The benefits of working together: Lessons from the Salamanca Statement
Nancy Gedge reflects on the Salamanca Statement and how the need to work together to improve SEND outcomes must be a key priority for 2017.
I read the Salamanca Statement again the other week. In 1994, the year of publication, I was completing my PGCE and getting ready to take on my first teaching post. The children I taught then, could, without too much of a stretch of the imagination, be my colleagues today. To them, it must seem as if it comes from a world before time began. Out of date.
Reading it now, it is as fresh and as challenging as the day it was signed.
Come as You Are
Community schools that serve the population within which they sit is the stated ideal. Knowing that your local school is a good school and that staff there will accept and educate your child as they are is surely something that most parents want.
Learning communities that are diverse and inclusive set the scene for adult life. As well as preparing young people with the knowledge and skills they will need to both navigate modern life and do the best they can in it, inclusive schools are a key player in breaking down the prejudice and stigma that dogs the lives of marginalised groups. A safer society for all is something to be strived for.
Wake Up Boo!
However, recent debates and a policy swing towards selective education show that the battle for an inclusive education system is not yet won. The heart may be engaged, but the mind has yet to apply itself to how such a system can realistically be created, and the needs of the young people, their families and teachers in our schools balanced. After nearly thirty years of a drive towards inclusion, the tide appears to be silently turning, and selection is surging.
It could be that our understanding of what inclusion means has shifted. Within the perspective of social justice, it no longer means shutting down special schools and placing SEND learners, with needs from the most profound to the you’d-only-notice-it-on-a-bad-day kind, into mainstream schools supported by a friendly TA. Too many people have kicked up a fuss.
Parents are moving their children. They have a right to an education that will work for them and currently the mainstream system is setting them up to fail.
Teachers are worrying that they don’t have the skills and knowledge. Workload is a perennial issue, and addressing the needs of a large range of learners is, by its nature, time consuming.
Policy-makers are ever concerned with examination results and performance league tables. Although there has been a move towards progress measures, is it really enough to ensure that SEND learners are welcome in our schools and won’t be kindly but firmly advised to investigate the school down the road?
Killing Me Softly
The competitive edge, artificially introduced into education, is a cause for concern. When schools are judged on academic results, when reputations, and careers, are made or broken on a scale of attainment, what motivation, other than a retained sense of moral purpose, is there for the inclusion of young people who bring cost rather than academic value? Children may not come as they are, but as adults wish them to be.
All Together Now
There is, however, an alternative. Schools do not have to work in opposition to each other, chasing after the artificial accolade of public recognition for their work. Competition can be rightly left upon the football field and the athletics track. Medals can be won and lost with honour and with good grace.
Models exist, such as Drive for Literacy, where the collegiate nature of education is celebrated. Specialist knowledge, such as that around dyslexia, is there to be shared, for the benefit of vulnerable learners. Understanding of the roles and responsibilities towards SEND learners is extended beyond the SENCo.
Don’t Let me Down, Gently
The responsibility for SEND learners does not belong to someone else. Improving outcomes for SEND learners does not come from a policy of sending them out and crossing your fingers that everything will somehow be OK. There is a cost to a lack of literacy, and it is paid by us all.