Researching an article on the effect on schools’  test performance of special educational needs pupils last week, I came across a report written two years ago by the Commons Education and Skills Select Committee on SEN education.


I found this replete with concerns about how the standards agenda – the drive, supported by league tables, targets and Ofsted inspections, to raise pupils’ average test and exam results – may be marginalising children with special needs.


The danger should be fairly obvious: schools which are going to be judged by their results may be discouraged to take on children who might be seen to be harder to educate. Of course, many schools are inclusive and accept these pupils. But the incentives of this system are pushing them in the opposite direction.


The full report is available here:


I’ve also included some pull-out quotes below on the conflict between the standards agenda and doing the right thing by special needs pupils (to my mind, decisions on whether or not to include a child in a mainstream school should be taken on the basis of what is best for the child, and possibly other pupils, not on the school’s need to look good statistically).


 The select committee’s report says:



“The Government should give careful consideration to the impact that key drivers such as league tables are having on admissions—particularly to the most successful non-selective state schools. There is strong evidence that the existing presentation of performance data in league tables does not reflect well on many children with SEN and consequently acts as a disincentive for some schools to accept them. This cannot continue.”


It adds:

The Schools White Paper made it clear that the goal of raising standards was at the

heart of personalised learning, not SEN. It showed that raising attainment in schools is still the main agenda for the Government and, as a result, targets and league tables will

continue to drive behaviour in the education sector. In theory, it might be possible to have both raising standards and SEN at the heart of personalised learning but in practice this seems far from being realised. As Jean Salt, President of NASEN, described to us:

‘we would see the cohort of pupils being targeted under personalised learning to be a

different cohort to those with special educational needs.… the personalised learning

pathway seems to target those who are just missing those crucial level boundaries or

grade boundaries at GCSE level.'”


The report continues: “There is a recognised conflict between the aims of raising standards and SEN: raising standards focuses on the narrow outcome of academic attainment whilst a SEN focus would require a broader definition of outcomes in line with the five outcomes set in Every Child Matters—healthy, safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being. As Dr Rona Tutt, Immediate Past President of the National Association of Head Teachers, said to the Committee:

‘I think it is very difficult to continue to run a system that relies so heavily on tables,

targets and tests and (then) say that every child matters and we want personalisation

which fits in entirely with SEN.’


“[This was also]articulated by the British Association of Teachers for the Deaf who suggested “the inexorable pressure of the curriculum, examination/SATs requirements and league tables demand that mainstream teachers drive forward in a way that may not be conducive to good inclusive practice—causing tensions between the two.

Regardless of the theory, in practice the evidence clearly demonstrates that SEN and the raising attainment agenda sit very uncomfortably together at present.

“Furthermore, it is clear from the Education and Inspection Bill that the standards agenda still remains the much greater priority for the Government. It is the standards agenda, not SEN, that is at the heart of the existing personalisation agenda. As a result, it is difficult to see how personalisation can be the key to the Government’s strategy on SEN… Again, we recommend that the Government clarifies its strategy for SEN and gives SEN sufficient priority so that it might indeed sit at the heart of personalised learning as promised in the SEN Strategy.”





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