Children and Families Bill – you need to take action now [2]

Debs writes

We recently wrote about some of the changes being proposed in the Children and Families Bill that will not benefit families.  We looked at the duty to identify SEN, the annual review, the time limits and also the format of the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

SENREFORM-Magnify

Today, we want to raise your awareness of other issues with the proposed changes and would like to thank Jane McConnell and all at IPSEA for helping to raise awareness of these.

Admission to Special Academies:

At present any child with SEN but without a statement must be educated in a mainstream school.  In order to attend a Special School, a child must have their needs assessed and the LA then have have a duty to fund the provision identified by the assessment.  This, in principle, protects children being placed in potentially inappropriate schools.  There are no exceptions to this in the current legislation.

This principle still exists in clause 34(2) of the proposed Bill but an exception has been introduced. Special Academies (including Free Schools), will now be able to admit children or young people with SEN permanently into the school without them having an assessment or an EHC Plan in place – if they are given permission by the Department for Education.   Now, in theory, this sounds great.  Getting your child into a special academy placement without having to go through the statutory assessment process (especially as the new Bill doesn’t put time limits on the process).  However, there are two issues with this:

1.  It  undermines the principle that mainstream schools MUST be enabled to make provision for ALL children without a statement/EHCP and also MOST children with statements/EHCPs – so if a mainstream school knows there is a Special Academy nearby, there will be a strong temptation to point the parents in their direction, rather than take the child themselves and have to cater for their needs.  So no aspiration necessary for the mainstream school to improve their teaching to include children with SEN with or without a statement or EHCP; and

2.  If a child with SEN is admitted to a Special Academy without EHCP – what happens when things go wrong?  What if the Academy cannot meet the needs of the child?  What if the child, due to no assessement of needs, is placed in the wrong Academy?  There is no duty for the LA to fund the provision without an EHCP and the parents will have nothing to challenge the school or LA with if there is no EHCP.  What about the Health and Care provision?  If no assessement or EHCP, how will the school and family know they are meeting the Health and Care needs of the child?  Yes, there will be minimum standards that all schools must adhere to – but let’s be honest, have you ever tried to find your LA’s miminum standards and if successful, actually make sense of them?   There is of course the NHS constitution and the Children’s Act but very often, to access the Social Care side of support, a statement is currently needed so no EHCP could, in theory mean, no access to that support.

We need the DfE to seriously consider this option.  Having an assessment ensures that the child’s needs are accurately recognised and provision put in place.

Re-assessment of Needs:

At present, a re-assessment is the same as an assessment.  If a child or young person’s needs change, then a further assessment can be requested and if agreed, then the LA has to comply with the statutory assessment duties.  This includes time limits, consulting with the professionals named in the Regulations (education professionals, educational psychologist, social services and health services).

However, in the proposed Bill, a new concept of re-assessment is being introduced.  LAs will be allowed to decide what format a re-assessment takes.  There will no longer be the same duties to consult and obtain evidence from the professionals named above and they can also choose to review just one area of the EHC Plan.

Also, there is no duty for the LA to conclude the process of re-assessment at the two points which would trigger a right of appeal to the SEND Tribunal (i.e. when the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan or when the LA issues a new EHC Plan with which the parent disagrees).

So basically, if your child’s needs change, the LA can re-assess but may only reassess one part of the Plan, e.g.  the health part but no need for them to reassess the Education and Care part of the Plan.  As we all know, each of these impacts on the other which is why the idea of an EHC Plan was so popular with parents.  One plan that looked at their child holistically, no need to tell your story more than once, everyone working together, etc.  So why have a joint plan, why jointly commission, why fund “Working in Partnership” workshops if once the EHC Plan is published, any re-assessment reverts back to individual agencies.

If you are not happy with the proposed amended EHC Plan or if the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan, then the proposed Bill (in its current form) does not give you any right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

Again, this Bill is introducing changes which, if we are honest, are based on every LA existing in a world we don’t live in.  Yes, in an ideal world, LA’s would never not re-assess, they would always produce an amended Plan if the child’s needs changed, the plan would always look at the child’s need in every aspect of their life and the LA would unreservedly support families if their current school did not meet the needs of their child.  However, we live in the real world.

We need to take action now, before the Children and Families Bill becomes the Children and Families Act.  If you want to know how to take action, please visit the IPSEA website

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.

Got the statement? Great, but your work’s not over yet.

Many parents are so relieved to get that letter saying the LEA has decided to issue a statement of special educational needs for their child that they think their work is done. And they’d be very, very wrong. A statement is useless if it does not define your child’s needs completely and set out in detail how they will be met.

When you receive your draft statement, you or your advocate, must ensure that all your child’s special educational needs have been properly identified and stated in part two of the draft statement. Then, you must ensure that every stated need should be met with appropriate provision in Part three.

