Guerrillamum's Blog


Excellence for all? – not if you are disabled…

‘Exemplary care, guidance and support pervade all aspects of the Academy’s provision.” Ofsted 2009. This comment is taken from the Ofsted report 2009 for the Harris Academy, Crystal Palace. According to the Croydon Guardian eleven year old Idayah Miller from Norbury, has been told that she can’t have a place there because her wheelchair will get in the way of other children in the school’s crowded 1950’s corridors. It appears that her wheelchair is a health and safety risk because she would not be able to get out of the school if there was a fire. Here is the link to the article: http://www.croydonguardian.co.uk/news/8670892.Disabled_girl__health_and_safety_risk___says_school/ Oh, and the newspaper also states that the school has said that Idayah is not academically capable enough to attend this school because it is a ‘high pressure, high performing’ school and she would be likely to be upset and suffer from low self esteem when she falls behind her friends. The school’s own prospectus, however, says ‘Harris is an inclusive school which admits students with disabilities and special needs on an equal basis with other students. The Academy has installed lifts, disabled access ramps and wheelchair facilities. As a result, disabled students, including those in wheelchairs, have full access to the curriculum.’ It would appear that the decision not to admit Idayah is very much at odds with what is written in the prospectus.

I am somewhat puzzled by the comments in the newspaper regarding Idayah’s ability. Why is this relevant to any decision to not allocate a place to her? Nowhere does it say in the school’s prospectus (unless they are busily producing a new one as we speak), that this is a selective school, indeed the prospectus would appear to be saying the opposite. Furthermore, the school is obviously able to take children in wheelchairs as it says it has wheelchair ramps and wheelchair facilities in its prospectus. Idayah’s father has lodged an appeal against this decision and the case will be heard by an independent panel in December.

Since the coalition government came to power we have seen disabled students (if they actually have special educational needs!) maligned in the Press through the media circus that accompanied the Ofsted report, ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – A statement is not enough’. Parents who stand up for the rights of their disabled children are the ‘sharp elbowed middle classes’, and suddenly it is OK for the very rich to seek to have private school style educations funded by the State under the auspices of the free schools movement. Perhaps schools who believe in selection now feel no need to hide selective practices? Frighteningly, there are only 14 comments on the article. I would have expected there to be more.

Big Society? I think not. It appears that to be born with a disability can disqualify you from access to the high quality education the education secretary champions so vociferously. It is not acceptable in 2010 for this sort of discrimination and prejudice to be present in publicly funded education establishments. Over to you Mr Gove.



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



‘Experts’, children and inclusion and why teaching is about so much more than just being an expert
November 9, 2010, 10:31 am
Filed under: A few thoughts | Tags: , , , , ,

Our son has been rehearsing for a concert and I have been helping to organise it. The organisation putting on the concert has always been very inclusive and those involved in working with the children are very nice people. However things came to a head last week, when one of the organisers criticised some of the children who had individual pieces to do for not being ‘of the required standard’, and sought to exclude some from playing the parts they had volunteered for. This person was not alone in their thoughts. Others within the organisation, however, leapt to the children’s defence, making clear that all children who volunteered would be included and were appreciated for their talents and all that they brought to the production.

However, the children who were ‘not of the required standard’ were not even children with SEN! The whole experience has left me with an overbearing sense of sadness that I am finding difficult to shift. Everyone else seems to have moved on, which is good, and as it should be and we are all now focussed again on getting the production on to the stage. It should be fun! The children are not aware of what happened, are all enjoying themselves and that is great.

I am still very disappointed with the attitudes of the people who criticised the children in such a negative manner. We may have won this battle but we still have a long way to go to win the war and change people’s exclusionary attitudes. I think you are probably used to hearing positive and upbeat messages from Guerrilla Mum but in truth this experience has left me weary. This is because I know my boys face attitudes like this every day, and probably will for the rest of their lives.

