HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Over 30 years ago the Warnock report contrived to bring children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) into mainstream schools.
It aimed to end what it saw as a two-tier educational system for those with or without the need for specialist teaching and learning.
The overarching recommendations of the report were to both standardise the classification of children with special needs and to take them from their special schools to go to huge comprehensives.
The identification of needs was an important, positive step but I knew then that this push for ‘inclusion’ would fail numerous children. Which is why, as a Nottinghamshire county councillor in the 1980s, I worked with parents to resist the assumptions of Warnock and its zealous implementation by the then Labour-led council there.
After years of damage done to lives by the worst of her work, Baroness Warnock now admits that ‘possibly the most disastrous legacy’ of her report was the concept of inclusion.
It led to many who need specialist help at school being deprived of the environment and care which SEND schools provide.
In Lincolnshire, we are lucky enough to have wonderful schools dedicated to working with children who have special educational needs and disabilities; and the success of special schools like Gosberton House, Priory, Garth and Willoughby make them popular. So any plan to divert funding from these excellent institutions and to move children into a ‘one size fits all’ model should be regarded at least with doubt, and at most with dread.
Yet, now parents are troubled that the attitude fostered by the Warnock report is rearing its head in Lincolnshire. They know better than most that the drive for inclusion works for some – and I applaud the work of mainstream schools who have successfully educated children with special needs – but has real and damaging effects on many children who need the expert care and protected environment of a special school.
I have received numerous letters and emails from desperate and frustrated parents worried that their opinion may be disregarded and that their child’s special needs could be sacrificed in a dogmatic drive towards a drab egalitarian ‘one size fits all’ approach to learning.
Under £40million has been promised to improve non-SEND schools. However, when divided up among all Lincolnshire schools that is nowhere near enough to match the excellent work and environment that our special schools have worked so hard to perfect.
Unsurprisingly, many parents are worried that this move will affect their children’s educational attainment, because the money offered is simply insufficient to provide the required specialist skills and risk some children being left behind.
Because children learn in different ways, I’ve always backed school choice for parents and it’s why, throughout my time in politics, I have resisted any move to place children into provision ill-suited to their particular needs.
As every parent knows, a child’s formative education is paramount, and no drive for the convenience of local provision should be allowed to trump it.
The skills our special schools have are irreplaceable; in them, staff have worked tirelessly to create an environment for children with special educational needs and disabilities crafted to give them, what all children deserve – the best possible start in life.
Let’s all take time to consider carefully what happens next. Children learn in different ways and each needs an approach which allows them to achieve their potential. Let’s put children’s wellbeing, and the parents’ choice, at the heart of all we do.