Guerrillamum's Blog


More thoughts on the Green Paper for SEN and Disability…

The green paper for SEN and disability states that those children who currently have a statement, less than 3% of children with SEN, will have an education, health and care plan (EHCP) under the new system. There are also plans to improve achievement for children who are disadvantaged through pastoral care. So far, however, there are only very vague indications about how SEN will be provided for in children who fall into neither of the above categories and have less severe SEN. There will be a lot of children in this lower level category of need! Many of these children will have very real SEN requiring specialist support.

I have commented regularly about the limp and woolly provision currently available to unstatemented children with SEN through the school action and school action plus categories of the graduated response process of our current system for meeting SEN. Yet the new system promises to scrap these classifications replacing them with a new tier of provision. Children will be ‘lumped together’ in this category, with some receiving pastoral care because they are disadvantaged, and others receiving support for SEN through ‘better teaching’ and schools sharing best practice. Also, the voluntary sector will be brought in to carry out so far unspecified roles. Remember, this new system will be implemented by health and education services that have undergone savage cuts and will draw heavily on untrained support from the voluntary sector. I don’t believe it is possible to improve provision for children with SEN and disabilities by cutting specialist services and replacing these with an untrained voluntary sector.

I can see a lot of children who need specialist intervention for their SEN receiving little more than pastoral support if the school has nothing else to offer, leading to misery and failure for thousands of children. How do I know? This is exactly what happened to my son under the deeply flawed but infinitely more robust graduated response of our current system.

The lack of clarity surrounding this is simply not good enough. Everyone has the opportunity to influence these policies by taking the opportunity to make representations to the consultation, and write to their MP to ask how, in detail will the plans be funded and implemented.



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!’



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!?)



Guerrillamum’s wish list for the Teather Green Paper on SEN and disability

Over the last two or three weeks you could not miss the dispute over student fees. It has been on our streets, on the radio and on the television. I don’t want to comment on the rights and wrongs of this, but another vital issue in Education is being missed. Nobody has yet marched through Whitehall, occupied buildings or caused a split in the coalition over the issue of Idayah Miller and her disgraceful treatment by the Harris Federation.

Idayah is a symptom of wider principles which are endangered at present. I’ve written before about the lack of safeguards and checks and balances for academies, particularly where it affects SEN. Idayah has been denied a place at the Crystal Palace Harris academy and was told (amongst other things) that in her wheelchair she would take up too much space in the corridor in the event of a fire. The Harris Federation have apologised for the ill judged words of the Head (though I note he hasn’t been disciplined) but crucially Idayah still does not have a place. The only options available to her Idayah are to appeal to the academy itself or to the Minister of State for Education. A recent article from the London Evening Standard can be seen here: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23903236-idayah-is-a-bright-child-one-of-a-spurned-minority.do

The academy cancelled the appeal and referred the family to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDT). Regular readers will know that I warned some time ago that academies do not have the same legal status in SEN Law as Local Authority controlled schools and that SENDT does not have any jurisdiction over them and they could not help Idayah. This leaves Idayah with a right of appeal either to the school, which has already made its views clear, or to the Minister of State for Education. If I were in her shoes I think I would far rather go to a SENDT tribunal (regular readers will know how harrowing I found SENDT!) than go to an appeal with a man who makes dodgy ideological decisions and changes laws he doesn’t agree with using terrorism legislation.

I don’t have first hand knowledge of Idayah Miller or her family and I don’t know about her particular circumstances. All my sources have come from the Press. However, I do have first hand knowledge of what it feels like to be a family with a disabled child or children. You can quite often feel that you are not a part of society and that some of the agencies that are there to help you are actually obstacles to getting the provision you need for your child. I did, however, see some real improvements under the last Labour administration and greater protection for the rights of disabled people i.e the Autism Act, the Equality Act and excellent initiatives such as Aiming High. It’s really worrying to hear the Prime Minister say he wants to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Act reflecting our values. The evidence since his government came to power is that their values include ignoring, marginalising, and removing benefits from those who have disabilities. Social mobility? Not if you are disabled, it seems.

