Ofsted report on special education in the UK: JKP authors offer views from parents and professionals

Today, we offer perspectives from two JKP authors on yesterday’s Ofsted* report, titled ‘special educational needs and disability review: a statement is not enough’.

A Parent’s Perspective…

Ellen Power is a parent of two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and author of the new book, Guerrilla Mum: Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle. Below is an excerpt from her full response to the Ofsted report:  

“[Yesterday’s report] demonises Special Educational Needs education and will now make it more difficult for all Special Educational Needs children to get the help they need. SEN is suddenly a ‘lifestyle choice’, the children are akin to ‘benefits cheats’ and the parents ‘grasping, ‘greedy’ and ‘sharp elbowed’ middle class parents.

If you could have found me a school where it was easy to get the help my children needed because the school was angling for more money, I’d have sent my children there. If there is a school which is very keen to get children on to the SEN register or to have children statemented, tell me where it is because I know of plenty of parents who cannot get this provision for their children. Do I know of any Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who are ‘social workers’ at schools on unfeasibly large salaries? […] No, but I know plenty who are highly skilled professionals who often work through their meal breaks and after school for no pay to support the children they work with.

We are constantly being told that cuts are necessary because we simply can’t afford to spend the money. In this case we can’t afford not to. Allowing children to fail in school is not an option because it condemns them to lifelong failure.”

Read Ellen’s full response to the Ofsted report on the GuerrillaMum blog.

Read an interview with Ellen about her book, Guerrilla Mum.

A Professional’s Perspective…

Richard Hanks, M.Ed. is a former Headteacher and currently Head of Learning Support at a school near Bath, UK. He is the author of the new book, Common SENse in the Inclusive Classroom: How Teachers Can Maximise Existing Skills to Support Special Educational Needs.

“It genuinely was only by coincidence that [my book] Common SENse in the Inclusive Classroom was published the very day after the latest Ofsted report on special educational needs. Although the methodologies that went into the production of the book and the report are, of course, different, there are strong threads that link them, and what they each say.

If one reads the Ofsted report in full, it does have much to say that is positive about the achievements of SEN pupils, and the provision that is made for them. But that which – not without justification – has caught the headlines is Ofsted’s view that a significant proportion of pupils are too easily diagnosed as ‘SEN’, and that such needs as they do have could be routinely met by some good teaching.

I can see where Ofsted are coming from, but Common SENse proposes a slightly different perspective.

It would certainly agree that getting hung up on diagnoses and ‘labels’ can be a distraction, and even inhibiting to teachers, who may feel that they cannot act until there is a diagnosis, and cannot act after there is one because they do not know how to respond to the named disability.

Common SENse, though, would query the discussion around ‘good’ teaching. Common SENse is always seeking to point teachers in the direction of appropriate teaching. It agrees that teaching is the key to successful outcomes for pupils, but what it does is give the teacher hundreds of examples of teaching strategies that any teacher may choose from with respect to an individual pupil in order to make it more likely that that pupil makes progress. Perhaps it may be fairly said that this was outside Ofsted’s remit, but teachers may feel its report points out some of the inadequacies without giving them a very direct steer as to the way forward.

However, if some teachers could just adopt the strategies and ways of working and thinking detailed in Common SENse – and these are neither seismic shifts or rocket science – perhaps the [Ofsted] inspectors would have even less to complain about.”

Read an interview with Richard about his book, Common SENse in the Inclusive Classroom.

*Ofsted is the UK government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Richard Hanks on Common SENse: How Mainstream Teachers Can Maximise Existing Skills to Support Special Educational Needs

Richard Hanks is a former Headteacher and has extensive experience of working with children with special needs. Here, he answers some questions about his new book, Common SENse for the Inclusive Classroom: How Teachers Can Maximise Existing Skills to Support Special Educational Needs – out today.

Tell us about this project and how you compiled the teaching ‘menus’ featured in your book?

I had had long experience in Special schools for pupils with learning difficulties, including the Headship of three schools. Then I took a sideways move, into an independent school, which was not a special school, as Head of Special Needs / Learning Support.

