What incentives are there for schools to be inclusive? Not many, says Anne Heavey, who has some suggestions on how to improve matters

Here’s a question for you: What recognition do headteachers get for running schools that are inclusive for SEND learners? What are the systemic incentives to prioritise SEND provision in our schools?

Beyond fulfilling a sense of moral purpose, it’s challenging to identify any tangible incentives. In fact, it’s a lot easier to identify disincentives.

Here are a few:

  • Pupils with SEND have lower progress scores on average than non-SEND pupils.
  • SEND pupils are less likely to achieve national expectations for attainment, such as the expected standard in the SATs, phonics screening check or GCSE grade 4 or 5.
  • SEND pupils may require the support of external agencies who also have limited capacity and resources. The local authority may not have the necessary specialist resources in-house to provide support, and waiting lists can be long for both assessment of need and interventions and support – meaning schools can often be left lacking support when trying to meet a pupil’s need.
  • Neither Ofsted inspections nor school performance measures recognise or reward inclusivity for SEND pupils.
  • Few school leaders have been seen to lose their jobs for failing to be inclusive.

 

We’ve all heard the stories on social media about schools where heads have allegedly said things to parents of children with SEND on open evenings, like “school X down the road will be much better at supporting your child’s needs than we will here”. Without condoning such activity, it is easy to understand how some leaders may feel incentivised to act in a way that discourages the parents of children with SEND from applying to their schools.

The impact of negative progress scores and low attainment in statutory assessments on school performance measures really matters here – many heads still feel vulnerable if scores are too low. The DfE, Ofsted and RSCs are working hard to ensure that performance data is only the start of a conversation, but until every head believes this is the case, then a rebalancing of accountability measures is necessary.

Here are two ideas that could lead to a rebalancing of school accountability to recognise inclusive practice.

It’s a lot easier to identify disincentives

Ofsted are in the process of developing a new school inspection framework and Nick Whittaker, SEND lead at Ofsted, recently confirmed that the consultation will include a SEND strand. This presents a timely opportunity to introduce recognition of inclusive practice into the accountability framework. Under this new framework, schools could be recognised and celebrated for providing an excellent education to every pupil, including those with SEND. School SEN information reports could be checked for quality and impact. Going further, the quality of SEND provision within a school could also be a limiting factor on the overall judgement – can a school really be considered “good” if the SEND provision is poor?

Another approach would be to treat school SEND notional budgets in a similar way to pupil premium, so that all spending is accounted for and the impact of spending is demonstrated at all levels, including governance. This idea might not be popular with everyone, especially as school funding is tight, but it would provide a mechanism for identifying and recognising schools that have strong strategic leadership and effective SEND provision. Pupils with SEND make up a disproportionately high percentage of pupil premium students, and since those who are dual-categorised face increased challenges in their lives, there should be greater scrutiny in this area.

I have never met a school leader who admitted to deliberately pushing out pupils with SEND. However, I have met plenty of school leaders who feel that the current system relies on their goodwill alone to ensure that children with SEND develop, achieve and are happy at school. As things stand, the efforts of those who go above and beyond to include learners with SEND are not recognised, let alone rewarded.