Each special educational need specified in Part 2 must be met by provision specified in Part 3: R –v- Secretary of State for Education ex parte E [1992] 1 FLR 377, CA

If your child’s needs have been inadequately stated in part two, now is the time in your response (which normally needs to be within 15 days) to make sure you add them so that they can be included ans provision provided.

This process is not made easier by the way the statement is set out. Instead of listing Need, then Provision next to it, all the needs are set out then all the provision, so it is up to you to match one against the other. I would recommend using a table to do this – one column headed Needs- Part 2, the next, Provision, Part 3 and a third column entitled,  My Comments.

Then go through part two and pick out each separate need and list it in a separate row under the first column. Then go back down your list and search through part three of the proposed statement document for a matching provision. The statement document has evolved to be quite narrative in format, often just pasting in chunks from the Ed Psych report (in our case from the Ed Psych report that we had paid for ourselves) This does not necessarily mean that the statement writer has understood your child’s needs, just that they know how to copy and paste.

Part 2 can include narrative description of a child as well as specifying SEN (cf R –v- Secretary of State for Education ex p E [1992] 1 FLR 377): W –v- Leeds CC [2005] EWCA Civ 988, [2005] ELR 617, 29/7/2005

So your final table should have all your child’s needs in column one that have been stated and with your own additions if needed (make sure it is easy to understand you have added these yourself)

In the second column, which reflects Part 3 provision, you should have listed everything you can find that matches with the needs. This may well be eye opening.

Then in the third column make your notes and observations about the provision.

Then go back through Part 2 and Three and make sure you have covered everything. You may well find that there are unstated needs or needs that have been stated that there is no provision for. Of course, you may see that your statement writer has done a sterling job and everything is as it should be.

If you have non-educational needs and provision listed in part five or six, ensure this is also adequate. Sometimes speech and language is listed as non-educational. If your child needs this help for living (eg eating) then is is non-educational. If they need OT or SLT for learning – ie, writing help for dyspraxia, communication skills, then is should be in parts two and three as educational provision.

You can ask for a meeting during this time with the LEA and after the meeting you have another 15 days to ask for further meetings. Within 15 days of your last meeting, you can send in any more comments. If you would like more time to comment, you should talk to your case officer.

There should be no school named in part four at the point of issuing a draft statement. But be aware that the LEA is not obligated to name a school that can provide ‘the best’ education, just one that provides an ‘adequate’ education that meets your child’s needs.

The LEA/SENDIST is under a duty to secure provision which meets the child’s SEN but is not “under an obligation to provide a child with the best possible education. There is no duty
on the authority to provide such a Utopian system, or to educate him or her to his or her maximum potential. …”: R v Surrey CC ex p H (1984) 83 LGR 219.

It’s a very good idea to research suitable schools before you even know if you’re getting a statement so you know what type of school can meet your child’s needs. Often you will know exactly which school you want them to go to – and that’s the next step!

SEN-Getting Started With Statements

This advice and more is detailed in my SEN statementing book, Special Educational Needs, Getting Started with Statementing. It’s available in paperback or ebook from Amazon & WH Smith online or paperback from Waterstones.com. Or you can order it from your local bookstore. So many SEN books are expensive so I have priced this at just £6.99 to make it accessible to as many parents as possible.

Legal Quotes Source: ISC

I want your statementing stories

I get emails from lots of people with questions about statementing and I do my best to answer them within the best of my knowledge or signpost them to someone who can. I also read lots of stories on message boards from people going through the process who are looking for information or other people’s experiences and so I’ve had an idea.

If you’ve been through the statementing journey with one or more of your children, I’d like to hear from you. Sharing stories can help other people on the same journey and helping people by raising awareness is what this blog is all about. If you’d like to share your story with others via the Special Needs Jungle blog, please email it to me (Tania) at info@specialneedsjungle.com. If you’d like more information before committing, drop me a line. Also, if you have any burning ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, send them in.

Post are usually less than a thousand words and I’d love to include a photo if you wish and/or, if you have your own blog, a link to it. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, you can change the key names in the story.

I may need to edit for length or legal reasons (we don’t want to libel anyone – even though they may well deserve to be named and shamed!)

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing more about the new SEN process as it develops – there will be more news from central government soon, maybe in the next week or so. Make sure you subscribe by email to the blog so you don’t miss any updates!

Thanks!

Tania

Have you ever applied for a Statementing Assessment for your child? If so, take this poll!

I’m carrying out a poll into how people fare when they initially apply for a Statutory Assessment for their child. If you’re been through it please take the poll and share the poll with as many people as possible. The results will be published in the New Year. Thank you!

Book Review of Special Educations Needs: Getting Started with Statements

Special Educations Needs: Getting Started with Statements – the parent to parent guide to getting your child the help they need

Reviewed by NAS Surrey Branch member Emma Searle, mother of a 4 year old recently diagnosed with ASD

SEN-Getting Started With Statements

“This is a brilliant little book. We are just starting on the statementing process and it’s a bit depressing to find that it’s such a battle, but it is refreshing to get an honest and real account of what happens. I really liked the detail on the process – for example, I hadn’t realised that you don’t have to stick to the form to give your evidence, but can write your own account. It was really useful to have all the detail and being able to read extracts from other people’s statements is invaluable.It shows you how to use the SEN Code of Practice – I haven’t seen any other examples of this. Because it’s written by parents for parents, it can give you information you don’t get on official we sites. I found it quick and easy to read and easy to dip into when you’re waiting at school for example.”

