Summer’s here: Where are we in the SEN reform process?

Tania writes

Well, good question.

The answer is we’re here, there, everywhere and nowhere, depending on which county you live in.

cdc_timpsonjuly2013As the long summer break approaches (and enjoy it while it lasts as Mr Gove has it under his microscope – though I can think of better places for his microscope) let’s take a look at where we’re up to.

This is an easy exercise, as Ed Timpson, the Minister in charge, who certainly seems to be a very genuine and well-intentioned person, has written today to the Council for Disabled Children with his own round-up of the broad facts.

You can download the letter for yourself here but to summarise:
  • The Children & Families Bill has now completed the House of Commons stages of the Children and Families Bill and has just completed second reading in the House of Lords. Ed Timpson said, “I have very much welcomed the engagement of many sector and parent-carer organisations in the careful scrutiny of the Bill clauses. The debates in the Bill Committee and in the House were rightly challenging but also constructive.”
  • The CDC has worked with the DfE and produced a leaflet explaining in more detail the reforms to the SEN funding system. The leaflet explains clearly that the funding changes do not change the legal responsibilities of schools and local authorities for children with special educational needs.
  • The indicative Code of Practice has been published and a full consultation will begin in the autumn.
  • CDC and DfE have been discussing the arrangements for reviewing Education, Health and Care Plans, especially the reports parents and young people receive about annual review meetings and the year 9 transition reviews.

As we develop the Code of Practice, it will be important to write it in a way that supports a real improvement in outcomes for those with SEN in schools and colleges in order to meet the Department’s wider aims to improve attainment and close the gap. Ed Timpson MP, Education Minister.

  • The DfE is now thinking more widely about implementing the reforms, and how to manage the changeover to a new legal system from September 2014. It is not proposed to move wholesale to the new system from September next year; rather it will be the beginning of a period of gradual and orderly transition to full implementation.
  • The pathfinder champions are now holding their first regional meetings to support non-pathfinder areas, and have recently shared core learning points through a series of information packs, which can be found here
  • The DfE will be providing £9m in 2013-14 to support local areas to prepare for implementation.
  • Evidence from pathfinder experience and evaluation reports have emphasised the value of early engagement with parents and parent carer forums. (Hurrah!)
  • The DfE will be publishing more information in early autumn to continue to support implementation.
  • Additionally, not mentioned in the letter, the 20 pathfinder areas have all developed or are still developing their own versions of an EHCP and Local Offer, Personal Budgets, Transition plans and so on. Lots of money spent, lots of work carried out and quite a number of minds changed on both parent and practitioner sides about one another.

All very nice (or as my SEN barrister friend Gulshanah, would say sweetly and with a ton of barely-detectable cynicism, ‘That’s lovely, isn’t it?’

Recently, SNJ published two posts raising concerns in the bill, none of which seem to have been addressed so far. You can read the posts here and here to see the issues that remain. The letter doesn’t answer these questions, with the exception of the Annual Review question which is under further consideration. To make for easier reading, we’ve combined them into one easy to download PDF

senreformmontageWe do hope that these problems and omissions will be tackled in the autumn as the next parliamentary stages are started, as Mr Timpson says himself, “I am aware that there will still be some areas that you and others in the SEN and disability sector will want to see evolve further as we start the next Parliamentary stages in autumn. lt is very much the right time to raise these points so that we can continue the constructive dialogue between the Department and the sector.”

We, and we hope, you too, will be continuing to work as much as possible on influencing the bill through the channels that we are part of. It is so important to stress that everyone concerned with the bill has an opportunity to make their voice heard. For parents, this is most likely to be through their local parent-carer forum.

For parents who have SEN children,the upcoming consultation of the Code of Practice will be a huge opportunity to have your say. This is where the rules and regulations will be written and if your child doesn’t have a statement/EHCP, this is even more important. Read the draft – you don’t have to do it in one go, take the whole summer to comb through it and make notes.

Your voice may be the one that makes the difference. It’s easy to complain when you don’t like something, much harder to do something about it so if you are in a position to, do make your voice heard.

Later this week we will be publishing the results of our survey into how much SEN/D parents and carers know about the SEN reforms. They make for startling reading. As a taster:

  • 40% of respondents in Pathfinder authorities did not know if their area was a pathfinder or not.
  • 60% of those in Pathfinder areas had heard nothing about the Pathfinder
  • Just over 50% do not feel they know enough to say if the school-based category is a better idea than School Action/School Action Plus

We need as many parents and carers to be as informed as possible, whether or not they can be or want to be involved. Local authorities, schools, colleges, children’s centres need to do a better job of funnelling information through to parents about the reforms and about their local (voluntary and over-stretched) parent-carer forums.

There’s no space to tell you how to do that, though as an experienced charity PR, I have plenty of ideas. I would hope every Local Authority’s Comms Department do too!

SEN reform progress report: ‘pathfinder champions’ chosen

senreform4It’s been a bumper day of announcements and happenings surrounding SEN reform.

First of all, came the publication of a list of local authority groups who have been appointed “pathfinder champions” as they plan to implement the reform to special needs provision in England.

At the same time, a joint report on progress across the pathfinder programme, was published, including headline results from a survey of 65 families with completed education health and care plans. The report is available for download from the associated resources section of this page.

But, quite unexpectedly, the DfE announced a much called for duty on clinical commissioning groups (GPs who plan local health services) to secure any health provision required in the upcoming education, health and care plans for children and young adults up to 25.

Hard on the heels came the House of Commons Children’s & Families Bill committee meeting with a stellar cast of speakers that anyone knowledgeable about the SEN world will be familiar with.

Wow! This is too much information for one post, so Debs and I have prepared TWO posts, one about the new duty and one about the first two points.

Read the “New Duty on Health” post here. (The link will be repeated at the end of this post)

Progress Report & HOC Committee

The progress report and headline survey results is a largely upbeat document about, surprise surprise, progress made. It does seem that, as you would expect, the smaller, more compact authorities are further along in some areas where reorganising services is a more straightforward.

The report, while interesting and informative, does rather over-focus on the positive aspects of various pathfinders and while this is to be expected, highlighting particular achievements, it would be useful to see what isn’t working quite so well and where some of the larger challenges such as the scale of work needed to provide the Local Offer and its necessary IT framework mentioned.

It was, however, gratifying that they mention the parent-carer involvement of the SE7 because, certainly in Surrey and Kent, we do feel this is of particular note. You can read the document in full here

In fact during the House of Commons Children’s & families Bill committee hearing in Westminster today, Christine Lenehan of the Council for Disabled Children noted that, as she visited the various pathfinders, she found that some of most effective ones are the not those with the most plans but those that have concentrated on building climate for culture change to happen.

This, Mrs Lenehan emphasised, will be essential otherwise people will just be focusing on scaling up the pathfinders rather than looking at how you make an entire system change and so that it helps individuals in the system.

Mrs Lenehan said that true success was working with empowered parents, empowered young people and being able to bring creativity to some systems that have struggled to be creative, because there are far too many professionals who do what they do because it’s the way they have always done things. She noted that in her experience some professionals happily seemed to admit that their jobs would be far easier without the interference of parents!