With that background, it is to be hoped I would know something about special needs.

But in a Special school, you are – or should be- working in conditions which are near-perfect: small classes; staff who have chosen to work with “special needs”, and may well have additional qualifications; a whole-school focus on special needs; arguably a generous budget, etc.

These do not necessarily apply in a school catering for pupils of wide ability levels, with those ability levels – and different types of need – being found in any (every) classroom. In the case of this school, there was a wish or philosophy that such a mix of pupils should be maintained. While the school was certainly not against a certain amount of withdrawal, one-to-one extra teaching etc, the general policy was one of “inclusion”.

And so my task was to support teachers in finding ways – practical and fairly simple – whereby they could really do something to meet the wide variety of needs they met in their pupils in virtually every lesson.

Over a period of time, we worked out the strategies, and ways of thinking about those strategies, (the menu choices) described in the book that were not too difficult to implement, and would make a practical difference to the pupil(s) in achieving measures of success in their school lives.

This book is for the non-specialist teacher whose approach to teaching children with SEN may be: ‘Say it again, say it louder, and say it slower.’ Where does this approach come from? How does your book address it?

This expression comes from frustration.

The teacher is frustrated by the pupil (who cannot do what the teacher sets him to do), and the teacher is frustrated by himself (because he cannot teach the pupil to do what he wants him to do).

The teacher feels he does not understand the nature of the pupil’s difficulties (e.g. dyslexia) and feels he should do. And he is frustrated because he, therefore, does not know how to meet the pupil’s needs. The teacher feels that a high degree of expertise is required – and that he does not have it.

And so this expression also comes from a feeling of inadequacy – a very uncomfortable feeling.

The book will bolster teachers. It will give them background information (in an easily digestible way) about dyslexia, etc. It will enable them to see that meeting (or certainly going some way towards meeting) pupils’ special needs as found in most schools does not require rocket-science teaching methods; it will give ample suggestions as to how teachers might go about this; and it will empower teachers, not least because the choice of strategy remains with the teacher. It will give them confidence that they can make at least a certain (worthwhile) amount of difference.

In mastering these strategies, will mainstream teachers come to prioritise the needs of SEN students as a matter of course? How do mainstream teachers incorporate these strategies into their overall teaching and management styles?

“Inclusion” is here to stay. The (UK) Coalition is rowing back a little from wholesale Inclusion, but teachers would still be well advised to consider it as part of their professional life (and, in principle, many welcome this). (As the book describes, there are now also certain legal obligations upon schools to do so.)

But teachers can be puzzled – and exasperated by – some of the pupils they now customarily meet (pupils that they may not have met not so many years ago, when schools organized themselves internally differently).

For the most and overwhelming part, teachers do want to meet the needs of every single one of their pupils. But, yes, they will have to spot quickly (prioritise) those pupils who are not coping with particular tasks. And then, having thought about the pupil and the task as described in the book, they will have to choose strategies – which mostly are just adaptations of what they are doing anyway.

Incorporating these strategies becomes part of routine lesson planning. Modifications to the general teaching method, and way of accomplishing a task, are simply built in from the outset.

But a teacher without a background in special needs is not expected instantly to be familiar with every type of learning disability, and every possible strategy for overcoming them. Teachers new to inclusion are allowed to be patient with themselves, and to build up a lexicon of strategies over time, and as needs present themselves. The important thing is that they always do as much as they reasonably can; this will mean they are not doing everything – because that’s just not possible – but it is a great deal better than doing nothing (which is what some of them currently feel they can do). Regularly dipping into this book will help them a lot, I hope.

Do you have any strategies for teachers that will help them communicate with the parents of students with SEN?

The main strategy for communicating with parents is to do it regularly, not only when there are problems, and not belatedly, so that the parent can never say, “Why are you just telling me this? How long has this been going on for?”

