NAS petition – Single point of appeal for EHC Plans

The NAS has launched a petition calling on the Government to amend the Children and Families Bill to create a single point of appeal for challenging provision in Education, Health and Care Plans.snj joined upThis change is essential if the Government are to deliver on their commitment to “ending the agonising battle many parents fight to get the support for their families, as they are forced to go from pillar to post between different authorities and agencies”.The NAS welcomes the replacement of education-only statements with joint Education, Health and Care Plans. However as currently drafted the Bill does not provide a joined up system of accountability and redress. Parents will have to go through separate appeals processes for each element of an Education, Health and Care Plan to challenge inadequate provision. They will continue to battle the system on multiple fronts.

Parents tell the NAS that social care and health complaints procedures are difficult to navigate, can take months and sometimes years to resolve disputes and are unable to offer the robust remedies currently provided by the First Tier Tribunals in relation to education statements. The solution is to enable the First Tier Tribunal to hear appeals and offer remedies for all elements of Education, Health and Care plans. Despite debates on amendments to this effect during the Commons stages of the Bill, the Government has resisted this change, claiming existing routes of redress for health and social care are sufficient. This flies in the face of parent’s own experience and the Government’s own ambition to create a joined up and family-centred SEN system.

Time is running out for the Government to deliver on their promise to end parent’s battle for support. The Children and Families Bill is expected to pass into law in early 2014. It is vital that the changes are made during the remaining stages of the Bill on the House of Lords. Take action today by signing their petition.

Please note the SEN changes introduced in the Children and Families Bill will only apply to England.

For more information please contact policy@nas.org.uk

 SNJ are supporting this petition.  The Children and Families Bill is supposed to make life less complicated for parents and having three appeals systems is in no way, by any possible definition, less complicated.  Nor is it line with the “joint” approach that the whole reform system is supposed to be about.
Sign now and show your support.

Pupil ranking plans are an epic fail for SEN children

Oh dear.  We’ve always said communication is an issue with the SEN reforms but it’s fairly obvious that it spans education as a whole.

Can someone please let David Laws and Nick Clegg know about the reforms going through and let them have the memo about “promoting inclusion”.

When the Department for Education launched the Green Paper, two of their proposals were to give parents a real choice of a range of schools and give children with statements the right to express a preference for any state-funded mainstream or special school.

However, this morning Mr Laws and Mr Clegg have announced a consultation about plans to change performance measures for schools.

  • Pupils aged 11 would be ranked in 10% ability bands across the year group
  • Test results would be divided into bands of 10%
  • Parents will be told how their child “measures up” to their peers
  • A tougher minimum level of achievement for schools (below which an Ofsted inspection would be triggered
  • This is currently 60% for Sats tests but would rise to 85% under the proposed change

So, let’s just consider this.

  • Would a mainstream school realistically welcome children with SEN if this could risk bringing their minimum level of achievement below 85%?
  • As a parent of a child with SEN, I already know that my child is not achieving at the same rate as their peers.  Will introducing a new measurement help them to do better?
  • How would a young person with (or without) SEN, who has tried to the very best of their ability, feel when they find out that their hard work wasn’t good enough and they were banded in a low percentile?  Will introducing a new measurement help their often already-fragile self-esteem?
  • Is it just a rumour or do all children develop at different rates, based on their age and family dynamics?   Will introducing a new measurement put a stop to that nonsense?
laws

Epic Fail, Mr Laws

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Schools Minister, David Laws said he thinks that levels such as 2a, 3b, “Mean almost nothing to parents,”  

Well, here’s a suggestion, why not just explain to parents what they do mean?  That would be an awful lot cheaper and as a parent of three children, I found out what they meant (and any parent who is interested in their child’s progress will have done the same).  

Therein lies the issue, there will always be parents who are more engaged than others and introducing new methods of measuring children’s achievements won’t encourage parents who are not engaged to suddenly become the type of parent who pushes their child to do better.

Mr Laws also said that the individual score won’t be published nationally and children won’t be told the results, only the school and parents will know.  How does he think parents will find out how their child measures up?  Would that be a letter being sent home via their child’s school bag because we all know that children will never look at them?  Or are we going to put the results online and password protect them – because no child can ever access the information that way, can they?

