I was pleased to see this press release Ed Balls: More support for children with Special Educational Needs from the DCSF which came to me via email from my local authority.
I’ve blogged before on the way that David Cameron seems be cornering the market in the Special Education field (David Cameron’s right to flag up provision for families with disabled children.) and how the Labour party don’t seem to be providing any responses to the suggestions he makes (Still no response to David Cameron on Autism, Disability) .
Ed Balls statement is a welcome reversal of this trend. The part that caught my attention in particular (as Head of a school for children with severe, profound and multiple disabilities) was this :
To ensure pupils had the highest quality teaching in special schools, Ed Balls announced he was commissioning Toby Salt to lead an independent review into the supply of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). He also announced that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) would be taking forward a £550,000 project to develop special schools as leaders in teaching and learning practice for children with the most complex learning difficulties, meeting a commitment in the 21st century schools system White Paper.
This is welcome news indeed. I wonder how many readers are aware of just how many “special school teachers” for children with learning difficulties have actually received any specialist training to teach children with learning difficulties prior to entering those schools ? Well to give you a clue, there have been no specialist initial teacher training courses since I graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1989. Many special school teachers have received no award bearing training after qualification either.
(That isn’t all bad news actually – mainstream teachers bring a great deal to special schools – and the shift of emphasis from specialist training of teachers for special schools, has helped facilitate some of the achievements in promoting inclusive practice in the education of children with special educational needs. Few people teaching in the field of Special Educational Needs would consider the situation ideal however)
It’s also clear to me as well that special schools – catering for the most severe disabilities – far from being institutions which promote segregated education, are actually the organisations best placed to provide help, advice and support to colleagues across the spectrum of educational provision, to promote the education of children with special needs in all settings.
Although David Cameron does echo the opinions of many parents in prioritising special schools over mainstream provision for children with special educational needs – he perhaps forgets that the overwhelming majority of children with special educational needs are – and should be – educated in mainstream schools. He is right to emphasise the importance of special schools though in meeting the needs of those with the most severe and complex needs – but does not I feel go far enough to recognise the key role of that special schools, and specialist teachers can play as centres of excellence, spreading good practice, and helping to ensure that the rest of the educational system is better equipped to meet all children’s needs in their own schools.
I’m hopeful that the SSAT project which Ed Balls announces in this release will be a move towards doing just that.
The two initiatives will certainly be led by people recognisable to education professionals – Toby Salt has worked extensively with the National College for School Leadership, and Professor Barry Carpenter is arguably the best known practitioner in Special Education in the UK today. He is known, liked and respected by many in the profession – including myself.
It’s perhaps worth noting that Ed Balls is in a very different position to David Cameron when it comes to making pronouncements about the future of education. David Cameron can effectively shoot whatever pitch he likes in order to garner public support and votes. He may or may not get a chance to implement what he says. He may or may not choose to. Whether he’ll have the funding to do so is also a matter of some conjecture as well.
Mr Balls on the other hand is the incumbent secretary of state. If he makes promises, he’s obliged to carry them out. Yet clearly he may not be in a position to do so – it’s unlikely that any changes requiring government legislation can be implemented before the election – an election which could be lost. Neither can he make rash promises though – it’s an election which could also be won !
So I’m satisfied for the moment with the promises made in this press release, but hope to see the issues surrounding the education of children with special needs, and with disabilities taking a higher priority as we move towards the election. I’m sure David Cameron will do that, but whilst I respect his position regarding these issues, I don’t feel that his party does, and would expect that this would be fertile vote winning ground for the more compassionate, and thoughtful Labour Party.
Only time will tell !