Brian Lamb, the author of The Lamb Inquiry in 2009 and who spearheads Achievement for All said during the select committee that, “Essentially the more you involve parents both at school level and the strategic level, the better the outcomes you get.”

He welcomed the concept of the Local Offer of services for SEN/D in terms of what the government has painted as the picture around it, rather than the language that now exists in the actual bill.

Pathfinder champions named

From April 2013, the ‘pathfinder champions’ will begin to support councils who local authorities across England who are not involved in the pathfinder as they prepare to roll out the reforms.

The DfE says that the champions were chosen based on a mix of skills, experience and regional factors. Each region will have its own pathfinder champion but in some areas, the role will be carried out by a partnership of pathfinder local authority areas.

The pathfinders are:

London Bromley & Bexley
South East SE7 (consortium of seven LAs) and Southampton
South West Wiltshire
North East Hartlepool
East Midlands Leicester City
East of England Hertfordshire
West Midlands Solihull
Yorkshire & Humber North Yorkshire & Calderdale
North West Greater Manchester Group (Wigan, Trafford and Manchester)

The SE7 consortium consists of Surrey, Kent, West Sussex, East Sussex, Hampshire, Medway and Brighton & Hove. Obviously with Surrey and Kent being our own areas, we are both very pleased that the SE7 has been designated.

The champions cover a broad range of authority types. In some city-based authorities, it is a very different system where, for example there may only be one new health Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) whereas for example in Surrey there are 5.5 (half of the .5 is in Hampshire) and so coordinating provision will be much more complicated. In addition, in Surrey the SEN department is divided into are four geographic sub-quadrants as it is such a big county and I’m sure this isn’t the only LA that will face such complications.

The work of the pathfinder champions will be informed by a set of ‘principles of emerging practice’. There will be an updated version of this document on the pathfinder website from the end of March. Translated, ‘principles of emerging practice’ are ways that those involved with the reforms have found to be the most effective and practical steps to implement the reforms.

Two further SQW evaluation reports will be published at the end of May and September. The first of these will include further progress made, feedback from 10 case study areas and a final update about the SEN Direct Payments Pilot Programme.

Read the post on SNJ about the new duty to provide health provisions in an EHCP here with responses on it from the SEN Select Committee hearing

You can watch the replay of the HOC C&F committee from 5th March 2013 here

Not: As we publish, the committee is still going on, but for our purposes, most of what we needed to hear has been said. If anything else interesting is said after 5pm, we’ll update.

SEN Reforms – The Minister visits

Last Friday a groups of parents from parent-carer forums around the country came together at the Department for Education to talk about how parental involvement in the pathfinder reforms had influenced the process, what was working and what wasn’t.

The parents included myself, Debs (who you will recall runs Kent’s forum) and Angela Kelly, my Surrey Family Voice co-chair.

We talked a lot about the value of what is being called the “co-production” of parents’ voices being valued and listened to and how it must continue after the reforms are put into practice, and preferably, mandated in the Children & Families Bill, or new Code of Practice/regulations.

On hand were DfE officials involved in the bill’s progression and yesterday, Edward Timpson, the minister in charge himself travelled to Disability Challengers in Farnham to meet parents and pathfinder families.

Although, very flatteringly, I had been invited to meet him because of Special Needs Jungle, I was already booked to deliver a half-day social media workshop for a room full of noisy and energetic Stella & Dot independent stylists. It was lots of fun, but I was rather hoarse and brain-dead at the end.

Despite sadly missing my chance to speak to the minister, I knew he was in very good hands with Angela being there, along with other parents.

And Ang, being the good egg she is, has written about the visit here. She did say the Minister had a tear in his eye at missing me too, but I think she was smirking when she said it.

Over to Ang…

The SE7 pathfinder team had an important visit on 14th February. SE7 is a collective group of seven south-east local authorities, parent-carer forums and Voluntary and Community sector organisations, who have come together to trial the reforms proposed in the Children & Families Bill.

On a mild Thursday morning, a collective group of professionals, made up of local authority, voluntary and community sector and parents came together at Disability Challengers in Farnham, Surrey to meet with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Edward Timpson. (And yes, I have included Parents in the professional capacity because 1, we are professionals where our children are concerned and 2, we are professional in our capacity as co-producers under the new approach to the SEN reform)

Upon my rather unceremonious and flustered arrival, I was greeted by a room full of familiar and  friendly faces. Co-chairs of West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent parent-carer forums had arrived in a much more timely manner than myself, thank goodness and represented parent participation in a very professional manner.

But most importantly there were young people present and a family who are currently at the Statutory Assessment phase under the current SEN system.  Having young people and families involved in such a key meeting is such a step forward and gives a them a voice, it also enables the people who need to understand this message the opportunity to hear how real people are affected by the current system and what needs to change.

The Minister joined everyone in a circular group and was told about the progress being made so far by all trial areas, while Surrey’s pathfinder manager, Susie Campbell followed with Surrey’s progress regarding the single plan. She explained how Surrey had devised their single plan, focused and the child and their family, and how families and young people had been instrumental in this process. Our draft has gone back and forth until a plan was agreed suitable for testing.

I was then asked what my thoughts were on the single plan and I rather gushingly spilled out how I thought co-production was the only way forward and that by children and families having a voice and being at the heart of the process this would create a culture shift and build relationships with parents/carers and all the authorities.

Mr Timpson spoke with a family about their experience of the current system and the openness of the discussion demonstrated that they were being heard and that a change in the way mainstream schools approach SEN and disability was urgently needed.

There was a very limited discussion about Key Working which, while this was due to time, is something that I feel will have to be further addressed  and  when further trials have been carried out this will be  key area (pardon the pun) to ensure the success of the new approach.

Personal budgets and the Local Offer were next and Co chair of West Sussex spoke of their experiences with personal budgets and how this had enhanced their child’s access to services he actually needed rather than accessing services that were available.

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

I think more time needed to have been spent discussing the Local Offer, as there huge concerns over how this will work and how it will  replace the categories of School Action and School Action Plus and inform parents of services that will be able in cross-boundary areas in a clear transparent timely and effective way

Time seemed to be the main constraint with the meeting as there was a lot to present in such a small amount of time, however that Mr Timpson visited to see what is happening in the trials from the mouths of those involved  demonstrates a willingness to listen learn and understand what is happening with the trials and, if I hadn’t mentioned it before, the importance of co-production!

At the end of the session Mr Timpson was  presented with messages from each SE7 parent-carer forum to the Minister. This was innovatively delivered in a hand made Valentines card.

This was well received and Mr Timpson remarked that it was the most creative lobbying he had ever seen, I therefore feel that because of this, the impact of the messages will resonate for longer and have a greater prospect of successfully informing the change to the SEN and disability reform.

Here’s Family Voice Surrey’s message to the Minister:

Message from Family Voice Surrey- Thank you for listening to and including parents/carers views in the publication of the draft legislation.

Our thoughts are that the new bill needs more clarity. This view is shared by ALL parent carers on our steering group. Statutory protection is necessary for those children and young people who have disabilities that may fall outside of the SEN bracket, these children and young people may have very complex health needs but if they have no special/additional educational requirement then currently they will not be eligible for statutory protection under the single plan.

