Guerrillamum's Blog


Spending on Special Needs faces cuts…

Over the past months I have watched the campaign to discredit children with special educational needs unfold with increasing alarm. I have listened as the spin doctors eased into the public consciousness words and phrases such as ‘over diagnosed’, ‘sharp elbowed parents’, ‘too many children have statements’, and (a real corker this one) ‘SEN is simply bad behaviour’. In terms of schools, Toby Young and others like him want something better than what is currently offered to all children in their local areas. Rather than improve or expand these schools for the benefit of all, the government is handing extremely large amounts of money over so they can set up Free Schools for the few that are more to their liking. Suddenly, it appears that the children of already well off and motivated parents are deserving of government money to boost their educational opportunities, and those who are disadvantaged either by economics or special educational needs are no longer deserving of the investment of public money. I predicted that children with SEN and disabilities would soon become the ‘benefit cheats’ of education, and here they are, apparently ensconced in schools that are ‘playing the system’ so they can gain extra funds for their schools.

In today’s Education Guardian Fran Abrams writes: ‘A green paper is expected to set out the future of special needs education this month – and there have been suggestions that ministers could use Ofsted’s findings to justify cutting the numbers classified as needing extra help.’ See the article here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/08/special-needs-spending-cuts?commentpage=last#end-of-comments

If this were to happen, as I worry it will, simply brushing students with special needs under the carpet is a very poor strategy indeed. They will still be there, and they will go through the education system unrecognised and un-helped, and a whole cohort of our youth will under achieve in their education. As if that wasn’t bad enough, vocational courses and newly ‘non-humanities’ subjects such as Music that suit some children are being simply rubbed out of existence due to the requirements of the English Baccalaureate. In Academyworld, all routes of redress that parents could previously take when they felt their children’s needs were not being met have been eliminated: the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal can no longer deal with appeals from parents of children who go to academies and parents can no longer complain to the council about admissions. All routes of redress for children attending academies lead to Gove. There is something very wrong about placing so much power with one person.

When I look at the narrowed curriculum so suddenly in vogue at the Dept for Education, I worry about our most vulnerable children and I wonder what the future holds for them. I hope that one day this government will be consigned to history as an administration which shaped and paid for education for a narrow elite and consigned the rest to second best. The nature of this is very short term, as children with special needs will not take their place as wage earners but will become dependent on health, social services and benefits, their potential and prospects for fulfilment untapped. It doesn’t have to be this way.



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.



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.



Pupils ‘should be sent to private instead of free schools’

Falconer, whose association represents more than 500 schools in the UK, will call on the government to give parents the amount it costs to educate their child through primary school – £6,000 – and allow them to choose the school they wish. He will say that parents should be able to supplement the sum if they want to educate children in the private sector.’ See the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/sep/27/private-schools-free-schools?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments

Hmmm, if Mr Gove has said that the Coalition wishes to improve education for everybody, I fail to see how handing out £6,000 to individual parents will do this.

Perhaps a better route would be to provide better teaching and pastoral care for children in all schools. Sound familiar? It should, it was all over the Press last week in relation to OFSTED’s controversial report (which everybody seems to have forgotten about) about special needs. Now, surely if improved teaching and pastoral care is good enough to improve standards for children with SEN, it should also be good enough for everybody else.

If we were to go ahead with this scheme, how would we identify or assess those suitable? What if everybody wanted £6,000 per child? Mr Falconer, I’ve got no objection to private schools existing. I have no objection to parents purchasing either a better standard of education (or social exclusivity) for their offspring. However, in these days of austerity I have to say that there are many many institutions and organisations more worthy of a £6,000 freebie per child than yours.

Furthermore, it is our experience that private schools don’t really want children with SEN, or want to charge higher fees to cover TA’s and specialised teaching. Some of their SEN policies make dark threats to ask children to leave if SEN is identified and they believe parents have withheld this information.

Any head teachers out there? Would this not be an administrative and funding nightmare? How would you go about extricating £6,000 from your funding scheme once a child’s parents decide to place them in the private sector?



Urgent – The special educational needs and disability review – a statement is not enough

I urge you all to read this report for yourselves.  I have not finished reading it myself but have in the first two pages encountered some seriously sweeping statements not properly backed up by research which aim to cut costs and enable publicly funded money to go to independent schools and private schools, academies and free schools. 

I am going to take a little time to read and digest the report before I publish any analysis.  However, the way this has been reported leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  The report only became available on the OFSTED website after 9.30am today, after all of the bad headlines and scaremongering media coverage had been presented largely unchallenged. 

The bit I have read so far is not based on evidence which stands any reasonable test and the conclusions are ideologically motivated rather than evidence based.  Yesterday I commented on the Toby Young article which was scaremongering about Health and Safety and children with disabilities in schools.  I said at that time that Toby would be declaring that disability is a ‘lifestyle choice’.  It’s happened, although it is referred to as ‘special educational needs’.  Watch the media as special educational needs becomes the new benefit cheat. 

You don’t have to take this.  WE don’t have have to take this!  What has motivated OFSTED to do this?  Follow the money…  OFSTED obviously don’t want to go the way of the Audit Commission.  Do we detect the hand of GOVE?



Does the free schools and academies rhetoric make life easier for special needs and deprived children?

I agree totally with this article, and for me, Cameron’s response to the idea of sending his children to a local comprehensive school said it all. Not only that, there was recently a move by the Telegraph in it’s article by Rosa Prince ‘Sharp rise in number of special needs pupils’ to link low achievement in children with bad behaviour rather than any special educational need they might have. She speculates that these badly behaved children are being over labelled with an SEN in order to enable their schools to improve their standing in the league tables, and parents to cherry pick the best schools! See Rosa Prince’s article.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7904999/Sharp-rise-in-number-of-special-needs-pupils.html

Children from poorer families are umuch less likely to have parents with the time and energy and confidence to get involved with a Free School, and will be left on the sidelines with the ‘undesirable schools’. Not only that, there is no ring fencing of the pupil premium and it looks increasingly likely that this money might not actually reach the children for whom it is intended. Unfortunately, if state schools under local authority control have to compete with free schools and academies for funding these schools will be much less able to improve. Their funding will be reduced because they will have to share it with any new academies or free schools that might have been set up in their area.

I still haven’t figured out why the government can’t simply put this vast amount of money into improving the schools we already have, for the benefit of all children.

I always try not to be too political.  So here’s a comment to try to balance things up.  With the honourable exception of Ed Balls we haven’t heard much about Education from the other four Labour leadership contenders.  Of course, the economy dominates the headlines but here’s a challenge:  rather than concentrate on what mistakes have or have not been made in running the economy, lets deal with the future of our country.  Education is fundamental to all of our futures and I believe that equipping ALL of OUR children with the skills and abilities to be successful and  economically/financially independent to their full potential is vital.  Schools are also the nursery for successful social cohesion and any educational system which is not based on equality of opportunity is simply storing up social problems for the future.



Michael Rosen’s take on ‘radical Free Schools’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/7582129

This is the link to Michael Rosen’s comment on an article about ‘Free Schools’ in The Guardian today. I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments.

It’s worth reading the article and all the comments that go with it.In fact there is probably more debate and argument in this one article than the government allowed in Parliament before it forced the Academies Act through!!!!!