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Special schools feel like ‘bookends’ to national education policy, says new research

Monday, 18 December 2023

New research from the University of Nottingham has found that national education policies can make special schools feel like a ‘bookend.'

Dr Lauran Doak, in the School of Education, spoke to headteachers across five schools specialising in the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Her research explored the dissatisfaction that these teachers felt in relation to national education policy in England and the effect this has on special schools nationwide.

They expressed concern around the curriculum, financial administration and pandemic and post-pandemic guidance. Issues often stemmed from policy which centres the experiences of non-disabled learners in mainstream schools, assuming, for example, that they can take part in online catch-up tutoring or are expected to enter traditional paid employment.

Head teachers involved in the research also expressed concerns related to school funding and a lack of meaningful advice from central government. They also explained their anxieties about Ofsted inspections, and described a “roulette wheel” which may not allocate an inspector that understands the disconnect between national education policy and special school delivery.

Dr Doak, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, said of this research: "The UK government has repeatedly expressed support for the continued existence of special schools, so it is imperative that national educational policy is fit for purpose in these settings.

“This research highlights how frequently special schools are forgotten when policy is written: in fact, two Headteachers were moved to tears as they recounted the impossibility of implementing policy which was clearly not written for disabled learners. I hope that this report can start a conversation about how we move towards more inclusive educational policymaking.”

Headteachers indicated that they would prefer tighter scrutiny of the wording in national educational policy to reflect the educational needs of special schools, and better communication between policymakers and practitioners.

The full research is available here.

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