Guerrillamum's Blog


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.

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Why is this article not front page news?

Well, it seems we can’t comment on this article yet – ‘Almost one in four primary school boys ‘have special educational needs’ – Guardian, 18th October
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/19/primary-school-boys-special-educational-needs – so I have decided to do so on my blog.

It is no surprise that boys are found to be more likely than girls to have SEN, nor that more boys are affected by autism, learning problems and social difficulties. This really is not news, at least, not to me.

However, what is newsworthy is that Ms Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families has made a commitment to getting right the provision for children with SEN and disabilities: “Pupils with special educational needs are not getting the support they need to succeed and are falling behind as soon as they start school.

“It is not right that only five per cent of young people with statements go on to higher education. We must change the system so that having special educational needs or a disability does not predetermine a child’s future.”

One of the difficulties I have always had with the way in which SEN are identified and provided for is the system’s willingness to see children start school and then fail badly before the right help is put in place. Even children with diagnoses have to go through this process before they get the right help at school. What is provided without a statement of SEN is so often ‘too little, too late’, and it can be tremendously difficult to get a statement for a child. It is not rocket science to know that it is necessary to put help in place as a child with known difficulties starts school to prevent them having to go through the process of failure. Why make them go through this before they can begin to access the right help and only then begin to experience success? It is so damaging to a child’s self esteem and eventual achievement at school and in life.

I hope the findings in this article will provide a much needed antidote to the current rhetoric stemming from the recent media coverage/circus of OFSTED’s report (A statement is not enough – Ofsted review of special educational needs and disability), about SEN children being ‘misdiagnosed’ with SEN. I also hope that Ms Teather will be able to make good on her commitment to prevent children with SEN from falling behind from the moment they start school and their future being predetermined by an accident of birth – their SEN or disability. I hope she is able to protect the interests of children with SEN and disabilities. I know she has a fight on her hands.

One final comment before I leave this post – a few weeks ago OFSTED issued a report saying that too many children were being diagnosed with SEN, and this was big news. You couldn’t move for media stories that vilified children with SEN, their parents and teachers. Sarah Teather says that children with SEN and disabilities are not getting the right help in school, and there is much less interest. This particular article came out yesterday in the late afternoon, you can’t comment on it and it is now off the front page of the Guardian Education section.

I will ask this question again – ‘Why is this article not front page news?’



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.



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?



Is this an OFSTED report or an OFST£D report?

I am sure that there is a science to reports and reviews of the type of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’.  One would hope that a government body would conduct an efficient survey of SEN and Disability when tasked to do so.  It does point out some things I recognise:  the inconsistency in the quality of interventions, inconsistency in the threshold at which this intervention is given, and it also says that the parental perception of inconsistency in this respect is well-founded.  Apparently the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs in the UK is in need of major overhaul.  It says ‘The pattern of local services had often developed in an ad hoc way, based on what had been done in the past rather than from a strategic overview of what was needed locally’.  I do recognise these things in my experiences of trying to access appropriate services for my children.  These observations are to be welcomed.  So why am I not jumping for joy at the prospect of a shiny new system for identifying and meeting the needs of those with disabilities and SEN at school? 

Let’s be absolutely clear about something.  It is one thing to make these conclusions and then using the report findings to do something to improve educational provision for children who have SEN and/or disabilities – this is what I am hoping will happen.  It is something else again to make observations that focus on apparently ‘failing’ or ‘ineffective’ services with the aim of being seen to make ‘legitimate’ cuts.  This is what I fear this report will lead to.

I am not helped in forming a positive view of the OFSTED report when I read:  ‘The review found that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  This is something about this report that I do not recognise.  Both of my children have at some time in their lives been taught in mainstream settings and in specialist units co-located within specialist schools.  They have accessed services that were  provided to them within the context of a special school, even though they were not actually pupils at the special school.  A range of teachers and professionals have worked with our children both in mainstream settings and in specialist provision.  They have only been able to access specialist provision as part of, or following a statementing process, and after experiencing significant failure in a mainstream setting.  Without specialist intervention I have no doubt that failure would have simply become more entrenched.  Once in a specialist placement, their access to appropriate services and specialist teaching made their levels of achievement soar.   Access to specialist teaching and therapy has been central to this progress being made.  I just do not recognise the claim ‘that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  I fear that this is a precursor to big cuts in SEN provision.  It is my own view that this report is indicative of OFSTED being a public body that is out of touch with the general public.  I base this on my own experiences of trying to obtain support for my own children, and what I know of the experiences of other parents in the same position.   