A huge thank you to Emma for taking the time to write the review and I hope very much the book has helped you so far. If anyone else has found the book useful and would like to leave a review, I would be delighted if you would post it on the Amazon book page

IPSEA – A wonderful charity for free advice and support for SEN

In my book, Special Educational Needs, Getting Started With Statements, I make several references to a special educational needs charity called IPSEA.

IPSEA provide free advice and support for people who have children with SEN and offer an invaluable service. Today I am delighted to have a guest post from the charity’s Chief Executive, Jane McConnell

Jane McConnell, Chief Executive of  the Independent Parental Special Education Advice charity or IPSEA, became an IPSEA volunteer 10 years ago. She has been a paid IPSEA staff member for the last 7 years and has a 12 year old son with complex SEN. Jane has overcome several substantial hurdles to get the right education for him and has firsthand experience of what thousands of parents have to go through. Here, she explains what IPSEA are all about and how the charity can help you:

What is IPSEA?
IPSEA is a registered charity providing free and independent legally based advice for parents whose children have SEN / disability. We have been supporting parents since 1983. IPSEA covers England and Wales. We use highly trained volunteers to deliver all our advice and support. We offer more support to the most disadvantaged families. A small team of paid part time staff co-ordinate and train our volunteers.

What does IPSEA do?
IPSEA advises families whose children have all types of SEN / disability, including behavioural problems, communication difficulties, learning disabilities and autism. IPSEA often helps families before their child has even been diagnosed. IPSEA’s legally based advice gives parents the confidence to exercise their rights. This basic understanding of the law equips families to be more involved in the decisions that affect them and helps them to avoid future issues. IPSEA helps around 3,000 families each year – thanks to our dedicated volunteers and supporters.

How can IPSEA help me?

IPSEA offers parents the following free services:

Common problems

Many simpler and common issues with the SEN system can be resolved with the help of IPSEA’s on-line resources:

What parents say about IPSEA

Our website has quotes from parents we have helped. We survey the parents that have used our services to ask them for feedback. Their feedback helps us improve our services and secure the funding we need to keep them going.

Using parents’ experiences to influence change

IPSEA gathers evidence and uses it to lobby for changes to current legislation. We also attempt to correct the practices of local authorities whose policies are not in line with legislation.

1,039 people took part in our SEN Green Paper survey. 796 of them were parents of a child with SEN. They agree with IPSEA’s strong belief that parents’ views need to be listened to and respected by the professionals responsible for assessing and educating their children. Without this basic respect, mistrust builds up. This can have a detrimental effect throughout the child’s education. IPSEA’s full response to the SEN Green Paper proposals is here .

IPSEA works constructively with the government. We were particularly pleased that the new administration activated the right of parents to make an appeal to the SEND Tribunal if their child’s Statement did not reflect the needs of the child.

We gave evidence to the parliamentary education committee on the SEN Green Paper. We also successfully campaigned to protect legal aid for SEN appeals.

Keeping IPSEA going

It costs IPSEA around £30 to provide telephone advice to a family and around £300 to provide a tribunal caseworker. We appreciate all the donations we receive. You can donate using PayPal or debit/credit cards. You can also set up regular donations.

IPSEA is always looking for more volunteers. You need to complete our training first. This training is very thorough so we ask you to commit to actively volunteering with us for at least 2 years. “I enjoy the feeling of empowering parents – talking them through their problem and sending them off with a clear plan of action” says one of our experienced volunteers.

SENAC for Special Needs Advice in Northern Ireland

If you’re in Northern Ireland and you’re looking for help with getting your child the special educational needs support they require, there is a service for you. The Special Educational Needs Advice Centre, or SENAC,  is a regional charity set up in 2003.

They provide FREE independent advice on behalf of children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN) attending schools in Northern Ireland up to the age of 19 years. SENAC offers  information to parents and carers on all aspects of the statutory framework of SEN provision in Northern Ireland.

SENAC also offers an individual advocacy service for children and young people and work with parents to facilitate positive communication with schools and assist them to make more meaningful representations of their child’s needs.

SENAC OFFERS:

  • An independent and confidential telephone advice-line service, providing advice and information to parents/carers at all stages of the process for the Assessment and Statementing of Special Educational Needs.
  • Written information and guidelines on the Assessment and Statementing procedures both on this website and in print on request.
  • Assistance to parents in understanding policies and procedures in relation to their child.
  • Information on contacting other relevant organizations.