Family Voice Surrey request that you include:

  • Statutory rights for those aged 0- 5 with an EHCP, ensuring swift and timely access to treatment/equipment to aid the delivery of early intervention
  • A mandatory requirement for children with SEN and Disabilities to receive a level of support from their LA that meet the requirements of their EHCP
  • Minimum national standards for the Local Offer – a specified minimum level of provision that Local Authorities will have a duty to provide to children with education, health and/or social care needs who are not eligible for an EHCP

Pathfinder has shaped co-production and parents and carers are working alongside professionals, practitioners and providers in an unprecedented way and it is working.  Policy and local delivery is being shaped in a pioneering way.   This must continue!

Mandatory requirements for co-production are a central part of the EHCP process, together with the delivery of the Local Offer at a strategic level across all services.

Parent/carer forums have a vital role ensuring that parents receive sufficient support and training to undertake co-production effectively. Recognition is needed for the unique role that parent/carer forums will have in this delivery , with adequate resources provided for this work.

Message from Kent PEPs (Kent parent carer forum)

As a forum we were please to see some of the feedback received from parents/carers has influenced some changes in the draft Children & Families bill, and thank you for listening to our views.

We welcome the changes regarding mediation and the fact it will not become compulsory. We are pleased to see the inclusion of Towards Adulthood as a requirement of the Local Offer and an emphasis on strengthening the participation of young peoples.

However there are still some areas where we have concerns:

  • We are concerned about the lack of inclusion for children & young people who have a disability but not SEN and hope your decision to exclude them will be looked at again, in particular to provide statutory protections for Disabled children & young people who have a specific health/social care need but not severe SEN.
  • There is no indication of a duty to respond to a parents request for assessment within a time limit; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • We would appreciate more detail of the single assessment process, Including how the integrated assessment will work in practice; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • With regards to the Local Offer we urge you to support a standard approach for schools to determine some national minimum standards encompassing what parents/carers can expect from schools, clearly laid out so parents can see how these standards work in practice. This should of course include academies & free schools.
  • We support the call for a national literacy and dyslexia strategy, which includes dyslexia trained teacher in every school, which would support the need to ensure early identification (Dyslexia Action’s Dyslexia Still Matters report).

The pathfinder has certainly increased parent participation and closer working relationships between parents/carers and professionals and we would appreciate support for the vital role parent/carer forums have in ensuring effective co-production continues.

Politics and personalities in the SEN jungle

Like me, my co-contributor, Debs Aspland, grew up in the call-a-spade-a-spade, working class, north-west of England.  Also like me, she has far too much to do trying to juggle work and care for her special needs children to have any time for the politics and game-playing that has so often, in the past, made lives difficult for parents trying to cut their way through the special needs jungle.

In this post, our Debs who, you will remember, is Director of Kent’s parent-carer forum, Kent PEPS, explores the different personalities we meet as parents and individuals in our daily lives and how thinking about this – and your own approach – can help you navigate the system to get the best help for your child.

***

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.

Arnold Bennett

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by politics and personalities.

Debs Aspland

True co-production with parents is a goal that came out of Aiming High.  The Department for Education allocate a small grant each year to a Parent-Carer Forum within each local authority, with the remit that they work with health, education, social care and other providers to ensure that the services they provide are the services that families want and need.  Fantastic, what a great way forward!

However, the DfE forgot to tell the health, education, social care and other providers that they had to work with the Parent-Carer Forums.

(more…)

SEN and disability stories you mustn’t miss

The summer holidays may be underway but the silly season for news certainly doesn’t seem to have arrived as far as news and great blogs go. Although, as this is Olympics year, we may miss it altogether. I’m especially pleased as the Olympics brings some old and sorely-missed friends into town to cover it for various news organisations.

In special needs this week, there have been a number of notable stories, including the school exclusions figures. the BBC ran on the angle that there was an 11% drop in exclusions across the boar and, while this is of course welcome news, it’s much more worrying that pupils with statements are nine times more likely to be excluded than a pupil without SEN, a fact that news organisations seem to think is just par for the course. Now remember, this is statemented, not just SEN kids, so these are children who are supposed to have statutory help in place to enable them to achieve. Does this indicate that many are simply n the wrong school environment or that their statements are either inadequate or not being properly implemented? I really hope someone with the right resources (yes, I know, what are resources?) looks into this more closely.

There are also a few great blog posts from Chaos in Kent, Lynsey Mumma Duck and Place2Be, so do check them out. Also, if you’ve read or written something fab this week about special needs, leave the link in the comments for me!

The Every Child in Need Campaign – help needed!

A campaign is being launched today (Thursday 26th July 2012) aimed at protecting society’s most vulnerable children from “damaging changes” proposed by the Department for Education.

The Department of Education is proposing wide-ranging changes to the legal framework which protects these ‘children in need’. Although the changes will affect all ‘children in need’ in England and Wales – including all disabled children – they are focused solely on child protection. The proposals are set out in a consultation which runs until 4th September 2012 [details here].

However, a group of charities, campaigners and lawyers, who are today launching :Every Child In Need” say these proposals are wrong-headed, dangerous and will place the most vulnerable children at risk .

The organisations include Maxwell-Gillott SEN solicitors, Ambitious About Autism and child protection charity ECPAT UK. The organisers, between them, work with and reach thousands of children across the country, including disabled children, children who have been trafficked, and others facing challenges such as street homelessness, physical or sexual violence (often gang-related), parental neglect, educational difficulties and behavioural or mental health problems. All of these are children ‘in need’.

The organisers say:

The Department for Education is proposing wide-ranging changes to the legal framework which protects these children.  The Ministers, Michael Gove MP and Tim Loughton MP, say these changes involve cutting ‘red tape’, allowing local authority children’s services departments more freedom to meet children’s needs.  Many local authorities – cash-strapped following swingeing cuts to their budgets – are happy to take this lifeline, which will mean less pressure to act quickly when a child in need comes to their attention.

We disagree.  The legal framework is not ‘red tape’ – it is an essential safety net for children when they are failed by their local authority.  Basic minimum national standards and requirements are essential.  A hands off approach, allowing local authorities to do what they want, when they want, is dangerous.

Even the Government’s own impact assessment (.pdf) recognises this – it accepts that, “there is a risk of negative impact on children if central government is less prescriptive.”  That is not a risk we should be taking.

We believe these changes are wrong-headed, dangerous and will place the most vulnerable children at risk.  Join us and stop these changes.

Although headlined as a consultation about ‘safeguarding’ and ‘child protection’ only, following on from the Munro report, in fact the proposed changes are far wider, impacting upon all ‘children in need’ across England and Wales, and drastically altering the current guidance regarding how local authorities should assess and meet their needs.

Time is short.  The consultation is running over the summer, 12th June – 4th September 2012.  We recognise that the issues are complex and you may have many questions.  We have arranged a campaign and information meeting for Thursday 26th July 2012, to discuss the proposals further and answer any questions.  It will take place at Doughty Street Chambers at 6 – 7.30pm and we very much hope you can join us.

