Emphasis on school results leaves children with needs on periphery

For most children, school is their community. Yet too often
there is little communication between schools and other services
working with children.

Unified planning and delivery of all services for children
(including education) under the new directors of children’s
services included in the children’s green paper and last week’s
Queen’s Speech should result in less fragmentation for families
accessing services. And basing more health and social care
provision in schools under plans for more “extended schools” ought
to draw in some parents who might otherwise be reluctant to

However, there is an irony in planning to base more services around
schools when we are still a long way from enabling every child to
go to school in the first place. Children “in need” – including
those with disabilities, looked-after children, and those with
behavioural problems – who in theory might stand to gain most from
the proposals are also those most likely to be denied admission to,
or be excluded from, school.

At the heart of the problem is an overemphasis on academic results.
A report by the Audit Commission last winter confirmed what many
people have been saying for years about the dangers of school
league tables.1

The narrow focus on attainment targets removes the incentive for
schools to attend to the wider needs of children, but gives a clear
incentive to exclude those who adversely affect their rating. As
the report says: “Schools have struggled to balance pressures to
raise standards of attainment and become more inclusive. This has
been reflected in a reluctance to admit and a readiness to exclude
some children, particularly those with behavioural

For some children, the problems do not stop even if they manage to
get a school place. The report says: “The existence of separate
structures and processes for children with SEN [special educational
needs] may have allowed their needs to be seen as somehow different
– even peripheral – to the core concerns of our system of

Neil Crowther, education officer at the Disability Rights
Commission, confirms that schools still view SEN as outside their
core concerns.

“They need to start thinking about the impact of any proposal on
children with SEN,” he says. He proposes introducing targets to
reduce the attainment gap between children with SEN and others, and
giving more attention to “value-added measures” which focus on
children’s progress rather than absolute levels of

With the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to
cover schools, more disabled children now attend their local
school. But research by Eleni Burgess, a 16-year-old disabled girl
attending a mainstream school, gives a powerful insight into how
far schools are from integrating disabled children.2

Burgess describes how many wheelchair users are told to do
physiotherapy instead of sport, or to just sit and watch. One boy
she interviews, Tom, 14, says: “The teachers underestimate what I
can do. I do loads of sport outside school, like basketball, tennis
and cricket, and I can swim. Teachers never want to hear about what
I can do but always assume I won’t have done it before.”

Even if the school is physically accessible, leaving the premises
is often a problem. Everyone Burgess interviewed has a story of
being excluded from an out-of-school activity. Karen, 13, says:
“Other pupils are allowed out at lunchtime to go to a local caf’
but I am not allowed to go with my friends because it is said by
the school to be too much responsibility for them.”

Children in the care system might also miss out on attending their
local school, either because of placement moves or because schools
refuse to accept them if they have a record of disruptive
behaviour. And Allen Baynes, inclusion support services manager at
Telford and Wrekin Council, believes schools which do accept
looked-after children often fail to support them adequately. He
says: “Children often arrive in a new school at the same time as
moving to a new foster carer or children’s home. They feel
vulnerable and their behaviour may be challenging.”

Baynes says the problem of excluding looked-after children in his
authority has been solved by providing training and advice to
designated teachers and governors. The borough has also created a
post of corporate parenting manager to work closely with schools
and other agencies to ensure looked-after children receive
appropriate education.

The new duty on local authorities to promote educational
achievement of children in care, announced in the green paper and
to be included in legislation next year, ought to result in more
councils following Telford and Wrekin’s example. But Richard
Jarrett, assistant director of children and families at
Staffordshire, says there will still be too narrow a focus on
academic achievement to the detriment of children in the care
system and others.

Jarrett says: “Schools are in a difficult position because they are
judged and pilloried for not getting those results. The wider
social inclusion agenda hasn’t been high in schools because that
isn’t what they are being measured on. If a looked-after child has
received all sorts of rich benefits from attending a school, that
should be acknowledged.”

Asylum-seeking children are also vulnerable to exclusion. Nora
McKenna, children’s education policy adviser at the Refugee
Council, says schools are often unwilling to accept asylum-seeking
children, particularly older ones who may have had little chance to
attend school in the country they are fleeing. “Some schools worry
about how they’ll cope. It’s understandable given the pressure on
schools to achieve results.”

In some cases, asylum seekers are even told – wrongly – that their
children cannot attend mainstream education until they receive a
decision. McKenna says: “Some children are just invisible in the
system and the education authority doesn’t know they are

Research by crime prevention charity Nacro indicates there may be
as many as 100,000 children in the UK who do not attend
school.3 Director of education and employment Craig
Harris says: “There are lots of good initiatives coming from
government but there’s still a strong incentive for schools to lose
certain kids. We have young people in our projects who are anxious
to get back into school and whose parents want them to, but they
can’t, very often because of their past behaviour.”

Many more young people choose to skip school because they do not
perceive education as relevant to their lives. Plans for more
vocation-based education for those 14 to 19 year olds who want it
are already in the pipeline. This may provide part of the answer.
Nacro’s provision, which includes a range of vocational education
plus basic literacy and numeracy and life skills, is often intended
as a stepping stone for young people who have been excluded or have
dropped out, with the aim of eventually reintegrating them back
into mainstream education.

Harris says: “Kids say ‘this is so much better than school. We get
treated with respect here’. They feel they are treated with
contempt by teachers. It says something about the culture of big
comprehensives and the exhaustion of so many teachers.”

The government’s intention of putting education at the centre of
children’s services reform sounds like common sense. But to have
any chance of succeeding, schools and the national curriculum must
become more inclusive first.

Special Educational
, A Mainstream Issue, The Audit Commission, 2002
available online at


2 E Burgess, Are We Nearly
There Yet? Do Teenage Wheelchair Users Think Integration Has Been
Achieved in Secondary Schools in the UK?


Missing Out, Nacro,
November, 2003

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