Guerrillamum's Blog


In which Guerrillamum ponders the impending Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and Disability

Ever since our oldest son first went to school and I became embroiled in dealing with the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs, and the associated legislation, I have wanted this system to be reformed. I had hoped that this would happen through a truly transparent process where interested bodies and other stakeholders would be asked for their views through a robust process of consultation and open debate. Instead on the very cusp of the proposed reforms, when I should be trembling with expectation, I am instead trembling with fear for what these changes might mean for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

So why am I worried? Although Sarah Teather is nominally the Minister responsible for this process, it is possible to detect the Hand of Gove everywhere! Almost unnoticed in the Academies Act is a section which removes the right of appeal for parents to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDT). Instead, all routes of appeal lead only to HIM. And we all know how ‘flexible’ he is, don’t we? Previously it was a more open process adjudicated by independent educationalists who spoke from experience of dealing with all of the issues presented to them in a child’s case.

Why is this so important? We and thousands of ordinary parents like us have been forced to take the extraordinary step of going to a tribunal to make sure that our children can access the curriculum in the same way as every other child. I am worried that the Green Paper will propose new ‘designations’ placing children with challenging or complex needs in a category attracting only a minimal amount of intervention which is delivered at the discretion (or not) of a school or academy. In academies, where parents disagree with the level of help given to their children, all routes for appeal will lead to guess who – the Minister of State for Education. With financial incentives for conversion to academy status more and more schools will seek it and more children with special educational needs will be left without the right of appeal to an independent body.

This government has already demonstrated some very strange attitudes towards disability. On one hand it has produced workable guidance for the Autism Act (though has yet to come up with the money), and on the other some truly dreadful attacks have been levelled at Disability Living Allowance. Maybe this inconsistency is because this government IS a coalition. It’s really frightening to think what the combination of Gove’s ideology and Tory cost cutting could do to this Green Paper.

However, I am still hoping for the best. Hoping for a considered, fair, and most importantly, fully funded system in which children with SEN & Disability have their rights to access to an appropriate education recognised. In a Big Society this would happen because these children can also make valuable contributions. We just need to value them first. Oh, and ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY!’

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Spending on Special Needs faces cuts…

Over the past months I have watched the campaign to discredit children with special educational needs unfold with increasing alarm. I have listened as the spin doctors eased into the public consciousness words and phrases such as ‘over diagnosed’, ‘sharp elbowed parents’, ‘too many children have statements’, and (a real corker this one) ‘SEN is simply bad behaviour’. In terms of schools, Toby Young and others like him want something better than what is currently offered to all children in their local areas. Rather than improve or expand these schools for the benefit of all, the government is handing extremely large amounts of money over so they can set up Free Schools for the few that are more to their liking. Suddenly, it appears that the children of already well off and motivated parents are deserving of government money to boost their educational opportunities, and those who are disadvantaged either by economics or special educational needs are no longer deserving of the investment of public money. I predicted that children with SEN and disabilities would soon become the ‘benefit cheats’ of education, and here they are, apparently ensconced in schools that are ‘playing the system’ so they can gain extra funds for their schools.

In today’s Education Guardian Fran Abrams writes: ‘A green paper is expected to set out the future of special needs education this month – and there have been suggestions that ministers could use Ofsted’s findings to justify cutting the numbers classified as needing extra help.’ See the article here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/08/special-needs-spending-cuts?commentpage=last#end-of-comments

If this were to happen, as I worry it will, simply brushing students with special needs under the carpet is a very poor strategy indeed. They will still be there, and they will go through the education system unrecognised and un-helped, and a whole cohort of our youth will under achieve in their education. As if that wasn’t bad enough, vocational courses and newly ‘non-humanities’ subjects such as Music that suit some children are being simply rubbed out of existence due to the requirements of the English Baccalaureate. In Academyworld, all routes of redress that parents could previously take when they felt their children’s needs were not being met have been eliminated: the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal can no longer deal with appeals from parents of children who go to academies and parents can no longer complain to the council about admissions. All routes of redress for children attending academies lead to Gove. There is something very wrong about placing so much power with one person.

When I look at the narrowed curriculum so suddenly in vogue at the Dept for Education, I worry about our most vulnerable children and I wonder what the future holds for them. I hope that one day this government will be consigned to history as an administration which shaped and paid for education for a narrow elite and consigned the rest to second best. The nature of this is very short term, as children with special needs will not take their place as wage earners but will become dependent on health, social services and benefits, their potential and prospects for fulfilment untapped. It doesn’t have to be this way.



‘The King’s Speech’ succeeds as its legacy is put at risk!

We are in danger of losing speech & language therapy services for children with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD). The NHS Ealing consultation document has this to say about the matter.

