SEND

The SEND crisis calls for hub and spoke reform of our systems

Why wait for slow governmental root-and-branch reform when a hub and spoke model could deliver better practice now, ask Sabrina Hobbs and Vic Goddard

Why wait for slow governmental root-and-branch reform when a hub and spoke model could deliver better practice now, ask Sabrina Hobbs and Vic Goddard

2 Jul 2023, 5:00

With both main parties’ general election campaigns centred on five key priorities, the Headteachers’ Roundtable sets out their own five urgent concerns for education. Read each in turn this half term, and visit them at the Festival of Education to add to the discussion.

Too often, SEND and AP feel peripheral to what we identify as ‘normal’ – a set of over-complicated strategies that end up stacked onto the ‘too difficult’ pile.

But what if we viewed every child as having individual needs rather than just those with SEND? What if our mainstream schools were accountable in the same way as our specialist schools and exam scores weren’t a disproportionately large measure of success? What would it look and feel like?

With no places left in the specialist sector, our crisis is reaching new heights; Even money can’t buy provision. The independent sector, which charges between £60,000 and £150,000 per child per year, is full and over capacity. Those with additional needs languish in a mainstream backlog of despair and those in the specialist sector in overcrowded conditions.

Following the long-overdue SEND and AP green paper, last year’s schools white paper detailed the cycle of late intervention, low confidence and inefficient resource allocation.  The inadequacy of the current state of affairs is not disputed, nor is the ambition for all young people to fulfil their potential. What is the subject of debate is how the government should act on these proposals.

Our system once totally excluded those with additional needs. The first special school wasn’t created until 1907, and it took 86 years after that for the right for children with SEND to be educated in mainstream schools to be codified in law.  Another 30 years on, we struggle to be as inclusive as we’d like to be because we operate within an outdated framework, which is now buckling under the pressure.

As leaders, we should absolutely argue for system reform, a sustainable and consistent funding model, fair and inclusive accountability and investment in multi-disciplinary strategies. In fact, it’s essential we do so for the white paper to succeed. But it will take time, so we must also start to identify what we can do now to create a climate ready for inclusion. 

It is time we evolved beyond the separation of special from mainstream that currently characterises our system, and put a focus on the integration of the two.  It is the next logical step.

The inadequacy of the current state of affairs is not disputed

The concept of integrating special school provision into mainstream schools is not new. There are several innovative examples of what has recently been termed ‘hub and spoke’ around the country. A relatively underrated model of great practice, it is rightly beginning to gain traction as more school and system leaders realise the potential of a solution-focused, joint approach to SEND and AP.

The hub (special school) and spoke (mainstream school) model works across any phase of education to meet local pressures. This formalised partnership maximises the impact and life chances of children and young people attending special schools and enriches the education and experience of those attending mainstream settings.

What’s more, it releases capacity within the specialist sector for more complex individuals, enabling them to be educated within their local area as opposed to sending them ‘out of county’ to access appropriate provision – at great cost to them and the taxpayer.

To work, the hub and spoke solution relies heavily on distributed leadership of SEND. The best examples empower organic development of partnership working and result in adaptations to all aspects of school operations, not just teaching practice.

It requires school leaders to embrace their role as civic leaders, with a responsibility to work with a broad range of partners to deliver for all young people, no matter where they are. It asks us and empowers us to be positive and adaptive – in short, to be the solution rather than to accept disincentives as reasons not to act.

It isn’t a silver bullet for the crisis, and it isn’t the golden ticket to full inclusion. But it does offer a practical stepping stone and some important respite from the pressures of our current status quo. And importantly, it represents an evolutionary stride towards the shift in culture needed to shape an inclusive future for society.

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