Together, we can build the inclusive system we all want

The evidence is clear that our system is far from inclusive. It’s time we did something about it

The evidence is clear that our system is far from inclusive. It’s time we did something about it

26 Apr 2024, 5:00

We all want a high-quality, inclusive education system, right?

The DfE’s mission statement is to “enable children and learners to thrive, by protecting the vulnerable and ensuring the delivery of excellent standards of education, training and care.”

Every school and trust leader I talk to agrees. Every politician I hear does too. The prime minister even said this at his last party conference: “My main funding priority in every spending review from now on will be education. Why? Because it is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet. It is the best economic policy, the best social policy, the best moral policy.”

So if everyone agrees, why don’t we have it?

Ninety thousand children are in elective home education. There has been a 39 per cent increase in suspensions since before the pandemic. And the Centre for Social Justice recently identified ongoing ‘spikes’ in Year 11 pupils moving off rolls before the all-important January census.

Moreover, the Education Policy Institute has raised concerns about “unexplained exits”. Provision for children with SEND is in crisis all across the country. Some schools and trusts continue to educate remarkably low proportions of children with EHCPs compared to their neighbours. And too many parents still hear the phrase “we can’t meet need”.

The evidence is abundant.

We face complex and interconnected problems, with a backdrop of harsh funding cuts to services that have left schools and parents with less support. But every intelligent attempt  to find solutions is drowned out by shrill voices claiming to hold the one pure truth and engaging in binary slanging matches.

We must look beyond our failed, zero-sum accountability

The Centre for Young Lives was launched earlier this February by former children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield. The independent think tank’s aim is for Britain to be the best place in the world to grow up and bring up children.

I am delighted to be one of its Visiting Fellows. In that role, I have this week launched a call for evidence on developing an aspirational vision for inclusive education and a plan for delivery based on the collective experience and wisdom of people who work with and care about young people.

We believe that inclusion is about all young people being of equal value and receiving high quality education and appropriate support, regardless of background or need.

For too many young people, this is not what they experience; we have created a system of accountability so perverse that some schools see some young people as more valuable to them and others as too difficult to deal with.

A lack of imagination, fragmentation of the school ecosystem and inadequate funding mean even where schools do their absolute best, some young people fall through the cracks. We must identify the barriers to an inclusive system clearly and honestly. Then we must develop policies that remove those barriers and deliver success and equity for all.

We do not accept, as some imply, that inclusion is somehow soft or divorced from high academic and behavioural standards. We believe that every young person deserves the very best in terms of outcomes, destinations, quality of teaching, school experience and extra-curricular opportunities.

Our most vulnerable young people need schools that are calm, where behaviour is good and that are full of committed, highly-skilled teachers. And to achieve it we must look beyond a failed, zero-sum accountability system that lauds those who offer this only to some children as high-performing, and labels those who welcome the most vulnerable as ineffective.

This is just one view though, and we want to hear many more. By bringing together the collective experience, knowledge, wisdom and compassion that exists across the system, we can build something much better.

With schools and education at the heart of the inclusive society we should aspire to be, everyone can have a chance to succeed and be supported to do so.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Anyone can contribute to the Centre for Young Lives call for evidence by visiting our website

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  1. The article mentions that our most vulnerable young people need committed, highly-skilled teachers — I would also like to add that the teaching environment can be greatly enhanced with the support of experienced SEN TAs. Their presence in the classroom allows teachers to provide more focused education for students of all abilities, while the teaching assistants can focus on offering more targeted support.