Review by Melissa Jane

Class teacher, Castle School, Cambridge

9 Oct 2021, 5:00

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Melissa Jane’s blogs of the week, 4 October 2021

Melissa Jane picks three blogs that set out the challenge facing new minister in charge of SEND, Will Quince – should he choose to accept it

Dear Will Quince, welcome to SEND…

@TaniaLT for @SpecialNdsJungle

It’s a new term, a new school year, and the leaves are falling  ̶ and just as seasons change, so do education ministers. This week I have read several posts and threads addressed to Nadhim Zahawi, the new secretary of state for education.

But of course cabinet reshuffles don’t just affect the top brass ̶ junior ministers have been reshuffled too. Will Quince, the new minister for children and families, holds the “poisoned chalice” (as Tania Tirraoro puts it here!) of responsibility for SEND provision. The post was previously held by Vicky Ford and Zahawi, neither of whom were especially popular among families of young people with SEND, and Tirraoro does not hold out much hope that Mr Quince will fare any better.

Instead, she anticipates the moment when he will “skip away at the end of [his] tenure with barely concealed relief” ̶ reflecting the conception shared by many that the SEND brief is neither relished nor taken seriously by ambitious politicians. If our new minister wants to challenge this conception, Tirraoro reminds him that he has access to “an army of real experts – disabled children, young people, their parents, SEND practitioners and sector leaders – and they all know more than you”.

Poppie

Sharon for @Wouldntchangea1

It seems fitting, then, to feature two contrasting posts about young people in the SEND system and their experiences in school. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and the Wouldn’t Change A Thing campaign (responsible for several beautiful campaign videos which have been a firm favourite in my classrooms over the years) is featuring “a day in the life” of a different young person with Down Syndrome every day.

Poppie, who is eight, has a triple diagnosis of Down Syndrome, autism and ADHD, and her mum Sharon describes the positive experience she’s having in her specialist school with a new teacher. Transitions into new classes can often be challenging, but Poppie’s new teacher has won her heart via her biggest passion, Strictly Come Dancing.

As someone who spent much of last week stomping around the playground pretending to be a zombie, I understand the power of building relationships via your students’ special interests, however specific!

Not fine in school: Week 2

@blossoming_autism (on Instagram) for @stephstwogirls

Blossom’s daughter, however, has had a completely different experience of school, which she documents as part of the Steph’s Two Girls blog’s Not Fine In School series. Blossom (who writes anonymously, so I’m going to use her Instagram name) describes being told by a SEN caseworker to “keep pushing [her daughter] until she has a breakdown. We need to see it happen.” 

When the breakdown came, Blossom had to withdraw her daughter from school and begin home educating her. This is the kind of situation referenced by Tania Tirraoro in her “to-do list” for the new SEND minister: “Few parents of a child with SEND set out to teach them at home unless they have no choice because there is no school offered that is suitable.”

Blossom’s post also brings up an issue close to my heart ̶ the narrowing of the curriculum for children with SEND in mainstream schools, so they can focus on English and maths. Few would disagree that English and maths are very important, but all children have the right to a broad and balanced curriculum, including art, music and learning about other languages and cultures. As Blossom says, all children have the “capacity to enjoy a rich and varied life”.

A stark expression of the challenge, then, for any politician who wants to make a real difference in the SEND system  ̶ to try and turn school from a “survival operation” to an “educational, joyful and fulfilling experience” for every learner.

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