Guerrillamum's Blog


GuerrillaMum – Missing in Action

It has been a good few weeks since my last blog. I must confess to feeling somewhat battle fatigued due to the escapades of the new government and their effects on my children’s schooling and haven’t wanted to write as much as before. I have found it very stressful, watching the effects of the cuts and the changes to our education legislation take shape. My own children’s school recently became an academy, with only the sketchiest of consultation processes. The school’s defence to this when questioned was that they never arranged any meetings because they thought a consultation event would be poorly attended… we never stood a chance. The Local Authority has been trying to save money by messing with transport arrangements for statemented children, and have sent out some confusing letters for parents to worry about. Cuts to therapy services and educational psychology services are starting to have a bigger effect. SENCOs are walking around school looking increasingly stressed, and William is now finding himself ‘buddied’ up with other children to share teaching assistant support. We are watching this carefully but it is hard to object to this knowing that in doing so, another child may simply not get help at all. It is fair to say that some of the services our children rely on are simply not what they were.

In response to this I have found myself taking refuge in my garden more and more. My potatoes and raspberries have been very demanding as have my hens who still have not recovered from the effects the issuing of the Green Paper had on them. See here: https://guerrillamum.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/in-which-guerrilla-mums-hens-suffer-because-of-michael-gove/

; (wink)

I have not been entirely idle however. The people at the BBC Learning Parents blog have asked me to write a piece for them which can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/parents/ You can also see posts from other writers/bloggers/parents with similar interests in special educational needs and parenting.

I’m hoping that I can shake off this coalition inspired malaise and get back to blogging soon. Normal service will I trust, be resumed shortly



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.



SEN and Disability Green Paper – a few thoughts…

The Green Paper on SEN and Disability, issued yesterday, has caused some furore as parents and children, schools, health and education workers and other stakeholders attempt to take in its implications for the future. I for one have been thinking a lot about the report.

The most pressing thing for me is this: as the parent of children who have statements, I am very interested in the Education, Health and Care plans which will cover a child from birth to the age of 25. If done right I see huge potential for supporting a child through school and into work. The Green Paper detailed that the assessment for these plans is to be carried out over a day, with professionals coming to the child rather than having a number of assessments carried out at different locations and over a period of months. That is all very well, but when you have a child who needs a statement – or similar support, it is vitally important that assessment is both accurate and appropriate. Clearly, there is room for improvement in the length of time statutory assessment (or similar assessments) will take, but they are lengthy for good reasons. Assessing a child with complex needs is complicated and it is time consuming… Most of all it is very hard work for the child, who can find assessment very stressful. Sometimes just one speech therapy assessment can take one, two or even three hours. Other assessments can be similarly time consuming if done well. Children who have statements, or who would need an Education, Health and Care plan will need a series of appropriate assessments, and it is very important that this is done right. It cannot be rushed simply to save money or to make the system more efficient.

Yesterday, as a parent who commented on the original Green Paper call for views, I received this email from the DfE:

‘As you may be aware, this morning we published our Green Paper Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability.

You helpfully responded to the call for views launched last September as we began our work to develop our Green Paper and I would be very pleased to hear from you again. Please respond to the consultation and let us know what you think of our proposals.

If you would like more information, please visit our website for the full text of the Green Paper, the consultation and other associated documents http://www.education.gov.uk

Best wishes

Ella Joseph

Deputy Director

Special educational needs and disability

Department for Education’

Evidently we still have an opportunity to collectively make comments on the Green Paper. I am heartened that there will, hopefully be an equivalent plan to the statement, and that this is not simply to be scrapped and also that this will be protected by legislation. If enough of us continue to comment during the green paper consultation period, between now and June, and if we do so loudly enough, (even if we did not comment on the original call for views), then I do believe we can affect the eventual outcome and the legislation. Also, the document is very aspirational, and I still can’t see where the funding and the well trained health and education professionals to put these things into practice will come from, bearing in mind that the green paper will rely heavily on services that have been savagely cut. I am deeply worried about the government’s plans to bring in an untrained and unpaid voluntary sector into the identification and meeting of SEN. I think it will take a lot of pressure from the general public to get the government to sort these things out so that our children with SEN and disability can have successful outcomes!



In Which Guerrilla Mum’s hens suffer because of Michael Gove

In our house the Guerrilla Dad got up having listened to the 6.00 news on Radio 4 and went to let the hens out. Being a cheery chap he usually speaks to all the hens kindly and gently however, this morning he had heard the Green Paper on SEN & Disability was proposing to scrap statements and was proposing statutory mediation in a process which would be managed by the voluntary sector. ‘Big Society, Big &^%(*£”!! said GD as he grumpily put out the hens’ food. We later heard on Radio 4 a report suggesting that hens have empathy. Being empathetic they retreated to their hen house.

We are still checking the DfE website, and the hens are still hoping the GD’s mood improves because they do miss their little chats. It will not improve if the news does not very soon get better than what is touted by the Tory press.

GD is proposing that our William’s hen Queen Latifah should be seconded to the Dept of Education as an advisor, as he has seen precious little evidence of the government demonstrating empathy for children with SEN and disability. We think she could teach the government a lot…

I drove two unhappy children to school today who were worried that they would lose their places at school and their help because of what they had heard on the news.

More later. For the record, this is not my response to the Green Paper because I am waiting until I have actually read it – unlike some!



In which Guerrillamum ponders the impending Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and Disability

Ever since our oldest son first went to school and I became embroiled in dealing with the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs, and the associated legislation, I have wanted this system to be reformed. I had hoped that this would happen through a truly transparent process where interested bodies and other stakeholders would be asked for their views through a robust process of consultation and open debate. Instead on the very cusp of the proposed reforms, when I should be trembling with expectation, I am instead trembling with fear for what these changes might mean for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

So why am I worried? Although Sarah Teather is nominally the Minister responsible for this process, it is possible to detect the Hand of Gove everywhere! Almost unnoticed in the Academies Act is a section which removes the right of appeal for parents to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDT). Instead, all routes of appeal lead only to HIM. And we all know how ‘flexible’ he is, don’t we? Previously it was a more open process adjudicated by independent educationalists who spoke from experience of dealing with all of the issues presented to them in a child’s case.

Why is this so important? We and thousands of ordinary parents like us have been forced to take the extraordinary step of going to a tribunal to make sure that our children can access the curriculum in the same way as every other child. I am worried that the Green Paper will propose new ‘designations’ placing children with challenging or complex needs in a category attracting only a minimal amount of intervention which is delivered at the discretion (or not) of a school or academy. In academies, where parents disagree with the level of help given to their children, all routes for appeal will lead to guess who – the Minister of State for Education. With financial incentives for conversion to academy status more and more schools will seek it and more children with special educational needs will be left without the right of appeal to an independent body.

This government has already demonstrated some very strange attitudes towards disability. On one hand it has produced workable guidance for the Autism Act (though has yet to come up with the money), and on the other some truly dreadful attacks have been levelled at Disability Living Allowance. Maybe this inconsistency is because this government IS a coalition. It’s really frightening to think what the combination of Gove’s ideology and Tory cost cutting could do to this Green Paper.

However, I am still hoping for the best. Hoping for a considered, fair, and most importantly, fully funded system in which children with SEN & Disability have their rights to access to an appropriate education recognised. In a Big Society this would happen because these children can also make valuable contributions. We just need to value them first. Oh, and ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY!’



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 – 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.




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.