Nowhere that fits: the realities of schooling for families of children with SEN

Meanu Bajwa-Patelpost by MEANU BAJWA-PATEL
School of Education, University of Northampton

One of the key aspects of an alternative policy manifesto must be a more practical and comprehensive approach to inclusion in our schools and, ultimately, our society. The Children and Families Act, which recently gained Royal Assent, outlines some changes to the special educational needs and disability (SEND) systems and evaluations of the pilot projects show some positive progress. However, the Act does not impact on the power differentials between parents and professionals within the education system and does nothing to address the lack of knowledge and understanding of SEND present within many schools and local authorities.

Parents of children with statements of SEND are clear that they need more flexibility and support in the system to ensure that their children get the schooling that best fits their needs (Bajwa-Patel and Devecchi, 2014). Needs that can be very complex and which, if they are not met, can lead to exclusion and isolation for both the children and their families. Schools need to be more adaptable and school staff more knowledgeable about the diverse range of needs that children may require support with. Training for all staff within schools, not just specialist staff, and training in the teacher training institutions needs to be much more extensive and focus on ethos and values as much as it does on SEND. Teaching staff and support staff must recognise that children with SEND may have complex and different needs and yet at the same time they are children, just like all the other children they teach.

Teachers, schools and local authorities must firstly recognise, and then, learn how to utilise the expertise and experience that parents have when it comes to their children and their SEN as this will mean a better education for many children and a more positive and fulfilling relationship between parents and the people and institutions that educate their children. Money and time need to be made available to allow for such training and money is also needed for resources and transport and infrastructure. Many of the parents that participated in my research had humble aspirations for their children, they wanted them to be able to live independently or be happy, they wanted them to have friends and maybe be able to get a job. Nothing out of the ordinary, just simple aspirations, and yet, for many of their children, achieving these aspirations would be a struggle and a challenge and for others, those children who were on the brink of another exclusion or breakdown, these aspirations were as unreachable as the stars.

The UK government was one of 92 countries that endorsed UNESCO’s Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action in 1994 and, earlier in 1991, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), over 20 years on we must recognise that our schools are still failing too many children and families. All of our schools, and all of our teacher training institutions, must make the innovative adaptations and changes needed to help solve the issues of inequality and ignorance that still cause misery for so many families and means that our society loses out. Bauman (1995) argued for a society that was ‘for’ others, rather than ‘with’ others, nearly twenty years on, it is time that we engaged with all the individuals in our society as individuals, rather than as groups, other than our own. Education is the only way that such a society can be achieved where all individuals are valued. Our education system has more responsibilities than it is currently meeting, responsibilities that go way beyond raising standards of achievement.