Postcard From Stockholm - Philippa Stobbs

There’s an anxiety associated with stumbling around an airport when you’ve just landed and you’re trying to find the right bus to get you to your hotel. This must be universal but, as soon as we’re on our way, the countryside is recognisably Swedish. There are big areas of birch trees, silvery clean, ordered and vertical; and lots of lakes visible from the air, as we came in to land.

It’s the bi-annual meeting of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, the host government is Sweden and the meeting is in Stockholm.

It’s good to talk to people across Europe about the successes and challenges encountered in seeking to improve education for children and young people with SEN and disabilities. Representatives across Europe are passionate about what they are doing, and there’s a creative energy in the discussion groups.

There are some big caveats though: one of the most important is recognising that the policy export/import business is not just not a good idea, it is a really bad idea. Something that worked well in Sweden or Germany cannot simply be imported to another country and expected to work as it did in the Swedish or German context.

Rather, it is a careful study of what enabled something to work in one context that can help others to understand their own context better and, potentially, to understand how to achieve something similar that takes account of that different context.

With this in mind, I hesitated to think that a new report from the European Agency, on Financing Policies in Inclusive Education Systems (FPIES), might read across into the current call for evidence in England on the financial arrangements for pupils with SEN (call for evidence closes 31 July).

The Agency report is based on research in six different countries across Europe, practical exchange visits and support from Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. If we avoid the simplistic import/export approach, can we learn anything from this report?

Only the Final Summary Report was available at the meeting, so this is headlines, but a strong theme emerges. Throughout the report there is a clear emphasis on finance systems as a tool for promoting and ensuring inclusive education systems that provide quality educational opportunities for all learners. So, in the English context, how keen are we on an inclusive education system that provides quality educational opportunities for all learners?

In the context of rising exclusions, rising placements in special schools, rising use of alternative provision, and rising numbers of children with SEN being home educated, are there signs of inclusive policy intentions?

Well, at least three: Damian Hinds speech of last July, which I’ve quoted before, in which he made the clear statement, "Every school is a school for pupils with SEND; and every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils". Then, for the second sign, fast forward to earlier this year when Ofsted’s revised inspection framework talked about inclusive systems.

For the third example, look at, or listen to, if you prefer, Nadhim Zahawi’s throwaway remark at the end of a fairly unsatisfactory session in front of the Education Select Committee. The Minister concluded by saying, "All I would say, Chairman, is for any educational leader you cannot call yourself world-class as a leader if you are not inclusive".

Let’s look at the DfE’s call for evidence on the financial arrangements through this lens: do the financial arrangements promote and ensure an inclusive education system that provides quality educational opportunities for all learners?

Let’s design and then, as a country, let’s find the funding for a more inclusive system that provides quality education opportunities for all learners.

Wish you were here!

Philippa