Tag Archives: SEND

Consultation Response

I thought you might be interested in the response I wrote to the Education Select Committee on how the 2014 Children and Families Act is working out from my perspective.

Obviously, as I have responded as an individual, I have a particular view that is coloured by my personal experiences, but I do wonder how much of it I share with others, both professionally and in my private life.

Anyway, here is my response – edited because it is long, and because I am not quite sure what the rules are about publishing it in a different place (so I have made it slightly different ie. shorter!). I am sure that there are more things that could be said and recommended. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  1. The assessment of and support for children and young people with SEND
  • It remains that case that Local Authorities carry out both statutory assessments and award EHCPs while making difficult funding decisions. This means that there is a conflict of interest.

Recommendation: The role of the Local Authority as both assessor and granter of funds must be reassessed in order to remove the conflict of interest.

  • The assessment of children and young people with SEND, rather than acting as a means by which ways to support learning can be identified, acts instead as a gatekeeper. This is illustrated in a number of ways, from access arrangements to EHCPs, including access to benefits and social care. Without certain diagnoses, it remains the case, despite the Graduated Approach/Pathway, that certain support cannot be accessed.
  • Due to the constraints of running two systems (Statements and EHCPs) and set against a backdrop of austerity measures both locally and nationally, it is questionable whether assessments are undertaken by multi-agency professionals such as Educational Psychologists at points in time other than transformation to EHCP or in the initial stages of statutory assessment, prior to the granting of an EHCP. This can mean that information, upon which the professionals reviewing any plan are relying, can be considerably out of date and therefore of limited use.
  • Access to specialist assessment is also limited. Many parents resort to paying for private assessments. This means that children and young people from poorer backgrounds are not able to access the same level of assessment. This also means that professionals question the validity of private reports, suspecting that those who privately seek and pay for assessments must therefore have paid for the desired results. This is not equitable or fair.

Recommendation: Access to specialist assessments must be equitable and fair. It is not fair that some parents are paying for private assessments, and that these are disbelieved by professionals.

  • Support for young people is variable, with some schools doing an excellent job and some not. Excellent inclusive schools act as ‘honey pots’ for parents and their children. Some schools operate a ‘soft selection’ by implying that SEND children are either not welcome or that other schools do a better job with SEND than they do.
  • Access to specialist support is limited. Educational Psychologists, for example, have limited time to spend on supporting colleagues as they are busy with statutory assessment. In some areas, support from specialists is a ‘traded service’, in others, the Local Authority provides SEND services, such as advisory teachers. However, whether schools are able to access support as needed in order to provide early help is questionable.

Recommendation: Access to specialist support must be equitable and fair. Any moves towards an increasing system of MATs must be considered in the light of SEND support.

  • An open Graduated Approach/pathway means that there are many systems at work at any one time, with some Local Authorities using ‘My Plans’, others IEPs. There is no standard pathway for schools to follow, and no standard template for Local Authorities to use. This means that plans such as an EHCP can be confusing rather than clear for professionals, families and young people.
  • This confusion increases the likelihood that SEND ‘paperwork’ can be seen by professionals as an administrative exercise, increasing workload for teaching staff and the cause of stress for Local Authority case officers, leading to poor plans which can be effectively ignored by the staff who work directly with young people.

 Recommendation: One system for SEND documentation nationally, with proper training for those working within the system, will help schools and Local Authorities to collaborate and improve their service for SEND children and young people.

  • Children on ‘SEN Support’ are not protected by a legal framework. Only those children with an EHCP are protected in this way. This means that it is very difficult to hold schools or Local Authorities to account for the way that they support these young people. There are far more children and young people on SEN Support than those with EHCPs.

Recommendation: Children and young people on SEND support must be protected by a legal framework.

  • However, while a legal framework appears to allow for accountability and transparency, it is the parents of disabled children who are forced to hold schools and Local Authorities to account. They become reliant on forming positive personal relationships with professionals with whom they can be drawn into conflict over provision for their children. Where positive relationships do not exist, parents are pushed into problematic categories which themselves hinder effective collaboration. Holding a school or a Local Authority to account is an exhausting activity and can have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of families who are already under pressure.

