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.

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‘Experts’, children and inclusion and why teaching is about so much more than just being an expert
November 9, 2010, 10:31 am
Filed under: A few thoughts | Tags: , , , , ,

Our son has been rehearsing for a concert and I have been helping to organise it. The organisation putting on the concert has always been very inclusive and those involved in working with the children are very nice people. However things came to a head last week, when one of the organisers criticised some of the children who had individual pieces to do for not being ‘of the required standard’, and sought to exclude some from playing the parts they had volunteered for. This person was not alone in their thoughts. Others within the organisation, however, leapt to the children’s defence, making clear that all children who volunteered would be included and were appreciated for their talents and all that they brought to the production.

However, the children who were ‘not of the required standard’ were not even children with SEN! The whole experience has left me with an overbearing sense of sadness that I am finding difficult to shift. Everyone else seems to have moved on, which is good, and as it should be and we are all now focussed again on getting the production on to the stage. It should be fun! The children are not aware of what happened, are all enjoying themselves and that is great.

I am still very disappointed with the attitudes of the people who criticised the children in such a negative manner. We may have won this battle but we still have a long way to go to win the war and change people’s exclusionary attitudes. I think you are probably used to hearing positive and upbeat messages from Guerrilla Mum but in truth this experience has left me weary. This is because I know my boys face attitudes like this every day, and probably will for the rest of their lives.

This is part of what worries me about free schools and using experts instead of qualified teachers to teach children. The people who were negative about the children in our production were undoubtedly experts in what they were teaching the children. However they were not trained teachers and, nice as they are, they failed the inclusion test completely. That is the lesson I would pass on to those planning free schools in which teachers do not have to be properly trained.

All of the children in the production are having a positive experience and having fun which is the main thing and what I will try to focus on in the next few days.