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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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.