SENAC operates an Advice Line on 028 9079 5779. Further information can be obtained from their website www.senac.co.uk

About SOS!SEN, a fantastic SEN charity

SOS!SEN is a small charity based in Middlesex that offers a fantastic service to parents who are trying to secure the right educational support for their children. It was started by a small group of individuals who had spent much of their lives in education or related services. They now have a team of volunteers made up of parents and friends who have children with special education needs. They deal with an ever growing number of cases, including representing parents at the SENDIS Tribunal.

SOS!SEN have a telephone hotline and lots of useful information on their site. They are well-versed in the tactics of local authorities and during 2009, the SOS!SEN helpline fielded 6,000 calls. About 30 per cent were new referrals.

They offer a free, friendly, independent and confidential telephone helpline for parents and others looking for information and advice on Special Educational Needs (SEN). We concentrate on helping people to find their way through the legal and procedural maze which is so daunting to so many who try to obtain satisfactory provision for a child’s special needs.

Their aim is to empower parents and carers, and to encourage them to become sufficiently confident to tackle for themselves the obstacles and difficulties that arise in battling for SEN rights. In turn, they hope they will use their knowledge and experience to help others.

They offer our services throughout England and Wales and run monthly walk-in advice centres in Twickenham, Thornton Heath and Aldershot, so that parents from surrounding local authorities such as London, Surrey, Hampshire, Kent and Middlesex can come to see them, if they have a particularly complex problem.

They are also launching a series of workshops that will be very useful for parents to attend about the various stages of statementing.

If you are on the statementing road and you encounter problems, do get in touch. The workshops mentioned above will help get you started as well.

Paperback of my Statementing book now available at Amazon

SEN-Getting Started With Statements

Great news! The paperback of my SEN parents’ book, “Special Educational Needs – Getting Started With Statements”  is now available on Amazon.

It currently says out of stock but it’s only gone on today and you should be able to order it, with free delivery. It’s also available in Kindle format and hopefully, Amazon will get around to linking the two pages as soon as they can.

If you buy it, and find it useful, please post a review on Amazon to help others.

Please share this post as widely as you can to inform other parents who may be helped by the book. Thanks!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908603585

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

One Mum’s Statementing Views

Here is a parent’s view of the statementing battle for her son and her advice about the process. I wish I could say this mother’s story was unusual, but other parents will recognise features of it in their own efforts to get the right education for their children. Thank you to the mum who has kindly allowed me to publish it here.

“Our first hurdle was with the school not recognising or knowing how to cope with a processing issue – if the child can’t process what the teacher is saying, learning doesn’t have a chance. As parents, it took us a long time to realise the implications of this at home and we experienced outrageous behaviour not realising that the child wasn’t just being belligerent but that his understanding of what words meant and the complexity of how they were presented to him were totally beyond his comprehension. Any number of parenting books didn’t fit the bill until we found ‘The Explosive Child’ by Ross Greene.

As soon as you feel your child has a learning issue, make sure you keep notes of meetings you have with the school Senco and email them to them after each meeting to confirm that your recollection is correct. (Also ensures that they have a record on file.) Challenge learning plans – if your child isn’t meeting the targets on learning plans, try to get to the bottom of it rather than allowing the school to gloss over it.

Schools, the School Educational Psychologist and the Council will procrastinate as much as they can – the classic is having to wait weeks for meetings and then having them rearranged at last minute to push them further back. Meetings cost money and budgets are tight so your child’s needs are not the top priority – he or she really does need you to fight their corner. This is really hard for the parent who doesn’t feel particularly articulate or confident but they need to overcome this reticence.

Private tests (OT, Ed Psych, Language, etc) are really expensive – ensure that the recommendations are very clear and quantifiable stating how many hours each week of what help is needed and by what level of professional. Any opportunity to put an untrained teacher’s assistant to provide specialist help will be taken if there is any ambiguity in the recommendation.

SOS!SEN provides a great service in Twickenham. We used solicitor Robert Love because we felt incompetent to fight a case where the school wasn’t supporting the statement application (the teacher wanted to but the school wouldn’t!) One of the most galling aspects of it was when the Council didn’t turn up to the tribunal – surely there should be a case for Councils paying for the cost of the tribunal when they abuse it in this way.”

You can read more stories like this in my new book, Getting Started with Statements. Ebook out now, paperback coming very soon.

 

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

My new book for parents looking for SEN help – launched Monday 10th October 2011

On Monday, I officially launch my new book aimed at helping parents of special needs children get the education they need. It’s first coming out in ebook format, followed by a paperback in a month.

The book’s called Special Educational Needs – Getting Started with Statements. It’s a parent-to-parent guide to starting to compile a statutory assessment application for you special needs child.
It’s tough enough having a child who has special educational needs – getting them the right help can seem like an impossible task. This book sets out in a simple, easy to follow way, a step-by-step guide to how to prepare the best application you can. While aimed at the UK Education system, parents everywhere will find it useful if they are trying to organise a case for their child.

I’ll write more about it on Monday, together with links to where you can buy it. In the meantime, it would be brilliant if you would pop over to the facebook launch page and say hello!

