Guerrillamum's Blog


More thoughts on the Green Paper for SEN and Disability…

The green paper for SEN and disability states that those children who currently have a statement, less than 3% of children with SEN, will have an education, health and care plan (EHCP) under the new system. There are also plans to improve achievement for children who are disadvantaged through pastoral care. So far, however, there are only very vague indications about how SEN will be provided for in children who fall into neither of the above categories and have less severe SEN. There will be a lot of children in this lower level category of need! Many of these children will have very real SEN requiring specialist support.

I have commented regularly about the limp and woolly provision currently available to unstatemented children with SEN through the school action and school action plus categories of the graduated response process of our current system for meeting SEN. Yet the new system promises to scrap these classifications replacing them with a new tier of provision. Children will be ‘lumped together’ in this category, with some receiving pastoral care because they are disadvantaged, and others receiving support for SEN through ‘better teaching’ and schools sharing best practice. Also, the voluntary sector will be brought in to carry out so far unspecified roles. Remember, this new system will be implemented by health and education services that have undergone savage cuts and will draw heavily on untrained support from the voluntary sector. I don’t believe it is possible to improve provision for children with SEN and disabilities by cutting specialist services and replacing these with an untrained voluntary sector.

I can see a lot of children who need specialist intervention for their SEN receiving little more than pastoral support if the school has nothing else to offer, leading to misery and failure for thousands of children. How do I know? This is exactly what happened to my son under the deeply flawed but infinitely more robust graduated response of our current system.

The lack of clarity surrounding this is simply not good enough. Everyone has the opportunity to influence these policies by taking the opportunity to make representations to the consultation, and write to their MP to ask how, in detail will the plans be funded and implemented.

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SEN and Disability Green Paper – a few thoughts…

The Green Paper on SEN and Disability, issued yesterday, has caused some furore as parents and children, schools, health and education workers and other stakeholders attempt to take in its implications for the future. I for one have been thinking a lot about the report.

The most pressing thing for me is this: as the parent of children who have statements, I am very interested in the Education, Health and Care plans which will cover a child from birth to the age of 25. If done right I see huge potential for supporting a child through school and into work. The Green Paper detailed that the assessment for these plans is to be carried out over a day, with professionals coming to the child rather than having a number of assessments carried out at different locations and over a period of months. That is all very well, but when you have a child who needs a statement – or similar support, it is vitally important that assessment is both accurate and appropriate. Clearly, there is room for improvement in the length of time statutory assessment (or similar assessments) will take, but they are lengthy for good reasons. Assessing a child with complex needs is complicated and it is time consuming… Most of all it is very hard work for the child, who can find assessment very stressful. Sometimes just one speech therapy assessment can take one, two or even three hours. Other assessments can be similarly time consuming if done well. Children who have statements, or who would need an Education, Health and Care plan will need a series of appropriate assessments, and it is very important that this is done right. It cannot be rushed simply to save money or to make the system more efficient.

Yesterday, as a parent who commented on the original Green Paper call for views, I received this email from the DfE:

‘As you may be aware, this morning we published our Green Paper Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability.

You helpfully responded to the call for views launched last September as we began our work to develop our Green Paper and I would be very pleased to hear from you again. Please respond to the consultation and let us know what you think of our proposals.

If you would like more information, please visit our website for the full text of the Green Paper, the consultation and other associated documents http://www.education.gov.uk

Best wishes

Ella Joseph

Deputy Director

Special educational needs and disability

Department for Education’

Evidently we still have an opportunity to collectively make comments on the Green Paper. I am heartened that there will, hopefully be an equivalent plan to the statement, and that this is not simply to be scrapped and also that this will be protected by legislation. If enough of us continue to comment during the green paper consultation period, between now and June, and if we do so loudly enough, (even if we did not comment on the original call for views), then I do believe we can affect the eventual outcome and the legislation. Also, the document is very aspirational, and I still can’t see where the funding and the well trained health and education professionals to put these things into practice will come from, bearing in mind that the green paper will rely heavily on services that have been savagely cut. I am deeply worried about the government’s plans to bring in an untrained and unpaid voluntary sector into the identification and meeting of SEN. I think it will take a lot of pressure from the general public to get the government to sort these things out so that our children with SEN and disability can have successful outcomes!