An analogy I use in the book is of a bridge existing between home and school. The bridge does have, by definition, different locations at each end of it – but these locations are joined by the bridge, not divided by it. And the pupil, who crosses that bridge every day, is fully aware of this.

So, communication, should be regular – and, wherever possible, positive. (This also makes negative feedback easier for the teacher to give and the parent to receive if it is necessary.)

How to get that info across the bridge?

End-of term reports,of course.

Much more frequently (even daily?!) home-school diaries / comment books. Allow space for pupil comments, too. (Homework diaries come into this category, too.) Such books can relate to everyday activities, but can well be bolstered when a particular matter is being addressed eg something new in maths being introduced, a forthcoming trip which the pupil may be becoming anxious about.

As indicated above, involve the pupil. There may be occasions when it is best that the pupil does not know what the parents and school are talking about, but these are, in fact, probably, rare.

Do not forget we live in an electronic age; most homes have e-mail!

Try to improve upon the usual Parents’ Evening formula. A rolling programme of short evenings may be more productive all-round than the fraught rugby scrum once per team that serves as parent consultation im some schools.

Make it all about communication. Communication is a two-way affair. Do not just tell parents. Expect them to respond; and respect what they say.

As the book points out, good parent-teacher communication is particularly important in working with SEN pupils. Involve the parents, and see if they can support learning at home. Initiate contact.

In some cases, be the parents’ mentor; having a son or daughter with SENs can be very difficult. In other cases, be prepared to learn from them; many parents are well aware of their children’s needs, and can give valuable pointers as to how their children can be supported.

It’s a hard thing to say, and a fine line to walk, but judge the distance between striking up a friendship and having a positive but professional relationship.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Richard Hanks, M.Ed. was Headteacher of two schools in Avon and Hampshire before moving on to become Head of Learning Support at a school near Bath. He is currently a member of the Independent Monitoring Board of a Young Offenders’ Institute and of the Members’ Council of Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Vanessa Rogers on Cyberbullying – Part 3: How parents and teachers can help prevent cyberbullying

This week, we’re featuring an interview series with Vanessa Rogers, an experienced and highly regarded teacher and youth worker, and author of the recent book, Cyberbullying: Activities to Help Children and Teens to Stay Safe in a Texting, Twittering, Social Networking World.

Today, Vanessa discusses why engaging with social technology can help parents and teachers prevent cyberbullying.

It could be argued that this generation are the first real ‘cyber citizens'; certainly from nursery school onwards they have been introduced to the cyber highway and the infinite wonders of the web. For many young people social networking, such as Facebook or Bebo, is a very important part of their life. It offers them the ability to talk, share photos, music and interests – all from their own home or school. Particularly for those young people living in rural areas these sites offer a whole social life that they would be unable to enjoy in real life. In short, young people aren’t going to give it up lightly, no matter what the potential dangers are, and nor should they be expected to.

Instead, parents/carers and professionals should make sure they have at least a basic understanding of the technology involved and remain curious about the time young people spend online, asking questions and checking out what they are doing, thereby helping them to take responsibility for their online actions, without demonizing or spreading panic. Young people should be reminded that with the freedom digital technology offers, must come the responsibility to develop good online behaviour that offers respect for everyone, which is what this resource pack is all about.

Teachers can help young people develop ‘cyber manners’ by making it clear that cyberbullying in any form is unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated. By creating a peer environment that sanctions against, rather than ignoring or condoning hurtful actions, clear messages are sent to both the victims and perpetrators of bullying behaviour. Schools and other learning providers should have cyberbullying within their anti-bullying policy and clear sanctions should be put in place and widely publicized to both pupils, parents/carers and teachers.

Equally parents should take steps to ensure computer using at home is both safe and respectful of others. Using basic online filters and blocking software can help, as can agreeing online protocols and setting clear boundaries that reinforce what is acceptable and what isn’t. Parents should also role model good cyber behaviour themselves, for example not getting into text arguments or joining in with their children’s online fights.

