A video about the Surrey SEN reform Pathfinder

Tania writes:

Here’s a video made by the DfE about when Ed Timpson, the SEN Minister, came to Surrey. It features families and young people trialling the Education, Health and Care plan and two key people from the Surrey pathfinder whom I greatly admire, Susie Campbell, Surrey’s Pathfinder Manager and Julie Pointer, Transition Development Manager.

If you find it difficult to understand what the reforms are all about through reading the documents, have a look at this video and you will learn lots about what is planned for the whole of England.

Let us know what 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.

What do parents of a newly-diagnosed child need?

I recently attended the launch of Family Voice Surrey, the new local forum for parents and carers of children with SEN and disabilities in Surrey. It’s part of the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and aims to give Surrey parents a voice in the policy and decision making process for disability and SEN services.

As part of the table discussions we were asked to identify the top three challenges facing families with children with disabilities and SEN in the county. When each table’s facilitator stood up in turn and read out their lists, almost every table had identified the same issue – information and support after diagnosis.

Everyone agreed that was is needed is an independent support worker who had all the answers to the questions that a diagnosis sparks in parents. This includes where to find information about assessments, financial assistance, support groups, access to services and education about how to help their child and so on.

When your child receives a diagnosis of any illness or condition, it is a very distressing experience that can also feel very isolating, especially if you do not know any other parents in your position. It can also, at the same time, be a relief that you were not imagining these symptoms and that you now have a name for the problem. This is particularly true when the child has a hidden disability such as Asperger Syndrome or ADHD. For a while, parents need to take stock, maybe reassess their hopes and expectations for their child. Perhaps they also need to grieve.

But then comes the stark reality that they have to take action to help improve their child’s life chances – and that means finding accurate information and at a local level – who is a good paediatrician, which are the appropriate schools, does my child need an assessment for a statement and how do I go about that? How do I find out about occupational therapy or speech and language therapy?

There are lots of great volunteer organisations out there, but the problem is finding the ones that are right for you and your family. So, what is needed is someone who can be sympathetic and knowledgable and who can act as a support and a signposter, maybe even an introducer to that the family needs.

So, who can provide such a service? Who will fund it? These are two good questions – maybe someone reading this post has an answer. If you have any ideas how  this can be achieved or what else a newly diagnosed family might need, please leave a comment…

Journey’s End for our Statement – And a Brighter Future.

Just to update the post about my son getting the statement of Special Needs, we’ve just heard that the LEA has agreed to fund him at his independent special school. Great news and what a relief!

When they issued the draft statement they said they were concerned how he would manage in mainstream secondary.. so they were going to recommend mainstream secondary with support. Now we know, don’t we, that for many children with Asperger’s, it’s not a question of someone sitting with them or being withdrawn into social skills groups for so many hours a week. It is more a constant nudging that they need and a vigilant eye for when things are starting to go wrong.

During my research, I spoke to several mainstream SENCOs (Special Needs Coordinators). They are all dedicated to their pupils and do a good job in difficult circumstances, but one said to me that they sometimes “don’t hear from their ASD students for months until something goes wrong”. She was saying this to illustrate how these students ‘coped’ adequately with day to day school life. All I could think was that at my boys’ school the teachers are in constant contact with the boys and things are never left for months until something goes wrong. Although this teacher was trying to be positive and reassuring, I knew then that my son would end up depressed and unhappy in an environment where he could go unnoticed for months at a time.

Why should he simply ‘cope’ when other children thrive? This is not what I wanted for a boy who is incredibly bright with enormous potential but who is also extremely sensitive with sensory issues and problems with social integration. On the face of it, you wouldn’t think there was anything different about him. But it is precisely when ‘things go wrong’ that you see that he is not the same as everyone else and does not have the coping skills that most children his age have.

This is what More House School teaches him. As well as supporting him academically, it supports his social needs on a daily basis and when they see that he is heading for trouble or he becomes upset, they can help him develop the skills he needs so that when he is an adult, difficult situations don’t throw him off-course. This means that when he leaves school to go out into the outside world, he will be as well-equipped as anyone else to deal with all kinds of situations and different types of people.

If we hadn’t managed to get the LEA to agree to fund him, we would have had to pay £13,000 a year for our son to receive the right kind of education to give him the best chance of a successful life. We had tried mainstream and had found that, with the best will in the world, the kind of support he needed wasn’t available. So why should we have to pay for him to get what every other child in mainstream gets without any bother? We didn’t opt out of the state system out of snobbery. We were, in effect, forced out, because our sons were not mainstream children.

Our LEA seems to have woken up to the fact that it is cheaper and easier to pay for children to go to this particular school than it is to find all the support they need within the state system. If they had to make their own school for high-functioning ASD boys, complex dyslexics (who often have co-morbidities), and children with great Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language needs, they would have all the capital costs to pay on top of  the per-pupil cost. These would include buildings and maintenance, electricity and all those other costs that don’t include teachers and support staff salaries and benefits.

Just paying £13,000, and leaving it up to someone else probably seems like a great deal. We haven’t asked them to pay transport – we moved to be closer so I can easily take them myself every day as I would if they were at any school. This is my part of the deal as transport costs are a never-ending headache for LEAs and I see no reason to add to the burden when I am in a position, and more than happy, to take them myself.