Recommendation: Accountability must rest between schools, young people, Local Authorities, parents and government. It is not fair that parents of disabled children must hold schools and Local Authorities to account as individuals. It is wasteful and costly. OFSTED must play a role in holding schools and Local Authorities to account for SEND provision by both inspecting Local Authorities regularly and ensuring that SEND is always part of a school inspection.

  1. The transition from statements of special educational needs and learning disability assessments to education, health and care plans
  • The transition of Statements to EHCPs has been difficult for Local Authorities to manage, especially when sent against a backdrop of cuts to local services. This has meant that some Local Authorities have not been able to complete the transition by the deadline, and others have resorted to measures such as outsourcing to independent EHCP writing companies or simply copying the Statement over to an EHCP. This is not acceptable.
  • It can take a long time for EHCPs to be finalised. This means that in the interim period, staff working with children and young people with SEND are forced to do so with little or outdated professional advice. This means that the likelihood that the statutory document, when it eventually arrives, will be ignored and characterised as useless, out of date or unhelpful, is increased.
  • As EHCPs are subject to statutory time scales, the dates at which they are issued is significant. Coinciding with school holidays such as Christmas or the summer break is unhelpful to families and SEN caseworkers. Planning timescales needs to be properly and thoughtfully carried out, with the needs of children and families at the forefront, rather than the Local Authority.
  • When preparing assessments for an EHCP, professionals consult both the child or young person and the parent, usually their mother. This means that the same questions are asked of the same people multiple times. Where a child has health or social care needs, the requirement to answer more questions and attend more meetings is increased. This impacts on parental, usually mothers, ability to work. Professionals, subject to statutory timescales, can unwittingly pass on the pressure they are working under to families. This is not acceptable.

Recommendation: The systems for producing or annually reviewing an EHCP must be reviewed, in order that Local Authorities understand the negative impact they have on the families they serve.

  • It can be very challenging to extract useful information on what the future hopes of a disabled young person might be, especially if they are very young or if they have significant learning and communication difficulties. Questions about the future can be difficult or distressing to answer, especially if the young person has a severe or life-limiting condition. There is little support provided for parents; it is possible for questions such as these to damage rather than support the wellbeing of families.
  • Support for parents in stating their views is, in my experience, limited to a single piece of paper which does little to allow for an exploration of their knowledge of their child or give their views. This is especially the case where parents also experience learning difficulties or have a problematic relationship with schooling, based on negative experiences from their own childhood.

Recommendation: The structure of the EHCP process, with its relentless focus on preparing for adulthood must be reviewed. Young people with disabilities must be given the same respect as the typical population, and access an education that helps them to fulfil their own aspirations, at an appropriate time.

  1. The level and distribution of funding for SEND provision
  • Local Authorities have been required to make considerable savings in expenditure. Local Authorities have restructured and reduced services, and the motivation to limit the number of EHCPs has increased.
  • Local Authorities and schools are subject to a new, fairer funding formula. This means that while resources are distributed more equitably nationally, there is less flexibility to respond to need locally.

Recommendation: Funding for SEND needs urgent attention. Local Authorities must be able to respond to need as it appears locally.

  • School budgets are increasingly squeezed. This means that school leaders are forced to make difficult decisions regarding staffing, in particular Teaching Assistants. While the use of Teaching Assistants for supporting SEND children and young people is not without its difficulties, this has a disproportionate effect on those children and their teachers, who thus come under added pressure.
  • However, more money for SEND children and young people does not necessarily translate into better or more effective provision. Long standing attitudes and practices must be challenged through a programme of reformed accountability and training.

Recommendation: Local Authorities must be held to account for the way that they spend money for SEND. There is no improvement to be had by simply increasing funding. Any increases to funding must be done intelligently.

