How a radical funding system could transform our support of special educational needs
All around the world funders keep coming up with new funding mechanisms for special education. They write new policies and create new structures, processes and paperwork. They create pots of money that follow the individual or give prescribed or blanket funds to schools. The challenges of these systems are well documented. Equally well documented is their resistance to change. In England, for example studies in the early 2000s suggested we needed a system which:
- Avoids generalising the individual and creating opportunities for negative identity construction.
- Encourages an understanding of the individual and the challenges they face.
- Encourages the search for possible ways forward which are specific to the needs of the individual.
- Clearly identifies how best to support the individual regardless of support issues.
- Avoids biases towards certain social groupings.
- Distributes resources equitably around the country.
- Distributes resources equitably between all pupils regardless of support issues.
- Operates within financial constraints.
- Maximises the benefits of available support provision.
- Allows for minimal bureaucracy.
- Allows for flexible and locally responsive decision making.
- Involves all those affected by the process.
- Builds upon those roles and relationships that operate well.
- Reduces the need for confrontation.
- Provides parental certainty and confidence.
- Supports parental choice.
The legislation which followed all these reports, based around the introduction of Health and Education Care Plans, was described as radical, but in reality, it was still premised upon individualised assessment, with a blanket pot of money going to schools and a small top up being added for ‘extreme’ individuals. It is hardly surprising that all the traditional biases, confrontations and complaints are re-emerging, The list remains just a valid today.
An appropriate way forward would be to move to a class based model of funding. This has never been tried at a national level, but it deserves a go. By starting with the whole class as the assessment and funding base we fundamentally change our focus. In the 2009 paper linked to above I outlined a possible version of this model. The detail is interesting but I think there are three key advantages above and beyond resolving the challenges listed above.
Firstly, by placing people’s rights within a wider community frame, the individual’s rights are more likely to be supported by others, as they aim to support their own rights. The focus can be more easily shifted from the individual to the communal. When you find there is a problem in the support of your child, you are raising concerns about the whole class. Parents are not just doing well for their children, but also for the others.
Secondly, the additional needs of children, whatever form they take, can clearly be seen as a net provider to classes. Diversity and difference would be rewarded. It would neither be in anyone’s interests to ignore issues of support in relation to an individual nor to under describe the needs of a class. If anything, the concern of government would be schools over-stating the class support requirement.
Thirdly, learning is an interactive and co-constructed social process. The class model encourages teachers to focus upon this relational experience. It encourages them to think about everyone’s support needs and how they are interconnected. It encourages a shift in mindset, a shift away from an individualised deficit view of the child towards a context based, educational view. This should encourage pedagogic and curricular decisions that collectively remove barriers to learning and participation rather than the current tendency to isolate the child.