Instead, both parents/carers and professionals should take opportunities to explore what ‘cyberbullying’ actually is, build awareness and victim empathy, and ultimately encourage young people to take responsibility for their online behaviour in the same way that they are in the ‘real’ world.

Tomorrow: Vanessa discusses how young men and women experience cyberbullying differently. 
Yesterday: Vanessa discusses how to tell when a young person is being cyberbullied.

Vanessa Rogers is a qualified teacher and youth worker with over ten years’ experience within Hertfordshire Youth Service, UK, both at practitioner and management levels. Prior to becoming a nationally acclaimed youth work consultant, Vanessa managed a wide range of services for young people including a large youth centre and targeted detached projects for Hertfordshire County Council. Vanessa has written a number of popular resource books aimed at those working with young people, and she also has a column in ‘Youth Work Now’, a supplement of the national magazine ‘Children and Young People Now’. Vanessa’s website can be found at www.vanessarogers.co.uk

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Vanessa Rogers on Cyberbullying – Part 2: How to tell when a young person is being cyberbullied

This week, we’re featuring an interview series with Vanessa Rogers, an experienced and highly regarded teacher and youth worker, and author of the recent book, Cyberbullying: Activities to Help Children and Teens to Stay Safe in a Texting, Twittering, Social Networking World.

Today, Vanessa discusses how to tell when a young person is being cyberbullied.

As with any form of bullying it is often hard to spot the signs of cyberbullying. The insidious nature of targeting someone online, or cyber stalking, means that the perpetrator often remains faceless. However, teachers should look out for any marked changes in pupil’s behaviour, and remember that they may well be working with the bully as well as the victim of any bullying in the same class. For example, changes in friendship groups, pupils becoming withdrawn or obsessive use of chatrooms are all possible indicators that bullying is taking place. Teachers should regularly check the sites that pupils have been visiting online and be aware of young people who are either over secretive or over zealous with their online activity.

Young people I have worked with who have been a victim of cyberbullying describe feeling nervous, distracted and trapped with, ‘no way out’. These feelings can lead to frustration and/or depression with many victims avoiding school or social settings where they may come across their tormentors. Equally, they may never be quite sure who their bully is, leading to mistrust of everyone and general aggressiveness. However, all of these potential indicators are also arguably signs of normal adolescent development, so teachers should be vigilant but take care not to jump to conclusions.

Tomorrow: Vanessa discusses how parents and teachers can help prevent cyberbullying. 
Yesterday: Vanessa explains how cyberbullying is different from other kinds of bullying.

Vanessa Rogers is a qualified teacher and youth worker with over ten years’ experience within Hertfordshire Youth Service, UK, both at practitioner and management levels. Prior to becoming a nationally acclaimed youth work consultant, Vanessa managed a wide range of services for young people including a large youth centre and targeted detached projects for Hertfordshire County Council. Vanessa has written a number of popular resource books aimed at those working with young people, and she also has a column in ‘Youth Work Now’, a supplement of the national magazine ‘Children and Young People Now’. Vanessa’s website can be found at www.vanessarogers.co.uk.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

JKP author Lucy Whitman speaks at the ‘Unfettering the Imagination’ Dementia Conference

Lucy Whitman – editor of the JKP book, Telling Tales About Dementia: Experiences of Caring – spoke at the third annual ‘Unfettering the Imagination’ dementia conference in London on 9th September, which aimed to examine some of the contextual issues surrounding psychosocial practice in dementia care, and to showcase examples of best practice, projects and initiatives from around the UK.

Joining her on stage were two of the book’s contributors, Peggy Fray (chapter 19: ‘A Sister’s Story’) and Pat Brown (chapter 22: ‘Cracks in the System’).

Telling Tales About Dementia is a unique collection of personal accounts of caring for a parent, partner or friend with dementia.

Learn more about the book here.

“I know of no book at all comparable to this recent Jessica Kingsley publication…’Telling Tales about Dementia’ will be a great encouragement to other carers.”

