Review by Melissa Jane

Class teacher, Castle School, Cambridge

25 Jun 2022, 5:00


Melissa Jane’s blogs of the week, 20 June 2022

The SEND green paper – towards a more affirmatory conception of SEND and learning disability?

@bennewmark and @TomRees_77

The much-anticipated SEND review published in March has elicited a wide range of reactions from parents and professionals. Currently under consultation, the document aims to give a summary of the current state of SEND provision and make proposals for how to improve it. Here, Ben Newmark and Tom Rees appraise the paper, and are broadly sympathetic to many of its conclusions and recommendations. However, the authors, who both have children in the SEND system, argue that it relies on a “deficit framing” that assumes a universal model of what success looks like.

The authors argue that the green paper “suggests if we intervene early, we can stop children developing SEND, or make their SEND less severe, and by doing so better equip them to compete in the meritocratic battle of life”. But this meritocratic battle doesn’t really serve anyone ̶ even those without SEND. Newmark and Rees propose instead that we “value a wide range of human qualities” and embrace that not all learners (or human beings) are on the same path to the same kind of success.

I’m on board with everything in this blog, but I’d be more radical. They say, “We should be wary about burning things down in the hope something better will rise from the ashes”; that suggests the current system, with its “mystifying landscape full of cul-de-sacs and wrong turns”, isn’t already on fire.

School attendance is not an outcome


The children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, recently called for a “relentless focus on attendance” from school leaders, setting a target of 100 per cent attendance nationwide on the first day of the new school year. Here, Anita Kerwin-Nye’s response shows how this is an excellent example of what Newmark and Rees call “measuring everyone with the same ruler”.

Many schools already give out awards for 100 per cent attendance across a term or year. Kerwin-Nye argues that this approach is flawed: if we treat school attendance as an end in itself, we miss the fact that it is “just one input, that needs to be applied in context”. For many children, especially those with chronic illnesses and disabilities, it simply is not a realistic goal ̶ so why aim for it?

Kerwin-Nye suggests that, rather than a “relentless focus on attendance”, we should focus on holistic outcomes for each child and work to find creative solutions including blended approaches and home learning. We should also avoid stigmatising parents who feel a home schooling option is best for their child, and “celebrate the alternatives and make the focus on the outcomes over the input”.

Why we need to listen to youth voice


Continuing on the theme of being responsive to young people’s needs and wishes, this blog from the youth advocacy group Say It With Your Chest discusses portrayals and perceptions of young people in the media and wider society and their impact on young people’s participation in democracy and policymaking.

I was fascinated ̶ but, on reflection, not especially surprised ̶ to learn that the perception of young people among older generations is worse in the UK than in any other country in Europe. The post cites a study by the Intergenerational Foundation which found that “British youth were less likely to be viewed as ‘being friendly, competent, or having high moral standards’” by their older compatriots. Perhaps this explains why so much policy about young people, and especially about education, seems to be designed to address a perceived deficit.

A solution to this, the group argues, would be more young people’s voices in government and policymaking. As one year 10 student cited in the post puts it, “many of the rules that affect me right now are decided by others who are not in my shoes and do not grasp what it is like to be young. I think we should have more influence on these policies.”

Reading this, it’s hard to disagree.

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