Heads who break the law must face the consequences

22nd June 2018 at 00:00
Just as motorists are sent on speed awareness courses, leaders who flout the rules should be informed about SEND legislation, writes Nancy Gedge

If I had my way, I’d send myself on a course about special educational needs and disability law. This is not because I once fancied the idea of myself in a wig and gown, saying m’lud a lot, but because I can see why knowing a bit about the law surrounding SEND would be a jolly useful thing.

Take exclusions. The exclusion of children from school, and thus their education, is the hot topic of the moment (there was even a recent Department for Education consultation on the matter, headed up by the former minister for SEND, Edward Timpson). There is guidance for headteachers; and a legal framework governs what is supposed to happen. Yet, it seems, this is consistently ignored.

If I were to be charitable towards those who persist in the practice of throwing children out of school – large numbers of whom, if the populations of alternative provisions are anything to go by, have SEND of one form or another – I would assume that these responsibilities had not been properly understood. Just as speeding motorists are given training to increase their awareness of the consequences of their behaviour, I’d do the same for headteachers. On a SEND law course they would go.

Teachers taking responsibility

If I were redesigning the SEND element of initial teacher training, I’d also make sure that knowledge of relevant SEND law was a fundamental component, well before I got anywhere near specific learning needs, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia. I’d make sure new teachers understood that requirements or adjustments detailed in statutory documents (that’s the education, health and care plan, section F) were exactly that: statutory. That is, not for picking and choosing the bits we like the look of, or that seem easier.

I’d make sure that new teachers – and older ones and ministers, come to that – were crystal clear that they were responsible, educationally speaking, for all the children in the class. And that this means none of them belong, somehow, to someone else: the teaching assistant, the SEND coordinator, the minister for families or anyone else you’d care to mention.

Because once we accept that we are responsible for the learning of all pupils, including the ones with SEND – that we should be rightly held to account for their progress across all subjects in the curriculum – then we stand a better chance of teachers or ministers taking an interest and taking responsibility.

Maybe once we all understand that, the law won’t be quite so necessary – or so ignored.

Nancy Gedge is coordinator of the Ormerod Resource Base at the Marlborough School, Oxfordshire, and the Tes SEND specialist. She tweets @nancygedge

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