Guerrillamum's Blog


Big Yellow Taxi

‘… Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot…’

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

I was busy cleaning my windows the other day and I found myself singing the words to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. These days the issue of Special Educational Needs (SEN) education is never far from my mind and I moved quickly on to considering the ‘Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views’. This was launched in September by Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families. She has asked for the views of everyone with an interest in the needs of children in England with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities and she says that views and perspectives will be considered in drafting a Green Paper on SEN and disability to be published in the autumn. We have until 15th October 2010 to contribute.
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

I have been thinking about this a lot, not only of the possible positive outcomes of such a Green Paper, but also what children with SEN might lose as a result of it. I am still writing my response. I have the document tucked away on my desktop and keep going back to it as things come to me. I hope I can make a small difference. If more of us reply then we will make a slightly bigger difference. If lots of us reply, then the impact will be yet greater, and so on.

Based on my feelings and views about the behaviour of the Coalition government since it came to power, and how it has dealt with Education issues, I find it difficult to decide whether the Green Paper is in fact a genuine call for views. I have watched the Coalition rush through Parliament the wildly ill thought out and controversial Academies Bill to expedite the Tory vision for Education for all. They did it in the face of some stiff opposition from the general Public, the Labour Party and some Liberal Democrats. The Minister for Education has expressed reservations about the quality of trainee teachers, but then veers off at a tangent, saying that Free Schools might not have to employ fully qualified teachers. Extra money has been given as a golden Hello to schools that are already doing well and have become academies. On the sidelines, poorly performing schools are to be run into the ground until competition from Free Schools and academies lure their pupils away and they have to close (I wonder what will happen to those who can’t for whatever reason get to an alternative school that is further away). I have to question the motives of a government that would do all of these things and wonder if it is really interested in what people think.

Just when I felt I had heard it all, the Coalition issued the results of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’, to a fanfare of alarmist headlines that trumpeted about how half of SEN children are misdiagnosed so that parents can cherry pick schools and schools can claim extra funding that children without SEN can’t access. Apparently a statement is not enough – they don’t work, the teachers simply need to improve their skills and specialist placements are of apparently little benefit. Why on earth would the government place such a media spin on a document like this? It is a good question. The answer can be found in the headlines themselves – they were like propaganda, sowing the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the financial cost of supporting children with SEN. SEN children are now in danger of becoming the ‘Benefit Cheats’ of the Education world, who may well lose out when the results of the Green Paper are published, as an apathetic and accepting public looks on.

Do the general public care about children with SEN? I don’t know. I do know that they are suffering from CCCF (Collective Coalition Cuts Fatigue) worn out, tired by the election, the changes this wrought and with struggling to make ends meet in the down-turn. For all they know, the media and OFSTED may have a point about SEN children and their ‘sharp elbowed middle class parents’ trying to gain advantage and get access to provision those children without SEN (their children!) can’t have! How do I know this? I don’t really, but if you ask me, last week’s Conservative conference is a good indicator of public feeling. Families in higher income brackets found out last week that they will lose their child benefit in 2013. Now the Public was listening… and they were hopping mad! The views of the ‘sharp elbowed Middle Classes’ were very suddenly very much in evidence in the media, talking about how they could not manage without child benefit. They weren’t rich; they had obligations and had mortgages to pay.

The point in question in this discussion is not really about whether universal child benefit should go or not. The really significant part about these events was the way in which, in the face of opposition the government buckled and changed their policy. Faced with a backlash from the public, Mr. Cameron was soon saying that the Child Benefit cuts would be given back by a married couple’s tax allowance and that any plans to take away Child Benefit would obviously have to be reviewed… Suddenly money could be found and an instant policy was produced to try and sweeten the deal and give money back to the higher tax bracket earners with the other hand.

Well, our SEN children can’t manage without an education system that delivers help to those who need it, help that must be delivered and must be upheld. The statement of special educational needs gives them the security of a legal right to have their needs met and provided for in school where the provision is free at the point of access. The system for identifying and making provision for children with special educational needs is a flawed system but its saving grace is the statement of special educational needs. I will be looking to the Green Paper to strengthen a child’s legislative rights to support for SEN, not weaken them. Based on recent government behaviour, the more people who speak up and respond to the Green Paper the better chance we have of coming out of this process with a system that effectively meets the needs of children with SEN and disabilities.

This is the Big Yellow Taxi of our education system – all of the above is up for discussion and/or dismissal. These are the things that our SEN children stand to lose if we don’t participate with a loud voice in the democratic processes to canvass our views on SEN education reform. If we lose them, we really will find that we did not appreciate what we had until we lost it – difficult as it might have been to access it! It is so difficult I was moved to write a book about it! The Government is going to have its Green Paper, whether we like it or not, and it will probably make changes whether we like them or not. If we take a stand as parents or supporters of children with SEN and disabilities who actively wish to participate in the devising of new Education legislation to ensure all children with SEN can have their needs met, we have the best chance of our views being heard and acted upon.