And parents are not going to discuss it with each other or their friends within ear-shot of the kids? And the kids aren’t going to just ask outright? Or brag if they got a great score within the hearing of less able or SEN children?

This has to be, in our opinion, one of the worst thought-out proposals to have come out of Westminster for quite some time!  Transition to Secondary is an issue for all children, especially those with SEN.  However, the proposals being presented today show a real lack of understanding of children, SEN, parents, schools and inclusion.

If I was to score this proposal, in the manner being proposed, it would definitely be in the 0-10% band.  Mrs Laws and Mrs Clegg, I am sorry to have to tell you that your sons are performing way below their peers (but don’t worry, we won’t tell them if you don’t).

Children and Families Bill – you need to act now [1]

Debs writes….

sen reform special needs jungle

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Jane McConnell (IPSEA‘s Chief Executive) speak at the Towards a Positive Conference.

As Jane spoke, I realised that the messages about the Bill are not getting out – either people think the changes don’t affect them or the changes just won’t happen.

However, if you have a child or young person aged 0 to 25 with ANY additional needs, then you need to take five minutes out of your busy day (and as we are parents too, we know how chaotic our days can be) but the changes being proposed WILL affect you and not all of the proposed changes will help families.

This week we will be sharing with you the changes you need to be aware of and also saying how you can take action.  Please share these posts with your friends and colleagues.

Which proposed changes will reduce or remove your current rights?

Duty to Assess SEN:  At present, there is a PROACTIVE duty to identify the needs of children and young people with SEN via assessment:  “Proactive = Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty”.

In the Children and Families Bill (in its current form), this has been reduced to a duty to identify.  “Identify = To ascertain the origin, nature, or definitive characteristics”.  There is no duty on the LA to be proactive.  This is a weaker duty on the LA and will cause issues for many parents who are just entering our Special Needs Jungle looking for help and support for their child.

We need the DfE to ensure that LAs are proactive in identifying needs.

Time Limits:  At present, your LA has a maximum of six weeks from receiving the request for statutory assessment (i.e. starting the statementing process) to decide if they will assess and then they have a further 10 weeks to decide whether they will issue a statement.

The Children and Families Bill, in its current form, will not provide a time limit by which LAs need to make a decision about whether they will issue a Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).  Once they decide to issue, there will be a time limit of 20 weeks (from the initial request) to issue, but as a mum who has gone through this process four times (once to be turned down), I can remember how anxious I was after my application had gone in, waiting to see if they would agree to assess.

Then, again, the stress I felt when I was waiting for the decision as to whether they would issue a statement.  However, I had taken advice and knew that there was a time frame in which the LA had to make a decision and these dates were clearly marked on my calendar.

I cannot imagine the pressure that parents starting the process  under the Children’s and Families Act will face without the security of time limits.  Yes, some LAs will do this promptly and will act fairly but as we all know, in the real world, there are also many, many LAs who won’t.

We need the DfE to be prescriptive in this.  This Bill is supposed to make our life less stressful, not more!

1209643_dream_graphEducation, Health & Care Plans:  At present, the law says that a statement has to be in a standard format. As set out in the SEN regulations it has to “be in such form and contain such information as may be prescribed”.  However, the Children and Families Bill, in its current form, no longer requires regulations to prescribe a standard form for EHCP.  Basically this means each LA can produce their own version.

Currently Part 2 of the statement has to state the educational needs of the child.  Part 3 has to state the provision to meet the educational needs in part 2.  The provision must be specific and also quantified.

If LAs can produce their own version of EHCP with no regulations about what they have to put in there – what can I say?  We would all love to live in an ideal world where every LA would do everything  possible to meet the needs of every child and no LA would even dream of  spending valuable resources on very expensive legal representation to do battle with parents on their behalf.

Unfortunately, however, we all have to live in the real world  – with budget cuts, lack of resources, lack of working in partnership and in some areas, total lack of empathy and of course, the hugely expensive legal representation that the majority of parents cannot compete against.

We need the DfE to regulate the content of EHCPs and ensure that the educational, health and care needs of our children and young people along with the educational, health and care provision to meet those needs is in every EHCP.

