Don't Send Him in Tomorrow

Shining a light on the marginalised, disenfranchised and forgotten children of today’s schools

By: Jarlath O'Brien


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Size: 234 x 156mm
Pages : 192
ISBN : 9781781352533
Format: Paperback
Published: August 2016

In Don't Send Him in Tomorrow, Jarlath O'Brien shines a light on the marginalised, disenfranchised and forgotten children of today's schools. The percentage of children achieving the government's expected standard in benchmark tests is national news every year. The progress that children with learning difficulties and SEND make is never discussed, because it is not understood. That is a problem. The bone-crushing infrastructure which professionals have to negotiate is a problem. The fact that so many parents have to fight tooth and nail so that the needs of their children are met, something the rest of us would consider a basic entitlement, is a problem. This book describes how the system can be improved if and when these marginalised children are given higher priority by the powers that be. There is a widespread lack of understanding about special schools, the work they do, and the children they educate ' the sector is largely invisible. Jarlath O'Brien has become increasingly frustrated by this, and the varying quality of provision for children with learning difficulties and SEND in mainstream schools. The successes of special schools and pupil referral units in Ofsted inspections are just not celebrated or analysed in the same way that mainstream schools' are. While mainstream schools have their hands tied by fears over progress measures. There is a human cost to the accountability culture that reduces schooling to data and judgements: this is felt most profoundly by children with SEND and their families.

Jarlath shares some of the problems he's witnessed with inclusion and exclusion: mainstream schools actively encouraging children with SEND to look elsewhere, parents reporting their children have been formally or informally excluded from school and socially excluded by the parents of other children, children asked to leave their mainstream schools because of their behaviour ' usually behaviour that is caused by their needs not being adequately addressed, children who are in school but isolated from their peers. If a child can't participate in activities or trips with the rest of the class, or spends much of the day working one-to-one with a teaching assistant, is this really inclusion?

The Pupil Premium has been established to ensure that children in receipt of free school meals are not disadvantaged ' why does something similar not exist for children with SEND? Every health and wealth indicator that you could use to measure people with learning difficulties and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reveals something alarming. They die younger. They work less. They are more likely to live in poverty or end up in prison or face mental health difficulties. They are much more likely to be excluded from school. They are more likely to be bullied at school. This has to end.

We all have to choose to commit to recognising that society, as it is today, is a difficult place for young people to thrive. When you have autism, or Down's Syndrome, or any physical or learning difference, it's even harder ' and the system as it stands isn't helping. We need to acknowledge that this is not right; that such a state of affairs must change; and that we all have a part to play in making that change happen. Jarlath offers suggestions for politicians, Ofsted, local authorities, head teachers, SENCos, teachers and teaching assistants about what they can do to make a difference.

For all politicians, head teachers, SENCOs, teachers and parents.

Click here to read a review of Don't Send Him in Tomorrow on The Special Educational Needs Resources Blog.

Picture for author Jarlath O'Brien

Jarlath O'Brien

Jarlath O'Brien has been a teacher for nearly two decades, working in comprehensive, independent, selective and special education – including in schools for children with social, emotional and behavioural issues and severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties. For the last eight years Jarlath has been a head teacher and executive head teacher.

Jarlath is also a behaviour columnist for TES, has written for The Guardian and for several other education publications and trains teachers on behaviour, school leadership and special educational needs.

Click here to listen in on Jarlath's podcast with Pivotal Education - How to be a great leader in a special school'.

Click here to read Jarlath's article in the Guardian in which he discusses how children with special needs are grossly over-represented in exclusion figures.

Click here to listen to Jarlath on Surrey Hills Community Radio's The SEND Show'.


  1. O'Brien has extensive experience of mainstream and special schools and, in this book, he addresses what he sees as a lack of interest in, and the varying quality of, provision for children with learning differences. He raises important issues about the teaching profession's understanding of the underlying needs that may influence the behavioural issues that children with learning differences often exhibit.

    The title of the book refers to the practice of a school unofficially excluding a child for the duration of an Ofsted inspection and O'Brien provides an example of this in action. He explains the procedures that should be followed relating to the exclusion process and points out that 70 per cent of those reporting an illegal exclusion had a child with a statement of SEN.