The event page is here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=297761316917633

New Foundation Launched to Support Children with Special Educational Needs

A new foundation which will enable practitioners to join together to provide multi-disciplinary specialist services for children with special educational needs is being launched next month – and could transform the present fragmented and bureaucratic system.

The Clarity Foundation hopes to attract health and social care providers, as well as education specialists, to join as members who can be referred to families and local authorities as approved providers meeting statutory guidelines.

The foundation is the brainchild of speech and language therapist Janet O’Keefe and Robert Ashton, best selling business author, social entrepreneur and campaigner, who are passionate about providing a new joined-up efficient system which supports children and their families with educational support, while at the same time eliminating unnecessary duplication and bureaucracy.

It will be launched at a conference entitled, Towards a Positive Future, aimed at parents and professionals, to inspire, share experiences and discover how they can achieve more for children with special needs. The conference is being held on October 14-15 at Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury, which is based at the Mary Hare School for deaf children.

There are currently 1.7 million children with special educational needs in England who require support for wide ranging conditions, from dyslexia, dyspraxia and Down’s syndrome, to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Janet says: “We believe that having a one-stop shop is the best way to enable parents and local authorities find all the support services desperately needed by children with special needs, and that our foundation is the most practical and efficient way of ensuring that those services are integrated and coordinated. We need to bring practitioners from health, education and social care together and plan for the future while the present guidelines for new contract arrangements is under review. Our foundation will be a valuable database of all heath and social care providers, as well as education specialists.

“Additionally, we can streamline time consuming and expensive administrative processes. For example, we can help with criminal bureau checks and professional indemnity insurance. At the moment, if a practitioner is not directly employed by a school or local authority, every school they visit should conduct its own CRB check. Many practitioners regularly visit 20 schools a week sometimes in several different counties and are therefore checked 20 times.”

Robert says it makes good sense to become more efficient during the present shake up of these services:

He says: “However you feel about the Government’s “Big Society” agenda, the fact is that the worlds of education, health and social care are undergoing massive change. The Clarity Foundation is being formed to help parents make sense of those changes, and in parallel to help practitioners create their own enterprises. That way both groups can connect, create opportunities and meet the needs of young people striving to overcome disadvantage.”

Specialist speakers include educational psychologist and former head teacher Charlie Mead, who has worked with children with severe emotional and behavioural problems and special needs for 20 years. He has grave concerns about the present system and highlights failures he has observed, leading to neglect in some cases for vulnerable young people.

He says: “Charities are afraid to stand up for their clients in case their funding is withdrawn. Academies are afraid of further failure by taking on exactly those students who would benefit most from their resources. Children and Family Services have neglected the vulnerable due to bureaucratic inertia and a lack of consistency. All these situations can be changed if the interests of the child are put first.

“When working with highly vulnerable children in care, many of whom have been sectioned, it is clear that the recession is having a considerable impact on the young people and their families – especially those who cannot cope emotionally, are addicts, are sexualized early and have been abused. They need expert consistent provision – not piecemeal services from organisations who are threatened by lack of funding.”

Other key speakers are Kevin Geeson, CEO of Dyslexia Action, who will highlight the impact of the SEN Green Paper; speech and language specialist Prof Heather van der Lely, who will highlight her simple test for an early diagnosis of specific language impairment; and both Sandy Burbach and Alex Kelly, who will describe the importance of developing social skills and self esteem in children.

Janet is also launching a book she has edited at the conference also called Towards a Positive Future which includes stories, ideas and inspiration from children with special educational needs, their families and professionals.

Full details about the conference can be found at their website, Towards a Positive Future:http://towardsapositivefuture.wordpress.com/

There is a range of ticket prices: parent £90 (one day) £155 (both days); second parent £60 (one day) £120 (both days); professionals £200 (one day) £385 (both days).

Source: PRWeb

 

The Right Support Gets Results

Clare’s son was written off as lazy by teachers as a child. Severely Dyslexic and Dyspraxic, he faced an uphill battle in learning to read and write, let alone trying to succeed at French lessons alongside his peers in mainstream state school.

At school he was bullied by other pupils, segregated in food technology lessons because of allergies and given detentions because working memory problems meant he could not remember to bring everything he needed to class.

Clare said: “I was told by a Teacher at my Son’s School when he was six years old and she didn’t believe he was dyslexic , she said, he will never be an Einstein” I looked at her straight in the eyes and said “Do you realise Einstein was Dyslexic?” the look on her face was a picture, as though she wanted the floor to swallow her up”

Clare was determined that her son should get the support he needed that was not available at his school near Camberley. She fought Hampshire County Council for more than two years until they were forced by a Special Needs Tribunal to fund Michael at a specialist school that could help him achieve his potential.

This month, after much hard work, Clare’s son was ecstatic to learn he had scored an A in GCSE English that he sat before Christmas. Clare believes it’s a direct result of him getting the support he needed to overcome his problems:

“How amazing! It  just shows if a Dyslexic person is taught properly they can be amazing at English. I’m so proud of him.”

