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.

Special Educational Needs – Getting Started With Statements Unique new parent-to-parent ebook launched to help SEN children with ‘hidden disabilities’ get the help they need.

Today my book on is launched as an ebook. Here is the press release 

FARNHAM, 10th October 2011: A mother of two autistic boys from Farnham, Surrey has published a new book aimed at helping other parents navigate their way through the special educational needs jungle.

While there are other books about the SEN system available, this book, by the creator of the www.specialneedsjungle.co.uk website, Tania Tirraoro, takes a parent-to-parent approach, explaining in detail how to prepare an application for a statutory assessment of special educational needs.

Tania said, “Since I started my website in 2008, it’s become clear how daunting parents find the SEN process. Many parents of children with ASDs or dyslexia are affected by the conditions themselves and need help with organising and getting started on their applications. I’ve helped many parents with their applications and I realised that what they need is not an overview of the whole system that you find in other books, but a basic ‘how-to’, written in an accessible way. That is what I hope I’ve achieved.”

The book has a foreword by SEN campaigner and former parliamentary candidate Maria Hutchings, who famously hand-bagged Tony Blair during the 2005 election over the closure of special schools. It also contains a section on what to expect if you end up at an SEN Tribunal by experienced SEN Advocate, Julie Maynard.

Maria Hutchings said, “I only wish that I when I was going throug
h the statementing process striving to get John Paul the right education, speech therapy and respite for the family, that I had read this book. Being the mother of two children on the autistic spectrum, Tania has a deep sense of empathy for what it feels like when you have to fight for everything to ensure your child’s future. Tania captures that deep sense we all have as mothers and carers, to do the very best for our precious children.”

The book takes parents through the process from a very personal viewpoint with examples from successful applications and relevant quotes from the SEN Code of Practice and Education law.

Tania said, “I’ve been through the process twice and my boys, who both have Asperger Syndrome, now have access to the kind of education they need to help level the playing field in their future lives. ASD is a lifelong condition and they will always battle the difficulties of their Asperger’s, but because I had the ability to present their cases methodically, they got the help they need. Why should other children not have the same as my boys?”

The book is available now in all ebook formats from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.com. If parents do not have a Kindle, then Kindle for PC, ipad or smartphone can be downloaded for free from Amazon.co.uk. It makes this book accessible to every parent, instantly.

It will be available in paperback in the next few weeks.

About the Author:

Tania Tirraoro is an author and journalist and has already published two women’s fiction novels, This Last Summer and Sweet Seduction, one as an ebook, the other available as ebook and in paperback. She is a former television and radio journalist, having worked as a reporter and news presenter for Meridian Television and NBC/CNBC, and BBC Radio Berkshire among others. She also works as a press consultant for three heart rhythm charities.You can find the SEN site at www.specialneedsjungle.co.uk.
Tania’s author site is at www.taniatirraoro.com

Twitter: @TaniaLT  @SpcialNdsJungle

E-Book Links:

Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Smashwords

Tania Tirraoro can be contacted at info@specialneedsjungle.co.uk

Well said, Mr Bercow!

I’ve just read in full the House of Commons debate on the second reading of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Support) bill last Friday. I must highlight one particular section of the bill, introduced by John Bercow MP:

John Bercow: “Hon. Members have referred to the phenomenon of children suffering from autism. We know that children on the autistic spectrum vary greatly, but they all tend to suffer from what is commonly known in the trade as the triad of impairments—lack of social imagination, social interaction and social communication. It is important that we train staff so that we do not continue to experience the problem whereby innocently enough, but very damagingly, professionals in the education sector mistake a disabled child for a disobedient child. When we talk about people on the autistic spectrum being more likely to be excluded from school, let us be clear: that is what is taking place in so many cases. The professionals do not understand that the child is not in any sense a conventionally badly behaved child.

The understanding even of autism, which is a relatively high-profile condition, is too limited. We have to try to stimulate awareness. I was with my young son in a park in central London only a week or two ago. My son has phobias about a number of things, as children often do, and perhaps autistic children do in particular. He is anxious about hand dryers. I have always explained that they cannot do him any harm and are not dangerous, but he hates the sound that they make. When we went to take him to the loo, I said to the park-keeper, who quite properly, has to turn the key and open the loo, “Would it be okay if my son went into the disabled loo?” because I happened to know that it had no hand dryer whereas in the ordinary loo there was one. She looked completely uncomprehendingly at me and at him—I make no personal gibe at her; I am simply making a wider point—and I repeated the question. She said, “But he’s not disabled.” Again, I put it to colleagues that there is an issue of understanding. People often think that to be disabled, someone has to sit in a wheelchair, lack a limb or have a demonstrable and immediately apparent impairment, such as blindness, but children with problems on the autistic spectrum or with speech, language and communication impairments—there is often a close link between the two—can, in some cases, be disabled.”