In which Guerrillamum ponders the impending Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and Disability

Ever since our oldest son first went to school and I became embroiled in dealing with the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs, and the associated legislation, I have wanted this system to be reformed. I had hoped that this would happen through a truly transparent process where interested bodies and other stakeholders would be asked for their views through a robust process of consultation and open debate. Instead on the very cusp of the proposed reforms, when I should be trembling with expectation, I am instead trembling with fear for what these changes might mean for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

So why am I worried? Although Sarah Teather is nominally the Minister responsible for this process, it is possible to detect the Hand of Gove everywhere! Almost unnoticed in the Academies Act is a section which removes the right of appeal for parents to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDT). Instead, all routes of appeal lead only to HIM. And we all know how ‘flexible’ he is, don’t we? Previously it was a more open process adjudicated by independent educationalists who spoke from experience of dealing with all of the issues presented to them in a child’s case.

Why is this so important? We and thousands of ordinary parents like us have been forced to take the extraordinary step of going to a tribunal to make sure that our children can access the curriculum in the same way as every other child. I am worried that the Green Paper will propose new ‘designations’ placing children with challenging or complex needs in a category attracting only a minimal amount of intervention which is delivered at the discretion (or not) of a school or academy. In academies, where parents disagree with the level of help given to their children, all routes for appeal will lead to guess who – the Minister of State for Education. With financial incentives for conversion to academy status more and more schools will seek it and more children with special educational needs will be left without the right of appeal to an independent body.

This government has already demonstrated some very strange attitudes towards disability. On one hand it has produced workable guidance for the Autism Act (though has yet to come up with the money), and on the other some truly dreadful attacks have been levelled at Disability Living Allowance. Maybe this inconsistency is because this government IS a coalition. It’s really frightening to think what the combination of Gove’s ideology and Tory cost cutting could do to this Green Paper.

However, I am still hoping for the best. Hoping for a considered, fair, and most importantly, fully funded system in which children with SEN & Disability have their rights to access to an appropriate education recognised. In a Big Society this would happen because these children can also make valuable contributions. We just need to value them first. Oh, and ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY!’



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.



A difficult time…

Things have been a bit difficult in our house lately because Peter has been having a challenging time at school. Believe me, having written a book on parenting children with special educational needs is no guarantee at all that you will have all the answers when things unexpectedly fall apart at school. One of the other children with special educational needs has been bullying him, and after two and a half years of relative calm, and being in what he has considered to be a safe place, Peter has gone to pieces. I understand the difficulties for the school in managing the needs of all children involved, and also their obligation to continue to meet everybody’s needs. It must be much more difficult to manage bullying situations where the bully has special educational needs. I have had the somewhat humbling experience of finding it incredibly difficult to take my own advice in dealing with the school. I have got upset both with and in the company of teachers. I have had to bite my tongue and not tell Peter that what the other child really needs is a good thump! Me and the Guerrilla Dad have had a number of disagreements with the school over their handling of the problem.

Lets face it, I was never going to deal with it well if Peter ever was bullied again at school. But right now, at the beginning of year 10, and his GCSEs, with the new modular style of exam, where he is already beginning to do work that will count to his final exam results, we just can’t have this. The possiblity of him leaving school with a creditable number of GCSEs looked to be eminently feasible at the beginning of the term. Now it is looking much less likely. Peter is trying to take refuge in computer games. He is no longer on top of his game and sometimes has no idea when a test is coming up. He is emotionally a little boy again in many ways. It makes me so angry.

We have now reached an agreement with the school about how to manage the bullying, and I really hope things get sorted out quickly. I am watching to see if the school does the things they have agreed to do. One thing that has leaped out at us with absolute clarity during this time is that you can’t overstate the necessity to have the right physical and emotional learning environment for children with special educational needs at school. It has also not been much consolation to know that everything is going well for William at school – it has just made Peter’s situation look and feel so much worse.

I have turned to reading books to try and get some ideas for dealing with these things. There are some really good ones from Jessica Kingsley Publishing, and I have decided (with their agreement) to review a few on this blog. So watch this space, I will tell you which ones help me to make this situation better. The practice of analysing something written by someone else will also come in handy for when Sarah Teather’s Green Paper on special educational needs and disability is published. Lets hope she makes a better job of it than OFSTED did!

Onwards and upwards…. Ellen P



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.



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?’