Guerrillamum's Blog


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.

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Oh the times they are a-changin’ … but not yet!

In this peculiar phase of cuts and anticipated change most of us expect to see alterations to the way our children’s SEN are provided for in the coming months if not years. However, I think it is in order to pause to think that in terms of SEN provision, very little has actually changed yet. If your child has a statement, please make sure you have an up to date copy of it, and check that it matches your expectations. Talk to your child about what they do in school. Get out the paperwork from your child’s last annual review and any letters you received about this. Look at your child’s Individual Education Plan and make sure that the provisions within this match those indicated by the statement.

Depressing media coverage of anticipated cuts and negative headlines about SEN have primed us all to expect less. But it is well worth bearing in mind that your child’s SEN provision is still protected by the 1996 Education Act, and no changes have yet been made to affect that. If any changes to your child’s provision are proposed to you make sure that you get them in writing and check them against the statement. Be prepared to object if necessary (some changes might be appropriate!) and remember that as of September you are now allowed to appeal through the Special Educational Needs and Disability panel if a local authority refuses to amend a statement following annual review and you disagree with that.

Remember also that Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families, in September launched her Green Paper: ‘Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – Call for Views’. We have until 15th October to reply. We should all try to contribute if at all possible. 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

Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters’.



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?



Guerrilla Mum’s Top 5 Back to School Tips
My boys go back to school next week. I can’t believe how quickly the holidays have passed by!  In addition to all of the usual preparation, next week I will be performing some extra tasks to make sure that the school year gets off to as smooth a start as possible.  Here are my Top 5 back-to-school Guerrilla Tips.
 
1. Prepare your child for the start of the new term! Implement a new (early) bedtime at least a week before school starts.Talk through new processes, where to meet after school, which bus to catch, etc – even if routines have stayed the same, go over things again. Be very specific, discussing what time to be there, where to stand, which is the bus number, etc. Talk about moving up a year, and their new teacher if applicable. If your child is very young, use stories to open up discussion. This can be particularly beneficial in aiding communication between parent and child if the child has worries or anxieties. Update contact details with school so that the school can ALWAYS contact you, the child’s other parent or other appropriate person.
 
2. Communicate well!  Decide that this year communication between school and home will be better than ever. Try to agree with your child’s class teacher or form teacher how this will work. Does the school provide parents with specific email addresses for teachers? Will you use a home/school diary? Put parents’ evenings/consultations/curriculum evenings/whole school meetings in your diary so you don’t miss them. Could you offer to help in class, on school trips, or in the school library? These are opportunities to be at school when your child is there. You will learn a lot about how they are doing just by being there.
 
3. Meet the teacher! Attend general parents’ evenings/curriculum evenings, etc at the beginning of term by all means but it is essential that you make an individual appointment with the child’s new class teacher or form teacher early in the term. Use the meeting to outline your child’s unique needs and difficulties and your concerns. If you already know the teacher this can be an opportunity to give updates. Be polite, be specific. Provide copies of relevant reports (never the originals). If the teacher is new, give them a written brief history of your child, including strengths, difficulties, and behaviour strategies used at home, your child’s areas of interest and any other relevant information. 
 
4. IEP Review!  If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a statement, look back on these with their end of term report. Have the targets been reached? Are any new targets becoming apparent? Be ready to advocate for your child in the IEP review/meeting with their teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). Request that an IEP meeting is set to happen early in the term, so that targets can be agreed and provision can be arranged early on so as to give the child the optimum chance of making progress. 
 
5. Watch out for cuts! The Local Authority (LA) will have been told to expect huge reductions in their funding, and they will be looking to make savings. Make certain that the provision you are expecting to see in your child’s statement/IEP is exactly what is actually there. This is particularly important if you have recently received an updated or final statement, for example, following an annual review. If you do see a reduction in provision, challenge it. If you do not challenge these things immediately, it will become increasingly difficult to have provision reinstated. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable, but we have found out about this the hard way!
 
Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters.

First published on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog – http://www.jkp.com/blog/