Annual Reviews:  Currently, there is a duty on LAs to inform parents, children or young people of the outcome of the Annual Review.  Once this is communicated, parents and children/young people can appeal to the SEND tribunal if they are unhappy.  However, the Children and Families Bill, in it current form, no longer has this duty.  So, LAs don’t, in theory, have to tell you.

In addition, there are  current duties such as enabling parents to participate in the decision making; the requirement to obtain up to date information before an Annual Review and share it with parents; parents to be able to make their views known and for those to be circulated; the compulsory attendance of professionals at the review meeting at the key states of a child/young person’s education and transition arrangements out of education.

Guess what?  Yes, I think you are starting to get the general idea – there is no duty for any of the above in the Children and Families Bill.

We need the DfE to address this.  Once again, some LAs and educational settings will do all of the above without legislation in place but so many more will only do what they absolutely have to.

If you want to know how to take action, please visit IPSEA’s website

We will be posting soon about some other changes which will reduce or remove your current rights and some outstanding issues with the proposals of the Children and Families Bill.

Key Working : Whose Job Is It Anyway?

When the SEND Green Paper was launched in March 2011, the Department for Education said they would “test the role of key workers”.

Several parents approached our parent-carer forum in Kent asking “What is a key-worker”,  “Can we choose the  key-worker  if we are involved?” and “Can a key worker be employed by the Local Authority and be truly independent?”

Confused by Key working?You're not alone...

Confused by Key working?
You’re not alone…

Eighteen months later, parents are still asking the same questions and practitioners are, understandably, asking “Is this another task for me on top of my existing, increased, workload?”

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Chinese Whispers and Garth’s Uncle

As you may have read on Friday, Special Needs Jungle has a new regular contributor in Debs Aspland, the director of Kent PEPS and parent of three children, all with disabilities. Today is her first post about the essentials of good communication.

Communication:  the imparting or exchanging of information or news

It sounds so easy.  It requires one person (the sender) to give another person (the recipient) a piece of information.  The communication is complete when the person receiving the information understands what the person giving the information has said.  So why is it so difficult?

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Speech Therapy to stay within educational provision – so said the man from the DfE

One question on many lips in the reform to the special educational needs system is, with the inclusion of health in an EHCP, where will speech and language provision end up?

As it stands at the moment, the Health part of an EHCP is not going to come attached to a statutory duty to provide and so if it ends up in the health part of a plan and isn’t delivered, how will you appeal?

However, my friend and SEN barrister, Gulshanah Choudhuri, this week attended the Education Law Association’s specialist SEN group meeting and asked this very question of Phil Snell, policy advisor for the DfE. Mr Snell was giving a presentation addressed to the members of ELA, followed by a question and answer session.

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah asked about her own daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, and whether her speech therapy would go under the new health provision or remain under education. Mr Snell, in front of an audience of around fifty lawyers besides Gulshanah, assured her it would remain under education.

The pathfinders have now been extended until September 2014 – the same month it’s planned to introduce the changes after the bill gets Royal Assent at Easter 2014. This has raised concerns that the legislation will be introduced before the trials on the reforms are complete.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is calling for the bill’s introduction to be delayed, so that the pilots have more time to test the reforms. The charity is particularly concerned about how the new system will fully involve health professionals.

Quoted in Children and Young People Now, Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at NDCS, said: “We have been looking closely at the pilots and speaking to families with deaf children. The evidence we are getting back is that professionals in health are not getting involved.

“Some parents are telling us that at the joint plan meetings health professionals are simply not showing up. If these reforms are supposed to be radical then the legislation will need to be strengthened to place a legal duty on health agencies to get involved. Currently that is not there.”

NDCS is also worried that local cuts to education provision will mean less services and staff are available to support children with SEN as the reforms progress.

Mr Campion said: “The cuts are affecting professionals who are working with families in the pilot areas who are under threat of losing their jobs. How will the government be able to test these reforms if there’s no-one left to work with families?”

Contact a Family’s head of policy Una Summerson agreed that the government should take time to consider the evidence from the pilot areas before introducing changes to the law.

