Guerrillamum's Blog


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!

Advertisements


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.



Is this an OFSTED report or an OFST£D report?

I am sure that there is a science to reports and reviews of the type of OFSTED’s ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Review – a statement is not enough’.  One would hope that a government body would conduct an efficient survey of SEN and Disability when tasked to do so.  It does point out some things I recognise:  the inconsistency in the quality of interventions, inconsistency in the threshold at which this intervention is given, and it also says that the parental perception of inconsistency in this respect is well-founded.  Apparently the system for identifying and meeting special educational needs in the UK is in need of major overhaul.  It says ‘The pattern of local services had often developed in an ad hoc way, based on what had been done in the past rather than from a strategic overview of what was needed locally’.  I do recognise these things in my experiences of trying to access appropriate services for my children.  These observations are to be welcomed.  So why am I not jumping for joy at the prospect of a shiny new system for identifying and meeting the needs of those with disabilities and SEN at school? 

Let’s be absolutely clear about something.  It is one thing to make these conclusions and then using the report findings to do something to improve educational provision for children who have SEN and/or disabilities – this is what I am hoping will happen.  It is something else again to make observations that focus on apparently ‘failing’ or ‘ineffective’ services with the aim of being seen to make ‘legitimate’ cuts.  This is what I fear this report will lead to.

I am not helped in forming a positive view of the OFSTED report when I read:  ‘The review found that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  This is something about this report that I do not recognise.  Both of my children have at some time in their lives been taught in mainstream settings and in specialist units co-located within specialist schools.  They have accessed services that were  provided to them within the context of a special school, even though they were not actually pupils at the special school.  A range of teachers and professionals have worked with our children both in mainstream settings and in specialist provision.  They have only been able to access specialist provision as part of, or following a statementing process, and after experiencing significant failure in a mainstream setting.  Without specialist intervention I have no doubt that failure would have simply become more entrenched.  Once in a specialist placement, their access to appropriate services and specialist teaching made their levels of achievement soar.   Access to specialist teaching and therapy has been central to this progress being made.  I just do not recognise the claim ‘that no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  I fear that this is a precursor to big cuts in SEN provision.  It is my own view that this report is indicative of OFSTED being a public body that is out of touch with the general public.  I base this on my own experiences of trying to obtain support for my own children, and what I know of the experiences of other parents in the same position.   

The dedicated teachers, therapists, Teaching Assistants etc that one finds in specialist placements have chosen to work in these settings with children with special educational needs.  They are highly trained and experienced.  Should something happen to reduce the availability of specialist teaching placements, this would be an enormous loss to many children with SEN who cannot be accommodated within an inclusive mainstream setting.  Teachers in specialist placements are committed to improving the outcomes of these children:  it is a failing of teacher training that most teachers do not have the right training to meet the needs of some children with the most severe special educational needs who require specialist teaching.  It is essential that we do not lose the opportunity for our children to access special schools or teaching within specialist settings should they need it.  

I would be interested to hear what other parents make of this comment: ‘no one model – such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings – worked better than any other’.  Has your child done best within a mainstream setting or did this fail for them?  Have you valued the opportunity of having your child educated in a special school?  If so what was it about a special school that worked for them?  What do you think of your child’s special school?  Has your child accessed specialist teaching in a language unit, autism unit, hearing support unit or other specialist unit within a mainstream school?  Did this work out for your child?  Lets make it a priority to reply to Sarah Teather’s Green Paper: Children And Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call For Views.  Or parents can comment on this blog or at ellenpower@guerrillamum.co.uk – lets record our views somewhere – we may well be glad we did!

 I hope I’m wrong, but this report is looking more and more like it will result in a weakening of our children’s rights to SEN provision, all in the name of cutting costs.  I think there is a risk that the new government will devise future SEN policy or legislation that will further de-specialise special schools and further limit specialist provision within specialist units co-located in mainstream schools – these places are already like gold dust.  Is this an OFSTED report, or an OFST£D report?



New term – same old problems!

New term – same old problems!  Some of the optimism has already worn off.  Peter came home yesterday with standard-sized Maths and Science worksheets.  The Language Dept has been producing enlarged worksheets and vocabulary books for the past three years …. why can’t the Science and Maths Depts get on board with this?  Simple answer – there is no reason: a differentiated curriculum doesn’t just mean speaking slowly!! Grrrr!  It means providing appropriate materials in an appropriate setting.

So what can be done about this?  On Monday morning Peter’s teachers will get an email from us asking for a meeting in which we will go through his needs regarding visual processing (needs bigger work sheets), and recording work (needs bigger answer boxes in the work sheets).

How will we get on with this?  Watch this space for the next exciting instalment – da da daahhhh!

I do feel like qualifying all of this by saying that we are still very happy with Peter’s current placement.  Indeed, he came home from school very happy, and lots of things had clearly been done right.  However,  if you don’t keep on top of the small things, unworkable situations quickly develop. You are allowed to feel grateful for the things the school does get right but you are absolutely entitled to tell them when they don’t. If you do not , nobody else will do it for your child.



Guerrilla Mum’s Top 5 Back to School Tips
My boys go back to school next week. I can’t believe how quickly the holidays have passed by!  In addition to all of the usual preparation, next week I will be performing some extra tasks to make sure that the school year gets off to as smooth a start as possible.  Here are my Top 5 back-to-school Guerrilla Tips.
 