The Department for Education’s wide-ranging proposals are set out here: https://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/a00211065/revised-safeguarding-guidance.  In short, Michael Gove MP and Tim Loughton MP say these changes involve cutting ‘red tape’ and stopping prescription by central government, allowing local authority children’s services departments more freedom.  Many local authorities – cash-strapped following swingeing cuts to their budgets – are happy to take this lifeline, which will mean less pressure to act quickly when a child in need comes to their attention.

We disagree.  The legal framework is not ‘red tape’ – it is an essential safety net for children when they are failed by their local authority.  Basic minimum national standards and requirements are essential.  A hands off approach, allowing local authorities to do what they want, when they want, is dangerous.  Even the Government’s own impact assessment recognises this – it accepts that, “there is a risk of negative impact on children if central government is less prescriptive.”  That is not a risk we should be taking.

The campaign has three central concerns:

(i)            The proposals are based solely upon ‘children at risk,’ but the changes will apply to all ‘children in need’ – a far wider group.  For example, all disabled children are ‘children in need’ but their needs have not been taken into account in the proposals.  There are at least 770,000 disabled children in England and Wales. Why have their needs been disregarded?  How will they be impacted by these changes?

(ii)           The proposals remove national minimum standards for child in need assessments, basic standards which all local authorities must meet.  At the moment there are maximum timescales in place, so that when a child in need is referred to children’s services his or her needs must be assessed within 35 working days at most.  Gove and Loughton are removing this requirement.  We believe that many children in need will be left to languish, without the assessments and services they desperately need – and are statutorily entitled to.

(iii)       The revised statutory guidance proposed in the consultation is hopelessly vague and general, and will not ensure that children in need obtain assessments with a ‘realistic plan of action’.

The campaigners say they are very surprised to see the Department supporting the removal of national minimum standards on the timing and quality of assessments for children in need at this time, when in other contexts they are demanding more proscription and are criticizing local authority decision-making.  They cite as an sample, how Tim Loughton MP recently sharply criticised local authorities for their placement and management of vulnerable young people in children’s homes, and the poor quality of local authority data on such children.

The campaign website is at, www.everychildinneed.org.uk.  Full details of our meeting on 26th July are available at http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/seminars_events/.

We hope to see you on 26th July.  If you wish to attend please book your place by contacting Doughty Street’s Events Coordinator at 020 7404 1313 or events@doughtystreet.co.uk.

Active listening: a core skill for SEN reform

Yesterday, MumsNet hosted a live web chat with Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.

I recently posted an open letter to Miss Teather, to which I’m still awaiting a response. Last week I spoke at a Surrey pathfinder event on behalf of Family Voice Surrey and in front of DfE senior official, Stephen Kingdom. I made sure to mention our concerns about the timetable for reform that everyone, outside the government, is very worried about. I spoke to Mr Kingdom, a very personable chap, afterwards, to ask him to pass on these concerns to Miss Teather. A day later, he emailed me to tell me about the MumsNet webchat and I was delighted to publicise it on my various social nets (and thanks to everyone who retweeted!) so that as many people as possible could get their questions in. Including, of course, me!

Here is my question:

Hi. My name is Tania Tirraoro and I am co-chair of Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum. On behalf of FVS, I sit on both the Surrey Local Change Board and the EHCP workstream, part of the SE pathfinder. I have two statemented teenage sons with ASD and I am also the founder of the website, Special Needs Jungle.
I can see how hard parents and professionals alike are working on this reform and how much many LA staff want to do things differently. There are many challenges and details to be worked out and worked through. Our EHCP trial isn’t even set to start until September, and we are far from alone.
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?A delay of a few months won’t stop this process (described by someone in your department as an ‘unstoppable train’, rather worryingly), but it will give those involved time to work through the pilots, making adjustments as they go without feeling the unnecessary pressure of looming legislation.
The genie is out of the bottle – reform will happen, but you’ll be remembered much more favourably if you give them time to do their work without the extra pressure that fitting into an artificial timetable will bring and you will end up with a stronger, more sustainable system that will really work for children with SEN & disabilities and their families.
Stephen Kingdom, your DfE colleague, told me last week the process will evolve and it won’t be a final bill – if that’s so, why bother publishing it until you actually have solid results to use?
Thank you for your time.

Despite being in bed recovering from surgery, on Monday I logged on via my iPad to read all the many questions posted – and there were lots of questions from concerned parents about various aspects of SEN provision.

It has been clear to me for some time that anyone outside the actual pathfinders doesn’t really know what stage they’re at, or what they’re even about. If you’d like to know more, I would thoroughly recommend this article in SEN Magazine from Jane McConnell, CEO of IPSEA who has a good grasp of the issues and spoke at the recent Education Select Committee on SEN.

Even though it wasn’t the first to be posted, my question was the first Miss Teather chose to answer, not that there is anything to read into that. See below.

SarahTeatherMP Mon 16-Jul-12 10:37:55

Tania Tirraoro asked a question which was picked up by a few of you:
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?

The most important thing I should stress is that what we will be publishing in September is just a draft bill – it is for discussion, not for debate in Parliament. We won’t be publishing the real bill until the Spring next year. The draft bill is an opportunity for parents and charities who are expert in this area to look at our ideas and tell us what they think. The education select committee in Parliament will also run a kind of inquiry on the draft proposals. It is one of the many stages we are using to test out people’s views and make sure we have the detail right.
It is also important to remember that this is the half way point in the reform process. We began in September 2010, asking people’s views on about what should change, then we published a green paper in the spring last year, more detailed proposals a few months ago, the draft bill in September and the real bill next year. We will also have lots of time in Parliament to debate the bill. It isn’t being rushed through. It will run over two Parliamentary sessions. And some of the legislation will need to be done in what is called secondary legislation at a later stage.
Throughout this process the pathfinders will be testing things out and we wil be getting formal reports. The pathfinders of course are not just testing out the proposals for the legislation. much more importantly, they are about changing culture. You can’t legislate to make people listen – you need to get better at it.

Sarah

I didn’t post a follow up, she only had an hour and there were a lot of questions to get through. The answer was interesting and informative but it still doesn’t answer the question posed further down in my posting – why publish a draft bill if the process is nowhere near ready for it and there is still feedback to be sought from parents and charities? This would seem to be a waste of time and money.

It is this draft bill that is putting unneccesary pressure on the professionals involved in the pathfinders who are trying to do their best – it is unfair and unrealistic. At this stage, in Surrey, we are only about to start talking about who a key worker should be and what qualities they need. But key workers need to be appointed before a trial can begin. Likewise a plan writer. This work WILL be done, but why place what amounts to a false deadline to loom over their heads?

Speaking as the parent of children with special needs (and I’m pretty certain that my views are echoed by most other parents and professionals), give them time to get it right! Why not say, okay, we will have a draft bill, but to instil confidence in the government’s intentions to get it right, we will listen to these concerns and make a much more informed draft bill in January. Would that be so difficult? Really? We wouldn’t think badly of you, we would all breathe a sigh of relief that the job could be done without a guillotine hanging over the heads of those doing the work.

The perception that without this October draft bill nothing will happen is utterly wrong. All it’s doing is causing anxiety and the impression that the government is steaming ahead without regard for the reality of the situation.

