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.

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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.



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.



Big Yellow Taxi

‘… Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot…’

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

I was busy cleaning my windows the other day and I found myself singing the words to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. These days the issue of Special Educational Needs (SEN) education is never far from my mind and I moved quickly on to considering the ‘Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views’. This was launched in September by Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families. She has asked for the views of everyone with an interest in the needs of children in England with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities and she says that views and perspectives will be considered in drafting a Green Paper on SEN and disability to be published in the autumn. We have until 15th October 2010 to contribute.
You can respond online on the Dept for Education website. Here is the link.
http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1736&external=no&menu=1

I have been thinking about this a lot, not only of the possible positive outcomes of such a Green Paper, but also what children with SEN might lose as a result of it. I am still writing my response. I have the document tucked away on my desktop and keep going back to it as things come to me. I hope I can make a small difference. If more of us reply then we will make a slightly bigger difference. If lots of us reply, then the impact will be yet greater, and so on.

Based on my feelings and views about the behaviour of the Coalition government since it came to power, and how it has dealt with Education issues, I find it difficult to decide whether the Green Paper is in fact a genuine call for views. I have watched the Coalition rush through Parliament the wildly ill thought out and controversial Academies Bill to expedite the Tory vision for Education for all. They did it in the face of some stiff opposition from the general Public, the Labour Party and some Liberal Democrats. The Minister for Education has expressed reservations about the quality of trainee teachers, but then veers off at a tangent, saying that Free Schools might not have to employ fully qualified teachers. Extra money has been given as a golden Hello to schools that are already doing well and have become academies. On the sidelines, poorly performing schools are to be run into the ground until competition from Free Schools and academies lure their pupils away and they have to close (I wonder what will happen to those who can’t for whatever reason get to an alternative school that is further away). I have to question the motives of a government that would do all of these things and wonder if it is really interested in what people think.

Just when I felt I had heard it all, the Coalition issued the results of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’, to a fanfare of alarmist headlines that trumpeted about how half of SEN children are misdiagnosed so that parents can cherry pick schools and schools can claim extra funding that children without SEN can’t access. Apparently a statement is not enough – they don’t work, the teachers simply need to improve their skills and specialist placements are of apparently little benefit. Why on earth would the government place such a media spin on a document like this? It is a good question. The answer can be found in the headlines themselves – they were like propaganda, sowing the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the financial cost of supporting children with SEN. SEN children are now in danger of becoming the ‘Benefit Cheats’ of the Education world, who may well lose out when the results of the Green Paper are published, as an apathetic and accepting public looks on.

Do the general public care about children with SEN? I don’t know. I do know that they are suffering from CCCF (Collective Coalition Cuts Fatigue) worn out, tired by the election, the changes this wrought and with struggling to make ends meet in the down-turn. For all they know, the media and OFSTED may have a point about SEN children and their ‘sharp elbowed middle class parents’ trying to gain advantage and get access to provision those children without SEN (their children!) can’t have! How do I know this? I don’t really, but if you ask me, last week’s Conservative conference is a good indicator of public feeling. Families in higher income brackets found out last week that they will lose their child benefit in 2013. Now the Public was listening… and they were hopping mad! The views of the ‘sharp elbowed Middle Classes’ were very suddenly very much in evidence in the media, talking about how they could not manage without child benefit. They weren’t rich; they had obligations and had mortgages to pay.

The point in question in this discussion is not really about whether universal child benefit should go or not. The really significant part about these events was the way in which, in the face of opposition the government buckled and changed their policy. Faced with a backlash from the public, Mr. Cameron was soon saying that the Child Benefit cuts would be given back by a married couple’s tax allowance and that any plans to take away Child Benefit would obviously have to be reviewed… Suddenly money could be found and an instant policy was produced to try and sweeten the deal and give money back to the higher tax bracket earners with the other hand.

Well, our SEN children can’t manage without an education system that delivers help to those who need it, help that must be delivered and must be upheld. The statement of special educational needs gives them the security of a legal right to have their needs met and provided for in school where the provision is free at the point of access. The system for identifying and making provision for children with special educational needs is a flawed system but its saving grace is the statement of special educational needs. I will be looking to the Green Paper to strengthen a child’s legislative rights to support for SEN, not weaken them. Based on recent government behaviour, the more people who speak up and respond to the Green Paper the better chance we have of coming out of this process with a system that effectively meets the needs of children with SEN and disabilities.