    This is an interesting book in which O'Brien combines his professional experience and beliefs with insights into his personal life as the father of a child with a congenital condition. He is clearly passionate in his defence of children who, he feels, are being failed by the education system and are significantly over-represented in the criminal  justice system.
  2. Offering a brutally honest and authentic perspective of the children who slip under the radar in schools, O'Brien provides research rich, pedagogically sound solutions to tackle problems that desperately need addressing in our schools.  
  3. A really interesting read with some honest, frank discussion points based on the experience of the author. Some thought-provoking elements. I will be using aspects of the book in my teaching, including; adding the book to a recommended reading list for students and recommending the book for library purchasing.

  4. Jarlath O'Brien is an experienced head teacher currently working in a special school but also with extensive experience working with students with learning difficulties and special need in the mainstream schools. The author's background gives immense authority to this much-needed consideration of the ways irr-which our education system fails students with additional needs. O'Brien writes with great passion, exposing the policy decisions which lead to the marginalisation of young people. The focus on anecdotes shows how children and their families struggle to ensure that needs are met and educational entitlements received.

    O'Brien acknowledges that lack of knowledge is often at the core of poor decision-making relating to individual needs and seeks to address this by including very clear factual sections on many of the conditions associated with learning difficulties. The book also includes viable suggestions for how individual members of staff and schools can work within the present constraints to ensure that pupils thrive.

    -˜Don't Send Him in Tomorrow' is an important book because it does much more than show how professionals can help. It highlights recent policies which have further disadvantaged students with additional needs and argues powerfully for changes which are needed. O'Brien shows us that we must challenge legislation to ensure that our education system is humane and inclusive.
  5. The beautifully written Don't Send Him in Tomorrow rails against the 'cloak of invisibility' over people with learning disabilities and suggests that every mainstream teacher should spend time in a special school.

    Lest you fear this be a preachy tome, however, rest assured: with characteristic hang-out-your-underwear-in-public nonchalance, O'Brien employs fabulous phrases such as 'blissfully unaware and completely uninterested' to describe his own prior relationship to the sector he now expounds.

    He tells stories, marks out clear themes, and includes diplomatically titled sections such as “Some suggestions for the secretary of state for education” and “Some suggestions for headteachers”. Tongue in cheek, or the height of diplomacy? It's hard to tell, which is just one of the many features that makes this book such a gem.

    A Christmas gift for anyone with a heart and a brain.

    Click here to see the review on the Schools Week website.
  6. This is a difficult book to read. There's no issue with the writing, which is clear, eloquent and engaging; no, what is tough to digest is the message that Jarlath O'Brien has to deliver. Because essentially, it is a bleak indictment of the way our education system currently serves young people with learning difficulties and special educational needs. These are children for whom lifelong outcomes are, statistically, shockingly poor. Children whose entitlement to an education is no less sacrosanct than that of their non-SEN peers. Children who are consistently marginalised, disenfranchised and, ultimately, forgotten. Their progress is rarely discussed, because it's barely understood; and when their behaviour is challenging, they are faced with sanctions and exclusion. Is O'Brien angry about this? Of course - but he's not without practical suggestions for change either. Read it, weep... then become part of making a difference.
  7. Don't Send Him in Tomorrow is one of those books that can be said to be -˜of the moment'. I don't mean in a flash-in-the-pan, here-today-and-gone-tomorrow sort of way, but in the sense that issues surrounding SEND, such as the conflict between inclusion and the demand for results that compete on a global scale and the eventual life chances of young people, many of whom have literacy difficulties, have been bubbling under the surface of public debate for years. Now, thanks to books like this, they are being given a public airing.

    This book isn't an easy read. There was a part of me, as the parent of a child with significant learning difficulties, and as a teacher of primary aged children with SEND, that didn't want to read it at all. Sometimes the unvarnished truth about the future real children I know and care about is a little hard to look at too closely. However, that is the point of the book.

    So often, when we read about education, we read success stories. Every year in August, the pictures gracing newspapers are of teenagers jumping into the air, celebrating their A*s. The banners outside many schools today trumpet their successes, be they a good Ofsted report, or a record number of Sixth Formers sent to top universities.

    Recent policy has been relentlessly fixed on an ever-raising standard. Changes to GCSE and A Level, -˜coasting' schools, the new National Curriculum and last year's KS1 and 2 tests, and, most recently, proposals aimed at bringing more grammar schools into being; this is the focus for change. In fact, last year, when the testing arrangements for KS1 and 2 were announced, there was no mention at all of standards for those learners who were not yet at National Curriculum standards.