  1. The roles of and co-operation between education, health and social care sectors
  • While being an excellent idea in theory, the reality is that much of the work falls upon SENCOs, who are working in diverse situations, from full time leadership to squeezing in the role to a Friday afternoon. The role of the SENCO is subject to considerable flexibility and change.
  • Education, health and social workers are all professionals working under the pressures common to those in public service in challenging times. Finding time to meet to discuss SEND children and young people is difficult. Understanding the needs of each other in terms of producing a workable EHCP is difficult, especially where there is no uniform or standard way of communicating or setting out a young person’s requirements.
  • The role of social care can be problematic, especially where the language and assessment forms cross over between disability and child protection. This crossover can be ill-understood by education and health professionals and increase the levels of stigma falling upon families and young people attempting to access the societal support to which they are entitled. This can mean that families who do not wish to have their lives scrutinised in an intrusive manner failing to access support.

Recommendation: Social care for disabled young people must be reviewed, and the information gathering process divorced from the processes of child protection. A new language of social care for disabled young people and their families must be developed in order to reduce both stigma and levels of intrusion for families.

5  Provision for 19-25-year olds including support for independent living; transition to adult services; and access to education, apprenticeships and work.

  • Provision for 19-25 year olds has seen an increase in number of EHCPs maintained by Local Authorities, with associated costs, in an era of cut backs to funding.
  • There is an emphasis, from Year 9, on ‘preparing for adulthood’ in the EHCP, requiring young people and families to make decisions and declarations about what their future career choices are from age 14. This is a difficult thing to do, as all young people are subject to changes in expectations as they grow up. It is a concern that SEND young people may find themselves on a pathway that reflects an earlier understanding of their future, rather than allowing them time to mature, as in the typical population.
  • A lot of time is spent investigating what young people would like to achieve and their aims for their future. This is a pointless exercise if options for them are limited to particular courses, where they are funnelled down a one-size-fits-all pathway to a life of café volunteering and charity day centres.
  • There is little information to parents and families about post-19 options for further education for SEND young people. The onus is on parents, who are already under pressure, to investigate options, many if not most of which are private institutions, such as National Star College or Foxes Academy. This means that parents and families must be prepared to appeal to Local Authorities to allow their young people to take up a place.
  • FE Colleges operate under a different ethos, different systems and timetables compared to schools. This means that, due to an understanding of a young person as an emerging adult, information for parents and families regarding post-19 options is not as effectively shared as it could be.
  • Where options for post-19 education and training is private or independent then there is a perverse incentive for Local Authority professionals, who are required not to spend excess funds, not to share information with families and SEND young people.
  • Where a young person may not yet have attained certain accreditations by age 19 it could be characterised as a failure to progress and a reason for a Local Authority to cease an EHCP. This does not give disabled young people the opportunity to develop their skills or further their education so that they can participate in the economic and cultural activities of the communities in which they live. A learning disability, such as Down’s syndrome, does not mean that a young personcannot learn; rather, it is that learning takes a longer time.
  • FE Colleges operate under different timetables to schools. This means that a ‘full time’ college course may be three days a week. The day may be a shorter day. The terms may be shorter and holiday periods longer. This means that a disabled young person aged 16-18, compared to a typical young person at school, is accessing less education and training. This also has an impact on the ability of parents to sustain the ability to work and make a contribution of their own and they must access social care or become full time carers themselves.
  • When a young person has access to a suitable education and training up to age 25 it is more likely that they will be able to participate fully in their community, make a contribution to it and fulfil their own dreams and potential, leading to better mental and physical health and wellbeing for the individual and lower costs for the state.

Recommendation: Provision for young people aged 19-25 must be urgently assessed. Existing providers must be consulted and collaboration with young people and their families encouraged in order to find imaginative solutions. Failure to progress  – or failure to provide – is not a good enough reason to cease an EHCP for a disabled young person.

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The Roman Bath

The first time we visited the Roman Bath, it was snowing. Newly married, we had booked a City Break; it snowed, R had the flu and I…well, I convinced him (through some sort of Early Marriage Force) to ignore both the weather and his internal temperature. It was not the most successful weekend away there has ever been. We squashed ourselves against an 18th Century window, I failed to convince him of the exciting ness of Jane Austen and it was some years before we attempted to take the waters again.

