Guerrillamum's Blog


Fair’s fair, or is it? Good news but I’m still worried

We’re going to have to stop meeting like this, me and top policiticans… There I was – again – in bed, minding my own business, when the radio came on and I heard another government announcement about Education and spending. This time it was not the Education Minister or reporting on OFSTED, it was the Deputy Prime Minister announcing a “fairness premium” worth £7bn for children who are disadvantaged or deprived.

I think this is an excellent policy, which is long overdue, although it could be seen by some as an extension of Sure Start which is now under threat by the DfE.

BUT, the DPM has not extended what seems to be an excellent principle to children with special educational needs (SEN), disability, or those in deprived areas whose schools are falling down around them. Nor did he say how this will be paid for. It also seems a bit like making policy on the hoof. The Green Paper consultation on SEN and disability closes today, and I would certainly have made more mention of early years provision for SEN and disabled children and early diagnosis had I known this was on the cards. Why have the Education Minister or the Minister for Children not mentioned it? Perhaps they did not know about it, and this is another example of an Instant Policy, this time in the face of public anger about university tuition fees. We were ‘due’ some good news to keep some of the Public on board.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of this, but I can’t help feeling manipulated by a cynical government. This policy needs to be properly thought out, properly funded with long term prospects. It needs to apply to any child who may be disadvantaged so that when they start school they can then all have the same opportunity to learn. It is also essential that this applies throughout their life at school. It would be worse to give to preschool and primary school children extra support and and then take it away later. (I feel a bit like that about what might happen after the Green Paper).

Fairness is the new coalition buzz word. It usually means they are going to be fair to one particular group, at the great expense of another. The public can’t object because to do so would be ‘unfair’. It feels to me that children at school are being split along Victorian lines of ‘the deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. Anyone who falls into the perception of ‘undeserving’ be you a public servant or SEN child or benefit claimant is in trouble because we are told that there is no money for them.

And THAT’S not fair.



Oh the times they are a-changin’ … but not yet!

In this peculiar phase of cuts and anticipated change most of us expect to see alterations to the way our children’s SEN are provided for in the coming months if not years. However, I think it is in order to pause to think that in terms of SEN provision, very little has actually changed yet. If your child has a statement, please make sure you have an up to date copy of it, and check that it matches your expectations. Talk to your child about what they do in school. Get out the paperwork from your child’s last annual review and any letters you received about this. Look at your child’s Individual Education Plan and make sure that the provisions within this match those indicated by the statement.

Depressing media coverage of anticipated cuts and negative headlines about SEN have primed us all to expect less. But it is well worth bearing in mind that your child’s SEN provision is still protected by the 1996 Education Act, and no changes have yet been made to affect that. If any changes to your child’s provision are proposed to you make sure that you get them in writing and check them against the statement. Be prepared to object if necessary (some changes might be appropriate!) and remember that as of September you are now allowed to appeal through the Special Educational Needs and Disability panel if a local authority refuses to amend a statement following annual review and you disagree with that.

Remember also that Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families, in September launched her Green Paper: ‘Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – Call for Views’. We have until 15th October to reply. We should all try to contribute if at all possible. You can respond online on the Dept for Education website. Here is the link.

http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1736&external=no&menu=1

Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters’.



The General Public is not objecting …

Nicola Clark says in yesterday’s Guardian ‘Stripping SEN children of their labels smacks of educational cleansing’ and she’s right. She says
‘In my view, stripping the children of their labels and giving more power and less accountability to schools smacks of educational cleansing. Without specific support, SEN children’s needs won’t be met and challenging behaviours will manifest. Predictable exclusions will no doubt follow.’

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Not only that, I think the timing of the OFSTED report that advocates that schools do less in terms of labelling or that there be a reduced legislative right for children to have their SEN identified and provided for is not an accident. The whole business of meeting the needs of SEN children in schools will cost less because they will be entitled to less, and these children will simply soon not be in mainstream schools as they find they can’t cope and schools find they don’t have to keep them.