“This is an enormous change to the system that needs to be tested properly so we are pleased about the extension,” she said. “But we are concerned that the legislation will be introduced early next year before the government has been able to collect the evidence.”

There are also fears that children with speech and language difficulties could miss out on specialist support under the new system.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) warned that the majority of children with speech, language and communication needs do not currently have a statement of SEN, and therefore may not be eligible for new single education, health and care plans.

But Christine Lenehan, director at the Council for Disabled Children, said the government is right to extend the pilot scheme due to the complexity of the reforms – despite other concerns about the changes.

“It is encouraging to see the government taking the pathfinder work seriously and giving them additional time to test out what works best in these complex areas,” she said.

Mr Timpson meanwhile said, “We want the best for children and young people who have special educational needs or who are disabled,” he said. “Our reforms will help children get support swiftly, make progress in school and then go on to live independently later in life.”

Source for the second half of this article is Children & Young People Now

The draft SEN reform bill – some reactions

One to watch. And we are, oh yes we are.

So fare thee well, Miss Teather, just as the draft bill is published, you get the boot from your job. Hardly seems fair, really, when you’ve done so much of the legwork and now Mr Laws gets to step in to steer the ship home. This is Mr Laws, a man with a vast amount of experience with special needs children (actually, I have no idea – I’m just guessing they wouldn’t put another person who hasn’t had any actual children, let alone any with special needs, in charge of SEN reform. Sorry, what did you say? Oh. Well. They did. *shakes head ruefully*) I’ve seen him described as ‘formidable’. What, compared to parents of SEN/D kids? Don’t fancy his chances much, do you? *UPDATE NOTE: Neither did the government, because roles have since been shuffled and Edward Timpson MP will be in charge of the SEN bill, see this post for more**

Now, I’m not saying in order to do a good job steering any kind of reform you have to have had personal experience of whatever it is you’re reforming, but when you’re talking about something as sensitive as vulnerable children with disabilities and their families, if you have no direct experience, you can only ever sympathise rather than empathise, which is quite, quite different. See, we don’t want your pity, we want you to feel our pain. Just a little bit, because, trust me – you won’t forget it.

Same goes, I am quite sure, for adults with disabiltites who’d quite like the government to stop picking on them and cutting off their only viable means of financial support or taking away their Motability allowances, without which they couldn’t even get to any job that would have them. Oi, you lot in the wheelchairs, why can’t you propel yourselves around the Paralympic stadium as fast as David Weir? You wouldn’t need Motability allowance then, would you?

As someone whose day job is for an international disability organisation, as well as having children with special needs, I really find the whole disability-bashing climate extremely offensive, disturbing and quite frightening particularly when it seems to have been started by our own government, unwittingly or not. I’m also not entirely sure the Paralympics has done a lot for the image of people with impairments who aren’t quite as nimble as Oscar Pistorius. It just seems to have made certain sections of the public think, well if they can do it – why can’t you? (Answer: because they’re elite athletes, you muppets.)

But anyway, now I’ve made that clear, onto the draft bill. I promised my thoughts, but, again because of said job, I must apologise for I have let you down. I am currently preparing a two-hour social media workshop to help patient groups with limb differences make their voices heard online,  and so normal SNJ service isn’t quite up to snuff. But, kind readers, I have managed to seek out the opinions of those who haven’t been quite as distracted and I present them for you in a mini round up, here.

The very excellent Jane McConnell of IPSEA said,

“Now is the time to consider the system of support these draft provision are looking to create and assess whether they will improve and enhance those that are already in place for children, young people and their families across education, social care and health. It is time to be clear and transparent about what can and cannot be expected to be provided by any system. This needs to be a system that works for all children and young people – not just those that have parents to “police” and enforce it. We look forward to working closely with the Government to make the most of this opportunity.”

NASEN’s Lorraine Peterson meanwhile said,

“We need to ensure that all the work that is currently taking place especially within the Pathfinders and the voluntary and community sector is not wasted and will support the final legislation as it passes through Parliament. We have a real opportunity to make sure that this legislation secures a better future for all children and young people.”