1. Prepare your child for the start of the new term! Implement a new (early) bedtime at least a week before school starts.Talk through new processes, where to meet after school, which bus to catch, etc – even if routines have stayed the same, go over things again. Be very specific, discussing what time to be there, where to stand, which is the bus number, etc. Talk about moving up a year, and their new teacher if applicable. If your child is very young, use stories to open up discussion. This can be particularly beneficial in aiding communication between parent and child if the child has worries or anxieties. Update contact details with school so that the school can ALWAYS contact you, the child’s other parent or other appropriate person.
 
2. Communicate well!  Decide that this year communication between school and home will be better than ever. Try to agree with your child’s class teacher or form teacher how this will work. Does the school provide parents with specific email addresses for teachers? Will you use a home/school diary? Put parents’ evenings/consultations/curriculum evenings/whole school meetings in your diary so you don’t miss them. Could you offer to help in class, on school trips, or in the school library? These are opportunities to be at school when your child is there. You will learn a lot about how they are doing just by being there.
 
3. Meet the teacher! Attend general parents’ evenings/curriculum evenings, etc at the beginning of term by all means but it is essential that you make an individual appointment with the child’s new class teacher or form teacher early in the term. Use the meeting to outline your child’s unique needs and difficulties and your concerns. If you already know the teacher this can be an opportunity to give updates. Be polite, be specific. Provide copies of relevant reports (never the originals). If the teacher is new, give them a written brief history of your child, including strengths, difficulties, and behaviour strategies used at home, your child’s areas of interest and any other relevant information. 
 
4. IEP Review!  If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a statement, look back on these with their end of term report. Have the targets been reached? Are any new targets becoming apparent? Be ready to advocate for your child in the IEP review/meeting with their teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). Request that an IEP meeting is set to happen early in the term, so that targets can be agreed and provision can be arranged early on so as to give the child the optimum chance of making progress. 
 
5. Watch out for cuts! The Local Authority (LA) will have been told to expect huge reductions in their funding, and they will be looking to make savings. Make certain that the provision you are expecting to see in your child’s statement/IEP is exactly what is actually there. This is particularly important if you have recently received an updated or final statement, for example, following an annual review. If you do see a reduction in provision, challenge it. If you do not challenge these things immediately, it will become increasingly difficult to have provision reinstated. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable, but we have found out about this the hard way!
 
Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters.

First published on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog – http://www.jkp.com/blog/



Guerrilla Mum-Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle – official book launch

Exciting news:  the official launch of  ‘Guerrilla Mum – Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle’ took place today.  The party was attended by 4 people and one black Labrador (she wasn’t invited but came anyway because there was food!). I thanked my husband and two sons without whom none of this would have been possible and sent the dog to sit on her bed because she was dropping hair on the red carpet. 

I am excited!  Not just because I’m getting a book published but because I wrote it primarily to help other parents, to stop them from having to learn the hard way as I and my family did. The Special Educational Needs system really is a jungle and  without help you and your child can easily get lost.

To buy the book please visit  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781843109990



Is the Coalition targeting SEN provision?

Question:  What is in just about every state primary school in Britain and is fundamental to improving education? Got it yet? It isn’t a high-tech gadget, a new learning system or syllabus but the Teaching Assistant. At the bottom of the Education pay scale, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are often mums who want a term time job so they can look after and be with their own children in the holidays. They may not be high-tech but they are excellent value for money.

Our two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have benefited hugely from some excellent work from their TAs. This has ranged from the coded reminder to go to the toilet, or the one to one support to help someone with poor spatial awareness to take on board the complexities of geometry.  They have turned failure into positive outcomes.  They have also helped our children deal with bullying and to integrate into their classes and make friends – please don’t tell me that most children are picked on at some time, and that this isn’t relevant to education.  No child can succeed whilst being bullied/ostracised or dealing with the emotions that this generates.  It is not positive and is in no way character building.

As well as these individualised tasks they support teachers in a whole class setting, give help to other children in the class and assist in enforcing standards of behaviour. When called upon, TAs with higher level training can be left in charge of classes and can deliver lessons on a limited basis.

The Education Minister has told us that he is keen to drive up standards in schools (for my thoughts on what he has done so far please see the previous blogs). If one accepts that TAs are a valuable tool for delivering better outcomes it is reasonable to think that the Minister would be looking to improve their training and status. Sadly this hasn’t happened and in fact the Government has removed the entire budget for higher level Teaching Assistant training (please see Phil Beale in The Guardian on this subject http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/aug/10/education-policies-misguided).

Whilst this has the prospect to minimise their effectiveness in a whole class setting it will be felt most by those children with Special Educational Needs who cannot do without their support. I am tired of hearing from the Government ‘we need successful outcomes for all children not just those with Special Needs’ because that’s something we all want. What is often not recognised is that some children need more help to get to those successful outcomes, and without specialist help from suitably trained TAs they may not get there.

I started this blog with a question and I am going to finish with some more questions which need asking. Is this stealthy move on TA training the thin end of the wedge of a policy to drastically reduce spending on SEN?  We have recently seen public sector workers and benefit claimants vilified in the Press by government ministers.  Is SEN the Educational equivalent of ‘generous public sector pensions’ or ‘benefits cheats’?  Has SEN become a target for Coalition cuts?

Let’s hope not for all our sakes!