This is part of what worries me about free schools and using experts instead of qualified teachers to teach children. The people who were negative about the children in our production were undoubtedly experts in what they were teaching the children. However they were not trained teachers and, nice as they are, they failed the inclusion test completely. That is the lesson I would pass on to those planning free schools in which teachers do not have to be properly trained.

All of the children in the production are having a positive experience and having fun which is the main thing and what I will try to focus on in the next few days.




Woman’s Hour – so what was it like then?
November 5, 2010, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Radio | Tags: , , , , ,

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jenni Murray and the staff at Woman’s Hour for inviting me to be on the programme today. Never having done anything remotely like this in my life, it was a real adventure! We hadn’t told the children beforehand because we thought it might divert them from their school day, but we needn’t have worried. My husband told them about it on the way home from school in the car but frankly, he says, they were much more excited about going to McDonalds for their tea! Quite right too ….

Having rehearsed my answers to possible questions on Woman’s Hour all week, I waited on my own in an otherwise empty and silent studio for my part of the show to begin. My legs turned to jelly, my mouth went dry and all the carefully prepared answers disappeared. Yes I was incredibly, mind numbingly nervous and despite Jenni’s very helpful questioning I didn’t get to say all that I wanted. Being on the radio is much more difficult than it looks! Fortunately there was another mum on the programme who sounded very calm and said some of the things I would have liked to have said – so thank you to Mencap’s Pam Johnson – I am glad somebody said them, even if it wasn’t me!

However, in the blogosphere I am the mistress of my own destiny. Having failed completely to answer Jenni’s first question, as to why I called the book ‘Guerrilla Mum’, the answer is as follows:

‘The book represents one family’s struggle to get the right support for their children with SEN. This was an extremely adversarial process. The campaign was fought on so many levels; we used the local authority and NHS complaints procedures to get the services our children needed. We appealed (twice!) through the SENDIST tribunal. We also used the local authority’s own policies to justify the things we requested for our children, such as the local authority’s Educational ICT policy when we requested laptops. There was also a battle for the hearts and minds of the teachers and other staff who worked with our children at school. Staff who at first may have seen us as neurotic parents became real champions for our children at school and made an enormous difference to their lives. The book is intended as a guide for other parents to use in their own battles to obtain the help their SEN children deserve, and to spread the word that this is a fight that can be won if you have the right information.’

So that’s it, really. That is the thing that irked me the most. I had let myself get so wound up that I missed my opportunity to say the things I wanted to say and I have felt a bit let down by myself all afternoon. Fortunately for me, I have William my son to put things into perspective for me. He tells me that this sort of thing happens to him all the time, but that the thing is to try to go back and make your point. These are wise words indeed from a boy who really knows what it is to struggle to find the right words. I am lucky that this only happens to me when I go on the radio … so here I am, taking his advice, safe in the knowledge that the main message about the importance of meeting SEN still managed to come across despite everything. And that really is the main thing!

If I am ever invited back, I will send them a letter ….



Guerrillamum on Woman’s Hour!
November 4, 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Radio | Tags: , , , ,

I am going to be on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour tomorrow at some time between 10.00am and 10.45am to join in a discussion about getting help at school for children with special educational needs. I would love you to listen in. Here is the link to the programme details. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb/episodes/upcoming



A big thank you to…
October 28, 2010, 2:24 pm
Filed under: Book reviews | Tags: , ,

‘Velma’ for her review of Guerrilla Mum. It can be seen on the Amazon website here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guerrilla-Mum-Surviving-Special-Educational/dp/1843109999/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1288275595&sr=8-1

I really appreciate the reviews I have had, and so far they show that the book promises to help other parents.
Ellen



J’accuse…..

There has been a lot of talk about how election pledges have been broken on tuition fees and on child benefit. Lots of column inches, hours of radio and television and bucket loads of spin. It was hard to watch TV, listen to the radio or read a paper without seeing the DPM telling of his angst and regret.