    It was as if those children, the ones with SEND, had been completely forgotten.

    What Jarlath does with his book is remind us of them, and of why considering them, and addressing the needs of all learners in school is central to decisions about education. He brings SEND, both within special schools and without, out of the shadows and into the public gaze.

    And what we see is not very pretty. We see young people thrown out of school because they find it difficult to fit into the system we have provided for them. Many of the young people at Jarlath's school arrive after having experienced a very challenging time in mainstream schools indeed. Many of their parents have heard the words, -˜we think it might be better if you looked elsewhere'. We see children and young people rejected, by schools, and by society at large.

    Jarlath throws no punches when he starts his book with a brief history of special education, where children and young people were sorted according to their abilities (which of course, never changed), some of whom were deemed -˜ineducable idiots' and barred from attending any kind of school at all and he reminds us of some harsh facts about life expectations for a young person with a learning difficulty.

    Through telling us the story of his career so far, Jarlath lifts the lid off the untold stories, and reminds us that, in order to be a teacher of special educational needs, in order to be a heard teacher of a special school, you don't have to be special at all. What you do need to be is tenacious and honest, and have a clear understanding of what makes good teaching for all children.

    I hope this book isn't a flash in the pan. I hope that more than those of us with a personal interest in SEND read it. If you are a teacher, and especially if you are an education leader or policy maker, you should read this book.

    Click here to read the review.
  8. The general population is an eclectic mix of individuals. No two people are the same, and the challenges of one person will ultimately be outweighed by the challenges of another person. For those who fall outside the -˜norms' of society, the challenges of everyday life are even more profound, unable to access the daily privileges that most people take for granted. All this appears to be an uncomfortable truth to many in society, from politicians, leaders or for people whose lives are very contented. So much so, too many people throw a cloak of invisibility over the group of people who fall outside the -˜norms', with Jarlath arguing that this cloak is getting bigger and heavier.

    This is a powerful book, highlighting how the education system generally fails the invisible group of individuals who already face significant challenges to their daily lives. In fact, Jarlath highlights how family members of significant politicians in the UK were faced with profound needs but yet, whilst they were in power, failed to grab the bull by the horns and provide support to pupils who desperately needed it. In fact, the funding was reduced or cut altogether. Jarlath also notes how the Education Secretary in England called for every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart. Every pupil? O'Brien points to this as being evidence that there are a group of pupils who could never achieve this goal as being marginalised, disenfranchised and, ultimately, forgotten.

    The frustration, sheer incompetence of politicians and leaders, and passion for including every child in education shines throughout this book, and Jarlath has written a very compelling narrative throughout. It's one of those books that makes you stop and think: Stop and think about your own practice; Stop and think about how your school offers positive education for all pupils; Stop and question what on earth the politicians and leaders are actually doing to the education system; Stop and think about how lucky you are in many aspects of your life. Jarlath offers suggestions for politicians, Ofsted, local authorities, head teachers, SENCOs, teachers and teaching assistants about what they can do to make a difference, and we hope that many of these people will take note of these suggestions to make a positive impact on all the pupils we encounter professionally.

    Click here to read the review in full on the UKEdChat website.
  9. How resonant must be the title of Jarlath O'Brien's Don't Send Him in Tomorrow for the many parents of children and young people who gradually become invisible to our education system.

    “Don't send him in tomorrow, or the next day and the day after that-¦” is probably closer to the experience of many parents whose children are excluded from accessing a high-quality education that meets their particular needs.

    O'Brien's take is refreshingly personal and honest. Don't Send Him in Tomorrow presents a view of education determined by the confluence of national testing, increased accountability, diminishing resources and a lack of investment in teacher training and development. Bravo! for clearly articulating this.

    The reader is introduced to many examples of the undermining of children's rights.

    Sean's story highlights how seclusion permeates, leading to invisibility, which “suits society in the same way that we prefer the elderly, those with dementia, asylum-seekers or prisoners to be cared for, managed, kept away, locked up or just made to disappear”.

    O'Brien draws our attention to successful approaches within the special school sector in improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND. He asks why we are not highlighting these impressive results and learning how we can replicate them to improve the quality of provision for all young people with SEND?