Even though the process of getting the support in place made Clare ill, she now helps other parents who are struggling with the Special Educational Needs System to get their children the help they need so they have the opportunity to do as well as her own son.

Should children with Asperger Syndrome automatically be statutorily assessed?

What’s your opinion – should children diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome automatically be statutorily assessed? I think they should because despite seeming to ‘cope’ in a regular class, so many children suffer psychological difficulties that goes unrecognised in busy classrooms. An assessment could open doors for them to get the psychological and educational support they need to thrive.

Others may say of course, that they should be left to get on with things and only have intervention when really thought to be needed. My argument against this would be that teachers are not sufficiently trained in spotting the difficulties encountered by AS children (and why should they be – they’re mainstream teachers after all, not special needs teachers) and in order to access the curriculum to their best, it would take an expert to assess them. Then, the correct level of help can be determined and the child has the best opportunity to get the right help.

Or maybe you have a different opinion on this? I’ve set up a poll on poll daddy for you to give your opinion Either way – please take the poll at the link below or leave a comment.. or both!

Long ago..when I was somebody

Long, long ago, before I was ‘Special Needs Mum’, I had a great career as a television journalist and news reader. I loved it – the job, the lifestyle, the image, everything. My last job was reading the bulletins that went out on NBC/CNBC Europe – I was famous in Sarajevo, for God’s sake! (UK, not so much!) I may have gone much further if I had stuck with it.

So what happened? Why would I give all that up? The answer, my friends, came in the form of two very demanding sons, born close together and from whom I could not be parted.

I read the other day in the Sunday Times magazine about Natasha Kaplinsky combining motherhood with her high-flying career and not getting much sleep, despite the inevitable nanny/helper. Her career was much more high-flying than my own when I had a baby, but I could have gone down that route, getting a nanny who would help take the strain while I continued gracing the TV screens of far-flung places in Europe and receiving sticky fan mail written in green ink.

My baby however, was not, in retrospect, what you’d call average. He could hold his head up almost from birth. He would lie there awake at the most unkind hour of the night, his blue eyes glinting in the reflected streetlight from outside our Clapham flat. He didn’t sleep through the night for eight months. When he cried, it was loud enough to wake the dead. He crawled early and walked at 9 1/2 months; he was always on the go. We thought he might actually be an alien.

He hated being bathed, dressed, put in his pushchair, changed, put down. He liked being fed and being entertained. As inexperienced parents we thought that perhaps this is what all babies were like. Early trips to the baby gym convinced us otherwise. There was nothing ordinary about him; he was super-bright and hyperactive and it was clear to my husband and I that we could not leave him in the care of anyone else. This meant I could not go back to work immediately.

By the time he was ten months old, I was expecting our second child so again, going back to work was unfeasible.

Our second son was born with a clicky hip, needing a splint and extra care. From the time he was six weeks old, our eldest would walk by him and smack him on the head. Every time. By now, our twenty month old could do jigsaws meant for five year olds and make complicated duplo models. We were convinced he was a genius!

When our youngest began to have Reflex Anoxic Seizures just after a year old (see www.stars.org.uk for help with this condition) it was clear again that a return to work was not on the cards. He could have up to three seizures in one day, usually triggered by his brother being mean to him.

I began to do voluntary work for the charity STARS, using my journalistic knowledge to help with their newsletters and press releases. This turned into helping them with a big heart rhythm campaign (see www.aaaw.org.uk) and then on to learning about how to update their web site.

Over the years this has developed into my own business at www.tirraoro.com. I work from home because now that both my boys have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and we know how they need to be helped, I couldn’t leave them in after school care or regular holiday play schemes.

Too many years have passed now for me to go back to where I was in TV and I’m too old and have too many responsibilities to compete with the young, thrusting twenty-somethings who can work all the hours they’re asked to for not-too-great amounts of money. I’m not sure it would be as much fun either, as in the seat-of-the-pants days when I worked for the newly-created Meridian TV or with mad Croats and Australians in WTN’s foreign TV News Agency, although maybe that’s just the rose-tinted memory glasses.

I read with interest all the furious stay-at-home vs working mother debates and how one is better than the other or not, but for me, the debate is much more complicated than that. I do what web-sites, PR & design work I can from home for small businesses and charities; I’ve written two, as yet, unpublished novels; I’ve passed an OU course in Social Science and I’ve successfully researched and secured two statements of special needs for my sons. And then there’s this blog, designed to help and entertain others like me.

I feel guilty for not bringing in as much money as I could if I worked full-time and sometimes I feel a little regretful at leaving a career I loved, especially when I see people I know still doing it. But I take comfort from knowing that if I had left my children to go back to my career, it would have been almost impossible to spot that they had complex and underlying special needs, nor done as much as I have to get them the help they need. Life is stressful enough as it is; with a full-time job as well, I would have been booking my stay in The Priory.