I quite agree with this – there is a lot of work being done by many people at the grass roots level, not to mention much money being spent on it. It is to be hoped that (and this will be a mammoth task in itself) when all the pathfinders present all their results, that only the best ideas that work for children will make it into the final bill.

The NAS said,

“The draft legislation sets out provisions for statements to be replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP), which will extend statutory protections for children with SEN up to the age of 25 for those in further education.We believe that this will help improve transition for young people with autism. However, we are also working on the draft social care legislation to help improve transition into non-educational support.”

They highlighted various points from the bill some of which are below:

  • Legal definition of special educational needs remains the same [My note: Not sure how this could be changed, anyway]
  • Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups must make arrangements for jointly commissioning services for children with SEN in their area [My note: Well, from what I’ve seen so far within the pathfinders – good luck with this, there is a LONG LONG way to go]
  • Local authorities must produce their ‘local offer’ of available education, health and care services
  • Education, Health and Care Plans (0 – 25) replace statements of SEN [My note: It is quite likely however that there will need to be several versions of an EHCP format, depending on the child/young person’s age
  • All of the provisions of the Bill will apply to all schools including Academies and Free Schools [My note: And quite right too]
  • Local authorities must prepare personal budget in relation to an EHC plan where a request has been made by the parent or young person [My note: But no parents will be compelled to have one for their child]
  • Compulsory requirement for a parent or young person to participate in mediation before they can appeal to the Tribunal [My note: This can only benefit a parent who will then get a right to point out parts of their child’s application that may have been conveniently overlooked or just plain ignored – however, many parents, if not all would most likely want or need a representative and/or their key worker to help them prepare and attend with them.
  • There will be a revised Code of Practice [My note: Well, duh, not just a revised CoP but a completely rewritten one, from start to finish. And who’s going to do that? And when? Before the bill goes through parliament? At the same time? After?]

And this sparks another thought: Not only will there need to be a new Code of Practice, but every local authority will have to rewrite its graduated response documents and all its other SEN literature. There will, naturally, be a cost associated with this, and it will also take time – they can’t write it before they know what the new laws are. Then there is the cost of retraining all those LA staff who think parents are money-grubbing, sharp-elbowed harpies who are trying to bleed them dry.

I’m hoping to bring some parents’ views of the draft soon. if you’d like yours included, please do send them to me.

In my few months working with the LAs and colleagues on the pathfinders so far, I have to say I have met some incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and caring people. A few are just plain wonderful. It’s going to take time for the rest to be whipped into shape and, as I said in my last post, they’re not exactly making an early start on changing attitudes at the lower levels.

But you know what? I’m optimistic. You have to be, in such a root and branch overhaul like this. While you cannot ignore the many areas of concern, without putting forward a positive attitude and a will to work for change, it cannot succeed. Let’s just hope that those people working so hard for it don’t drop from the pressure of tight timescales and overwork before then.

And Mr Laws? I’ll extend the same invitation to you as I did to Miss Teather – we’re having a pathfinder event in November, a joint parent and LA organised one in Surrey. Do come. You have, I am sure, a lot to catch up on and this will be a great place to do it.

Draft SEN legislation published and a response to my open letter to Sarah Teather

Well today is the day – the draft legislation has, rather unexpectedly, been published for the reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. It had been said to have been put off until October, but that hasn’t appeared to have happened.

Towards the end of last week, I was delighted to receive a response to my Open Letter to Sarah Teather, from top DfE official, Stephen Kingdom. I had intended to publish it earlier but on Friday I had an EHCP meeting and then my day job, as PR for DysNet Limb Difference Network, had to take precedence with the Grunenthal “apology” to the world’s Thalidomide survivors, for which we’ve received much coverage. It’s had me working over the weekend since Friday evening.

Anyway, first the response to the open letter, then onto the draft legislation:

Thank you for your open letter of 27 June to Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, regarding the pace of reform to special educational needs and disability policy.  I have been asked to reply and I am sorry for the delay in doing so.

It was very good to meet you at the Surrey pathfinder event in July, and to hear your personal perspective on the pathfinder programme and the Government’s proposals for reform of the SEN system.  Since we met, I have become an avid reader of Special Needs Jungle.  I hope you also found the opportunity to correspond directly with Sarah Teather through the Mumsnet chat helpful.  We hope she will have the opportunity to do a follow up webchat shortly, as well as continuing to talk to parents and young people through other channels.