    Education providers should focus on promoting and developing independence in children and young people to help them to access employment and training, to lead healthy and fulfilling lives and to enjoy friendships. O'Brien identifies that this is not the case for many mainstream schools. The stranglehold of policy that promotes academic competition as the only outcome for educational success is often the narrow response schools feel forced to offer. Mainstream schools actively encourage children with SEND to look elsewhere, and parents report their children have been formally or informally excluded from school.

    Being on the receiving end of an education system that fails to address the whole needs of your child can be a torment and a battle for many parents. O'Brien's reflective account of his early experience as a teacher and subsequent success as an enlightened headteacher and National Education Trust leading thinker does my heart good. I hear the voices of so many forgotten children clearly articulated when he writes: “These children are in your classroom. They are in your school. Yet the way our education, and society more widely, is currently organised makes it very difficult for them to be seen, let alone thrive”.

    As a parent of a young man with additional needs and a former special school teacher, headteacher and chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, I found this book a depressingly honest litany of how little progress we have made in improving our educational system for the excluded and marginalised populations it is designed to serve. However, O'Brien does offer potential solutions.

    Will this book succeed in stimulating change in the wake of the most significant legislative reforms to SEND which, two years down the line, are not delivering promised cultural and systemic change for families and young people with SEND? Perhaps, but I do believe it will stimulate the passion required about improving lives.

    Don't Send Him in Tomorrow provides practical suggestions and solutions to address the many issues affecting those children who challenge us to think and educate differently. O'Brien invites us to come together to forge common perspectives, and consider carefully who is included or excluded, and the importance of our education system in significantly improving the life chances of the marginalised, disenfranchised and forgotten children who thankfully now have a louder voice.

    This is a must-read for every educator and especially special needs co-ordinators, heads, school governors, policymakers, civil servants and ministers.

    Click here to read the review in full.
  10. The author, from personal experience as a parent of a child with special educational needs and as a teacher, has highlighted a key issue facing schools and parents/carers within the current schools structure. He highlights individual cases and evidence from a range of sources which indicate that there are an increasing number of children and young people for whom access and inclusion to mainstream education is not happening. He recounts the experiences of parents and carers who have to defend their child against exclusive practices both by school management teams and other parents. He highlights the impact that Ofsted pressure on schools to raise attainment and achievement levels and increase examination success rates. The challenge of gaining an -˜outstanding' grading frequently damages the learning opportunities available for pupils with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), SECID (social, emotional, communication and interaction disabilities) and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health difficulties) pupils. 

    The author highlights many successes gained by pupils labelled as -˜special'. In addition, by excellent use of case studies, he highlights attention to the marginalisation of an increasing number of pupils with learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties within mainstream schools whose learning needs are not being met. The continual challenge faced by many parents and carers to improve access and inclusion for their children results in a growing number seeking the safe refuge of the -˜special school' sector.  

    It is a pity that the author didn't develop readers' insight and awareness into some of the outstanding success being achieved within special schools delivering broader practical-based learning option programmes, special schools co-sited on the mainstream campus with joint use of staff expertise, classrooms, workshops and other facilities to promote access and social inclusion.

    The section -˜Driving without brakes' develops the reader's awareness of Michael, a pupil with extreme emotional and behavioural difficulties.  The author discusses the boy's descent into the criminal justice system and the over-representation of young people and adults in custody who have speech, language and communication needs. He emphasises the need to address the basic skills of the learner to avoid them becoming institutionalised. 

    This is an excellent review and discussion of the problems faced by a wide range of learners with additional needs. The author underlines the urgent need for a review of current practice by Ofsted, local authorities and head teachers. The educational menu offered within state schools must become more effective in meeting the learners' needs rather than referral to the costly and isolated private sector establishments. This book should be available in every school and college staffroom to raise awareness of -˜how we made a difference' in promoting access and inclusion. 
  11. Thought-provoking, humorous and at times tragic, Jarlath O'Brien's compelling book is alive with personal and moving examples of how children with SEND can flourish, but can all too often become marginalised in our education system. With important questions and practical suggestions for school leaders and policy makers, this is a book that challenges our thinking and celebrates the richness that children with additional needs bring to our schools.
  12. If you are prone to crying easily, then be careful reading this book. If you get frustrated and angry easily, then be careful reading this book. If you want to know about a world of education that has previously passed you by, then please read this book. If you are at all concerned about our most vulnerable children, then definitely read this book.