‘CHILDREN WITH RARE SPEECH & LANGUAGE DISORDER
MAY BE MISSING OUT ON SPECIALIST NHS SERVICES

Children with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD) may not be reaching their full potential due to a lack of specialist services in London, according to a consultation launched this week.

This relatively rare speech and language disorder can have long-term implications if children do not have the right therapy early on in childhood. A new service specific to their needs would, therefore, be in their best interests, as well as highly cost-effective for the NHS and local authorities.

NHS Ealing is running the consultation on behalf of the NHS in London. It offers pupils, parents and carers, health, education, speech and language professionals and the wider public the opportunity to have their say about proposals for future services.

It also seeks to understand what potential service users, providers and commissioners (NHS and local education authorities) would want from a new service.

The consultation follows the suspension in July 2007 of a service run by the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust at the Nuffield Speech and Language Unit in Ealing. NHS Ealing then commissioned a review of the demand for specialist services for children with severe speech and language disorders in London.

Now it has developed six service options that could help to meet this need in future, with detailed input from a wide range of interested parties.

These options include building on a service currently delivered at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital (RNTNEH), while the London Specialised Commissioning Group determines longer-term future services for children with DVD.

The closing date for responses and submissions as part of the consultation is 5pm on
25 March 2011. This consultation document and supporting information is available on the NHS Ealing website http://www.ealingpct.nhs.uk/nuffield_consultation.asp

The recent film ‘The King’s Speech’ has captured the public imagination and has brought to the fore the issue of speech and language impairment. Well dressed and attractive actors portray the story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome his stammer with the help of philanthropic speech therapist Lionel Logue.

The Guardian today runs this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/feb/06/speech-therapy-spending-cuts?CMP=twt_gu . It expresses hope that the film will ‘boost the Giving Voice campaign and highlight the social benefits of speech and language therapy (SLT).’ Logue was a philanthropist who used the money charged to his richer clients to fund therapy for poorer people. It is said that he never turned anyone away who asked for his help. This is laudable, as is the charity Giving Voice. However, I am horrified that such an essential service is being down graded to being a charitable case. The speech and language therapy services have historically been undervalued in the NHS, being under resourced and it is usual for long waiting lists to exist for children requiring therapy. Often the window of opportunity for effective treatment is diminished or lost as children wait. When you add up the social cost of children who do not have the right treatment for speech and language impairment, in terms of crime, lost job opportunities, benefit costs, it runs into billions of pounds. When you consider the costs of running an effective speech and language therapy service for all, (mere millions!), it is evident that we must invest in our speech and language therapy services. The government is morally obliged to fund these services properly, and not to rely on charitable institutions.

It is nice to think about the King receiving speech therapy to overcome his stammer, but what about the rest of us? I urge everyone, parents, teachers, medical professionals and the wider public to respond to this consultation. We can’t afford not to do so!



NHS told that autism diagnosis in children must improve!

The NHS has been told by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) that autism diagnosis in children must improve. You can see the Guardian’s article on the matter here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jan/27/autism-diagnosis-children-nhs-guidance

According to The Guardian, the NICE guidance ‘calls for every child with an autism spectrum disorder to be assigned a case co-ordinator to act as a single point of contact, and to have an individual profile created that sets out their needs.’

Surely they are missing a point? The new guidelines only call for children already diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to have a case co-ordinator. Don’t get me wrong! I welcome the introduction of case co-ordinators to work with children with ASDs but what about all the other children with equally difficult special needs? I do not think access to a case co-ordinator should be dependent on the child being formally diagnosed, or on any specific diagnosis.

Furthermore the article says that NICE has decreed ‘NHS staff need to liaise more and to engage better with schools, social care providers and voluntary sector organisations.’ They do, but surely they also need to liaise more with parents and families who know their children the best?

A case co-ordinator could be of so much help to families right from the time that concerns are first raised about a child’s condition when they first engage with NHS services. This would result in a diagnosis being made more quickly and in needs being met more effectively. Most parents of children with special needs have to go through a huge learning curve before they can be effective advocates for their children and this process can take years. A case co-ordinator who has experience of how the system works could be such a help to parents and children if they are brought in at a much earlier stage as soon as concerns are raised about a child’s development or condition. This is the time when families most need this help and when they are the most vulnerable. A case co-ordinator could pave the way for a child to access early intervention services. Early intervention is the key to children overcoming special needs at school and in life.

So I say to the new NICE guidelines on autism diagnosis, ‘Yes Please!’, but please don’t discriminate against those children with special needs who do not happen to have an autism spectrum condition, and please bring in case co-ordinators much earlier in the process of the identification and meeting of special needs. It is a fact that most children who have their special needs effectively met have motivated parents who learn to navigate the system for identifying and meeting SEN. Case co-ordinators for all children with special needs who access NHS or special education services would have the effect of levelling the playing field and – (I’m going to use a coalition buzz word here) would also make things much fairer.

