Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dear Ofsted, don't let SEN fly 'below the radar'

On 25 September, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Sir Michael Wilshaw, raised concerns about 'low-level disruptive behaviour' in schools in a report entitled 'Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms'. You can read that report here.

We were extremely concerned at the tone of the report and its failure to mention the need to support and include disabled pupils and those identified as having special educational needs. So, we drafted the following letter:

We write to express our serious concern about Ofsted's recently published report, 'Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms' .

The report makes no mention of disabled pupils or those identified as having special educational needs, yet much of the 'low-level disruptive behaviour' listed reads like a checklist for some of the behaviours exhibited by such pupils, especially those who lack effective support. For example, Ofsted's report lists; "talking and chatting", "disturbing other children", "calling out", "not getting on with work", "fidgeting or fiddling with equipment", "not having the correct equipment", "purposely making noise to gain attention", "answering back or questioning instructions" and "swinging on chairs". The failure to note the link between these seemingly 'non-normal' behaviours and SEND is a startling omission which could undermine efforts at inclusive practice and encourage schools, parents and children, to view pupils with different needs as being inconsistent with a productive learning environment.

This would be a hugely regressive step which could encourage unlawful and discriminatory practices. It is notable that Ofsted's report makes no reference to the Equality Act 2010, although the law requires that reasonable adjustments be made to ensure that disabled pupils are not placed at a detrimental disadvantage because of their disabilities. There is clear evidence that a failure to adjust the educational environment may significantly affect pupils with SEND such as autism. Behaviour which is linked to a child's disabilities should never result in a situation where a child is punished and treated less favourably because of that disability. Further, the Equality Act also requires schools to pay due regard to the need to eliminate disability discrimination in all their policies and practices: this includes behaviour policies. Ofsted entirely overlooks the clear, statutory requirement to ensure that blanket policies do not directly/indirectly discriminate against disabled pupils.

Ensuring that all pupils are effectively included and not discriminated against is of vital importance to the development of an inclusive society. Ofsted has itself previously noted that "pupils currently identified as having special educational needs are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, are much more likely to be absent or excluded from school, and achieve less well than their peers, both in terms of their attainment at any given age and in terms of their progress over time". [1] It also found in the same report that "despite extensive statutory guidance", the consistency of the identification of special educational needs varied widely and that "children and young people with similar needs were not being treated equitably and appropriately".

Ofsted clearly intends this report to be scrutinised and followed carefully by schools so the failure to acknowledge the rights of disabled pupils in such a context may impact adversely on the inclusion and understanding of pupils with SEND, particularly in schools which lack the training and understanding to ensure disabled children are supported.

We need a society which values difference. We, therefore, urge you to consider issuing clear guidance to schools on the link between SEND and behaviour and the importance of ensuring that disabled pupils' rights to education are met in accordance with the law.

[1] Ofsted, ' The special educational needs and disability review: A statement is not enough', September 2010

We put the letter on and tweeted. Over 150 signatures have been collected in less than a week from parents, teachers, lawyers, academics, activists and other concerned individuals.

You can read the final letter with the attached signatures here. It has now been sent to Sir Michael Wilshaw and we will let you know what response we receive.

Thanks to everyone who stood together to raise this issue.

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