I wish that Idayah had had one percent of the coverage given to the university fees debate. I wish that we could also see the same degree of pressure put on the government as has been used to argue against the schools sports partnership cuts or child benefit. Is it that people don’t care? Or that in financially straitened times people look only to their own needs? What about the Big Society? Or does it not apply to people with disabilities?

The government have a chance to prove me wrong. The Green Paper on SEN is due soon. (Transparency website!!!!!). Sarah Teather has a chance to put some of these wrongs right and lets hope she does.

In the meantime, please re-tweet. Please try to raise the profile for the issues I have raised. If you know somebody famous, or anyone with influence, or who has a big Twitter following (even better!!!) then send this post on to them. Next time this could happen to somebody you love. This is the thin end of the wedge.

At the moment the government is not doing anything about this case (or others like it) because they think nobody cares and they can get away with allowing these organisations to fail disabled children. It’s cheaper.

The Green Paper for SEN and disability is due to be published soon and my wish list would be:

• Inclusive schools admissions policies – schools should not be able to socially engineer their intake, and children with SEN and disabilities should be able to attend mainstream schools or special schools according to their needs
• An independent appeals procedure – independent of the school heads, governors, and of the Minister of State for Education.
• Retain SENDT and widen its scope to deal with appeals from Local Authority controlled schools, academies and free schools (when they come in).
• Retain the statement of SEN and the rights it confers on children. Widen availability of process to identify and make provision for children with SEN because appropriate assessment is currently far too difficult to obtain.
• No selection in state funded schools – (do realise this is a more general wish, probably beyond remit of Sarah T…)
• No devolved funding for statemented children – all statements should be funded properly by the State.

The lack of comment from the Opposition is also a worry and I would like to see some of our Shadow Cabinet getting involved in this very important debate.



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



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?’



Fair’s fair, or is it? Good news but I’m still worried

We’re going to have to stop meeting like this, me and top policiticans… There I was – again – in bed, minding my own business, when the radio came on and I heard another government announcement about Education and spending. This time it was not the Education Minister or reporting on OFSTED, it was the Deputy Prime Minister announcing a “fairness premium” worth £7bn for children who are disadvantaged or deprived.

I think this is an excellent policy, which is long overdue, although it could be seen by some as an extension of Sure Start which is now under threat by the DfE.

BUT, the DPM has not extended what seems to be an excellent principle to children with special educational needs (SEN), disability, or those in deprived areas whose schools are falling down around them. Nor did he say how this will be paid for. It also seems a bit like making policy on the hoof. The Green Paper consultation on SEN and disability closes today, and I would certainly have made more mention of early years provision for SEN and disabled children and early diagnosis had I known this was on the cards. Why have the Education Minister or the Minister for Children not mentioned it? Perhaps they did not know about it, and this is another example of an Instant Policy, this time in the face of public anger about university tuition fees. We were ‘due’ some good news to keep some of the Public on board.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of this, but I can’t help feeling manipulated by a cynical government. This policy needs to be properly thought out, properly funded with long term prospects. It needs to apply to any child who may be disadvantaged so that when they start school they can then all have the same opportunity to learn. It is also essential that this applies throughout their life at school. It would be worse to give to preschool and primary school children extra support and and then take it away later. (I feel a bit like that about what might happen after the Green Paper).

Fairness is the new coalition buzz word. It usually means they are going to be fair to one particular group, at the great expense of another. The public can’t object because to do so would be ‘unfair’. It feels to me that children at school are being split along Victorian lines of ‘the deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. Anyone who falls into the perception of ‘undeserving’ be you a public servant or SEN child or benefit claimant is in trouble because we are told that there is no money for them.

And THAT’S not fair.