I know you are concerned about the pace of reform and whether the Government is allowing sufficient time to learn from the pathfinders. We do understand those concerns – which I know others share – and that is why we are ensuring we can continue to feed in learning from the pathfinders throughout the legislative process.  And, of course, the legislation is only one part of the reform story – as you know well it is getting cultural change that is key.

The SEN clauses in the Children and Families Bill, which we intend to publish in September, will be draft – that is, they are intended for discussion.  As the Minister said on MumsNet, we hope that this discussion will be a real opportunity for wide range of stakeholders, including parents and charities, to tell the Government what they think.  The final Bill won’t be published until spring 2013, and it will be debated at length in Parliament before it gets Royal Assent and becomes an Act.

The Minister also said on MumsNet that some of the legislation will need to be done at a later stage.  In Parliamentary terms, this is referred to as “secondary legislation” and is usually in the form of a statutory instrument, such as a regulation.  We will, of course, be able to build in further learning from the pathfinders into this secondary legislation.  In addition, we will in due course be updating the SEN Code of Practice, which provides practical advice to local authorities, maintained schools, early education settings and others on carrying out their statutory duties.  I open this will present another opportunity to build in learning from the pathfinders.

Ministers do genuinely want the SEN clauses to be informed by views, knowledge and experience of people like yourself.  That is critical for us to get the detail right.  I hope, however, that you can appreciate Ministers also want to maintain pace, to ensure that the reforms set out in the SEND Green Paper really do bring change for children and their families who have special educational needs or disabilities.  During the development of the Green Paper in 2010 and since, my team has heard from lots of parents about the frustrations they experience with the current system (and, of course, you are all too aware of these as well).

I hope this response is helpful, and thank you once again for taking the time to write.

It’s very nice to see that SNJ is read in high places and so if you feel there is any issue surrounding SEN that I haven’t covered that should be highlighted, do let me know.

I was very interested to see cultural change mentioned – having had two recent experiences of parents in my area who have received shoddy treatment at the hands of SEN panels. It is quite disturbing to see that even while we are working to improve things with the reforms, staff at lower levels in the LA feel it is acceptable to keep on as if it was the bad old days.

The draft legislation, published earlier today, will require some digestion. You can download it for yourself here. It’s going to take some reading, at 65 pages, so I’m not going to comment too much today other than to highlight the following regarding assessment:

The local authority must secure an EHC needs assessment for the child or young person if, after having regard to any views expressed and evidence submitted, the authority is of the opinion that.

(a) the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and

(b) it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.

Now, I can already see a problem – first of all, no one would ask for an assessment if the child clearly didn’t have SEN, or if earlier attempts to help the child had not already taken place so it’s a bit of a moot point. But the rub is in b). As it stands, so far, the proposals are that when an agency (parent, school, nursery, health visitor etc) refers a child for an assessment, a multi-agency meeting is supposed to take place where it is decided if anything needs to be done at that stage, or if the child’s needs can be met from the local offer (what’s available locally) or if an EHCP assessment is needed.

So who is going to make this crucial decision about whether to assess? Unless there is clear and complete cultural revolution within LEA mid and lower level staff, nothing will change and in order for parents to have confidence in the new system, this decision-making process will need to be totally transparent. At the moment, you get a yes or a no and maybe one line about why (if you’re lucky), but a parent has no idea what went on in the panel discussion. Having the proposed key worker involved to represent the child at that meeting would go some way to making sure that all documents are present and that the best decision for the child and not just the LA, is being made.

One further, and quite startling point, for now – the draft bill states that when an EHCP is to be drawn up the parents can ask for a place in an independent special school (non maintained special school). This is a huge step forward, if I’m reading it right. There is, of course, a get-out clause – the old “efficient use of resources” line that’s currently in the current system and so this really needs a closer look, because how can you give parents a right to name an independent special school if the LA then comes back and says, well we don’t want to pay for that because we don’t think it’s an efficient use of resources?

