CfESEND blog: The road to inclusion is paved with high aspirations

Pete Benyon, Project and Delivery Manager at Derby College Group (DCG) for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

The 2014 SEND Code of Practice[1] (CoP) and its main legislative driver, ‘The Children’s and Families Act’ (2014)[2] (informed by the 2009 Lamb Inquiry)[3] is quite clear about the importance of high aspirations (bold emphasis is mine):

  • “Colleges should be ambitious for young people with SEN, whatever their needs and whatever their level of study.” (page 113, 7.5)
  • “All students aged 16-19 should follow a coherent study programme which provides stretch and progression and enables them to achieve the best possible outcomes in adult life.” (page 113, 7.6)
  • The great majority of children and young people with SEN or disabilities, with the right support, can find work, be supported to live independently, and participate in their community.” (page 124, 8.5)

Though the [CoP] is clear about [these and other] points of principle, it is vague about who should deliver this advice and what kinds of skills might be required by practitioners. (Robinson, Moore and Hooley, 2018)[4]

Legislation that is not clear can lead to policy that is vague, ambiguity about practicable accountability, professionals to behave and teach inconsistently, an anxiety-ridden organisational culture and poor curriculum results:

Image with a road and six green signposts with words on them

Nearly 50 years ago, Wolf Wolfensberger wrote: “It is a well-established fact that a person’s behaviour tends to be profoundly affected by the role expectations that are placed upon [them] … this permits those who define social roles to make self-fulfilling prophecies.” (Wolfensberger, 1972: 15-16)[5]

So, if we, as educationalists, from the earliest possible start have high aspirations for EVERYONE, then their behaviour is more likely to produce better results?

Here is what learners and their families think:

Learner H

It is really important to have aspirations, to be proud of yourself for setting and achieving, and building your strength to do what you want to do.
My mum has had so many aspirations for me and, in particular, being able to feel confident in myself and to never give up, keep my chin up and keep smiling. And to see me doing something I enjoy.

Having an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) should give you the confidence to be even more determined to achieve and show what you can do.

Learner J

I feel sad that the person I was when I started at College didn’t think he could do it. If he saw me now, progressing on to a HNC in Mechanical Engineering after starting on Level One Motor Vehicle and being the incumbent Vice President of the Student Union, he would say “that aint me!”

Low aspirations made me feel like my education didn’t matter…they only wanted me to get through a low threshold.

Ever since I came to College I have been treated like an adult and I love that – getting to make my own decisions.

[High aspirations] made me feel more confident in myself. They made me feel more me.

Just because you have been diagnosed with all this stuff don’t think it is fine to fail. It is not fine to fail.

Parent A

[The] individual learning plan and extra support provided enabled my daughter to be able to ascertain the grades she needed to go to university and the care and support she received filled her with confidence to go onto Higher Education.

If it was not for [the] support and guidance given this would have been probably a totally different outcome.

Ultimately, if we believe in a culture of inclusion via high aspirations (and “role expectations”) for ALL then we need to behave like we believe it, plan curriculum like we believe it, teach like we believe it, write policy that supports curriculum to instil it and create legislation that facilitates belief in it.

As Peter Drucker stated, “culture will eat strategy for breakfast”. Perhaps we need to start turning the conversation around and let the culture that gets results, that we believe in and deliver through our curriculum (behaviour and practice) WITH learners, dictate the rest:

A path with arrows pointing to the left. On either side of the road are six green signposts with headings

In the words of learner J: “It’s not a great place – the world – but it can be.”

If you would like to discuss anything included here or anything else relating to an ‘Inclusive Education and Curriculum’, join us at our next monthly Swap and Support Session on Thursday 2 September 2021 at 4pm. 

If you would like further information about how we can support you and/or your organisation on your inclusion journey please contact;


[1]Department for Education & Department of Health (2015). Special educational needs and disabilities code of practice. [accessed 12/07/2021]
[2]Great Britain (2013). Children and Families Act 2014. [accessed 13/07/2021]
[3]Lamb, B. (2009) Lamb Inquiry: Special Educational Needs and parental confidence. (accessed 13/07/2021)
[4]Robinson, D., Moore, N. and Hooley, T. (2018) ‘Ensuring an independent future for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND): a critical examination of the impact of education, health and care plans in England.’ British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, DOI:10.1080/03069885.2017.1413706
[5]Emerson, E. (1992) ‘What is normalisation?’ in Brown, H. & Smith, H. (eds) Normalisation: A Reader. London: Routledge, 1-18.
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