From one parent of an ASD child to another, well said, Mr Bercow!

Read the whole debate here: Read the minutes from the second reading here

Source: Hansard,

Great News – A Statement!

Got the news we had been waiting for today – Son1 has got the Statement of Special Educational Needs we had applied for. Don’t have all the details yet and we still have to sort out placement (which if I have anything to do with it will be his current school).

This time last year the head of our school’s Learning Support department told me I should apply for a statement for Son1. I thought she was mad, because he is achieving well although his educational profile is uneven and his progress is affected by his social and communication difficulties caused by his Asperger Syndrome. Still, I thought, she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it. We had been through the process before withour younger son and he is now funded at their independent special school by the Local Education Authority and I didn’t relish another trip down the same road. Still, I reminded myself, it’s not for you, it’s for my boy, took a deep breath and plunged in.

I started out by applying for an assessment, which was initially turned down (see earlier post). After they reversed the decision and carried out an assessment, it went to the area special needs panel yesterday and the news came through that he had been given a statement.

It does beg the question, why was he refused an assessment and then is given a statement and I think this is largely down to the ‘new broom’ approach at the local LEA.

I now have to convince them that paying for him to attend his current independent specialist school is the right thing to do, so no time to waste! It does show however, that if you do your research, persevere (like I said, I started this path a year ago) and you are sure of your case, then you can come out with the result you believe your child should have.

It may take longer than a year for some, depending on whether you need to appeal, but I was originally told neither of my sons would get a statement and now they have one each. I used the methods I have described on this website (see links at the top of the page) both times. So, anyone reading this who is onthe same road, take heart and don’t give up!

See the outcome here

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.

The SEN Assessment Form – Yipes!

A few people have mentioned to me how daunting they find the form that comes for you to fill in to apply for a Statutory Assessment for your child. They’re worried they’ll forget something, they won’t phrase what they want to say in the right way, or that they’ll just do it all wrong and blow their chance.

I don’t know how every LEA approaches the application; whether they all send out a form or whether some do it another way. Ours send a form with questions and boxes to write in your answers as a guideline to help parents know what to include. The LEA has made the form in the first place because they do actually want to help find out what a child’s issues are. The problem is, it often makes the task more difficult because some people may think that’s all they can put in, or leave stuff out that needs to be in because there was no obvious place to put it or stop at the end of the box because they think that’s all they’re allowed to write.

I would suggest putting the form to one side, sitting down at your computer or with pen and paper and just writing your child’s story. You, bar no-one, know them the best. You are the one who has agonised over your child’s progress, or lack thereof, you are the one who has more than likely wept over the fact that they don’t fit in or just can’t get to grips with things that other children have no trouble with at all.

Start at the beginning, from the day they were born. Note down any problems with the birth, unusual development, recurrent medical or social problems, how they get on with others and with school work. You will be amazed how much you can write and you’ll probably shed a few more tears as you do it as well.

If you then want to fill in the form, you’ll be able then to pull things out of your narrative to put in the spaces. Or just leave the form out altogether and redraft your narrative making sure you’ve covered all the questions on the form as well as everything else you want to say. This is your chance to put your child’s case. If you’re turned down for assessment you will be able to appeal, but the more relevant information you put in now, the less likely it is that you’ll have to.

Refer to reports your child has had done and send copies of them along as well with your application. Go through the reports you have and pull out the parts that strengthen your case.

For example. “In his assessment on 21/4/06, Dr X remarked that Johnny has great potential but his lack of social skills was likely to adversely affect his learning. Please see report (numbered 7) enclosed with application.”

Then number that report number 7 or whatever number you’ve given it, and enclose it with your application. You could then back this up with remarks teachers have made to you or with comments from Johnny’s year end report, which you will also number and enclose.

If their writing is a problem, send in samples of it. If reading is a problem, write down the level they’re reading at or perhaps that they avoid reading because they find it frustrating. If they are desperately unhappy because they are bullied because of their differences, mention this as well. If their frustration makes them angry and violent or unpredictable or friendless, write this down too.

But my best advice when approaching your application is to tell your child’s story first and foremost. You don’t need to be a world class writer, but do use the spell checker on your computer or get someone else to read it over for you if you’re unsure. Enlist the help of a group such as Parent Partnership if you’re lacking support.

No one knows your child like you do. Others, such as teachers, will have a different and valuable perspective, so speak to them and include what they say in your application. The SENCo will be asked in any event by the LEA to fill in their side of things but speaking to them yourself will inform you of things you may not have known.

Update: I’ve just added a help template under “SEN Assessment Form Part 2

Really good site

If you’re trying to get a statement for your child take a look at this website. Douglas Silas runs a firm of solicitors specialising in SEN tribunals. I didn’t use his services myself, but I did use his large selection of free factsheets and sign up to his emails which proved very useful. I’ve added a link also in the ‘useful links’ section and it’s well worth taking the time to visit his site.