– Christian Council on Ageing

“These powerful stories should be read by everyone involved in health and social care, from commissioners designing services to those giving direct care and support. I hope they will also be read by those who have had no previous contact with dementia, to help combat the stigma it still carries through lack of public awareness…”

– Dementia Care

Read more reviews here.

Read an edited extract from the book as featured in the Daily Mail.

Vanessa Rogers on Cyberbullying – Part 1: What is different about cyberbullying?

This week, we’ll be featuring an interview series with Vanessa Rogers, an experienced and highly regarded teacher and youth worker, and author of the recent book, Cyberbullying: Activities to Help Children and Teens to Stay Safe in a Texting, Twittering, Social Networking World.

Today, Vanessa explains how cyberbullying is different from other kinds of bullying.

While it is certainly true that physical bullying is unacceptable behaviour, cyberbullying can be just as frightening, leaving behind emotional rather than physical scars. Cyberbullying is different from face-to-face bullying because the bullies can keep a distance between themselves and their victims. This affords the bully a level of anonymity and a perceived sense of security that convinces them they won’t get caught. It also makes it easier to ‘forget’ what they’ve done and as they don’t see the harm caused, and any feelings of guilt or empathy are minimized. Not knowing the identity of the bully can make the victim distrustful of many people.

It is also worth remembering that the young person you know may even be involved in perpetrating cyberbullying. It’s just as important for cyberbullies to understand the consequences of their activities, as it is to encourage them to stop.

It’s also important that cyberbullying is covered by anti-bullying policies in schools and youth organizations. Within a school, the sanctions available to use against the bullies should be clearly explained, including any appeal process, and no young person should be surprised at the consequences of being found guilty of cyberbullying. Although cyberbullying is not currently a specific crime, by taking part in it young people may have broken other laws, especially if it involves physical threats. All children should be made aware of the real consequences both to the person being bullied and to the bully themselves if they are caught.

This is an excerpt from the first chapter Cyberbullying.

Tomorrow: Vanessa discusses how to tell when a young person is being cyberbullied.

Vanessa Rogers is a qualified teacher and youth worker with over ten years’ experience within Hertfordshire Youth Service, UK, both at practitioner and management levels. Prior to becoming a nationally acclaimed youth work consultant, Vanessa managed a wide range of services for young people including a large youth centre and targeted detached projects for Hertfordshire County Council. Vanessa has written a number of popular resource books aimed at those working with young people, and she also has a column in ‘Youth Work Now’, a supplement of the national magazine ‘Children and Young People Now’. Vanessa’s website can be found at www.vanessarogers.co.uk.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Workshop: ‘Healing, Yijing, and Cultivation’ with Master Wu

This weekend, Singing Dragon author Master Zhongxian Wu will be holding a workshop on ‘Healing, Yijing, and Cultivation’ in Stockholm, Sweden, 11-12 September.

Learn more about this workshop.

Master Wu has devoted himself to the study of Qigong, martial arts, Chinese medicine, Yijing science, Chinese calligraphy, and ancient chinese music for over 30 years. He was Director of the Shaanxi Province Association for Somatic Science and the Shaanxi Association for the Research of Daoist Nourishing Life Practices, and has written five books and numerous articles on the philosophical and historical foundations of China’s ancient life sciences. Visit www.masterwu.net for more info about Master Wu.

Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, is an independent publisher of authoritative books on complementary and alternative health, bodywork, Tai Chi, Qigong and ancient wisdom traditions for personal and professional development.

www.singing-dragon.com

Help children set goals with this sample activity from Deborah M. Plummer’s latest workbook

School is back in full swing this week, and with it come new challenges for students – especially those who have difficulty coping with change, stress and normal levels of anxiety.

Today we’re offering readers a sample activity from Deborah M. Plummer‘s new workbook, Helping Children to Cope with Change, Stress and Anxiety: A Photocopiable Activities Book, which teachers – as well as parents, carers and therapists – can use to help children learn healthy stress management strategies and build emotional resilience. 

With over 100 short, snappy activities and longer guided visualisations, this workbook is suitable for use with individuals or groups, and many are appropriate for use with children with complex needs or speech and language difficulties.

