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Retiring special school head warns exams pressure can create ‘anti-inclusive’ culture

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:56 26 July 2018

Barry Payne, who is retiring after 21 years as the headteacher of The Parkside School in Norwich. Picture: The Parkside School

Barry Payne, who is retiring after 21 years as the headteacher of The Parkside School in Norwich. Picture: The Parkside School

Archant

The retiring headteacher of a Norwich special school has warned the pressure on exam results can create an “anti-inclusive” and “abusive” culture in schools.

Chairman of the Trust Barry Payne, speaking at the official handover of the Wherry School from the builders, Kier. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYChairman of the Trust Barry Payne, speaking at the official handover of the Wherry School from the builders, Kier. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Barry Payne is stepping down from The Parkside School in Norwich after 21 years in charge, having previously worked in schools in Kent and Hertfordshire.

In that time, he has fought for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to get the best provision, setting up the White Lion Café in Norwich city centre, run by students and sixth formers, shaping the independent travel scheme TITAN and, last year, opening the new Wherry School in Norwich for children with autism.

But Mr Payne, who will remain as chairman of the Wherry School Trust, said now was the right time to handover, and wave farewell to, among other things, the 80-hour weeks.

“It is a shame to be leaving when SEND is going through a particularly bad time though,” he said. “We have to start concentrating on all the children again, not just the top 60pc.

“That’s something I’m very passionate about. The things that are going on at the moment with exclusions and rising number of children in specialist provision are because of policy - we need to take stock and make sure we are getting the best for vulnerable children. We are always an after-thought.”

MORE: Parents battle to secure support for Norfolk children with special educational needs

He said provision for children with SEND had changed over the last five to 10 years, and had been overshadowed by a results-led culture.

“If the only thing schools are being judged on is academic outcomes, it’s not surprising that they concentrate on that,” he said.

“My biggest issue is that some of the schools which are the least inclusive are put up on pedestals, while schools doing the best by all their children don’t receive the accolades.

“I do feel for my colleagues in mainstream education, struggling to make sure all children are included.”

He said the current system was “anti-inclusive”, and could, in some cases, lead to an “abusive culture” in schools.

But despite concerns, he said it would be a sad farewell, but that his successor Robert Holderness shared his mantra of making the school fit the child, rather than the other way around.

“I love turning things around and I love turning children around,” he said. “I love, when people have given up on a child, saying ‘no let’s have another look’. We’ve got wonderful parents and children.”

MORE: Four new special schools in Norfolk County Council’s vision to ease pressure on complex needs places

The Department for Education said: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs is exactly the same as it is for all children – we want them to be able to do their best and reach their potential.

“We have changed our performance tables to focus on progress made by all pupils, to ensure that teachers are helping all pupils make as much progress as they can.

“As well, we are closely monitoring trends in exclusions and have launched an external review to look at how schools are using exclusions and why certain groups such as children with SEN are disproportionately affected.”


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