This is the Big Yellow Taxi of our education system – all of the above is up for discussion and/or dismissal. These are the things that our SEN children stand to lose if we don’t participate with a loud voice in the democratic processes to canvass our views on SEN education reform. If we lose them, we really will find that we did not appreciate what we had until we lost it – difficult as it might have been to access it! It is so difficult I was moved to write a book about it! The Government is going to have its Green Paper, whether we like it or not, and it will probably make changes whether we like them or not. If we take a stand as parents or supporters of children with SEN and disabilities who actively wish to participate in the devising of new Education legislation to ensure all children with SEN can have their needs met, we have the best chance of our views being heard and acted upon.

Saba Salman commented on my recent blog post ‘Oh the times they are a-changin’ – but not yet’, saying: ‘so often the powers that be assume that public apathy or ambivalence will allow them to push through changes because no one other than the usual high-profile suspects can be bothered to read the small print. Hopefully not this time.’

Please don’t let our children with SEN lose their legal rights to an appropriate education, or allow the government to deliver a cheaper, watered down SEN strategy because people did not stand up to be counted. The consultation closes on Friday. If you have some time and you care about children with SEN and disability, or I have successfully pestered you or otherwise made you feel obliged, please make time to contribute.

Please share this post with as many people as you can think of who might wish to have a voice on this consultation.



I agree with Ed!

I had to comment on this article, ‘The Conservative conference: 10 things we learned about Michael Gove today – http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2010/oct/05/conservative-party-conference-michael-gove?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments
I think it is time to ask the question: ‘what qualifications does Mr Gove bring to the role of Education Minister?’ Wasn’t he a journalist for a Murdoch paper? He talks a lot about his actions being evidence based, but frankly I don’t see it. He avoids giving answers to key questions, for example the issue of whether businesses will be permitted to make a profit from their involvement in Education. Any minister that truly wished to improve Education would not begin by spending more money on children in already successful schools and taking money away from those children in the least successful schools.

Ed Balls said in a recent speech that he doesn’t think that Michael Gove has a clue about Education, and the more I see and hear from the Education Minister the more I have to concede, ‘I agree with Ed!’



Buns at Prep anyone?

On the subject of restraining pupils and bullying, the Minister for Education says “At the moment if you want to become au fait with what this department thinks on how to keep order in class you have to read the equivalent of War and Peace. There is about 500 pages of guidance on discipline and another 500 pages on bullying. We will clarify and shrink that.’’ See the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/01/gove-education-teachers-discipline-new-deal?#post-area

I would be much more reassured by the Minister if his motives for change were based on actually improving discipline in schools and on reducing bullying rather than in reducing paperwork and the pages of guidance on how teachers should deal with it. These are complex issues, and I’m GLAD there’s a lot of guidance about them. The abiding impression that the Minister leaves us with is that he is fed up with the amount of guidance on bullying and there is too much of it. It’s inconvenient. Furthermore, the Minister is inviting a world of difficulty if he goes ahead and muddies the waters in terms of appropriate touching of pupils by staff. Some teachers might not be properly qualified ‘Free Schools might not use qualified teachers’ – Guardian 28th Sept – and the Government aims to reduce the need to have Criminal Records Bureau checks.

These actions will be very much to the detriment of our children whilst the government tells us that what they are doing is for our own good.

I can’t help but think the Minister is living in a Billy Bunter world of Jennings and schoolboy detectives where the Masters, invariably male and pipe-smoking, keep order by raising an eyebrow in the direction of the ‘miscreant’. The raising of the eyebrow implies a full range of punishments, many of which involve pain being inflicted after which there would no doubt be a hug from Matron!

It’s a far cry from the reality of modern schools in Britain. Not all teachers are huge or would be keen to step between students who are fighting, or for that matter, physically eject someone from their room, when that room is full of other students, desks, bags and the student is physically bigger than them.

Last week I saw a very slightly built male teacher verbally take to task six hulking Year 11s in my children’s school. Five minutes later I passed by again and he was still talking to the boys, who looked very shamefaced. This school is built on discipline and mutual respect. Teachers do not restrain pupils and I firmly believe it is possible to have schools like this but this becomes much less possible when you create a two tier education system.

If this is to be part of a new deal for teachers, then why on earth did the Minister not announce it at the Teachers’ conference? Doesn’t a ‘deal’ have two sides to it? He is clearly not interested in what the teachers think. This is something that is being done to teachers, not with teachers. One can only conclude that the Minister has his own reasons for wishing to bring about these changes.

Buns at Prep anyone?