    -˜Have you ever visited a special school?' asks O'Brien as he raises his head above the parapet in his frank and heartfelt -˜study' of children with special educational needs. His knowledge and experience of working with children with learning difficulties is extraordinary and his passion infectious. 

    Allow O'Brien to let you in to the world of special education and remove its -˜cloak of invisibility'. Let him walk you through the hidden treasures that are special schools. This book will test your thinking and make you feel either elated or embarrassed. Either way, it will make you a better person. Even better, if you are a teacher or a school leader, it will make you a better one of those too. 

    Skilfully, O'Brien brings you into his world and explains what we, as special school head teachers, want everyone to know and understand. Reading this book has made me want to shout even louder about why we are failing children on so many levels and in so many ways. O'Brien is fighting the fight for children with learning difficulties, so let's all join him.
  13. Jarlath was once called a terrorist, having been found reading a history of the IRA in school. His radical tendencies clearly did not stop there. Without flinching, he pulls into plain and beautiful sight those children so often ignored by society. The ones that politicians forget about when they declare that -˜all' children will reach certain standards and achieve their arbitrary goals. He reminds us of the inhumanity and selfishness underpinning policies that exclude and isolate pupils who refuse to, or who simply cannot, conform to our standards of what we consider to be -˜normal'. He offers us a brutally honest look in the mirror and shows us what a little compassion, communication and empathy can achieve. This should be required reading for every teacher, parent and politician in the country. It is searing and wholly necessary.
  14. Stark, then beautiful, then inspiring - Jarlath walks you through special education, opening doors that you had walked past a thousand times. Jarlath has a deep understanding of special education that is compassionate and compelling. The book is strong on evidence, deep on understanding.

    Jarlath blows away the myths to expose the bare truth of special education in England. This is the next best thing to spending time in a special school.

    Jarlath expertly walks you through a mile in his shoes. It is not always comfortable, sometimes it pinches, but when you finish you will realise just how far you have come.
  15. Jarlath O'Brien has lifted the cloak on the invisible children in our system. With a humbling combination of academic rigour and deep passion and care for children, he shines a light on the thousands of children who should have a better deal than they do. But what is so uplifting about this book is that it is filled with stories of how pupils, supported by their teachers and other professionals, have achieved extraordinary things. At times, it challenged me to think about my own leadership and what I could have done differently. This is must-read for all those leading schools today.
  16. In intricate detail, drawn from profound personal and professional experiences, O'Brien paints a picture of a special needs system rapidly running out of options. With urgency and acuity he sets out imperatives for government, school leaders, teachers and agencies to build a future for those young people whose entitlement should be, but isn't yet, the most accepted truth.
  17. This forthright book is a must for every staffroom. It shines a light on the shortcomings of the education system for children with SEN. It highlights inequalities, whilst going a long way to bringing these valuable yet vulnerable members of our communities out of the shadows.

    Jarlath is honest about his own professional failings in the past, as he seeks to educate other teachers by example and create a culture where SEN is everybody's business.

    Until a holistic approach to understanding the uniqueness of each pupil, and how their strengths can be developed and celebrated, is implemented we will never move beyond mere labels.

    This is truly a book that will galvanise change.
  18. This is a hard-hitting and timely read at a moment of intense educational change that affects all children - including those with special educational needs and disabilities. Jarlath pulls no punches when he sets out the current situation and future prospects for the most vulnerable young people in our society and demands change from policy makers, school leaders and local authorities.

    This book is well-researched, and full of real examples that give meat to the bones of a disturbing story that challenges us in the way that we as a society treat our weakest members and their families.

    Everyone who has an interest in education, particularly school leaders and policy makers, should read this book - because a good education, one that prepares young people for adult life, belongs to all our children.
  19. I have long enjoyed Jarlath O'Brien's wit and style, and this book is no exception. The author has a winning formula of anecdote and gossip, rooted in deep experience, reflection and research.
  20. Extremely considered, reflective and honest, Don't Send Him in Tomorrow is a thought-provoking and informative read for anyone who has experience of the education of people with learning disabilities. Perhaps more importantly, it is an essential read for anyone who doesn't.

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