When you look at the language used by the coalition, its ministers and some of the Press, to describe – ‘scroungers’, ‘benefit cheats’, ‘SEN misdiagnosed’, ‘sharp elbowed parents’ – you can see that a whole sector of the population that is vulerable is being set up to have the support they receive taken away. The public sector have ‘gold plated pensions’ the private sector has ‘suffered for too long;. The coalition is trying to hoodwink the electorate into going along uncomplainingly with their new ideologies that can only serve to widen the divide between the rich and poor, the haves and have nots …….. and dare I say it, the deserving and less deserving. The spin and language used by the coalition is trying to reshape the public perception of who deserves to be supported in society and who doesn’t. I find the compliance, or lack of objection from the general public utterly depressing, particularly when it comes to education and social inclusion. Meanwhile the government machine trundles on, approviing a free school here, closing a LA controlled school there, and to object is to be one of a few ‘voices in the wilderness;.

The one thing that will get this coalition government through is not the veracity of their ideals, or the legitimacy of their ideology, but the simple fact that the general public is not objecting.



Is this an OFSTED report or an OFST£D report?

I am sure that there is a science to reports and reviews of the type of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’.  One would hope that a government body would conduct an efficient survey of SEN and Disability when tasked to do so.  It does point out some things I recognise:  the inconsistency in the quality of interventions, inconsistency in the threshold at which this intervention is given, and it also says that the parental perception of inconsistency in this respect is well-founded.  Apparently the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs in the UK is in need of major overhaul.  It says ‘The pattern of local services had often developed in an ad hoc way, based on what had been done in the past rather than from a strategic overview of what was needed locally’.  I do recognise these things in my experiences of trying to access appropriate services for my children.  These observations are to be welcomed.  So why am I not jumping for joy at the prospect of a shiny new system for identifying and meeting the needs of those with disabilities and SEN at school? 

Let’s be absolutely clear about something.  It is one thing to make these conclusions and then using the report findings to do something to improve educational provision for children who have SEN and/or disabilities – this is what I am hoping will happen.  It is something else again to make observations that focus on apparently ‘failing’ or ‘ineffective’ services with the aim of being seen to make ‘legitimate’ cuts.  This is what I fear this report will lead to.

I am not helped in forming a positive view of the OFSTED report when I read:  ‘The review found that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  This is something about this report that I do not recognise.  Both of my children have at some time in their lives been taught in mainstream settings and in specialist units co-located within specialist schools.  They have accessed services that were  provided to them within the context of a special school, even though they were not actually pupils at the special school.  A range of teachers and professionals have worked with our children both in mainstream settings and in specialist provision.  They have only been able to access specialist provision as part of, or following a statementing process, and after experiencing significant failure in a mainstream setting.  Without specialist intervention I have no doubt that failure would have simply become more entrenched.  Once in a specialist placement, their access to appropriate services and specialist teaching made their levels of achievement soar.   Access to specialist teaching and therapy has been central to this progress being made.  I just do not recognise the claim ‘that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  I fear that this is a precursor to big cuts in SEN provision.  It is my own view that this report is indicative of OFSTED being a public body that is out of touch with the general public.  I base this on my own experiences of trying to obtain support for my own children, and what I know of the experiences of other parents in the same position.   

The dedicated teachers, therapists, Teaching Assistants etc that one finds in specialist placements have chosen to work in these settings with children with special educational needs.  They are highly trained and experienced.  Should something happen to reduce the availability of specialist teaching placements, this would be an enormous loss to many children with SEN who cannot be accommodated within an inclusive mainstream setting.  Teachers in specialist placements are committed to improving the outcomes of these children:  it is a failing of teacher training that most teachers do not have the right training to meet the needs of some children with the most severe special educational needs who require specialist teaching.  It is essential that we do not lose the opportunity for our children to access special schools or teaching within specialist settings should they need it.  

I would be interested to hear what other parents make of this comment: ‘no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  Has your child done best within a mainstream setting or did this fail for them?  Have you valued the opportunity of having your child educated in a special school?  If so what was it about a special school that worked for them?  What do you think of your child’s special school?  Has your child accessed specialist teaching in a language unit, autism unit, hearing support unit or other specialist unit within a mainstream school?  Did this work out for your child?  Lets make it a priority to reply to Sarah Teather’s Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views.  Or parents can comment on this blog or at ellenpower@guerrillamum.co.uk – lets record our views somewhere – we may well be glad we did!

 I hope I’m wrong, but this report is looking more and more like it will result in a weakening of our children’s rights to SEN provision, all in the name of cutting costs.  I think there is a risk that the new government will devise future SEN policy or legislation that will further de-specialise special schools and further limit specialist provision within specialist units co-located in mainstream schools – these places are already like gold dust.  Is this an OFSTED report, or an OFST£D report?