I know there are mothers of children with SEN who do work full time and their children have not missed out, but personally, I would have found it very difficult to do both, at the level I wanted without a nanny, which I also didn’t want. Having a job like I had meant working shifts, long hours, being called in when a big news event broke and not being able to say no without it dentingyour career prospects. I loved my job so much I would have found it impossible to give as much to both it and to my children without something going pear-shaped. If someone reading this does both those things with autistic children and without considerable support, then hats off to you, I’d love to know how you do it so I can write about you with admiration!

But I’m sure I am not alone. How much talent is going to waste because mothers cannot return to the hours they used to do or find a job that will give them the flexibility they need to use their talents to the full? Maybe I should start a website for people like me who are good at what they do but can only work a few hours a day. If there is already one out there – let me know!

Update on Special Educational Needs and Disability (Support) Bill

Source: Epolitix: Conservative MP John Bercow makes the case for his Special Educational Needs and Disability (Support) Bill, which has its second reading in the Commons.

Through my work conducting a review into children’s speech, language and communication services for the government, I already knew that children with special educational needs (SEN) were frequently being let down.

But the degree to which this vulnerable group of children are being failed by the school system was brought into stark reality when I saw the government’s scandalous exclusion figures. Children with SEN are nine times more likely to be excluded than any other children. So when I was drawn out of the private members’ ballot back in December it was a compelling opportunity to try to do something about the devastating lack of support that is leaving this vulnerable group of children unable to reach their full potential.

Far too few education professionals and schools have the appropriate skills, expertise and training to give the one in five children with an SEN the right support. There is no mandatory training for teachers in SEN issues, and despite their crucial role only new special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) will be expected to demonstrate their SEN knowledge from September this year.

This step forward is due to campaigning by the National Autistic Society (NAS) and others, but, even so, many SENCOs will not be covered by the requirement. My SEN Bill is drafted by the NAS and backed by the Special Educational Consortium. It has its second reading in Parliament on Friday May 15 and it aims to improve training for teaching staff, introduce a new requirement that inspections should consider how well schools meet the needs of pupils with SEN and disabilities such as autism and reduce inappropriate exclusions of children with SEN.

The profound difficulties which children with SEN experience at school frequently go unheard and unrecognised, because their support is not reviewed and Ofsted inspections often ignore whether schools are meeting their responsibilities towards them. This is simply unacceptable, and schools and education authorities must be made accountable for the support that they provide. As a result of pressure from the Bill, children’s secretary Ed Balls has already committed to look at how Ofsted inspections can have a greater focus on SEN, so my Bill aims to ensure this becomes a reality.

I urge as many of my colleagues as possible to join me in Parliament on Friday to ensure vulnerable children get the support they need to reach their full potential, because when the right help is in place at the right time, children with SEN can and do flourish in school.

Source: Epolitix

Read the minutes from the second reading here

See also: Well said, Br Bercow!

Mother Needs Help For Self-Harming Son

I have just been contacted through this site by Sharon, a mother from Kent, whose son has been excluded from school following incidents of self-harming.

She writes, “My ADHD, ASD, Dyslexic, self-harming son, has just been excluded from school, because they don’t think Luke trying to strangle himself in class or him regularly saying he wants to kill himself, is a good role model for the other pupils. Their answer, discriminate (against) Luke for his disability. He needs support, not rejection and that’s all this exclusion is to him, rejection!”

This is apparently the second time Luke’s school has excluded him. His mother, Sharon, believes it is not Luke’s fault but it is because the staff in his mainstream school are not trained to deal with ADHD or Autistic Spectrum children.

Sharon is at her wits end. She says, among other self-harming incidents, her son has also tried to hang himself in the school’s P.E. cupboard. I have recommended that she contact SOS!SEN. Luke has been refused a Statutory Assessment Kent LEA and his parents have appealed to the SENDIST tribunal, which will be heard later this year.

Sharon says, “It looks like Luke will not have a secondary school to go to this year. The tribunal is only for a Statutory Assessment, then we need to go through the whole process yet again for a statement! We have already been to CAMHS for over a year now. No counselling, he was put on a waiting list for a ASD assessment, but there was a 13 month waiting list for that. The last time we went to CAMHS a new Dr. saw Luke and we now have a diagnosis of ADHD & ASD tendencies. Were awaiting a dyslexia test, and counselling for the self harming, which is quite evident to everyone, but they chose to ignore it, or put it down to bad parenting!”

Sharon says that Luke’s primary school failed to get him the help he needed and his problems are now worse as a result. I don’t know all the details of Luke’s case but it certainly seems to be an impossible situation to be in. However, it isn’t sadly, unique. Why is it that children in severe need of help with psychological problems are so often failed by those professionals around them?

I send my best wishes to Sharon and hope she manages to get the education and counselling for Luke that he deserves. If anyone reading this can offer free legal or medical advice to sharon, please contact me at info@specialneedsjungle.co.uk or make a comment below. Thank you.