There is much to be digested this evening but at first scan, there’s also much room for improvement. Expect more on this in the next few days.

Sarah Teather is doing a live webchat over on MumsNet tomorrow at 1pm.

SEN child? Join me and NAS president, Jane Asher, on Sat 16 June

So, it’s just a couple of days before the Towards a Positive Future Special Educational Needs conference in Newbury – if you can make it at all, it’ll be well worth the trip.

My presentation is all written and it includes some up to date information on the pathfinder trials for the SEN Green Paper for Surrey. What I’ve found is that those commentators outside the pathfinder really know little about what is actually happening within the workstreams.

Tomorrow, I’m off to a couple of meetings for the Surrey pathfinder, including the latest for the Education, Health & Care plan. We’ll be reviewing a draft plan drawn up by the pathfinder lead, Susie Campbell who has collated lots of feedback from a previous meeting – quite an undertaking and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s come up with. Our feedback from Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum was quite comprehensive.

Saturday’s conference still has a few paces left and they can be boked online at http://www.wordswell.co.uk/tapf-conference-2012/booking.php

Among the keynote speakers are:

Clive Rawlings – Barrister – The Coalition Plan for Special Educational Needs: Cohesion or Corrosion?

Charlie Mead – Educational Psychologist – The Careless System

Martyn Sibley – Social Entrepreneur who has one aim ‘To Change the World for Disabled People’

Jane Asher – Actress and President of the National Autistic Society

Delegates can also choose from a range of seminars including OT- Equipping young people with SEN and parents for Life After School; Differentiation in the classroom for children with autism; SLT – the SCAEP multi-sensory social communication skills programme;  Getting Good Social Work Services; Implications of the Green Paper for Children with Dyslexia and Developing Communication Skills for Pupils with Down’s Syndrome.

I’m really looking forward to meeting Debs Aspland, the chair of Kent parent-carer forum, who’s delivering a presentation drawn from her experience as parent of a child with a diagnosis. We’ve built up a friendship via twitter and Facebook and narrowly missed meeting at the Labour SEN policy review meeting a few months ago. Social media is fab for making connections like this, especially as a parent of children with special needs, which can be socially isolating.

So, really hope to see you there if you can make it. And if you do, don’t be shy and make sure you come up and say hello!

SEN Green Paper response round up and other special needs stories

It’s been something of an eventful week for both Special Needs and Special Needs Jungle. Last week, I was called up by a reporter from the Daily Telegraph to ask my views on whether I thought one in five schoolchildren really had special needs. We had a good chat and the article appeared on Saturday. It was followed by a barrage of comments online on the DT, often displaying the most moronic and ignorant views– not aimed at me, but at vulnerable children.  As the paper didn’t really reflect the crux of what I had said, I wrote a blog post the same day that attracted much more thoughtful comments (thank goodness) from people who actually have opinions worth reading.

Then, the detailed response to the SEN Green Paper came. I was called up by Christine Alsford from Meridian TV, my ITV region and they came over and spoke to me about it, even filming Son2 in his bright blue BodySox.  (See post below with the footage).

On Wednesday, I went to an EHCP meeting for the Surrey pathfinder where, after the government announcement the previous day, there was understandably something of a sense of urgency and alarm at the accelerated deadline. The new lead, Susie Campbell, however, appears more than up to the task. Actually, I think she’s fab.

And so, understandably, this week’s stories are mostly about the Next Steps document and the response to it – all worth reading to see different perspectives.

And if you missed my guest post about Floortime for autism – there’s a free parent ticket and a cut price professional ticket for a June workshop on offer – check out the post below.

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.

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

SEN conference, Towards a Positive Future, Review part one.

I attended a very interesting conference on special educational needs on Friday. It was held to mark the launch of a new organisation aimed at providing a ‘one stop shop’ to parents needing to find professional services such as speech and language and occupational therapy for their children. It aims to establish a database of professionals who can work with children in teams that talk to each other and deliver a seamless service for the child. It’s still at an early planning stage and its founder, SLT professional, Janet O’Keeefe, is actively looking for ideas and people willing to join her.

The event also marked the launch of Janet’s book, Towards a Positive Future, which I have written about here.