However, although Surrey, our LEA, have done the right thing for both my sons, (and three cheers for them), I know of other families who are having to fight tooth and nail and at great expense to get their local authority to do the same. I know of one child in Hampshire, who got a statement with no argument but despite his severe social as well as physical needs, the LEA thinks he will be able to cope with a mainstream placement against ALL the advice they have received. This is pig-headed stupidity and a game of brinkmanship with parents to see who will blink first. There is no logic to it and when the case gets to Tribunal, Hampshire will lose and will have wasted taxpayers money fighting a case that didn’t need to be fought. The family will have suffered emotionally, financially and completely avoidably.

Hampshire have recognised this child’s needs for OT and SLT in part two of his statement and yet have made no provision in part three of the same document and they think this is acceptable. They think it is okay just to dump him in the local secondary where his needs cannot be met (and the family has the documentation to prove it). Hampshire should know that it won’t intimidate this boy’s mum. She is every bit as determined as I was to make sure her son gets the placement he needs. It is appalling that she should have to put herself under considerable strain to do so. I will keep you posted as to what happens.

New SENDIST rules

At the same PWP workshop, Simon Oliver, Deputy President of Care Standards Tribunal and judicial lead for SENDIST management team gave a presentation about the new SEND rules. He wanted to set minds at rest about the changes, particularly to the notion that all evidence had to be in by the two-month deadline. He said as long as you appealed by the deadline and told them when the evidence would be available, that was okay.

He also spoke about Case Management – the process intended to provide clarity at an early stage about what needs to be done and by whom, to ensure the Tribunal has all the information required. These include telephone hearings where it might be possible for the sides to be heard by the judge over the phone and the matter to be resolved before a Tribunal hearing.

Among many others, he made the following points:

  • At Tribunal, parents must set out in as much details as possible what it is they want from the LEA and for their child.
  • Appellants should note the new 5pm deadline for appeals, rather than one minute to midnight as previously.
  • The Tribunal is not bound by LEA policies, but by the law governing SEN education.
  • The views of the child concerned will be taken into account
  • Trainees would now be allowed to be observers, as long as permission is sought.

Simon Oliver said that he firmly believed the new rules meant that fewer cases should actually end up at Tribunal and fewer cases would have to be adjourned because of missing documentation. Updates on the process changes canbe found at http://www.tribunals.gov.uk/Tribunals/News/news.htm

Surrey to review SEN Assessments

I recently attended a Partnership with Parents workshop in Surrey. The subject matters were an explanation of the new SEND rules given by one of the co-chairmen,an update on the Lamb inquiry and a presentation from the new Head of Surrey SEN, Debbie Johnson, asking ‘Why do so many parents appeal against Surrey’s ‘Refusal to Assess’ decisions’.

I was particularly looking forward to the latter, as although my younger son is statemented, my eldest son had recently been refused an assessment by Surrey. Ms Johnson was a very impressive speaker and was concerned about Surrey’s position at the top of the charts for councils that have appeals registered against it. Much to the surprise of many in the room, she said that what should be happening is that if Surrey LEA was not going to defend its decision at the SEND Tribunal or thought it might give way if an appeal was launched, then it should actually not be refusing to assess in the first place. This was new! Someone with common sense! We all sat up a little straighter.

Ms Johnson said there was a lot to be done in Surrey and the feedback she was getting was that parents weren’t being listened to, the process wasn’t helpful and she was going to change that. She said the changes had to ‘unbend the system’ and make statements ‘fit for purpose’. She would be disbanding panels that took parents around in circles and stop decisions being made that were not clear for either the parents not the authority.

It also appeared from figures she presented that, that in line with the large number of refusals to assess was an equally large number of pupils in Surrey diagnosed with ASD. Could these stats be related? Could it be that a lack of expertise within county provision in the field of high-functioning Autism and Asperger’s, coupled with an increasing number of parents unwilling to go down without a fight is at the root of Surrey’s large number of appeals? As Hong Kong Phooey would say .. ‘Could be!’

Ms Johnson then described the difficulties faced by a highly intelligent child with Asperger’s in a mainstream setting. She described my son to a tee. Afterwards, I spoke individually to her and she agreed to visit my son’s case again.

And guess what? True to her word, this week I heard that the decision has been reversed, my son is now going to be assessed and I am so relieved that this part of the application is now resolved. There was also additional evidence I presented to them as part of the reconsideration and I am sure this made some difference; having been turned down I had sprung into action and prepared an fulsome appeal so I was able to send it to them to see if we could avoid the necessity of going to Tribunal and it seems this has had an effect. The lesson is, if you believe strongly in your case, DO NOT give up! Those who make the decisions are only human, just like you, errors can be made or minds can be changed if you provide a convincing enough case. But you have to put the effort in – don’t ask and you don’t get.

Back at the workshop, in spite of her ‘new broom’ presentation, Ms Johnson wasn’t let entirely off the hook – many parents had serious grievances about the LEA’s past practices, including one family who had been threatened with costs (illegally) if they went ahead with a Tribunal hearing the next day. To her credit, Ms Johnson tackled the issues head on and took the particular case mentioned extremely seriously. I might pity the hapless LEA employee who made the threat if it hadn’t been such an unethical thing to do in the first place.

I left feeling vaguely cheered, though it remains to be seen how much difference Ms Johnson’s new broom makes to the way Surrey carries out its practices. I, and parents like me, will be watching closely.

See the next post ‘The SENDIST Tribunal’ for information on that part of the workshop.