One very interesting point Miss Teather mentioned – and it’s something that is at the very heart of the reform – is culture change. This also is going to take money and time. People may lose their jobs over it if they can’t adjust to a new way of thinking. The idea of children and families as ‘client groups’ as I heard one person call them, must come to an end. Children are not clients, they are the vulnerable young people that this process is all about. You can’t change culture by a wave of the wand – extensive training needs to happen.

On top of this is the massive shake-up  in school funding that is happening all at the same time and it is causing much anxiety, frustration and confusion. Mr Gove seems to forget that with all his ‘fantastic’ ideas, he is creating uncertainty in already uncertain times and this cannot be good for schools, teachers or ultimately, children.

So, thank you Miss Teather, for taking part in the web chat yesterday. I’m not really sure if anything you said made anyone actually feel better, but it was a nice gesture. I know you’re busy, but you need to do more getting out and about like this. You see, parents of children with special needs are a cynical bunch and for good reason. Actions speak louder than words to us.

Can you really understand what we’ve been through and are still going through? I don’t really think so, but delaying any draft bill to the new year would be a good indication that you are listening to those of us who are in a position to speak on behalf of our fellow parents who are too stressed and overwhelmed with their situation to have time to speak up for themselves.

 

Dear Miss Teather, an open letter about the pace of SEN reform

Dear Miss Sarah Teather

I know you mean well. I know you really want to do something to help improve the lot of kids with special needs. And you might think you understand the challenges faced by parents who have children with SEN and disabilities. But really, you don’t. You can’t, because, as far as I’m aware, you don’t have any children, let alone any children like ours. So while you might be able to intellectualise it, you really can’t possibly know what it’s like, unless you’ve lived it, day in, day out.

And something else you don’t seem to know about, is what is actually going on at ground level within the pathfinders for SEN reform. You might know what you’ve been told, but unless you’ve actually sat in on a few of the workstreams for the different pilots, or the Local Change Board, you really don’t know. And even if you have, it’s not likely anyone’s going to say, actually Miss Teather, you’re living in a parallell universe to the one that everyone, who’re desperately trying to put the pieces of this reform together, are in.

pencils

You’re planning, so you say, to inform the draft bill on the results of the pathfinder trails. Err, what trials? There will be trials – there are enough dedicated professionals and parents working to get them underway – but there won’t be any substantive results by the autumn. So what then? Are you going to press on regardless? Because if you do, then you’ve just wasted a shedload of money shelling out for the pathfinder authorities.

I watched the select committee on SEN last week online. All five experts said there should be a delay in bringing legislation. And you said, okay, let’s put it back a month or so until the autumn. I don’t think you meant autumn 2013, when we most certainly would have enough evidence to inform a substantial draft bill.

I know that your officials have been told that the pace of legislation is far ahead of the pace of the pilots, but it seems that no one is actually listening. Why not? What makes you think that you and your officials and the Rt Hon Mr Gove know better than those people who have been seconded to carry out the trials?

For a start – and I’ve mentioned this on my blog before (you do read my blog, don’t you – it’s award winning!) you can only start an effective EHCP pilot if

a)  you have some families who’ve actually signed up to it

b)  you have a Key Worker and a Plan Writer in place to help the parents through the process and to write the actual plan and

c)  you’ve actually finalised what a plan should look like. Unlike you, I’m on an EHCP workstream and we are closer to getting c) than we were, but it is so important to get it right that it needs a number of drafts.

As I said, it’s just my opinion, but at least I’ve actually been through statementing with my sons. Twice. And written a book about it. So actually, maybe my opinion is more informed than yours. Just maybe.

You can achieve all the reform you need without chucking the baby out with the bathwater because I’m not even sure there was a whole lot wrong with the statementing system in the first place. It just needed people to put the child at the heart of it and not egos, budgets or brinkmanship. It needed people to do what they were supposed to do, in a timely fashion. It needed more support for, often vulnerable, parents right through the process. It needed SENCos to be able to put the needs of the child first without worrying about their jobs. And it needed those SENCos to actually know what’s in the SEN Code of Practice. Some are great, but that’s no help if you’re at a school where the special needs help is poor.

As a result of the way the current system has been executed, literally thousands of parents have been left in debt, emotionally battered, angry and sometimes even divorced. A whole industry of well-paid SEN lawyers has grown up out of bad practice of local authority SEN officials who have forgotten who they’re there to help in the first place. And don’t think you’re going to put the lawyers out of business with the new reforms – at least not at the pace you want them done.

It’s not just a case of policies. It’s, first and foremost, a question of hearts and minds, of a will and an ability to do things differently. Training, and lots of it, will be needed. Inadequate training of staff in policies and cultural change will lead to poor results for the child, a bad experience for parents and an adversarial system. Kind of like the one we’ve got already.

And don’t think that every single professional is on board with your and Mr Gove’s reforming zeal. They’re not and if you’re going to make things work as they need to, you have to convince them that it’s a good idea or you’ll have failed before you’ve even started.

Are you listening yet? We, in Surrey, have some pathfinder events going on this week and on the 12th July. If you don’t believe what I’ve said here, why not throw on a disguise and pop on down so you can see what they’re saying about the pace of reform behind your back?

Look forward to seeing you (or maybe not, if your disguise is good)

Tania

Who will care for our vulnerable ‘Looked After Children’ in a care-less society?

There was a news report this morning about an investigation by MPs finding “serious weaknesses” in England’s care system that showed children’s homes failed to protect runaways.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said “urgent steps” would be taken. Much of the criticism by the all-party parliamentary groups on children in care and on runaways and missing people focuses on homes where about 5,000 of the 65,000 of those in care are looked after. The report, first highlighted by BBC Two’s Newsnight programme earlier this month, says the system of residential care is “not fit for purpose” for children who just disappear from the system.

It is very timely that this was mentioned this morning, following the Towards a Positive Future Conference that I spoke at at the weekend. I was going to write about my part in that that today, but it will have to wait because I want to tell you about one of the most disturbing things I have ever heard.

Another speaker at the conference was Child Psychologist and former headteacher, Charlie Mead. Charlie works with children from around 35 homes in the Midlands and the South West. In a talk entitled “The Care-less System” he told of how Looked After Children lose not only their families but also their voices. Many are not in school because schools won’t take them. Charlie said that service heads and agencies are unengaged, denying responsibility for what happens to these, our most vulnerable, young people.

Most have some kind of special need whether it is educational, emotional, social or behavioural. They do not have loving parents to fight for them. Many simply disappear and fall into the hands of drugs runners, sexual exploiters and ultimately, the criminal justice system. All because no one cared about them enough to give them a home, a school place or love of any description.

I will be bringing you Charlie’s speech in more detail in the next week or so, because it is vitally important that you read it. And not just read it, but do something to help these abandoned children who are living among us, invisible and ignored.

It is all our responsibility to help. Why should my children or your children have the best of what we can give them while these children are rejected through no fault of their own?

I really want to highlight this issue and want to call on you all to help me do this too.

SEN – The Next Steps – My views & Meridian Tonight feature

So, there’s been much furore today about the headlines for proposals that  450,000 children be ‘struck off’ the SEN register. This is a bit of a stupid headline, to say the least. I was interviewed by Meridian Tonight (clip at end of post) about it for my views as a parent of SEN children.

