Philippa Stobbs receives a standing ovation at her valedictory address in Parliament

On Wednesday 23rd November, Philippa Stobbs gave a valedictory address to nearly a hundred delegates in Parliament, marking her retirement after working for the National Children’s Bureau and Council for Disabled Children for more than 32 years.

Philippa Stobbs standing behind a lectern giving her parliamentary address

The parliamentary address provided an opportunity to hear Philippa's reflections on developments in special educational needs (SEN), disability and inclusion over the decades and her insights into what needs to happen next.

The lecture began with the question: “Is the education system really providing for all our children?”

Philippa highlighted that both SEN and disability legislation require practitioners to do things differently for disabled children and young people and, in the context of schools, disabled pupils. 

But she said: “Different treatment can separate and stigmatise and, if not provided sensitively, often does.”

During her address, Philippa focused on educational outcomes and aspirations for children with SEN and disabilities telling the audience: “It is quite a bleak picture. You are so much more likely to be excluded if you have a special educational need or disability, and it is more likely that there will have been difficulties getting into school in the first place.

“With children with SEN and disabilities more likely to be out of school, for a wide range of different reasons, it is important to understand the impact on outcomes. We know from the research that outcomes are not good for children who come out of school, for whatever reason.”

Watch Philippa Stobbs' address in full.

"Sometimes we need to step down from the bigger picture stuff and listen to the voices of individual children in school, to understand their experiences."

Philippa questioned how well we are preparing children and young people for the next stage of their education and ultimately for life beyond school. “Sometimes, what we do separates children from learning and from social interactions with their peers. The very provision that is intended to support children can compromise their aspirations and create dependence rather than support the development of independence.” 

“Sometimes we need to step down from the bigger picture stuff and listen to the voices of individual children in school, to understand their experiences.” Philippa said.

"But this is about more than what schools can be expected to do on their own, it is about the services that can supplement and complement what schools do. With the erosion of specialist support services over recent years, and the impact of this on early intervention, we really need a massive workforce plan if we want to keep more of our children in mainstream schools, succeeding and doing well."

As her lecture came to a close, the audience rose to give a roaring standing ovation with nearly a hundred sector experts getting to their feet to applaud Philippa and all her achievements.

Audience members giving Philippa Stobbs a standing ovation

There was one clear theme throughout the lecture, Philippa's desire to see a society where disabled children’s needs are met, their aspirations are supported and their rights respected.

Philippa is a prolific, powerful advocate for children with SEN and disabilities and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have made more of a difference to the SEN and disability community; she continues to be an inspiration to the entire sector.