully who is included or excluded, and the importance of our education system in significantly improving the life chances of the marginalised, disenfranchised and forgotten children who thankfully now have a louder voice.

This is a must-read for every educator and especially special needs co-ordinators, heads, school governors, policymakers, civil servants and ministers.

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  1. “Mainstream schools actively encourage children with SEND to look elsewhere, and parents report their children have been formally or informally excluded from school.”

    Isn’t this another way of writing ‘illegal exclusion’?

    I have personal experience of being unable to hold Ofsted, or other relevant authorities, to account for an illegal exclusion of a six/seven year old in plain sight of all.

    To this day, no-one has accounted for this exclusion or the cause of a child’s behaviour and learning issues in the first place. There is a total abrogation of responsibility at every level – noted as the status quo by the Children’s Commissioner at the time.

    With my extensive experience of rational argument informed by evidence, if I could not gain any progress of any description because of formal obfuscation, heaven help the next person who challenges the basis for an exclusion – and its legality.