If we had been presented with a case co-ordinator when Peter was nine years old, had received his diagnosis and also his statement (that came along straight after the diagnosis), we would have had no use for them. However, the early involvement of a case co-ordinator in Peter’s case would have been invaluable to us and would have saved Peter so much time, distress, sadness and despair and many wasted years at primary school.



In which Guerrillamum ponders on the nature of Inheritance and the government’s ideological cuts…

For those of you who simply wish to read about special educational needs, education or disability issues etc, you should perhaps stop reading now because this post is quite unashamedly political in nature. I was eating breakfast this morning when on Radio 4 I heard yet another government minister/apologist blaming the government’s savage cuts on their ‘inheritance’ from Labour.

It struck me like an epiphany. I’ve got very fed up with hearing this argument recycled, time and time again. Of course they are talking about inheritance because they come from a class in which inheritance (Daddy’s millions) is their birthright, their experience or their expectation. These are people with no understanding whatsoever of what it is like to live in 21st century Britain (don’t forget 19 out of 23 members of the Cabinet are millionaires).

Now, just because I understand now why they think and speak in the way they do, does not mean I feel any less angry or insulted by being patronised in this manner. We are not ‘all in it together’! The society may look big from the top where the Prime Minister and his cronies sit but for people with disabilities and those caring for them our society can be a very lonely place.

My children’s inheritance was genetic conditions, physical, developmental and sensory disability. They are not cushioned from the realities of life by ‘Daddy’s millions’, but they have the same rights to quality of life, family life, and a decent and appropriate education which this government seeks to deny them.

So the next time you hear a government representative or minister speak, listen to the words they use, the callous catchphrases and the spin they employ to try to dupe the public into acceptance of their savagery. Do not be fooled, this is not about saving money to rescue the economy, it is ideological, and it is about deconstructing our public and social structure so that big business can move in and enable those at the top to profit. Today the government is talking about selling off the Forestry Commission. The forests are part of OUR inheritance, for the NATION! Which sector of society do you imagine can afford to buy a forest? Would you rather go to the New Forest or the MacDonald’s New Forest for your holidays (assuming you can afford one this year!)?

How about a catchphrase of my own?

COALITION GOVERNMENT – PUTTING THE GRRR INTO GUERRILLAMUM SINCE MAY 2010!

(And where is the Green Paper for Special Educational Needs and Disability!?)



In which Guerrillamum discusses what it is like to have dyspraxia and wonders what is happening with the Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and Disability

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a parents’ support group for parents of children who had dyspraxia. This was held at our local hospital and was run by a paediatric occupational therapist and a paediatric physiotherapist. It was really interesting and I met a number of other parents who were like me trying their best to help their children.

One week we were offered a session that promised to give us an insight into the world of a dyspraxic child. Now, as a motivated parent who had done lots of research into this condition I thought I was pretty sympathetic to the challenges that my children went through every day. I knew that they had problems with handwriting, planning and organisation and in William’s case, speech. I knew that they were inclined to be a bit clumsy, and I was only too well aware of the social and emotional issues that they had. I expected that the session would be instructive, but would leave me with the certainty that I ‘got it’, that I understood my children’s world, as I so definitely felt I did. I was in for a shock.

The session was set up a bit like an assault course, with a number of ‘stations’. At each station there was an activity. Picking up dried peas whilst wearing boxing gloves. Yes, this was very difficult but hardly surprising. We were asked to walk along a balance beam whilst carrying a tray of objects – and yes, I did fall off and I did drop the tray. Then we were blindfolded and turned around, whilst people shouted things at us from different sides, then given the task of locating things – also a bit tricky, but I felt I was doing well! Then I arrived at the ‘heavy bucket’ station. I was given a blindfold and was led to the bucket. I was asked if I had any back problems, and told to pick up the bucket by bending my knees with a straight back as it was very heavy. I braced myself, lifted, and as I fell over the universe shifted. All that I thought I could count on to be the same as the last time I picked up a heavy load had gone. I had no point of reference for this strange task and I felt anxious and scared. There was NOTHING in the bucket. Yes, I had been tricked and cheated. I felt a bit of a buffoon, but as I picked myself up it struck me that my children must experience this all the time. They don’t have points of reference on which they can rely and for the first time I really understood why the world can be such a scary place for them.

They hadn’t finished with me yet! They smoothed my ruffled feathers and sent me on to the next station – I would have a chance to calm down, it was a little writing task. Off I went. I was given a mirror and a piece of paper with a star printed on it. It was a smaller star with a larger star around it forming a tram lines effect. The aim of the task was to hold the mirror up to the picture and to draw along the edge of the star, without going out of the lines to see if I could get all the way around it. The only rule was that I could not look directly at the paper, and someone held a piece of paper over it so I could not look down. I had to do the task whilst only being able to look at the star in the mirror.