The next time we visited, taking a young S and an even younger A, it wasn’t so much an Austen influence as Arthurian. As we explored the complex, instead of ladies in their dampened muslin gowns, I imagined the soaring roof and the steady decline and fading out of a Roman era, the smoke of tallow torches drifting upwards into the gloom, mingling with the faintly sulphurous steam rising from the green water. I’m not sure it was the start of my mission to take my children to sites of historical and cultural significance (I’ve always been a bit of a visitor to such places), but, wherever it sits in the chronology, it was certainly one of the earliest.

Over the years, I have taken them (not dragged, I hasten to point out, despite L’s latest protestation – half term is coming up and she is fighting a rear guard against being forced away from the computer game) to castle, cathedral, ruin; anywhere, in fact, that looks like it has an interesting story to tell (or features in one or other of the novels which form a part of my internal world). Our local church, an abbey saved by the townsfolk from the dissolution of Henry VIII, was always good for a wander about should we feel the need to get out of the house. I enjoyed the appearance of historical characters, firmly lodged in my imagination, they the quirks of architecture: angels playing harps and drums and weird pipes with, no doubt, even stranger names, chests with unimaginable locks, or the size of grand pianos. Or even grand pianos. The odd rehearsal of a visiting orchestra or choral society.

Museums are always tempting, but I don’t know…apart from the entrance fee, there is something ‘managed’ about them that I just don’t like. Someone else’s interpretation. Someone else’s idea of what we should know. So little left to the imagination. Millions may have been spent on a visitor’s centre, but give me real over plastic reconstruction any day. And definitely don’t give me one of those hand held, silence inducing guides either, you know, the ones that force you to stop and crowd around the same points as everyone else, while you listen to the prescribed story and haven’t got any time to look around you and ask, I wonder?

I did it once. I hired the handsets at the Roman Bath, convinced, for once, to give the conventional a try. They didn’t last. It wasn’t long before I was carrying them all, chatting our way round, seemingly inconsequential, quirky questions flowing from my knowledge of my children and the place we were exploring. They couldn’t access someone else’s explanation, someone else’s idea of what a child should know. They were too young; they didn’t know enough about yesterday – they didn’t have enough yesterdays – let alone two thousand years worth of them to make sense of it all. They needed to experience the place, to follow their interest (channels and watercourses and throwing coins into water, bubbles and steam and funny smells, lions in the rock and golden treasure), to be given the opportunity to return, again and again if need be, at their own level, at their own pace, until they were ready to meet me at mine.

Inclusion is dead. Long live education.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this here consultation on how the SEND reforms, in the form of the Children and Families Act, have been going (in a nutshell, not well), and I’ve been having what I like to call ‘teacher moments’. These moments are not the sort where my family entreat me to stop behaving as if I am in front of a class and they are the children; instead, they are those times when I think to myself, ‘if this was my class, this is what I would do’.

It happened to me a lot when I was in my last teaching job. Without a class of my own, I was in and out of other people’s classrooms, and I was always pinching their best ideas, always thinking how I might do things differently. It hasn’t been such a regular occurrence recently, but, possibly due to my imminent return to class, it has been something that has been happening more and more.

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is, I think, the ability to recognise when the lesson has gone pear shaped and to stop and either abandon it or go back to the beginning and start again. Obviously, as I think this is the sign of a good teacher, I am happy to admit that I have done this more than once in my time. I’ve merrily made plans in the quietness of my own home and found, when I’ve been in class with 30 odd small people who either haven’t got the resources I had considered necessary for the completion of the exercise (usually because I hadn’t given myself the time to get them) or the prior knowledge (possibly because I had made an assumption), that I’ve needed to come up with an alternative – and fast.

And this is what I have been thinking about when I think of the state of the SEND reforms. It started off so well-intentioned. Putting children and families at the centre, getting the various agencies involved and talking to each other, rebranding BESD to better reflect the mental health needs of young people who find it difficult to conform to school behaviour expectations; all these things sounded so good, so plausible. And yet, now, three years later, EHCPs remain unwritten, LAs are struggling to keep up, SENCOs are drowning in work, and children and families…well, I don’t know about you, but being at the centre sounds great, but what it has actually meant for me is more meetings, more people to tell the same thing, more answering the same questions and more chasing up and checking. And that’s before we get to parents and families having to be the ones to personally hold LAs to account, to turn themselves into lawyers in order to get people to do what they are supposed to be doing, all set against a backdrop of austerity and cuts that puts everyone under pressure.

