Guerrillamum's Blog


GuerrillaMum – Missing in Action

It has been a good few weeks since my last blog. I must confess to feeling somewhat battle fatigued due to the escapades of the new government and their effects on my children’s schooling and haven’t wanted to write as much as before. I have found it very stressful, watching the effects of the cuts and the changes to our education legislation take shape. My own children’s school recently became an academy, with only the sketchiest of consultation processes. The school’s defence to this when questioned was that they never arranged any meetings because they thought a consultation event would be poorly attended… we never stood a chance. The Local Authority has been trying to save money by messing with transport arrangements for statemented children, and have sent out some confusing letters for parents to worry about. Cuts to therapy services and educational psychology services are starting to have a bigger effect. SENCOs are walking around school looking increasingly stressed, and William is now finding himself ‘buddied’ up with other children to share teaching assistant support. We are watching this carefully but it is hard to object to this knowing that in doing so, another child may simply not get help at all. It is fair to say that some of the services our children rely on are simply not what they were.

In response to this I have found myself taking refuge in my garden more and more. My potatoes and raspberries have been very demanding as have my hens who still have not recovered from the effects the issuing of the Green Paper had on them. See here: http://guerrillamum.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/in-which-guerrilla-mums-hens-suffer-because-of-michael-gove/

; (wink)

I have not been entirely idle however. The people at the BBC Learning Parents blog have asked me to write a piece for them which can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/parents/ You can also see posts from other writers/bloggers/parents with similar interests in special educational needs and parenting.

I’m hoping that I can shake off this coalition inspired malaise and get back to blogging soon. Normal service will I trust, be resumed shortly



Every Teacher Matters – and so do TAs!

The Natioinal Autistic Society’s ‘Education Update’ page is asking for comments regarding Reform’s new report ‘Every Teacher Matters’ at:

http://nas-education-update.blogspot.com/2010/11/reform-some-radical-proposals-for.html

A worrying aspect of this report is that it advocates limiting the use of teaching assistants (TAs) in class, suggesting that extensive use of TAs could even be damaging, particularly in the case of children with Special Educational Needs.What do you think about this?( See my comment on the Education Update page.)

A good TA has often been all that has stood between our children and failure. I know this to be true because they WERE failing before they had TA support.

An impartial examination of the role of TAs in education must be carried out before any further changes are made. Reform is a self-declared right-thinking organisation, set up by a current Conservative government minister. They are clearlly not impartial and my view of teh report is that they set off from an ideological viewpoint i.e Cutting costs and then looked for evidence to support it. The worrying thing is that they have influence over the Government (or is it the other way round!)

Please please please either responsd to the NAS or respond on here, it really is important. Whilst you are on the NAS website please take a look at what the Government are trying to do to the Autism Act, watering down the statutory guidance to reduce it’s funding implications.

Ellen Power



How will the Pupil Premium be funded, and how will it impact on Education?

I am very concerned that the funding for the Pupil Premium will be found by cutting support staff. Please see ‘Four out of five education authorities will shed staff’ – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/four-out-of-five-education-authorities-will-shed-staff-2109411.html

There are all sorts of children who benefit from being able to have learning opportunities with support staff and this will impact immediately on levels of achievement across the board. However, children with special educational needs rely on support staff to have their needs met in school.

I quote:
‘This will threaten the extra support staff drafted in to help with teaching numeracy and literacy ….. ‘

If we lose extra support staff in schools, this will have an immediate impact on all children, but especially on those children with special educational needs who do not have statements.

I don’t yet know what the spending review will bring for schools but the rumblings I am hearing are not good. Last week the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) reassured us all by saying that new money had been found to fund the pupil premium. In last Friday’s Guardian a ‘senior no 10 aide’ was quoted as saying: “The money for this will come from outside the education budget. We’re not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall.” On Friday the DPM repeatedly said that the funds for the Pupil Premium were ‘additional’ saying that he wanted the money to come mainly from outside the education department, rather than simply from outside the school’s budget or by cutting ‘non – essential’ education projects such as after school clubs and youth groups. ‘Mainly from outside the education department? Already this is a little different from what the ‘senior Whitehall aide’ is quoted as saying. Also, we know from the Guardian that the DPM’s plans to fund the Pupil Premium from sources outside the education department are being opposed by Treasury officials who believe that the funding should come from within education funding. However, the Deputy Prime Minister said the Pupil Premium would come from new money so I expect the DPM to make good on this commitment.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies is not optimistic about the eventual effect of the Pupil Premium: Last Friday’s Guardian also said ‘The Institute for Fiscal Studies had a gloomy first take on the proposal. While it praised the policy as “broadly progressive”, it had concerns about its effect: “Given the scale of the cuts in departmental spending to be announced next Wednesday, it seems likely that overall school funding will be cut in real terms,” said a spokesman for the institute. “If such cuts are shared equally across schools, then the pupil premium could (depending on its final size, and on the cuts to the overall budget) lead to a net result where schools in affluent areas see their funding go up on average, while schools in deprived areas experience cuts in funding.”



