Guerrillamum's Blog


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!?)

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Excellence for All – How should students learn?

This is my second of three blog posts written for the Specialist Schools and Academjes Trust conference.

There has been much debate about how students should learn. Many suggestions focus on using innovative high tech ideas in the classroom and alternative curricula are being explored by a number of groups. For children with special educational needs (SEN), however, the answer to the above question is much more basic – we must ensure that all children with SEN have their needs met through a system that is fit for this purpose.

All too often the current system for meeting SEN fails. This is because it works only for those with very mild needs at one end of the spectrum, who don’t need a statement to have their needs met, and those children with the most severe needs and who do have statements, at the other end of the scale. There are a lot of SEN children in between these polar opposites who do have significant needs who need provision that can only be provided by having a statement, but can’t have one because these are severely limited.

This is unfair and children who slip through the net at school and do not have articulate parents who can advocate for them can miss out. We should be aiming to extend the security that statements can offer to children and it is unacceptable that so many children with SEN have needs that remain unmet. If all children with SEN who attend mainstream schools have their needs met, they will learn and they will be able to access the curriculum just like any other pupil within that school.

Not all children with SEN will be able to have their needs met in a mainstream school, and will need a placement in a special school. Jane, who is a teaching assistant in a special school, has this to say about how students should learn in special schools:

‘I think the answer… is entirely summed up in one word: ‘differentiation’. The main barrier to learning is that educators have not thought about what and how students should learn. In any school but especially a special school each pupil needs to be learning different things in different ways. Too often those in charge assume it would be a good thing for the children in their care to have a chance at a “real” qualification, usually a GCSE. These courses are not at all suitable for pupils who can barely read and they are stressed and humiliated.

There are better things they could learn to do to a worthwhile standard rather than getting a “G” at GCSE…. [such as]… how to carry on a conversation, how to notice another person’s mood, what is helpful behaviour in common social situations. A child’s primary educational objective could even be to become toilet trained. The impact of learning this skill is taken for granted by all and is huge and life enhancing, far more beneficial than spending the year learning to count to 5…. It is sad that the process of grouping children in terms of their special needs is basically a negative one. You drop down the groups because of the things you can’t do until you reach the lowest level. Articulate children end up grouped with non-verbal children simply because they can’t write. Too much weight is given to the child’s physical age instead of looking at their overall developmental age.’

There is a great need to look at the system for identifying and meeting SEN, and to also focus on and enhance those properties within the current system that meet need and give security to children such as the statement of SEN. These can really be a passport to a successful school experience. I welcome the Green Paper on SEN and disability and hope that I will still feel the same when it is published, and that this opportunity to make positive change is seized upon by policy makers.



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.



Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views

The Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views was launched today by Sarah Teather, the 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.  All 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 hope that any changes this may lead to will be positive ones.  I will be responding, although I don’t hold out much hope that the provision for our children will escape the savage cuts planned by the coalition government.  If we fail to participate in this opportunity to help define government policy, we can’t complain about any adverse results from the Green Paper, can we?



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?