The dedicated teachers, therapists, Teaching Assistants etc that one finds in specialist placements have chosen to work in these settings with children with special educational needs.  They are highly trained and experienced.  Should something happen to reduce the availability of specialist teaching placements, this would be an enormous loss to many children with SEN who cannot be accommodated within an inclusive mainstream setting.  Teachers in specialist placements are committed to improving the outcomes of these children:  it is a failing of teacher training that most teachers do not have the right training to meet the needs of some children with the most severe special educational needs who require specialist teaching.  It is essential that we do not lose the opportunity for our children to access special schools or teaching within specialist settings should they need it.  

I would be interested to hear what other parents make of this comment: ‘no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  Has your child done best within a mainstream setting or did this fail for them?  Have you valued the opportunity of having your child educated in a special school?  If so what was it about a special school that worked for them?  What do you think of your child’s special school?  Has your child accessed specialist teaching in a language unit, autism unit, hearing support unit or other specialist unit within a mainstream school?  Did this work out for your child?  Lets make it a priority to reply to Sarah Teather’s Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views.  Or parents can comment on this blog or at ellenpower@guerrillamum.co.uk – lets record our views somewhere – we may well be glad we did!

 I hope I’m wrong, but this report is looking more and more like it will result in a weakening of our children’s rights to SEN provision, all in the name of cutting costs.  I think there is a risk that the new government will devise future SEN policy or legislation that will further de-specialise special schools and further limit specialist provision within specialist units co-located in mainstream schools – these places are already like gold dust.  Is this an OFSTED report, or an OFST£D report?



The Special Educational Needs Review – a statement is not enough

The first thing I heard yesterday morning was an announcement on the news at 6 o’clock that claimed that hundreds of thousands of children were being misdiagnosed with special educational needs when they were simply under-achieving due to poor teaching and pastoral care at school.  Apparently, all that was needed to solve the problem was better teaching!

Half asleep, I turned the radio off straight away convinced I was having a bad dream.  But no, we are faced with yet another Coalition softening-up process towards cuts to which nobody will object, because another vulnerable sector of our society is vilified – children with special educational needs. 

If the aim of this report was to give a broad and balanced analysis of the SEN system, and its relative benefits or weaknesses, why allow the report to be heralded by a flurry of alarmist Press and scaremongering journalism, so that parents are frightened, teachers are offended and prejudices about the nanny state, disabilities and pushy parents are pandered to?  Why tell the Public about your report findings in this way?  All before breakfast and before the report actually appears on the OFSTED website!  However if you are an agency which is unsure of its future in a climate of radical change, where the government is shutting down public bodies on a weekly basis, why not produce a report that justifies and softens up the Public for government cost cutting?  

What this report does is entirely in keeping with current Coalition thinking.  It targets the most vulnerable children in the Education system.  As part of the Spin process it demonises Special Educational Needs education and will now make it more difficult for all Special Educational Needs children to get the help they need.  SEN is suddenly a ‘lifestyle choice’, the children are akin to ‘benefits cheats’ and the parents ‘grasping, ‘greedy’ and ‘sharp elbowed’ middle class parents.

If you could have found me a school where it was easy to get the help my children needed because the school was angling for more money, I’d have sent my children there.  If there is a school which is very keen to get children on to the SEN register or to have children statemented, tell me where it is because I know of plenty of parents who cannot get this provision for their children.  Do I know of any Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who are ‘social workers’ at schools on unfeasibly large salaries? (as intimated by John Humphrys, Today programme).  No, but I know plenty who are highly skilled professionals who often work through their meal breaks and after school for no pay to support the children they work with.

We are constantly being told that cuts are necessary because we simply can’t afford to spend the money. In this case we can’t afford not to.  Allowing children to fail in school is not an option because it condemns them to lifelong failure. 

There are so many things to comment about in this OFSTED report that I can‘t put them all in one blog.  However as well as the usual Guerrilla Mum posts there will be other blogs about the report on the Guerrillamum blog over the next week or so.



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?