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Back to school: the inequality and SEND gap widens

With most children missing months of face-to-face schooling over the last year, it’s unsurprising that we are now inundated with talk of ‘catch-up’, ‘additional resourcing’ and ‘catastrophic loss of learning’. No-one wants to see their child left behind or disadvantaged. But for many learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), missing school is nothing new. Schools need to make sure their catch-up efforts are inclusive to ensure that the inequality and SEND gap isn’t exacerbated. 

Do some children matter more?

There is never a single answer to educational inequality. The issues are deep-rooted and complex and are by no means true of every school or family context. But did Jarlath O’Brien nail it on the head when he said “some children matter more than others in our education system, and it is partly contributing to the clamour now”?

It can certainly feel like that sometimes, especially with the current call for increased learning time and opportunity for learners. Whilst this may provide the much needed catch-up for some, for others it will simply add to the stress of processing additional information in a more intense time frame. It could result in less retention of learning rather than greater educational achievement.

The debate is not so much about who matters more. It’s about the system’s ability to meet additional needs and requirements, especially when teaching resources are under pressure and the needs of the minority are exacerbated and overlooked.

The inequality and SEND gap widens

Whilst current government policy may well appeal to the masses, learners with SEND will need an entirely different approach. We are well rehearsed in the challenges facing these children and their families, who have campaigned tirelessly for years for improved support and provision, sadly with limited success.

There is compelling evidence demonstrating a worsening of an already under-resourced sector. Parents are sharing their experiences of placements, treatments and therapies being withdrawn and extended waiting periods for EHCPs. The most recent survey by Special Needs Jungle puts this picture into a stark spotlight.

There is consensus across the education and health sector that the impact the pandemic will have on mental health, well-being and education could be significant and life-changing. The government has recognised the need to invest further and prioritise the return to the classroom. However, there is still no specific mention of SEND and how additional support and intervention will enable learners to access an inclusive and responsive education.

What can we do?

So, what can we do whilst we wait for policy to catch up? The priority needs to be stabilisation to prevent the opportunity gap from widening.

Three simple steps:

  • Strengthen your community and collaborate with parents. They know their children and have valuable insight into if and how learning at home has worked for their child. One-page profiles could be a useful tool for collecting this information and collaborating on a support plan.
  • Understand what is working now and do more of it. At our DYT Community roundtable, teachers and SENCos revealed real highlights for learners with SEND accessing tasks in a different way. Reliance on technology in particular has helped rather than hindered learners. Let’s do more to build on what works and integrate it into our teaching practice.

We need to put our trust in the teachers and families who know these learners best. Now isn’t the time to cram, it’s the time to be clear on what is essential, what is possible, and what will keep our children safe and resilient as they readjust to ‘normal’ schooling.

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

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