Guerrillamum's Blog


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!’

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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.



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.