The story was linked to this announcement from the DfE today that continues on from the SEN Green paper on Special Needs and Aspiration, that was trailed last week. It seems that any story about children with special needs is pounced upon by the haters and the critics. Oh, those bad teachers. Oh those terrible parents. Oh those benefit scroungers. I can guarantee you that none of those people who make moronic comments like that are either a teacher or have a child with special needs, which means that they should, quite frankly, shut up.

The key points in today’s “Next Steps” announcement were:

  • The new Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)  will eventually replace the statement and will last from birth to 25 for those children who need it. The EHCP will be a “single assessment process, … ensuring that families have confidence that all of the different local agencies – across education, health and social care are working to together to meet their needs. This will stop parents having to have to undergo repeated assessments with different agencies.”
  • Personal budgets: all families with an approved education, health and care plan will have a legal right to request a personal budget, if they choose.
  • Joint commissioning: LAs and clinical commissioning groups would have to put arrangements in place to ensure that services for disabled children and young people, and those with SEN are planned and commissioned jointly.
  • School choice: parents whose children have an education, health and care plan would have the legal right to seek a place at any state-funded school of their choice – whether maintained, academy, Free School or special. LAs would have to name the parent’s preferred school so long it was suitable for the child, did not prejudice the education of other children or did not mean an inefficient use of funds.
  • Local offer: all LAs would publish a ‘local offer’ of  support, so parents would know exactly what is available instead of having to fight for basic information.
  • Mediation and the tribunal and children’s right to appeal to a tribunal: introducing mediation before Tribunal for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.
What some sections of the press jumped on was that the statement from the DfE mentioned an OFSTED report from 2010 that claimed many children were wrongly identified with SEN. I touched on the reasons for this in my post on Saturday, so you can read it there. But to say that this happens often or even routinely is a huge exaggeration.
It is quite right that the government should seek to provide the most appropriate provision for children whether they have actual SEN or whether they need nurture groups because of family difficulties. If they can bring forward the funding and expertise to put this in place, then they should do it as soon as possible.
What they should NOT do as soon as possible (ie, this summer) is think that their policy can be informed by any results from pathfinder trials of the EHCP. In Surrey, this is still at a very early stage – ie, we, at Family Voice Surrey, are not even sure that any families are yet trialling it, so to have any firm conclusions drawn by this summer is optimistic in the extreme.
Tomorrow, Surrey has another day-long EHCP meeting that myself and my FVS colleague, Angela Kelly, will attend with great interest.
What must NOT be done is for these plans to be rushed through for political reasons – we are talking about the futures of some of society’s most vulnerable and if you’re going to shake up the system it should be done properly, in a considered manner.
Anyway, now for the light relief. Christine Alsford from Meridian (where I cut my TV reporter teeth) came over and filmed me and Son2. Son2 only agreed if he could be in his BodySox and the crew thought this was a genius idea.  What do you think?

SEN Green Paper: Ministerial “Detailed response” expected next week

So, next week government ministers will set out their detailed response and reform timetable as their next steps in the SEN Green Paper. They’ve been saying it’s ‘imminent’ since February, so we’ll see what they’ve come up with.

Ministers say they’ve committed to making all the necessary legal changes to put in place reforms proposed in the Support and Aspiration Green Paper and yesterday, in the Queen’s speech, they pledged that the planned Children and Families Bill would deliver better support for families. It would introduce a single, simpler assessment process for children with SEN or disabilities, backed up by new Education, Health and Care Plans – the same EHCP that Surrey, as a pathfinder council, is setting up now. As a member of parent-carer forum, Family Voice Surrey, I am one of two parent reps, along with FVS Chair, Angela Kelly, for this pathfinder stream. Our next EHCP meeting for this is next week, so it will be a very interesting day, I think!

The SEN key measures announced yesterday were:

  • replacing SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (for 16- to 25-year-olds) with a single, simpler 0-25 assessment process and Education, Health and Care Plan from 2014
  • providing statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN to up to 25 in further education – instead of it being cut off at 16
  • requiring local authorities to publish a local offer showing the  support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, and their families
  • giving parents or young people with Education, Health and Care Plans the right to a personal budget for their support
  • introducing mediation for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.

The legislation intends to draw on evidence from all the 20 local pathfinders set up in last September. Certainly, in Surrey, we have a long way to go before the LEA are in any sort of position to make evaluations on outcomes. This is despite the government saying that interim evaluation reports are due in summer and late autumn 2012, with a final report in 2013.

IPSEA, the charity that supports parents though the SEN process said, “It is essential that the Pathfinder pilots be given a rigorous evaluation before any legislation in this vital area goes on to the statute book. The pilots started only in late 2011, and have two years to run. It seems premature and potentially unsound to rely on the evidence from these Pathfinder pilots one way or the other before 2014.”

There are huge changes in the offing and no one is really sure, as yet, how it’s all going to work out. There certainly is an enormous amount of work being done by many committed people all over the country in the different aspects of the proposals.

I look forward to seeing the detailed response and finding out how much they’ve listened to what people at the SEN coalface really think.

Special needs experts offer views for Labour’s SEN policy review

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting at Westminster for Labour’s SEN policy review, chaired by MP, Sharon Hodgson, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Families.

Westminster - Copyright Tania Tirraoro all rights reservedMrs Hodgson is herself the mother of a severely dyslexic son so if anyone understands SEN issues, she does. The issue under discussion in this one of a series of meetings, was early identification and provision. Now, Labour’s record on SEN isn’t stellar, presiding as it did over the closure of so many special schools and the policy of inclusion, which anyone with a real understanding of the needs of children with SEN and disabilities could see just wasn’t sensible.

However, now they are out of power they have an opportunity to reassess and this review is seeking to bring together young people with SEN and disabilities and their families and associated professionals to examine the current SEN landscape. The review is also attempting to crystallise opinions on the government’s SEN Green Paper and to “work towards a clear pledge of what children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers should be able to expect from education, health and social care services in identifying and providing for their needs.”

Trialling by pathfinder councils of aspects of the Green paper is getting underway, although in Surrey at the moment, it seems there is much up in the air with an abrupt reorganisation of the SEN department and the departure of several senior key figures, including the head of SEN herself, Debbie Johnson. One might ask, who is actually running Surrey’s SEN at the moment and how will this apparently major reconfiguration affect the pathfinder?

At the Westminster meeting, around fifty people concerned with SEN were gathered in Committee Room 14, from the head of the NUT, Christine Blower, the CEO of The Meningitis Trust, Sue Davie, councillors, day nursery providers, the leader of the Association of Educational Psychologists, Kate Fallon, other SEN professionals and parents, like me.

All who spoke, did so with great passion and knowledge about the difficulties faced in providing adequate care and appropriate education for SEN and disabled children. This was focused on the problems surrounding  the timely identification of children whose SEN might not be immediately apparent, in some cases until they reach Secondary level, such as children with acquired brain injury.

Karen Veitch of the National Day Nurseries Association, said how early intervention may be expensive at first but it was far cheaper in the long run, while Kate Fallon said that the current system tends to mitigate against early intervention.

