Welcome to the SEND Revolution
The Education Department was insisting I go to a special school in the next suburb over. My parents were having none of it. They had an epic battle on their hands and they were going to win at all costs.
It was to be a battle that took years of strategic planning and a calling up of banners from the local mainstream school. Leading the charge from the school was a headteacher who I will never forget. A headteacher who stood side-by-side with my family at the frontlines. His name? Mr Masters.
Mr Masters believed in inclusion and he led his staff with this value. Together, my parents and Mr Masters challenged the status quo around children with disabilities attending mainstream primary school.
How did they do this?
Relationships were key. My mum would do canteen duty and take me with her. She would attend assemblies. She would support fetes and sports days. Before I was even attending school I was always at the school. Crucially, I got to know the staff and all of the staff got to know me.
By the time I was ready for school no teacher had any objections to me attending and being in their class. The education department decided to give me a 3 month trial. Which I passed with flying colours.
Both mainstream schools I attended were supportive of my inclusion. And both headteachers, Mr Masters and Mrs Hoddinott (my secondary school headteacher), were leaders in their drive for inclusion and equality in their schools.
The situation in the UK
We do have a SEND crisis in the UK. Whether it be from a lack of funding for schools, a lack of appropriate support, or a lack of belief in the ability of SEND children to achieve in mainstream schooling, there are issues that we need to face.
It is astonishing that we are still struggling to provide SEND children with places in school. 35 years after my parents fought for my rights, we still have parents fighting for their children’s rights. According to research there are over 8000 children with special needs who don’t have access to an appropriate place in school.
Once SEND children make it to school they are often not receiving the correct support. Funding is stretched, with 94% of respondents in a NAHT report stating cuts were making it harder to support SEND pupils. Inclusion is getting harder.
Changing perspectives about SEND
Including disabled children is crucial, not only their development, but also changing the social narrative around disability. My teachers included me in everything and because of this my confidence soared. I took part in sports, I took part in crafts, I even got put on detention a few times for playing kiss chase. Please don’t judge.
The positive impact this inclusion had on me was revolutionary. I left school believing that I had a place in this very able-bodied world. This is the biggest gift an inclusive school can give to a SEND child.
It is this sense of revolution that I want to leave you with. To be inspired by Mr Masters and his all inclusive approach to education.
So be brave, be daring, fight for, appreciate, and include the SEND children you work with. This is what I call the SEND revolution.
Elizabeth Wright is a writer, disability activist, keynote and TEDx speaker, and Paralympic Medalist. She believes in a fair and inclusive world where we can use lived experience story to encourage discussion and acceptance of difference. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.