If it were me in charge I would be wanting to say, ‘OK, everyone, let’s stop, take a breath, and start again.’

Because I think the problems we are seeing are the tip of the iceberg. I think they are the products of changes to our education system that happened years ago (for a fascinating insight into educational change see here– you’ll notice that there’s nothing new to the arguments), and set into motion the perfect storm of competition (rather than collaboration) we are witnessing today. The mechanisms of assessment, funding and accountability have broken inclusion of children with SEND in our schools and it is time to draw a line in the sand.

It’s time we started speaking differently and stopped treating children with SEND as different; problems to be solved; negative additions to the every day. They aren’t. Students with SEND are just as special as anyone, just as commonplace and to be expected as everyone; just as entitled to an education, to be able to access that education.

It’s time to put to death the idea of difference and of competition in education, because after all, we all have the same rights to it. Making provision for disabled children – no matter what that disability may look like – isn’t an added extra. It is, or it should be, what we do every day. Let’s call what we do what it is: teaching. Every time we name it ‘inclusion’ (or integration or special or whatever) we make out that what we are doing for disabled students is different to what we are doing for everyone else. It’s time to go back to the drawing board, not just with the CFA reforms, but the whole damn lot. It’s time for change, and this time, for the better. This time, instead of blaming individuals, let’s look at, and I mean honestly look at, the constraints pushed on them by the mixed up, confused system within which they (we) work. There’s a reason why I failed to define inclusion when I wrote a book about it. Inclusion is dead. Long live education.

Yes, Prime Minister

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly distracted. Not, I hasten to point out, in the sense of Mrs Bennett, making declarations of distraction and waving my arms about to attract the attention of anyone who might be in the vicinity, not that sort of distraction, no. No, I mean the sort of distraction where I set out to do one thing, and end up getting sucked into doing another. It’s why tidying the house is such a trial – and also why I seem to be on a constant journey of surprise.

The other day it was diaries. I can’t remember why it was that I was digging through the drawers in my desk (it belonged to my grandma who got it from my great-uncle and has excellently capacious drawers in which to keep all manner of randomly stuffed in stuff) (I think it had something to do with maps) and I came across a small stack of my teenaged diaries.

Unlike me, my mum is a committed diarist. She has years worth of them, and I, as a young teen, was impressed by this fact and decided that I would do the same. I have several years of them (well, three) and they all end in about March – the time when I got bored and gave up writing them (I know, I know, it can’t possibly be because I had little to say, I hear you cry). What remains are fragments, glimpses of my former self, snatches of my inner world, preserved and forgotten until that moment when I stumble upon them and find myself remembering that book (but definitely not that test or that argument that I didn’t want to write about, the pages crossed out and blank) or that item of clothing I seemed so obsessed by (but not the blue gloves; what the blue gloves were I have no idea).

Despite my inability to keep a written record of my life, I find it hard to chuck them out. I’ve always loved at least the idea of diaries; during my teenage years my parents bought me several, one of which I loved so much it never made its way into the capacious drawer. Even today, it sits proudly on the bookshelf, partnering my other Books from That Era (or, in other words, Books I Can’t Quite Bear to Throw Away). It is a diary from the TV series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, and I keep it on the shelf (having given up writing in it in about March) because there is so much in it to read, and, if you like that sort of thing (which I did, aged 14), to amuse.

I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan, but I loved ‘Yes, Prime Minster’, back in the day. I enjoyed the verbal repartee, the long, convoluted speeches from Sir Humphrey and above all, the polite warfare between the Civil Service and their political masters. Margaret Thatcher, if legend be true, was known for loving it too (I hasten to point out that I share Very Little with the late ex-Prime Minister), for its realism, despite its comedy. A politer, less frenetic Thick of It for a different age.

