Guerrillamum's Blog


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.



Guerrilla Mum’s Top 5 Back to School Tips
My boys go back to school next week. I can’t believe how quickly the holidays have passed by!  In addition to all of the usual preparation, next week I will be performing some extra tasks to make sure that the school year gets off to as smooth a start as possible.  Here are my Top 5 back-to-school Guerrilla Tips.
 
1. Prepare your child for the start of the new term! Implement a new (early) bedtime at least a week before school starts.Talk through new processes, where to meet after school, which bus to catch, etc – even if routines have stayed the same, go over things again. Be very specific, discussing what time to be there, where to stand, which is the bus number, etc. Talk about moving up a year, and their new teacher if applicable. If your child is very young, use stories to open up discussion. This can be particularly beneficial in aiding communication between parent and child if the child has worries or anxieties. Update contact details with school so that the school can ALWAYS contact you, the child’s other parent or other appropriate person.
 
2. Communicate well!  Decide that this year communication between school and home will be better than ever. Try to agree with your child’s class teacher or form teacher how this will work. Does the school provide parents with specific email addresses for teachers? Will you use a home/school diary? Put parents’ evenings/consultations/curriculum evenings/whole school meetings in your diary so you don’t miss them. Could you offer to help in class, on school trips, or in the school library? These are opportunities to be at school when your child is there. You will learn a lot about how they are doing just by being there.
 
3. Meet the teacher! Attend general parents’ evenings/curriculum evenings, etc at the beginning of term by all means but it is essential that you make an individual appointment with the child’s new class teacher or form teacher early in the term. Use the meeting to outline your child’s unique needs and difficulties and your concerns. If you already know the teacher this can be an opportunity to give updates. Be polite, be specific. Provide copies of relevant reports (never the originals). If the teacher is new, give them a written brief history of your child, including strengths, difficulties, and behaviour strategies used at home, your child’s areas of interest and any other relevant information. 
 
4. IEP Review!  If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a statement, look back on these with their end of term report. Have the targets been reached? Are any new targets becoming apparent? Be ready to advocate for your child in the IEP review/meeting with their teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). Request that an IEP meeting is set to happen early in the term, so that targets can be agreed and provision can be arranged early on so as to give the child the optimum chance of making progress. 
 
5. Watch out for cuts! The Local Authority (LA) will have been told to expect huge reductions in their funding, and they will be looking to make savings. Make certain that the provision you are expecting to see in your child’s statement/IEP is exactly what is actually there. This is particularly important if you have recently received an updated or final statement, for example, following an annual review. If you do see a reduction in provision, challenge it. If you do not challenge these things immediately, it will become increasingly difficult to have provision reinstated. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable, but we have found out about this the hard way!
 
Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters.

First published on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog – http://www.jkp.com/blog/



Guerrilla Mum-Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle – official book launch

Exciting news:  the official launch of  ‘Guerrilla Mum – Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle’ took place today.  The party was attended by 4 people and one black Labrador (she wasn’t invited but came anyway because there was food!). I thanked my husband and two sons without whom none of this would have been possible and sent the dog to sit on her bed because she was dropping hair on the red carpet. 

I am excited!  Not just because I’m getting a book published but because I wrote it primarily to help other parents, to stop them from having to learn the hard way as I and my family did. The Special Educational Needs system really is a jungle and  without help you and your child can easily get lost.

To buy the book please visit  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781843109990




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