Learn more about the workbook.

Download the sample activity ‘Spaceship to the stars’ from Chapter 14: Setting Goals and Celebrating.

This activity is designed to help children explore the idea of setting regular goals: 

“Projecting yourself into the future to imagine how things will turn out is a powerful aid to making changes. Such imagery requires the suspending of judgement and reality in order to act ‘as if ’ you had already achieved your desired outcome.”

Enjoy, and best wishes for a successful school year!

*This exercise was featured in the last JKP Education Newsletter.
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Interview with Paul Cooper – Part 4: The Innovative Learning for All series

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is the series editor of JKP’s Innovative Learning for All series, which features accessible books that reveal how schools and educators can meet the needs of vulnerable students, and encourage them to engage in learning and to feel confident in the classroom. This week, he’ll be answering some questions about the series and educating students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD).

Today, Professor Cooper gives an overview of the key resources for teachers in the Innovative Learning for All series.

What is the driving philosophy behind your Innovative Learning for All series, and how do these books work in tandem?

The Innovative Learning for All series is concerned with the fundamental need that all school students have for an effective educational experience that provides them with the resources necessary to enable full and positive engagement in 21st century society. The particular focus of the series is on those students who are at greatest risk of educational failure, particularly those with or at risk of developing Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) and other special educational needs. The purpose of the series is to offer practical insights as well as stimuli for reflection on practice. Importantly, all the books in this series are evidence based and informed by contemporary, cutting edge theory, all of which is delivered in a style we intend to be accessible to the widest possible audience of workers in schools and anyone who is interested in ways of improving the educational engagement of children and young people who are deemed ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’.

It is important to stress that these are not a ‘101 tips for busy teachers’ type books. Complex problems require careful and thoughtful analysis, and advice on intervention needs to be based on the solid foundation of good quality empirical evidence. Simplistic clichés, such as the idea that all students can and should be effectively educated in ‘mainstream’ classrooms are, where necessary, challenged. Whilst the books are driven by a vision of what the educational experience of students should be, they are also driven by an evidence based analysis of what we actually know about the actual day to day experience of students and their educators.

To date there are four titles in the series which kicked off with the Paul Cooper and Yonca Tiknaz book on ‘nurture groups’ (Nurture Groups in School and at Home). I will avoid the obvious temptation to eulogise the nurture group concept, other than to say that in many ways they embody almost everything that, in my view, classroom based education should reflect, with the adult-pupil relationship being at the heart of the whole enterprise. It is this empirically based insight that enables the nurture group concept to be increasingly popular (in an adapted form) in secondary schools. So whilst the first book in the series is concerned with the fundamentals of attachment, the importance of early life experience and how this can influence the development of certain difficulties later in life, the second book in the series is concerned with the concept of resilience. Carmel Cefai’s book (Promoting Resilience in the Classroom) is concerned with the ways in many individuals appear to transcend similar circumstances which are associated with the development of delinquency and SEBD in others, to lead positive and productive lives. Key themes here are school based support structures and relationships with staff in schools. Relationships revolve around communication, and Richard Rose and Michael Shelvin’s book (Count Me In!) is concerned with the vital role of the student voice in education. They show how the first hand testimony of students can illuminate the realities of schooling, as well as indicating some of the ways in which student voice can be employed in the service of improving schools. The fourth book in the series (Promoting Emotional Education) is by Carmel Cefai and Paul Cooper and is an edited collection of papers by a wide range of contributors, each of whom is concerned with different issues pertinent to the establishment of the kinds of adult-student relationship which are most likely to promote the engagement of vulnerable students. The final paper of this collection reflects on some aspects of the wider social context in which schools are embedded and highlights dysfunctions associated with this and their impact on children.