The conference had several interesting speakers some of whom I hope to be able to bring you more from on this site in the weeks to come. The event was held at the Mary Hare School for hearing impaired children near Newbury. The school does inspirational work in providing an education for its pupils, helping each through individually designed hearing equipment. As a non-maintained state school, the school’s head, Tony Shaw, said they are ‘not considered to be part of inclusion’ and have had their funding cut by central government. This, despite the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, himself having a sister with a hearing impairment.

The school has had to diversify to survive, establishing an ear mould lab that services the NHS. Despite this, Mr Shaw says they never forget what they’re there for. He said, “At the core are the children we have the passion of serving.”  It’s a sad fact that, in the politics and cost-cutting of government both local and national, this message is too often overlooked.

Another speaker was Kevin Geeson, CEO of Dyslexia Action, who talked about the opportunities and risks of the Green Paper. He highlighted concerns about the assessment of hidden disabilities such as dyslexia in that it may not be picked up early enough and the question of who will control the personal budgets given to children to provide for their SEN. Mr Geeson said the Green paper brought an opportunity to provide the proper skills and support for teachers to include all children in the curriculum. He said, “Good teaching for children with hidden disabilities is good teaching for all.”

Education solicitor, Inez Brown of Anthony Collins solicitors, set out the legal framework and funding of special needs and pointed out the problem with parents appealing against SEN decisions for children at the new Academies because the Academies do not fall within the Education Act. She also pointed out that the Green paper removes Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy out of educational provision – something every parent of a statemented child should be aware of. This means that the local authority cannot be challenged about these things at a Tribunal.  Ms Brown also made a startling  statement about the trialling of the new green paper which has just been announced and I am hoping she will be writing more about this on this site very soon.

The conference also heard from internationally acclaimed academic, Professor Heather Van Der Lely who has developed an early-identification test for dyslexia called GAPS. I will write a separate piece about this so won’t go into detail here. The professor pointed out that seven per cent of children have a specific language impairment – seven times the incidence of autism. She is trying to bring about the widespread use of GAPS which, she says, is quick, efficient and highly accurate. The crucial issue is, of course, that there are not enough Speech and Language Therapists to help all those that the test could identify. Perhaps the government should focus on how to recruit more SLTs into the profession and create a environment that enables enough of them to stay within the NHS.

The next post will detail the speakers from the afternoon session of this very enlightening conference.

Links for this post:

http://www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk

http://www.AnthonyCollins.com

GAPS

Mary Hare School

Twitter: @JanetOKeefe@kgeeson

The SEN Green Paper: history repeating – from SEN Magazine

The following article extract is taken with permission from SEN Magazine, the UK’s leading special educational needs magazine.

The SEN Green Paper: history repeating

More than three decades after her influential report, Baroness Warnock fears that the Government’s SEN proposals will deliver little meaningful change

The subtitle to the long awaited Green Paper is “A new approach to special educational needs and disability”, and the document promises that all those children and young people who would now have statements of SEN should have one statutory assessment and be issued with an education, health and care plan, which would be agreed between all the professionals involved and the child’s parents (and where appropriate, with the child him/herself).
There would be a statutory obligation on the various authorities to provide the specified services, and it would be clear which authority was to fund which service. Voluntary and community organisations would also be involved in the single assessment so as to provide a measure of independence from the service providers. This new system, at the heart of the “new approach” of the report’s title, is promised for 2014, after a period of consultation and some local tests by “pathfinders”.
When I first got the Green Paper in my hands, I was optimistic. This was because the foreword, signed by Michael Gove and Sarah Teather, and presumably written by the latter, was agreeably frank about the urgent need for reform of the system, and seemed to have taken account of the numerous recent reports, including those of Graham Adams and Frank Field, as well as the earlier critical reports from Ofsted and the all-party Commons Select Committee on SEN. Moreover, since one of the worst features of the present situation is the number of cumbersome assessments by different professionals that a child may have to undergo, and the fact that all of them are dictated by the then availability of funding, rather than the true needs of the child, the single assessment with an independent element seemed a good way forward, especially if the overall plan could be carried from one local authority to another if a family were to move.

But as I read on, my spirits sank…

The read the full article click here
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