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. [https://jarlathobrien.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/maximising-cleverness-but-for-whom/ and https://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/removing-the-rose-tinted-spectacles/]
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.