The Special Educational Needs Review – a statement is not enough

The first thing I heard yesterday morning was an announcement on the news at 6 o’clock that claimed that hundreds of thousands of children were being misdiagnosed with special educational needs when they were simply under-achieving due to poor teaching and pastoral care at school.  Apparently, all that was needed to solve the problem was better teaching!

Half asleep, I turned the radio off straight away convinced I was having a bad dream.  But no, we are faced with yet another Coalition softening-up process towards cuts to which nobody will object, because another vulnerable sector of our society is vilified – children with special educational needs. 

If the aim of this report was to give a broad and balanced analysis of the SEN system, and its relative benefits or weaknesses, why allow the report to be heralded by a flurry of alarmist Press and scaremongering journalism, so that parents are frightened, teachers are offended and prejudices about the nanny state, disabilities and pushy parents are pandered to?  Why tell the Public about your report findings in this way?  All before breakfast and before the report actually appears on the OFSTED website!  However if you are an agency which is unsure of its future in a climate of radical change, where the government is shutting down public bodies on a weekly basis, why not produce a report that justifies and softens up the Public for government cost cutting?  

What this report does is entirely in keeping with current Coalition thinking.  It targets the most vulnerable children in the Education system.  As part of the Spin process it demonises Special Educational Needs education and will now make it more difficult for all Special Educational Needs children to get the help they need.  SEN is suddenly a ‘lifestyle choice’, the children are akin to ‘benefits cheats’ and the parents ‘grasping, ‘greedy’ and ‘sharp elbowed’ middle class parents.

If you could have found me a school where it was easy to get the help my children needed because the school was angling for more money, I’d have sent my children there.  If there is a school which is very keen to get children on to the SEN register or to have children statemented, tell me where it is because I know of plenty of parents who cannot get this provision for their children.  Do I know of any Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who are ‘social workers’ at schools on unfeasibly large salaries? (as intimated by John Humphrys, Today programme).  No, but I know plenty who are highly skilled professionals who often work through their meal breaks and after school for no pay to support the children they work with.

We are constantly being told that cuts are necessary because we simply can’t afford to spend the money. In this case we can’t afford not to.  Allowing children to fail in school is not an option because it condemns them to lifelong failure. 

There are so many things to comment about in this OFSTED report that I can‘t put them all in one blog.  However as well as the usual Guerrilla Mum posts there will be other blogs about the report on the Guerrillamum blog over the next week or so.



Automatic right of appeal for parents if LA fails to amend statement following Annual Review

From September 1st 2010, at the recommendation of the Lamb Inquiry, parents now have an automatic right of appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND Tribunal), if the Local Authority (LA) fails to amend a statement of SEN following annual review.  This is momentous because until now, parents in the position of disagreeing with an LA on this point had to request a full reassessment of their child’s SEN.  This is an exhausting process, particularly if you have already been through it before, and you also ran the risk losing or having changed any provison the child might have had at that time.

On contacting the SEND Tribunal for confirmation I was told that parents could expect to hear about this change in due course from LAs, and that when they receive a final statement following annual review, the LA should inform them of this new right of appeal in the accompanying letter. Make sure they do!



New term – same old problems!

New term – same old problems!  Some of the optimism has already worn off.  Peter came home yesterday with standard-sized Maths and Science worksheets.  The Language Dept has been producing enlarged worksheets and vocabulary books for the past three years …. why can’t the Science and Maths Depts get on board with this?  Simple answer – there is no reason: a differentiated curriculum doesn’t just mean speaking slowly!! Grrrr!  It means providing appropriate materials in an appropriate setting.

So what can be done about this?  On Monday morning Peter’s teachers will get an email from us asking for a meeting in which we will go through his needs regarding visual processing (needs bigger work sheets), and recording work (needs bigger answer boxes in the work sheets).

How will we get on with this?  Watch this space for the next exciting instalment – da da daahhhh!

I do feel like qualifying all of this by saying that we are still very happy with Peter’s current placement.  Indeed, he came home from school very happy, and lots of things had clearly been done right.  However,  if you don’t keep on top of the small things, unworkable situations quickly develop. You are allowed to feel grateful for the things the school does get right but you are absolutely entitled to tell them when they don’t. If you do not , nobody else will do it for your child.




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