It’s this little story, though, the tale of Thatcher and her love for the series and its forerunner, Yes Minister, that makes me pause. Could this comedy, with its depiction of the battle between an older, post-war consensual age and a newer, brasher, why-not, infant neo-liberalism, be more influential, more on the money than we might like to think?

Now, again, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing some edu-reading lately, in preparation for writing my submission to the latest in educational enquiries, and I had a bit of a moment. I’ve been going on about it for a while, this business of Accountability As We Know it being damaging to education in this country, damaging to teachers and certainly damaging to the principles of inclusion and children in general, and in my mind I made a connection.

I remember the Education Reform Act. Not the Act itself, I was only 16 and way more interested in INXS at the time, but I was in the first cohort of children to sit the GCSE. I carried the first National Curriculum home to my student room when I started my PGCE. I sat with my new boss, when I started to teach properly, and chatted about Local Management of Schools, and what this might mean. I saw what happened to my old village school when the fashion changed, and everyone decided to send their kids to the other side of the valley because reasons.

It all sounded terribly familiar. When you watch it, it sounds so funny, so light, so fresh, so reasonable. The tragedy would be that it was a joke made flesh.

Cookery Club

My bookshelves are having a bit of an identity crisis. In the usual way of things (as in, when I have had the time to play Librarians), they are orderly places. Books are grouped, according to size, theme and author, and they happily sit together, enabling me to find the one I am looking for by pointing, in a funny kind of way, to their neighbours. This week though, as last week, they are not happy. Poetry is muddled up with DIY. Sailing with science fiction. And the cookery books; they are scattered.

I have what one might call a weakness for cookery books. I used to stand looking through them for ages in my local supermarket, embarrassing myself into purchases. I the photographs, the explanations, the suggestions of a life you might grasp for yourself, be that low fat, high fibre, fully organic, home-made and home-grown, if only you weren’t more busy gazing at the pages; occasionally, I even love eating the results of my reading. Mind you, you can tell the ones I use regularly. They are spattered tomes, pages stuck together and falling open at favourite recipes – or the ones that everyone is prepared to eat, anyway.

Despite my attraction to the new and the shiny though, there are a couple of old favourites. Books I regularly return to, again and again, either for ideas for meals I have forgotten or for fail-safe recipes I know will work. I don’t know though. My two favourites are so different that I sometimes wonder if I have a split personality. As a cook, that is..

In one corner, we have Delia (commonly known as Saint Delia in my house). A gift from my friend A when I was in my early twenties and had never baked a thing, it took me a while to learn that if you want a Delia recipe to work you have to follow it to the letter, even down to measuring the tins. In the other we have Naked Jamie (remember that, when he was all young and thin and slid down banisters?) ‘taking cooking to first principles’; a bit of this, a bit of that, a glug of olive oil and tadah!

The thing is you see, that while I quite like the results of a Delia recipe, and it’s good to have her there, just in case I’ve forgotten how to make a sponge or pancakes, or something else equally basic, I must admit that I’m much more of a mix it up from first principles kind of girl. I wouldn’t say that I was all into choices, but I do like to make decisions, and cooking is no exception. If (as is usual) I haven’t got the exact ingredients or utensil in my cupboard, I like to feel that I have learned enough to make a meal work nevertheless. If I know the general principles of what goes with what, I can conjure something out of whatever I’ve got in the cupboards. Pretty much.

And then, of course, there is the thing about following a recipe. The number of times I have inadvertently missed a step, in between trips between the book and the hob. Or the times I have witnessed a recipe misinterpreted (jelly in the kettle, anyone?). Or a misprint. Curries taste very odd with a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon of lemon juice. Without the knowledge that underpins the theory, the recipe is just a rule book, and one I am unable to step away from, should the need arise.

In life as in cooking, I suppose. After all, if I never understood how it was supposed to work, if I was only ever instructed to follow the rule, no matter how well-intentioned that rule was, how kind or how much everyone I liked seemed to like it, how would I ever know, when I was baking a cake, or even if I was teaching a class or leading a school, how to deal with an excessively large egg (or, you know, a child who broke the mould)?