One inspirational mother and daughter team are Nadia Clark and her mother, Katie. Nadia has cerebral palsy and is deaf. She uses a vocal synthesiser to speak, but her indefatigable spirit and intelligence shines through and she soon hopes to go to University. She is the recipient of a Winston Churchill Foundation grant to research alternative methods of communication.

Her mother, Katie, is a woman of great determination and she has worked tirelessly to support her daughter. She spent two years looking for a school that would take Nadia, moving her family across the country to do so. She later formed the parent-carer forum, One Voice Communicating Together and believes the future for SEN & disability services should be about “looking at things differently and more creatively”. She stressed, and I thoroughly agree with this, the need for good emotional support for families in the early years, saying supporting parents’ self-esteem is vital if they are to be able to be strong for their children.

The NUT’s Christine Blower voiced concern over the break up of the schools system and said there was massive pressure on SENCos to work beyond their skill sets. In my own experience, SENCos are also overworked, carrying out several other roles within the school as well.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the review and I will look forward to reading any published policy that comes about because of it. It was a privilege for me to listen to such committed and dedicated parents and professionals speak so eloquently about services for vulnerable children. I just hope that they are listened to by those who can make a difference at government level.

Unofficial exclusions – Has it happened to your child?

Some schools in England are illegally excluding pupils, sometimes permanently, without going through the full formal process, a report says. England’s children’s commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson heard some pupils were moved to other schools or sent home without an exclusion being recorded. Most schools tried to hold on to troubled pupils, she said, but a minority excluded on “a whim”. BBC News

This story has made the news today but for me, it comes as no surprise. In fact, I published a post about this very subject a few months ago regarding unofficial exclusions because of a child’s special educational needs:

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a highly experienced SEN Advocate. I told her of a parent I know who had been asked to collect her ASD son early from school each day. My friend, Julie Maynard, was outraged. That was, she said, an unofficial exclusion and was illegal. The child was being deprived of a full school day because of his disability….Read more

That story followed the Centre for Social Justice  releasing a report last October that said some schools in England are “acting illegally or unscrupulously” by excluding pupils by unofficial means. Some schools encourage parents to remove difficult children, avoiding officially excluding them but providing no support. The report, No Excuses: A review of educational exclusion, was based on interviews with more than 100 heads, teachers, parents, pupils, local authority, voluntary and private sector workers.

Today, Mark Atkinson, Director of Policy, at Ambitious about Autism said, “The Children’s Commissioner for England is right to highlight the scandal of illegal exclusions from school. Children with autism are unfairly and disproportionately over-represented in exclusion figures. The fact that pupils with special educational needs (SEN) are eight times more likely to be permanently excluded from school is shocking and must be addressed.

“We call on head teachers to think twice before excluding a child with SEN, and we call on governors to hold their senior staff to account.”

If your child has been unofficially excluded, read my earlier post to the endas there is a form letter protesting this that you may want to use.

Government Urged To Ensure SEN Appeal System Is Made Less Intimidating

Many families experience an intimidating process when they appeal against local authority decisions regarding special educational needs provision for vulnerable children, says speech and language therapist Janet O’Keefe, who attends many tribunals as an expert witness.

Janet says that special educational needs and disability tribunals are organised by the Ministry of Justice as part of the court system and their hearings are often heard in magistrates’ courts, asylum and immigration buildings, or social security offices which is very stressful for parents who have not done anything wrong other than disagree with the provision proposed to support their child by the local authority responsible for meeting their special educational needs.

This issue will be one of the topics under discussion at a conference called Towards a Positive Future, which Janet is holding in Newbury, Berkshire on Saturday, 16 June, where speakers will include Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society.

Janet, who founded Wordswell (Speech and Language Therapy Services) near Ely, Cambridgeshire, says the event is aimed at parents of children with special education needs and the professionals who support them. Janet will be speaking about the daunting and intimidating process of appeal for parents.

Janet says: “It’s disappointing that local authorities do not seem to be currently negotiating with parents, which results in more appeal hearings and higher legal costs for those parents who use expensive specialist solicitors and barristers to represent them. On average I have attended two tribunal hearings a month as an expert witness for speech and language therapy; in January 2012, there were 12 in the diary and I attended eight.

“Since all tribunals came under the Ministry of Justice, hearings have had to be held in government buildings instead of hotels or dedicated tribunal buildings to save money.  This means that instead of a formal business meeting, special education appeal hearings are now held in magistrates’ courts, asylum and immigration buildings, or social security offices.  Often there is security on the door like an airport to scan and search all bags and people entering the building. The whole process is increasingly stressful – and all because parents dared to disagree with the provision the local authorities are offering to support their child who through no fault of their own has special educational needs.

“The legal costs have also escalated for parents who seek legal representation. Just five years ago parents were telling me that their legal bill was on average £7,000, now they are telling me it is more than £20,000.”

Tania Tirraoro, a mother of two autistic sons, Luca, 14, and Giorgio, 12, and author of Special Educational Needs – Getting Started with Statements, believes a much more conciliatory approach is required which would involve a huge culture shift away from the present process so the focus is on the special educational needs of the child, and not the local authority’s budget.

Tania belongs to Family Voice Surrey, a parent carer group to help form the new SEN structure where pathfinder trials are taking place.

She says: “The system has been adversarial for far too long, and it’s not just the framework that needs to change to improve things, but the attitudes of some LEA staff to dealing with stressed and vulnerable parents. Even as the trials are getting underway, parents using the existing system are still being subjected to unnecessary expense preparing for tribunals that the LEA backs out of at the last minute, inadequate proposed statements and fights over placements. A change here would make the biggest difference of all.

“There are many fine ideals in the green paper, but the most important thing is that the pathfinder trials must show that they are workable on a large scale and do, in fact, improve the lives of children with SEN and their families.”

Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society, says: “I am very much looking forward to coming to Wordswell’s conference – anything that can help to promote understanding, support and the need for the right education for those on the autistic spectrum is always close to my heart.

“After over 30 years of working with the National Autistic Society I still continue to learn more about this complex condition all the time, and I know I will enjoy meeting the parents, carers, professionals and those with autism themselves who will gather to exchange experiences and to help improve the lives of all those affected. “

Janet has edited a book which was launched at last October’s Conference called ‘Towards a Positive Future: stories, ideas and inspiration from children with special educational needs, their families and professionals’ which includes practical information and support for parents and expert witnesses.

The conference is being held at the Arlington Arts Centre in Newbury on Saturday, 16 June. Early bird tickets cost £80, and £100 after 1 May, and can be booked by calling 01954 253525, or email janetokeefe@wordswell.co.uk 

Please see www.wordswell.co.uk for further information.

Ends.

Notes to editors:

  1. For photos or interview requests, please contact media officer Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564, 07939 811961, or email ellee.seymour@btopenworld.com
  2. Full details of the green paper for special educational needs, please see the Department for Education, http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/sen/a0075339/sengreenpaper

Exciting news – a conference speaking invitation

I have exciting news – I am to be a keynote speaker at the forthcoming SEN Conference, Towards a Positive Future that is to take place in Newbury in June. I will be talking about being a parent of two sons with autism and how parents-carer forums such as Family Voice Surrey, of which I am a committee member, are helping to shape SEN services with the SEN Green paper pathfinders. Surrey will be trialing, among other areas, the proposed Education Health and Care Plan for which I attended a day-long meeting yesterday.

