Suffolk has sleepwalked into selective education

The brutal truth is; Suffolk, of all places, is in the midst of an exclusion crisis and hundreds of children are being left behind.

What we are seeing is the consequence of a results-at-all-costs culture, as well as suffocating real-term funding cuts, a shrinking curriculum and an absence of leadership from Suffolk County Council.

We know which children these exclusions are affecting. In primary schools, pupils eligible for Free School Meals are five times more likely to receive a fixed-term exclusion than their peers. For pupils with a statement/EHCP the exclusion rate is 28.3% but for children without Special Educational Needs (SEN), that figure drops to just 0.99%.

Last year, two-thirds of primary school fixed term exclusions were pupils with SEN. It is an appalling statistic and underlines the impact of budget cuts and eroding support services.

The message is clear; if you are from a poorer background or have SEN you simply do not fit in Suffolk’s increasingly exclusive education system. It is a sickening indictment and one that should shame those in power who have allowed Suffolk to sleepwalk into selective education.

The sad reality is these numbers only tell half the story. Increases in ‘elective’ home education and part-time timetables are other indicators. The damage exclusion can do to a child’s education and wellbeing is clear and families are being pushed to breaking point.

I have been inundated with requests for help, all different in their own way but united by the fact that provision for their child is inadequate, ineffective and, in some cases, non-existent.

The hardest part is that, for every family that comes to me, there are a dozen more who are fighting the same, exhausting battles.

Without urgent increased funding and effective support, the vision of inclusive schools where every child matters will remain just that. A vision.

We should support, champion and reward schools who aspire to be inclusive and give them the tools they need to succeed.

Suffolk needs;

  • Early intervention and outreach services in areas such as speech and language and mental health;
  • An emphasis on tackling identified need when it appears, not just waiting for a formal diagnosis;
  • To fight on behalf of families to get them the support they urgently require, rather than leaving them isolated, desperate and facing financial and emotional ruin;
  • An education and healthcare system that differentiates and meets the needs of children, no matter their individual circumstance.

Yes, this will require political will and proper investment – but the cost of doing nothing is simply too high.

We should put education on a pedestal where it belongs. A pursuit of excellence must be relentless, our aspirations for every child must be endless and the barriers facing pupils must be torn down. Anything short of this is a failure and right now too many children are being failed.

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