Guerrillamum's Blog


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.



Is this the future we want? Private schools in 4 star hotels becoming Free Schools?

It’s hard to post about Free Schools without being mean and nasty and hurting people. I don’t mind being mean and nasty about politicians when I have to because they have put themselves in the firing line but I don’t want to upset other parents simply trying to do the best for their children. So, I am not naming the institution I am writing about, I will just use some of their press. 

This private school formed by a band of parents following the closure of its predecessor, has been set up with an initial cohort of fifteen pupils in a wing of a 4 star hotel.  The staff and Head teacher have almost wholly been transplanted from the old school, and the website looks very like the old one. 

I have no problem with parents who choose to opt out of the state education system.  However, this is an option they should expect to pay for.  Nor do I have a problem with this school setting itself up in a 4 star hotel, and providing the sort of education for these children that the parents have agreed to pay for.  I understand that the group undertook considerable fund raising activities to make their dream possible.  I am sure it will be a very good school and will provide a good all round education for the children who go there. 

The School’s governors have said that the school has applied to become one of the first free schools – a publicly funded, mixed-ability independent school set up to meet parents’ demand, and it will be free from local authority control. These schools will be able to set up their own curriculum, as they don’t have to follow the national curriculum and they will also be responsible for buying in services to meet special educational needs. 

This is where I begin to have a problem with this.  Michael Gove has funded his Academies and Free Schools projects by taking away money from the Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF) in order to give it to the Academies and Free Schools.  In fact, our mainstream state schools that are neither academies nor free schools are set to lose out twice: not only have they lost out after the cancellation of the BSF programme, but also the yearly funding costs of academies and free schools will be met by taking money from existing schools in any area where these schools are set up.

Pause for a moment to think of a select few children enjoying a publicly funded private school style education in a luxury hotel, and compare this to:

  •  images of children being educated in decrepit school buildings
  • school corridors with buckets lined up to catch the drips from leaky roofs
  • children in overcrowded portacabins
  • children wearing coats in cold classrooms due to broken and ill-fitting windows

Is this not indicative of a two tier education system with a vastly widening gap between the haves and have nots of society?

This new private school say that they have been praised by Ofsted for their policies, but these can not be seen on the website.  There is scant mention of managing the needs of children with special educational needs, and nothing about equality of opportunity or an admissions policy.  Not wishing to get too political, I happen to like the work done by the previous government in the areas of equality, disability discrimination and special educational needs, and my children have enjoyed these protections in their education.  Indeed, these policies are very evidently displayed on their school website and awareness of these issues in their school is generally very good. 

The new private school I am writing about here is still a fee paying school, but if it ever becomes a free school, it will end up being funded by public money, and the school, the governing body and no doubt many of the parents will be able to decide how this money is spent.  Not the government, not the Local Authority.  Now despite huge claims by Michael Gove that hundreds of groups had expressed interest in becoming Free Schools, there were at the last count only 16 set to open in September 2011, about which Mr Gove was reputed to be not very happy.  Perhaps, like me,  most state schools appreciate the protections offered to the vulnerable by continuing to keep their schools under local authority control?  This general lack of uptake does not bode well for the likelihood of free schools becoming a widespread and inclusive model for education. 

How can we sit by and let this happen without so much as a whimper?  This model is not an acceptable vision of the future of education for me.  Whether this model is an acceptable vision of the future of education for Mr Gove remains to be seen.  But why provide a luxury education for the few at public expense, if we can’t do it for the many?