Saba Salman commented on my recent blog post ‘Oh the times they are a-changin’ – but not yet’, saying: ‘so often the powers that be assume that public apathy or ambivalence will allow them to push through changes because no one other than the usual high-profile suspects can be bothered to read the small print. Hopefully not this time.’

Please don’t let our children with SEN lose their legal rights to an appropriate education, or allow the government to deliver a cheaper, watered down SEN strategy because people did not stand up to be counted. The consultation closes on Friday. If you have some time and you care about children with SEN and disability, or I have successfully pestered you or otherwise made you feel obliged, please make time to contribute.

Please share this post with as many people as you can think of who might wish to have a voice on this consultation.

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9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Very well said I totally agree with what you say
my daughter didn’t get an SEN even though the paediatrician said she needed one. It will be interesting to see how she copes.

Comment by savvymum4

Dear savvymum4, I really wish you the very best of luck with getting help for your daughter. We’ve been in your position and it took a lot of very hard work to progress from that point. But we did progress, we did not take ‘no’ for an answer and it is very rewarding to see children succeed in the end.

Best wishes

Ellen

Comment by guerrillamum

Thank-you very much. I think its an awful shame that parents have to fight like this in the first place.
thanks

wendy

Comment by savvymum4

Absolutely agree. The SEN Procedure gives the most vulnerable children the protection and support they need to access education. My daughter, with multiple medical problems and an ASD diagnosis, had tremendous problems in primary school and was thought incapable of ‘coping’ with mainstream high school. We insisted on mainstream and with the help of an excellent special needs team in her local high school has made tremendous strides. She is now achieving academically (something she’s barely done up until now) and the team absolutely ‘get’ her and the challenging behaviour she can sometimes present. She doesn’t get an easy ride, but does get her fair chance to join in the life of the school. The legal protection which a statement affords is the safety net our children need. There will be misdiagnoses, but I defy anyone to provide evidence that statements are being issued in order to gain a child access to a desired school! I see more children denied statements who should have them than the other way around – this is pure coalition spin.

There is certainly an issue around training of staff (our high school ran whole-school autism awareness sessions before my daughter joined them and runs refreshers each year, so that all staff are briefed and given strategies for dealing with ASD in the classroom and beyond. This has made all the difference.

Will try and get something submitted by 15th – one should always put one’s two penn’orth in!

Thanks

Jill

Comment by Jill

Dear Jill

Thank you for your brilliant comment! Also, you are the first ‘real’ person to tell me that you will comment on the Green Paper SEN and disability call for views – Thank you. You made my day.
Ellen

Comment by guerrillamum

Excellent article that just shows your passion. SEN has always been a ‘topic’, a ‘flavour of the month’, a (band wagon) for some people & schools. The support that a statement gives can be immense but only if the needs have been properly identified & skilled intervention is put in. Sadly, there are local authorities who have far too many statemented children some of which have been given because the parent was very vocal. Obviously, these practices have to stop so it is right that a closer look at the awarding of statements is made. However, they must not be removed all together. They are essential to support our SEN children. Being cheeky but you may be interested in my post on Inequality http://bit.ly/c0Usfh

Comment by jfb57

Hello, and thank you for your comment on ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. I agree with you that ‘The support that a statement gives can be immense but only if the needs have been properly identified & skilled intervention is put in’, but am not sure what you mean when you say ‘Sadly, there are local authorities who have far too many statemented children some of which have been given because the parent was very vocal’. Why are there too many statements?

Although I have known a good many children who would not have statements had their parents not been ‘very vocal’, I don’t think I know any who only have statements because of this. That is to say all the children I know who have statements have them because they need them. It is of course unfair that some children who need statements do not have them because their parents were not ‘very vocal’, and did not advocate successfully for one.

The provision of a statement should be purely based on assessed need but unfortunately we cannot rely on this happening under the current system.

I would still encourage any parent who has a child with special educational needs whose needs are not being met in school to be their child’s advocate and to do all they can to get the right help in place.

Thank you for your comment.

Ellen

Comment by guerrillamum

Hi Ellen,
Just wanted to come back to try & explain what I meant. I have experience of the statementing process not being robust & therefore not fair resulting in some children getting additional funding (not specialist help)when much of the help needed should be available from school. There have also been other children who have not had the specialist support because their needs were not fully understood.
Perhaps not all LAs work in the same way – some much better than others!
Julia

Comment by JFB57

Dear Julia

Thank you very much for this clarification. It is wonderful to have lots of other people’s experience and views represented on this blog. I really appreciate you taking the time to contribute.

with best wishes

Ellen

Comment by guerrillamum




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