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Thinking about equity and fairness

I read an interesting and detailed report recently by the Education Policy Institute, along with the Nuffield Foundation, on social mobility and vulnerable learners. In the report there is a reference to the fact that the school a child attends makes more difference to their chances of being identified with special educational needs and disability (SEND) than the characteristics and experiences of the individual child. I found this interesting and obviously has significance for us in our work.

The report also identifies a complex set of risk factors for SEND identification at both individual school and local authority levels. It is well worth a read: Identifying pupils with special educational needs and disabilities - Education Policy Institute

This made me think about the changes that have taken place during my career working in local authorities, and the ability to use and manipulate data. It brought back personal memories of a task in my first job in a local authority which was handling school admission appeals. I had to take a very large map into the admission appeals hearing which had multi-coloured pins identifying each individual secondary school pupil

Choosing a secondary school for your child is one of the most important things that a parent or carer will do for a child and the transition from primary to secondary school is a vital stage in a child’s education. It struck me then, as it still does now, how poignant it was that a family’s hopes and dreams for their child were represented by a yellow, pink or purple map pin signifying the school allocated, and the aspirations of a future path in life that each of those pins represented.

There is a lot of talk right now, as we recover from the pandemic, about levelling up, recovery, building a fairer society and taking all the new and different types of support that we learned to do so well during Covid, into the future. This is central to where my thinking started.

We have very powerful data tools at our disposal in 2021. Using the example of Lancashire County Council, my own local authority, we can look at street and postcode level data showing the offer we give to our families and compare one with another. It is important that we continue to remember that each piece of data is actually an individual child. If it is the case that attendance at a particular school can lead to other follow-on issues, then we need to clearly understand what these issues are, and the reasons behind them. It is only with this knowledge that we will be properly equipped and able to work in partnership with our schools and other public and voluntary sector colleagues to make sure that we understand the reasons for differences, and that these differences are warranted.

I think the current recovery period presents an opportunity to think about equity and fairness in a way that perhaps we have not done so previously.

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