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.

SEN Assessment Form Part 2

Further to the earlier blog ‘The SEN Assessment Form – Yikes!’ I thought it might be useful for some people to provide a template to help people get their thoughts down so you’re not facing a blank piece of paper. You can download it below, in MS Word format. If you need it in pdf format, just email info@specialneedsjungle.co.uk and I’ll be happy to send you one.

where-to-start (MS Word doc)

Diary of a Special Needs Mum Pt2

Despite the hassle of the average pre-school morning, I always look forward to picking up my children after a hard day at school. That is, until I actually pick them up.

Waiting for them to emerge after prep, Son1 appears, flings his backpack at me and tries to get his skateboard, which is muddy, into the back seat of the car.  He flings himself after the skateboard, ignoring my protests.

“Where’s my snack?” he says, by way of a hello. That is all he says, plugging himself into his MP3 player. I resume the wait, for Son2. And wait. And wait.

“Did your brother do prep?” I enquire of Son1.

“Wot?” responds my eldest, removing an earphone. “No. He did swimming.”

Oh. My. God. The swimming pool is outdoors. Son2 has Reynaud’s, which was why, that very morning he’d decided to go to school on a mild day with wooly hat, gloves and scarf on. No coat though. In fact he was in the car before he realised he wanted these items and when I said we would be late if he went back, he’d screamed ‘I’ve got Reynaud’s you b***ch!’ at me. He is nine. Needless to say I took him back into the house, late or not, for a good talking to whereupon he found the things he wanted anyway.

So swimming on an Autumn afternoon, in the outdoor pool. Could be quite pleasant, you might think. Well, it might be, unless you’re the poor sap stood waiting for him to have a very long, hot shower afterwards, to warm up, before he finds his kit, puts it in his PE bag, finds his backpack and shleps all the way up to the car park.

“Shall I go and tell him to hurry up?” asks Son1, amazingly helpful.

“No, I’ll lose you both.” I answer. Nonetheless, Son1 is off on a mission, bolting from the car and disappearing into the school estate. By this time, everyone else has come out and left, some with parents, some in taxis. There is a delicious dinner smell coming from the Refectory where the boarders are about to sit down to their evening meal.

More time passes. Twenty minutes, in fact. Son2 eventually arrives, with luggage, which he drops at my feet. “Where’s my snack?” he asks, obviously a familiar greeting in our family.

No Son1. Son2 offers to go and look for him.

“NO!” I shout, feeling like we’re in an episode of the Chuckle Brothers. Son1 appears several minutes later saying he can’t find his brother, who is now sitting in the car, plugged into his own ipod.

It’s ten to six. Finally we set off for home, where I have earlier prepared Bolognese for dinner.

Forty-five minutes later, I have persuaded everyone to come to the table, except husband, who is still putting in long hours to pay for school fees for the son not yet statemented (That’s another story).

Half-way through dinner Son2 shouts, “This has meat in it. I told you I was a vegetarian! You’re so stupid!” Clearly he didn’t notice during the first five mouthfuls that Bolognese usually consists of meat.

“But yesterday, I made Cauliflower Cheese and you said you didn’t like that either!” I reply, “If you’re going to be vegetarian, you have to at least eat vegetables.”

“I don’t like Cauliflower. Why do you always spoil everything I try to do? You’re mean. I hate you!” he says and carries on eating anyway.

Later, Son2 must do his homework as he didn’t do prep at school. This is a nightmare, as anyone with children like ours will attest. We get, ‘You write it for me?’, ‘It’s too hard’, ‘I can’t write’ and the inevitable ‘Who invented homework anyway?’

My husband is home now and he is rapidly losing the will to live as he tries to help, telling his youngest that if he can’t do homework at home, then he must do prep, not swimming. Son2 throws himself on the floor before we come to a compromise that if he writes it, we will dictate it. This he can just about manage, though we have to spell every word and if we go too fast, he shrieks at one of us.

I leave father and son to it and go to supervise Son1’s bedtime ablutions. We have bought him a High School Musical toothbrush that plays two minutes of music so he know how long to clean his teeth for. It’s a fantastic idea and my son’s teeth are still recovering from the shock of being cleaned properly for the first time since he started doing it himself.

“Mummy, can I do free-running, you know where you jump across buildings?” he asks.

I look at my son in wonder, “Darling, you just told me that you hurt yourself falling off a bench you were sitting on. Your whole life is like free-running.”

And his isn’t the only one. My husband and I often feel like we’re hurtling at great speed from one precarious place to another trying to negotiate the obstacles of our sons’ special needs that make them exasperating, though never less than lovable. I keep telling myself that one about God not giving you more than you can bear, but sometimes I seriously wonder if he got me mixed up with someone else.

However, when they’re in bed, finally asleep, they look just like beautiful angels and you know that, despite everything, you wouldn’t swap them for the world. And then I go and have a large glass of wine.

<Diary part 1