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.



Urgent – The special educational needs and disability review – a statement is not enough

I urge you all to read this report for yourselves.  I have not finished reading it myself but have in the first two pages encountered some seriously sweeping statements not properly backed up by research which aim to cut costs and enable publicly funded money to go to independent schools and private schools, academies and free schools. 

I am going to take a little time to read and digest the report before I publish any analysis.  However, the way this has been reported leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  The report only became available on the OFSTED website after 9.30am today, after all of the bad headlines and scaremongering media coverage had been presented largely unchallenged. 

The bit I have read so far is not based on evidence which stands any reasonable test and the conclusions are ideologically motivated rather than evidence based.  Yesterday I commented on the Toby Young article which was scaremongering about Health and Safety and children with disabilities in schools.  I said at that time that Toby would be declaring that disability is a ‘lifestyle choice’.  It’s happened, although it is referred to as ‘special educational needs’.  Watch the media as special educational needs becomes the new benefit cheat. 

You don’t have to take this.  WE don’t have have to take this!  What has motivated OFSTED to do this?  Follow the money…  OFSTED obviously don’t want to go the way of the Audit Commission.  Do we detect the hand of GOVE?



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.



Is the Coalition targeting SEN provision?

Question:  What is in just about every state primary school in Britain and is fundamental to improving education? Got it yet? It isn’t a high-tech gadget, a new learning system or syllabus but the Teaching Assistant. At the bottom of the Education pay scale, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are often mums who want a term time job so they can look after and be with their own children in the holidays. They may not be high-tech but they are excellent value for money.

Our two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have benefited hugely from some excellent work from their TAs. This has ranged from the coded reminder to go to the toilet, or the one to one support to help someone with poor spatial awareness to take on board the complexities of geometry.  They have turned failure into positive outcomes.  They have also helped our children deal with bullying and to integrate into their classes and make friends – please don’t tell me that most children are picked on at some time, and that this isn’t relevant to education.  No child can succeed whilst being bullied/ostracised or dealing with the emotions that this generates.  It is not positive and is in no way character building.

As well as these individualised tasks they support teachers in a whole class setting, give help to other children in the class and assist in enforcing standards of behaviour. When called upon, TAs with higher level training can be left in charge of classes and can deliver lessons on a limited basis.

The Education Minister has told us that he is keen to drive up standards in schools (for my thoughts on what he has done so far please see the previous blogs). If one accepts that TAs are a valuable tool for delivering better outcomes it is reasonable to think that the Minister would be looking to improve their training and status. Sadly this hasn’t happened and in fact the Government has removed the entire budget for higher level Teaching Assistant training (please see Phil Beale in The Guardian on this subject http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/aug/10/education-policies-misguided).

Whilst this has the prospect to minimise their effectiveness in a whole class setting it will be felt most by those children with Special Educational Needs who cannot do without their support. I am tired of hearing from the Government ‘we need successful outcomes for all children not just those with Special Needs’ because that’s something we all want. What is often not recognised is that some children need more help to get to those successful outcomes, and without specialist help from suitably trained TAs they may not get there.

I started this blog with a question and I am going to finish with some more questions which need asking. Is this stealthy move on TA training the thin end of the wedge of a policy to drastically reduce spending on SEN?  We have recently seen public sector workers and benefit claimants vilified in the Press by government ministers.  Is SEN the Educational equivalent of ‘generous public sector pensions’ or ‘benefits cheats’?  Has SEN become a target for Coalition cuts?

Let’s hope not for all our sakes!




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