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

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‘The King’s Speech’ succeeds as its legacy is put at risk!

We are in danger of losing speech & language therapy services for children with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD). The NHS Ealing consultation document has this to say about the matter.

‘CHILDREN WITH RARE SPEECH & LANGUAGE DISORDER
MAY BE MISSING OUT ON SPECIALIST NHS SERVICES

Children with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD) may not be reaching their full potential due to a lack of specialist services in London, according to a consultation launched this week.

This relatively rare speech and language disorder can have long-term implications if children do not have the right therapy early on in childhood. A new service specific to their needs would, therefore, be in their best interests, as well as highly cost-effective for the NHS and local authorities.

NHS Ealing is running the consultation on behalf of the NHS in London. It offers pupils, parents and carers, health, education, speech and language professionals and the wider public the opportunity to have their say about proposals for future services.

It also seeks to understand what potential service users, providers and commissioners (NHS and local education authorities) would want from a new service.

The consultation follows the suspension in July 2007 of a service run by the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust at the Nuffield Speech and Language Unit in Ealing. NHS Ealing then commissioned a review of the demand for specialist services for children with severe speech and language disorders in London.

Now it has developed six service options that could help to meet this need in future, with detailed input from a wide range of interested parties.

These options include building on a service currently delivered at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital (RNTNEH), while the London Specialised Commissioning Group determines longer-term future services for children with DVD.

The closing date for responses and submissions as part of the consultation is 5pm on
25 March 2011. This consultation document and supporting information is available on the NHS Ealing website http://www.ealingpct.nhs.uk/nuffield_consultation.asp

The recent film ‘The King’s Speech’ has captured the public imagination and has brought to the fore the issue of speech and language impairment. Well dressed and attractive actors portray the story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome his stammer with the help of philanthropic speech therapist Lionel Logue.

The Guardian today runs this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/feb/06/speech-therapy-spending-cuts?CMP=twt_gu . It expresses hope that the film will ‘boost the Giving Voice campaign and highlight the social benefits of speech and language therapy (SLT).’ Logue was a philanthropist who used the money charged to his richer clients to fund therapy for poorer people. It is said that he never turned anyone away who asked for his help. This is laudable, as is the charity Giving Voice. However, I am horrified that such an essential service is being down graded to being a charitable case. The speech and language therapy services have historically been undervalued in the NHS, being under resourced and it is usual for long waiting lists to exist for children requiring therapy. Often the window of opportunity for effective treatment is diminished or lost as children wait. When you add up the social cost of children who do not have the right treatment for speech and language impairment, in terms of crime, lost job opportunities, benefit costs, it runs into billions of pounds. When you consider the costs of running an effective speech and language therapy service for all, (mere millions!), it is evident that we must invest in our speech and language therapy services. The government is morally obliged to fund these services properly, and not to rely on charitable institutions.

It is nice to think about the King receiving speech therapy to overcome his stammer, but what about the rest of us? I urge everyone, parents, teachers, medical professionals and the wider public to respond to this consultation. We can’t afford not to do so!



A statement is not enough – so lets just get rid of them all! (But lets hide this under some headlines about poor teaching, grasping schools and sharp elbowed middle class parents …. and then say it’s for everybody’s benefit)

So the media circus around the controversial report – ‘The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’ – is no longer front page news.  The hype has been played out.  Newspapers have been bought.  Links have been clicked and comments have been written.  The radio and TV media world has moved on leaving those of us who have children with special educational needs to reflect on and worry about the future implications of this report.

We have all heard the rhetoric about ineffective teaching and poor pastoral care.  I quote the report, ‘relatively expensive additional provision is being used to make up for poor day-to-day teaching and pastoral support’.  We have all had a chance to inwardly digest the subtle or not so subtle media messages about children with misdiagnosed special educational needs taking away resources from other children.  We have visualised the greedy parents waving educational assessments at head teachers, so they can gleefully claim ‘extra’ resources for their children. 

By page 6 of this 94 page report we hear that ‘The key implication of these (report) findings is that any further changes to the system should focus not on tightening the processes of prescribing entitlement to services’ and there is an early mention of ‘necessarily limited resources’. 

The 1996 Education Act provides for children with the most severe special educational needs to have their needs identified and provided for under the terms of a statement of special educational needs.  They do cost money to set up, they do cost money to fund, and yes, we also know that they can be expensive to maintain.  However, we also know that life only changed for our children in school when statements were obtained and implemented.  Prior to obtaining their statements, their lives were beset by failure, social exclusion, and, dare I say it, an overbearing feeling of sadness. 

Before receiving their statements, they were at various times on School Action and School Action Plus.  We were continually told that improvements to their support in school were unattainable to the school due to cost.   For us the graduated response – school action, school action Plus – failed because there were too many ways for the school and LEA to wriggle out of actually doing anything.  It was actually because at this stage of intervention there were no tight processes prescribing entitlement that our children slipped so far behind.  With this in mind, please read the excerpt below, paying particular attention to the phrase I have put in bold.  I quote from the report: 

The key implication of these findings is that any further changes to the system should focus not on tightening the processes of prescribing entitlement to services but, rather, on:

  •  improving the quality of assessment
  •  ensuring that where additional support is provided, it is effective  
  • improving teaching and pastoral support early on so that additional provision is not needed later
  • developing specialist provision and services strategically so that they are available to maintained and independent schools, academies and colleges
  • simplifying legislation so that the system is clearer for parents, schools and other education and training providers
  • ensuring that schools do not identify pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching
  • ensuring that accountability for those providing services focuses on the outcomes for the children and young people concerned.

The review found a high level of demand from parents and carers for additional services for their children, and this is not something that legislative or regulatory change in itself can address easily. However, such changes could make the system better focused on the outcomes that parents and carers want for their children, and more effective in its use of necessarily limited resources.

This looks suspiciously like a precursor to removing all entitlement to statements.  Imagine a world where there is only the graduated response to meet special educational needs – oh and improved teaching! 

Children with the most severe special educational needs in the country currently have the right to have these needs met under the provision of a statement of special educational needs.  This report has not categorically stated that it will take away the statement – not yet.  However, there are plenty of indications in the report that this might happen.  If this happens, parents who object will be vilified as wanting ‘special’ provision that takes away from other children.  They will be ‘sharp elbowed middle class parents’ – you heard it from the Prime Minister first.  If the teachers object they will be told to focus on improving their teaching skills. 

Politics is a curious thing.  Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister was saying that the ‘poor should accept benefit cuts’.  Today we hear rumblings in the Press about the government no longer paying for teacher training courses for those candidates whose degrees are not ‘good enough’ – we can’t have any more ‘poor teaching’!  Before we know it, parents of children with SEN will find themselves being asked the question ‘what makes your child more ‘special’ than all the others, and why should they have access to more funding?’

The Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views was launched on 10th September by Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.  I’m not sure if this is window dressing on decisions that have already been made or not.  It is an opportunity for parents to contribute their views.  We have until 15th October to contribute.  Make it a priority to participate!

I’d like to say a ‘Thank you’ to everybody who has re-tweeted, linked to the blog or published my posts so far.  This is an issue which needs to be highlighted as widely as possible because the public memory is short and the only message to come out so far is ‘special needs education is expensive and a bit rubbish’.  Please, please keep on re-tweeting, and linking to my blog because we need to get a proper debate and decision-making process on this vital issue.  It’s not just about a few years bad schooling it is our children’s futures that are at stake.



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.