Guerrillamum's Blog


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.

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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.”



A statement is not enough – so lets just get rid of them all! (But lets hide this under some headlines about poor teaching, grasping schools and sharp elbowed middle class parents …. and then say it’s for everybody’s benefit)

So the media circus around the controversial report – ‘The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’ – is no longer front page news.  The hype has been played out.  Newspapers have been bought.  Links have been clicked and comments have been written.  The radio and TV media world has moved on leaving those of us who have children with special educational needs to reflect on and worry about the future implications of this report.

We have all heard the rhetoric about ineffective teaching and poor pastoral care.  I quote the report, ‘relatively expensive additional provision is being used to make up for poor day-to-day teaching and pastoral support’.  We have all had a chance to inwardly digest the subtle or not so subtle media messages about children with misdiagnosed special educational needs taking away resources from other children.  We have visualised the greedy parents waving educational assessments at head teachers, so they can gleefully claim ‘extra’ resources for their children. 

By page 6 of this 94 page report we hear that ‘The key implication of these (report) findings is that any further changes to the system should focus not on tightening the processes of prescribing entitlement to services’ and there is an early mention of ‘necessarily limited resources’. 

The 1996 Education Act provides for children with the most severe special educational needs to have their needs identified and provided for under the terms of a statement of special educational needs.  They do cost money to set up, they do cost money to fund, and yes, we also know that they can be expensive to maintain.  However, we also know that life only changed for our children in school when statements were obtained and implemented.  Prior to obtaining their statements, their lives were beset by failure, social exclusion, and, dare I say it, an overbearing feeling of sadness. 

Before receiving their statements, they were at various times on School Action and School Action Plus.  We were continually told that improvements to their support in school were unattainable to the school due to cost.   For us the graduated response – school action, school action Plus – failed because there were too many ways for the school and LEA to wriggle out of actually doing anything.  It was actually because at this stage of intervention there were no tight processes prescribing entitlement that our children slipped so far behind.  With this in mind, please read the excerpt below, paying particular attention to the phrase I have put in bold.  I quote from the report: 

The key implication of these findings is that any further changes to the system should focus not on tightening the processes of prescribing entitlement to services but, rather, on:

  •  improving the quality of assessment
  •  ensuring that where additional support is provided, it is effective  
  • improving teaching and pastoral support early on so that additional provision is not needed later
  • developing specialist provision and services strategically so that they are available to maintained and independent schools, academies and colleges
  • simplifying legislation so that the system is clearer for parents, schools and other education and training providers
  • ensuring that schools do not identify pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching
  • ensuring that accountability for those providing services focuses on the outcomes for the children and young people concerned.

The review found a high level of demand from parents and carers for additional services for their children, and this is not something that legislative or regulatory change in itself can address easily. However, such changes could make the system better focused on the outcomes that parents and carers want for their children, and more effective in its use of necessarily limited resources.

This looks suspiciously like a precursor to removing all entitlement to statements.  Imagine a world where there is only the graduated response to meet special educational needs – oh and improved teaching! 

Children with the most severe special educational needs in the country currently have the right to have these needs met under the provision of a statement of special educational needs.  This report has not categorically stated that it will take away the statement – not yet.  However, there are plenty of indications in the report that this might happen.  If this happens, parents who object will be vilified as wanting ‘special’ provision that takes away from other children.  They will be ‘sharp elbowed middle class parents’ – you heard it from the Prime Minister first.  If the teachers object they will be told to focus on improving their teaching skills. 

Politics is a curious thing.  Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister was saying that the ‘poor should accept benefit cuts’.  Today we hear rumblings in the Press about the government no longer paying for teacher training courses for those candidates whose degrees are not ‘good enough’ – we can’t have any more ‘poor teaching’!  Before we know it, parents of children with SEN will find themselves being asked the question ‘what makes your child more ‘special’ than all the others, and why should they have access to more funding?’

The Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views was launched on 10th September by Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.  I’m not sure if this is window dressing on decisions that have already been made or not.  It is an opportunity for parents to contribute their views.  We have until 15th October to contribute.  Make it a priority to participate!

I’d like to say a ‘Thank you’ to everybody who has re-tweeted, linked to the blog or published my posts so far.  This is an issue which needs to be highlighted as widely as possible because the public memory is short and the only message to come out so far is ‘special needs education is expensive and a bit rubbish’.  Please, please keep on re-tweeting, and linking to my blog because we need to get a proper debate and decision-making process on this vital issue.  It’s not just about a few years bad schooling it is our children’s futures that are at stake.