The general thrust of this book, and the series to date, is that education has a vital role to play in limiting and even overcoming the effects of social risk factors in the lives of the vulnerable, but that schools will only achieve their best when they have the support of the wider society.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s spotlight on Paul Cooper and the Innovative Learning for All series. Keep checking the JKP blog for more features on special education and related areas, and join our mailing list to get regular news and updates from JKP delivered straight to your inbox.

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is a Chartered Psychologist and has been Professor of Education at the University of Leicester, UK, since January 2001. He is also co-chair of the European Network for Social and Emotional Competence (ENSEC). Since 1989 he has held academic posts in the universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, and has been a visiting professor and invited lecturer in many countries throughout the world, including: Japan, Taiwan, North America and several European countries. He has authored and edited over 100 journal articles and 14 books, and is the editor of the quarterly journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’.

Interview with Paul Cooper – Part 3: The pros and cons of academies and free schools for students with SEBD

Professor Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is the series editor of JKP’s Innovative Learning for All series, which features accessible books that reveal how schools and educators can meet the needs of vulnerable students, and encourage them to engage in learning and to feel confident in the classroom. This week, he’ll be answering some questions about the series and educating students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD).

Today, Professor Cooper weighs in on the debate about the new academies and free schools initiatives in the UK for children with SEBD.

For students with SEBD, what are the pros and cons of the academy and free school systems of education being championed by the new UK coalition government?

The history of educational policy ‘innovation’ tells us that the most vulnerable and at risk pupils are often ignored or, at best dealt with as an afterthought. Consider the 1944 Education, which established the right to free (i.e. state funded) secondary education for all. Though it wasn’t until 1945 that attention was given to students who we would now consider to have ‘special educational needs’. The point being that the assumptions on which the 44 Act were based did not take into account the full diversity of the potential student population. The greatest scandal of all in relation to this is the fact that it was not until the 1970 Education Act – a full 26 years later – that the right to free education was extended to an estimated 30,000 students with severe learning difficulties. To this day the law tolerates the annual permanent exclusion of in excess of 8,000 students per year, and the annual temporary exclusion of some 150,000 pupils. The supposedly most radical educational reform since the 44 Act – the 1988 Reform Act – showed a similarly myopic view. The central principle of the Act which was the claim to offer the same wide and balanced curriculum for all – except, it was decided as an after thought – certain pupils for whom this ‘entitlement’ could be ‘disapplied’. This all goes to show that government rhetoric concerning education often falls short of the reality. The job of secretary of state for education too often falls to politicians who have prejudicial, ‘hobby horse’ views, or who lack competence, or who use the role as a brief political stepping stone to higher office.

The current ideologically and cost driven, indecently hasty drive to increase the number of directly funded ‘academies’ is a typical example of a dramatic but ill thought out education policy. A local authority has a legal responsibility to make provision for the education of all children within its jurisdiction. This includes those students whom some schools might determine to be ‘inappropriately placed’ in their institutions, or those they choose to exclude. There is not space here to explore the myriad ways in which academies will be able to exploit this situation, though it is obvious that this policy is unlikely to serve the needs of potential excludes.

The free school initiative is vague and unformed at the present time, though it seems to suggest that communities may in the future have the right to establish their own local schools with government funding. In this case the question is who speaks for the community? Is the local free school likely to be informed by the views of the families of students who are deemed to present with SEBD? This seems unlikely. If academies and free schools are the future state of education in the UK then we are heading for what the distinguished educationist David Hargreaves predicted almost 20 years ago: the idea that local authority schools will come to serve an increasingly ‘custodial’ function, dealing with those students who are considered undesirable by the majority of schools.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Check back tomorrow when Professor Cooper introduces the key resources for teachers in the Innovative Learning for All series.

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is a Chartered Psychologist and has been Professor of Education at the University of Leicester, UK, since January 2001. He is also co-chair of the European Network for Social and Emotional Competence (ENSEC). Since 1989 he has held academic posts in the universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, and has been a visiting professor and invited lecturer in many countries throughout the world, including: Japan, Taiwan, North America and several European countries. He has authored and edited over 100 journal articles and 14 books, and is the editor of the quarterly journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’.