Apparently, children with existing SEN statements will not automatically be moved to an EHCP although their parents can request it. They may be moved at a transition point if appropriate, however.

It is clear from the meeting that there is much work to be done and in a relatively short time as it is expected the new procedures will be brought in by 2013/14. There are some positive proposals and still a lot of detail to be worked out, but the general principle is that the child and family should be at the centre of the process. It’s not very clear to me why this isn’t already the case.

The whole system at the moment is adversarial and there is much distrust on both sides, so to make the new process succeed there needs to be a major cultural shift towards working together for the benefit of the child. At the moment LEAs are (rightly or wrongly) seen as penny-pinching, budget-not-child focused parent-haters who are determined to give as little as they can get away with. LEA staff, meanwhile see some parents as just trying to bag a statement to get their children into the best schools that cost the council hundreds of thousands of pounds a year when (the LEA feels) local provision would do just as well. There are many parents left vastly out-of-pocket by legal fees as they pursue the most appropriate option for their child.

Personally, I can’t understand why any parent would head into the stressful, potentially expensive jungle of statementing unless their child has significant needs that are not being met within current school resources – I mean, why would you put yourself through that? Every parent I have encountered who is seeking a statement has experienced their child going through years of difficulties, under-achievement and unhappiness before they become convinced that this is the only route. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they must be just that – exceptions.

Anyway, by the conference in June I expect some parents will have been recruited for the trials and we will have more detail of how the final system will look. Other speakers include the National Autistic Society president, Jane Asher, Janet O’Keefe, editor of “Towards a Positive Future”, Educational Lawyer, Clive Rawlings and Kevin Geeson of Dyslexia Action among others.

Below is a link to a booking form that you can use with all the details on.

Towards_a_Positive_Future_Conference_2012_flyer

Labour SEN Policy Review – want to get involved?

This is taken from the website of Sharon Hodgson MP, but I thought it might be useful to post it here too, in case anyone hasn’t seen it and wants to get involved. I am already involved in a meeting on Monday for the Surrey Pathfinder trials for the proposed EHCP but this looks like an interesting opportunity for anyone interested in helping Labour form its own updated SEN policy:

_____________

SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS – POLICY REVIEW, 2012

The Labour Party are seeking your views on how to build on the work of the last decade in improving educational outcomes for children and young people with specialeducational needs and disabilities, to inform their policies in the run-up to the next general election.

Review Panel :

  • Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Families (Chair);
  • Cllr Luke Akehurst, Hackney Council and Labour Party National Executive Committee member;
  • Cllr Richard Watts, Executive Member for Children, Islington Council;
  • Alex Cunningham MP, Education Select Committee Member;
  • Young people’s representatives (tbc).

Purpose and aims

The review seeks to bring together children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers, as well as those involved in providing for their needs, and those who champion better services and outcomes for them, to achieve the following aims:

  •  To examine the current landscape of provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including highlighting examples of current best practice.
  •  To crystallise opinions on the Department for Education’s ‘Support and Aspiration’ Green Paper;
  • To work towards a clear pledge of what children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers should be able to expect from education, health and social care services in identifying and providing for their needs.
  • To generate, and provide a basis for the development of, new and innovative ideas to improve the identification of and provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, while achieving the best possible use of limited resources.

Timeline

The review will be held over four distinct evidence sessions:

Session 1 – The Green Paper and next steps

Tuesday 28 Feb, 11.00-13.00, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: General discussion on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the government’s ‘Support and Aspiration’ Green Paper.

Ideal contributors: Any individuals, groups or organisations with an interest in the future of SEN provision.

Session 2 – Teacher training and specialist professionals

Tuesday 6 Mar, 4.30-6.30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: Exploring ways of improving knowledge and expertise withing the education workforce, including whether to increase the time given over to SEN in initial teacher training and continuous professional development/INSET days, building on what is in the Green Paper on encouraging up-skilling.

Ideal contributors: Representatives of teachers/headteachers and early years professionals, ITT/CPD providers, local authorities, specialist staff.

Session 3 – Identification and provision

Tuesday 20 Mar, 5.30-7.30, Committee Room 8, House of Commons

Scope: How best to identify and provide for children with SENs, and establishing what parents and children should be able to expect from the various agencies involved in doing so.

Ideal contributors: Parents and young people, representatives of teachers/headteachers and early years professionals, local authorities, academies/free schools and PVI special schools/settings.

Session 4 – Accountability and the role of local authorities

Tuesday 27 Mar, 4.30-6.30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: How to bring accountability back to provision, including what the role of local authorities should be, and what parents should be able to expect from it.

Ideal contributors: Local authorities, charities, parents and young people.

Following these evidence sessions, a report and recommendations will be drafted for submission to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum, where they will then go forward for discussion at Annual Conference in the Autumn.

Conclusions reached will also form the basis of how Labour responds to future legislation and policies brought forward by the Government.

How to get involved

1. Attend a session

If you are interested in attending or speaking to any of the above evidence sessions, please e-mail sharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk stating:

– who you are representing (if not as an individual),

– which session(s) you would like to attend,

– and giving a brief outline of the points you want to make.

The review is particularly keen to hear from children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers on their first-hand experiences of getting the support they need.

2. Send us your stories and ideas

If you do not wish or are not able to attend any of the sessions, you can still get involved by submitting your thoughts on, and experiences of, the SEN system tosharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk  in the same way.

Important notes

Ideally, requests to attend should be made at least 5 working days in advance of the date of the session, although allowances will be made if the session is undersubscribed; however, presenters will be finalised by said cut-off of 5 working days.

The capacity for each session is 50 people, with a maximum of 8 being invited to give a short presentation – following presentations, the floor will be opened to everyone else.

Where sessions are over-subscribed, every effort will be made to ensure as broad a range of attendees as possible, and confirmation of your place will be provided as soon as possible.

Sessions will be presided over by the Chair of the review panel or, if a division is called, another member thereof.  As time in the sessions is limited, it is requested that attendees give consideration to other attendees in the length of their contribution, and in not interrupting other contributions.

The Committee Corridor is wheelchair-accessible, and a limited amount of parking is available for those with disabilities – by prior arrangement.  Please state in your e-mail if you have any special requirements, and every effort will be made to cater for them.

All submissions will be retained and used as a basis for the final report.

Discussions and presentations at the evidence sessions are on the record – detailed notes will be taken, and you and any organisation you represent may be quoted in the final report and supporting documents, unless you specifically request otherwise.  Similarly, any submissions received will be regarded as eligible for publication unless you explicitly state otherwise.

The closing date for submissions is March 31st. Applications and emails should preferably be typed and submitted by email, but they may also be posted to the following address if you do not have access to a computer:

SEN Policy Review

c/o Sharon Hodgson MP

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA

Any questions or clarifications can be sought by email at the address given, or by phone on 020 7219 0266.