Almost unnoticed except for a small article in The Guardian, see it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/24/michael-gove-pupil-premium – was the news that the Minister of Education had revealed that the funding for the ‘Pupil Premium’ was not in fact ‘new money’ but would largely come out of other schools funding . Why is this important? It’s important because the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Education Minister have all previously said that it would come from outside the Education budget. Was it a mistake, sophistry or downright deception? I suppose we will never know.

What I do know is that through skilful spin it has not emerged as a big issue and was not widely reported. Because of this the government’s media monitors/advisers will clap themselves on the back and say that nobody is making a fuss about this so you can go ahead and push on and cut more money from budgets for poor or disadvantaged pupils . It’s cynical, nasty and demonstrates their true colours.

You can’t do anything about the parliament at the moment because the first thing the government did was to fix the election term and make 51% the margin for a vote of no confidence. You can however influence them by campaigning in the media. I admire the skill of the Conservative spin doctors because they have made the Liberal members of the cabinet take most of the heat. They do have a weakness though in that we have seen the Prime Minister have some spectacular wobbles when public opinion goes very much against them eg. Child Benefit.

If we want a society in which we look after the vulnerable and believe in an equitable (not ‘FAIR’ ) education system we need to say so now. We need coverage in the papers, radio and on TV and then we can make this happen. I haven’t seen any money being taken from Free Schools and Academies for the few, when there are so many schools which need appropriate funding. Free Schools are not about education they are about social selection and elitism. Don’t believe me, take a trip to the Conservative Home website article on admissions policy and see what will come if we don’t object now.

I don’t believe that the case for these cuts in education has been proved. The Conservative spin campaign is masking the nasty ideology behind the re-engineering of our education system into a social and educational elitist organisation paid for by our money. The next thing to ‘go’ (ie change irrevocably) will be the admissions code. Remember you saw it here first.



Why is this article not front page news?

Well, it seems we can’t comment on this article yet – ‘Almost one in four primary school boys ‘have special educational needs’ – Guardian, 18th October
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/19/primary-school-boys-special-educational-needs – so I have decided to do so on my blog.

It is no surprise that boys are found to be more likely than girls to have SEN, nor that more boys are affected by autism, learning problems and social difficulties. This really is not news, at least, not to me.

However, what is newsworthy is that Ms Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families has made a commitment to getting right the provision for children with SEN and disabilities: “Pupils with special educational needs are not getting the support they need to succeed and are falling behind as soon as they start school.

“It is not right that only five per cent of young people with statements go on to higher education. We must change the system so that having special educational needs or a disability does not predetermine a child’s future.”

One of the difficulties I have always had with the way in which SEN are identified and provided for is the system’s willingness to see children start school and then fail badly before the right help is put in place. Even children with diagnoses have to go through this process before they get the right help at school. What is provided without a statement of SEN is so often ‘too little, too late’, and it can be tremendously difficult to get a statement for a child. It is not rocket science to know that it is necessary to put help in place as a child with known difficulties starts school to prevent them having to go through the process of failure. Why make them go through this before they can begin to access the right help and only then begin to experience success? It is so damaging to a child’s self esteem and eventual achievement at school and in life.

I hope the findings in this article will provide a much needed antidote to the current rhetoric stemming from the recent media coverage/circus of OFSTED’s report (A statement is not enough – Ofsted review of special educational needs and disability), about SEN children being ‘misdiagnosed’ with SEN. I also hope that Ms Teather will be able to make good on her commitment to prevent children with SEN from falling behind from the moment they start school and their future being predetermined by an accident of birth – their SEN or disability. I hope she is able to protect the interests of children with SEN and disabilities. I know she has a fight on her hands.

One final comment before I leave this post – a few weeks ago OFSTED issued a report saying that too many children were being diagnosed with SEN, and this was big news. You couldn’t move for media stories that vilified children with SEN, their parents and teachers. Sarah Teather says that children with SEN and disabilities are not getting the right help in school, and there is much less interest. This particular article came out yesterday in the late afternoon, you can’t comment on it and it is now off the front page of the Guardian Education section.

I will ask this question again – ‘Why is this article not front page news?’



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.”