Guerrillamum's Blog


Last GCSE exam…

I haven’t blogged for quite a long while. With two boys with special needs at home, requiring help and support to access the curriculum at school, it is fair to say that we took a decision to put all our energies into helping them achieve their aims at school, and to achieve their dreams in their out of school lives. So blogging has I am afraid gone by the by. However, today I am hit by the knowledge that Monday will be the date of William’s last GCSE exam and he will wear his school uniform for the last time. It marks the end of fourteen years of planning, plotting, fighting, hoping and praying for him to reach this time happy and with some qualifications and with options to go on to A levels. The signs are very positive that he will have passed his exams. He has worked hard, and knows where he wants to go – he will start sixth form in September. I am still anxious for the future as I look at the way the government says it would like to develop education. I know that this is not the end of the road. I know that both of my children have a way to go in overcoming the obstacles that will be placed in their way by their disabilities, but I am struck dumb by their tenacity and will to work hard and to succeed.



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



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.



In Which Guerrilla Mum’s hens suffer because of Michael Gove

In our house the Guerrilla Dad got up having listened to the 6.00 news on Radio 4 and went to let the hens out. Being a cheery chap he usually speaks to all the hens kindly and gently however, this morning he had heard the Green Paper on SEN & Disability was proposing to scrap statements and was proposing statutory mediation in a process which would be managed by the voluntary sector. ‘Big Society, Big &^%(*£”!! said GD as he grumpily put out the hens’ food. We later heard on Radio 4 a report suggesting that hens have empathy. Being empathetic they retreated to their hen house.

We are still checking the DfE website, and the hens are still hoping the GD’s mood improves because they do miss their little chats. It will not improve if the news does not very soon get better than what is touted by the Tory press.

GD is proposing that our William’s hen Queen Latifah should be seconded to the Dept of Education as an advisor, as he has seen precious little evidence of the government demonstrating empathy for children with SEN and disability. We think she could teach the government a lot…

I drove two unhappy children to school today who were worried that they would lose their places at school and their help because of what they had heard on the news.

More later. For the record, this is not my response to the Green Paper because I am waiting until I have actually read it – unlike some!



Spending on Special Needs faces cuts…

Over the past months I have watched the campaign to discredit children with special educational needs unfold with increasing alarm. I have listened as the spin doctors eased into the public consciousness words and phrases such as ‘over diagnosed’, ‘sharp elbowed parents’, ‘too many children have statements’, and (a real corker this one) ‘SEN is simply bad behaviour’. In terms of schools, Toby Young and others like him want something better than what is currently offered to all children in their local areas. Rather than improve or expand these schools for the benefit of all, the government is handing extremely large amounts of money over so they can set up Free Schools for the few that are more to their liking. Suddenly, it appears that the children of already well off and motivated parents are deserving of government money to boost their educational opportunities, and those who are disadvantaged either by economics or special educational needs are no longer deserving of the investment of public money. I predicted that children with SEN and disabilities would soon become the ‘benefit cheats’ of education, and here they are, apparently ensconced in schools that are ‘playing the system’ so they can gain extra funds for their schools.

In today’s Education Guardian Fran Abrams writes: ‘A green paper is expected to set out the future of special needs education this month – and there have been suggestions that ministers could use Ofsted’s findings to justify cutting the numbers classified as needing extra help.’ See the article here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/08/special-needs-spending-cuts?commentpage=last#end-of-comments

If this were to happen, as I worry it will, simply brushing students with special needs under the carpet is a very poor strategy indeed. They will still be there, and they will go through the education system unrecognised and un-helped, and a whole cohort of our youth will under achieve in their education. As if that wasn’t bad enough, vocational courses and newly ‘non-humanities’ subjects such as Music that suit some children are being simply rubbed out of existence due to the requirements of the English Baccalaureate. In Academyworld, all routes of redress that parents could previously take when they felt their children’s needs were not being met have been eliminated: the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal can no longer deal with appeals from parents of children who go to academies and parents can no longer complain to the council about admissions. All routes of redress for children attending academies lead to Gove. There is something very wrong about placing so much power with one person.

When I look at the narrowed curriculum so suddenly in vogue at the Dept for Education, I worry about our most vulnerable children and I wonder what the future holds for them. I hope that one day this government will be consigned to history as an administration which shaped and paid for education for a narrow elite and consigned the rest to second best. The nature of this is very short term, as children with special needs will not take their place as wage earners but will become dependent on health, social services and benefits, their potential and prospects for fulfilment untapped. It doesn’t have to be this way.



Book Review: Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom – An Insider’s Guide By Gill D Ansell

Gill Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in special school and mainstream settings. She begins her book by explaining something about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and how these impact on children in the classroom. She describes her first job as a TA when she wasn’t sure what to do or what was expected of her with a refreshing candour. Now she is someone who has valid and relevant experience of working with children with AS and much to share with both parents and education professionals alike.