Well, I don’t think I managed a straight line at all. My pen wandered like a demented spider and the more I tried to help myself, and to think through the process, to correct the direction of my pen, the more unsuccessful I became. I tried everything. Pushing the pen the opposite way to the way I thought I ought to push the pen. I tried shutting my eyes and just not looking in the mirror. I tried looking at the image in the mirror and just following the line, not with an end product in mind, but just to try to keep my pen within the lines. Nothing worked. In this reversed world I simply did not have the motor planning in my head for the task I had been given. I was lucky. I could take the mirror away, look directly at the image and finish the task with a few strokes of my pen. A dyspraxic child with handwriting difficulties does not have this option. For a few minutes I had an insight into their world that I never forgot.

When I carried out these tasks, I was doing it simply out of curiosity. I was in a supportive room full of grown ups who were all sharing this voyage of discovery. My children however, like many others, have to go through this experience every day in a challenging classroom environment, probably where very few people have any insight into what they are going through.

Dyspraxia is unlike many other disabilities. It is not so obvious, and there are many, many much more severely disabled children who also need resources in our classrooms. It is easy for the needs of dyspraxic children to not be prioritised highly in an inclusive classroom setting. However, I kept that star up on my kitchen door for years as a reminder not to either minimise my children’s dyspraxia myself or to let anyone else minimise the effects of their condition. This experience was also one of the factors that pushed us to ensure William had the right sort and amount of speech therapy for his verbal dyspraxia. We also decided to ensure both of our children had laptops specified in their statements at an early enough stage so that they could learn to use them and be ready for the more challenging school work they would need to do in KS3 & 4. William arrived at secondary school fully able to type on his laptop and at 14 Peter can also type well enough to support his GCSE and AS level work.

However it’s not all good. We still find teachers (who should know better!) writing things like ‘ Do on paper’ for homework or issuing worksheets with boxes far too small for Peter to be able to write in. Having watched Peter ‘draw’ every letter because he does not have the motor planning for writing, I often think how frustrating it must be to be
verbally eloquent but to go to school in a world where you are judged mostly on what you can write. So when a senior staff member at the school said that he could not take
his laptop into her lessons I was adamant that we would fight this. We did and we won. He can now type essays on his own.

How has this been achieved? Teaching assistants helped William and Peter to learn to type in school, with specialist typing programmes on laptops provided for them as part of their statements. It wasn’t easy and we had some battles en route but without those very dedicated TAs and the statement providing for laptops for them to work on at school and home, their continuing success would not have happened.

Without adjustments such as these Peter and William would not be able to access the curriculum at all. I hope that some of the critics who think that money spent on SEN is for frivolous extras read this and can now understand that this provision is critical and a necessity, absolutely fundamental to their success.

We are still waiting for the Green Paper on SEN and disability. The silence is ominous and frightening. I look at what the government is doing with Disability Living Allowance and it is clear that they have no respect for the quality of life of people with disabilities. The government were able to use emergency powers to force through the Academies legislation. They did the same thing regarding Free Schools’ legislation, which will benefit only a very small minority of most probably non disabled students. So what is going on with Special Educational Needs and Disability? Sara Teather we are waiting and watching to see what you do next.



Book Review: Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom – An Insider’s Guide By Gill D Ansell

Gill Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in special school and mainstream settings. She begins her book by explaining something about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and how these impact on children in the classroom. She describes her first job as a TA when she wasn’t sure what to do or what was expected of her with a refreshing candour. Now she is someone who has valid and relevant experience of working with children with AS and much to share with both parents and education professionals alike.

The book contains a wide range of strategies to use with children with AS and Gill explains in detail why they work so well. These include strategies for visual learners such as ‘The Good Book’, ‘The Feelings Book’ and ‘Oops! Cards’. There are also sections on small group work and working one to one, behaviour/anger management, and a range of strategies regarding the child’s physical working environment such as individual work stations. She talks about the stresses of break times and bullying and helping children deal with feelings and emotions.

There can be huge variations in the training and effectiveness of TAs. What is noteworthy about Gill is that her creative strategies are quite clearly aimed not just at emotionally supporting children in school but also at engaging the child in learning. She keeps going until she gets as close to this aim as possible in a bid to give the children better educational outcomes. Also many of her strategies are low cost which makes it much more likely that a school will take up suggestions from parents.

If a child’s needs are not being met at school it can be really difficult for parents to get across in meetings exactly how they would like the school to help their child. This book with its practical advice and its accessible explanations will offer lots of ideas to all parties taking part in discussions about how a school might best meet the special educational needs of children with AS in primary and secondary settings.

I have been involved with special needs education for 10 years now since my oldest son first displayed difficulties at school. I still found some new strategies in here that we can use, and I wish that this book had been available to me 10 years ago.