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.