The book contains a wide range of strategies to use with children with AS and Gill explains in detail why they work so well. These include strategies for visual learners such as ‘The Good Book’, ‘The Feelings Book’ and ‘Oops! Cards’. There are also sections on small group work and working one to one, behaviour/anger management, and a range of strategies regarding the child’s physical working environment such as individual work stations. She talks about the stresses of break times and bullying and helping children deal with feelings and emotions.

There can be huge variations in the training and effectiveness of TAs. What is noteworthy about Gill is that her creative strategies are quite clearly aimed not just at emotionally supporting children in school but also at engaging the child in learning. She keeps going until she gets as close to this aim as possible in a bid to give the children better educational outcomes. Also many of her strategies are low cost which makes it much more likely that a school will take up suggestions from parents.

If a child’s needs are not being met at school it can be really difficult for parents to get across in meetings exactly how they would like the school to help their child. This book with its practical advice and its accessible explanations will offer lots of ideas to all parties taking part in discussions about how a school might best meet the special educational needs of children with AS in primary and secondary settings.

I have been involved with special needs education for 10 years now since my oldest son first displayed difficulties at school. I still found some new strategies in here that we can use, and I wish that this book had been available to me 10 years ago.



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 – what should students learn?

I was asked to write a guest blog piece for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference a few weeks ago – which turned into three separate posts. The first of these is ‘Excellence for all – what should students learn?:

We would all like our schools to aim to achieve excellence for all. However, when the children involved include those with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities the goal of truly achieving ‘Excellence for all’ becomes much more difficult to achieve. I have two boys aged 12 and 14 who have special educational needs and who are being educated in mainstream school. They have always been mainstreamed, and for them, inclusion, with places in specialist settings co-located in mainstream schools has been their best route to success.

Roughly one in five students will have SEN at some time in their education. A little over 2% of all children in school will have a statement. Most children with SEN won’t have statements. However, Part 3 B ‘Special Educational Provision – Provision to meet needs and objectives’ – of my children’s statements has always referred to the need for the child to have ‘access to a broad, balanced, and differentiated curriculum, including the National Curriculum, with modifications which will ensure that tasks and activities are commensurate with (the child’s) level of attainment.’ This should be the aim for every child, whether schooling takes place in a mainstream or special education setting. Schools should also implement current and up to date policies relating to disability and equality. With all of these things in mind, children with SEN should be able to access the same curriculum, in as meaningful a way as possible, as other children in their school.

However, this is not the whole story. Children with SEN often have the need to learn additional things when they are at school, skills that will enable them to access the curriculum more effectively, and which will enable them to develop independence skills. In an ideal world, these children will have access to therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or to perhaps be able to benefit from the services of a physiotherapist as appropriate. Extra support such as specialist teaching support and teaching assistants are also necessary to help children with SEN develop good numeracy and literacy skills. If a child can at least read, they can begin to access most of the mainstream curriculum. Some children will benefit from prioritising social skills training, life skills training or similar.

In today’s schools learning does not cease at the end of the school day. Most schools run lunch time and after school activities that all children can access. Indeed, disability legislation states that all children should be able to take part in the life of their school. However, this is not always what happens in practice. After school clubs are as much a part of the life of the school as any other aspect of school life. Yet some children are excluded from after school activities simply because the schools do not have funding for after school TA support and their LEAs do not always allocate money to TA support for after school clubs. This is a grey area that I have found difficult to resolve. It is a great pity because children with SEN who have access to after school activities have better outcomes both socially and educationally.



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.



Every Teacher Matters – and so do TAs!

The Natioinal Autistic Society’s ‘Education Update’ page is asking for comments regarding Reform’s new report ‘Every Teacher Matters’ at:

http://nas-education-update.blogspot.com/2010/11/reform-some-radical-proposals-for.html

A worrying aspect of this report is that it advocates limiting the use of teaching assistants (TAs) in class, suggesting that extensive use of TAs could even be damaging, particularly in the case of children with Special Educational Needs.What do you think about this?( See my comment on the Education Update page.)

A good TA has often been all that has stood between our children and failure. I know this to be true because they WERE failing before they had TA support.

An impartial examination of the role of TAs in education must be carried out before any further changes are made. Reform is a self-declared right-thinking organisation, set up by a current Conservative government minister. They are clearlly not impartial and my view of teh report is that they set off from an ideological viewpoint i.e Cutting costs and then looked for evidence to support it. The worrying thing is that they have influence over the Government (or is it the other way round!)

Please please please either responsd to the NAS or respond on here, it really is important. Whilst you are on the NAS website please take a look at what the Government are trying to do to the Autism Act, watering down the statutory guidance to reduce it’s funding implications.

Ellen Power