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Inclusion Now Articles Issue 32

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Talking to Lemn Sissay

The Letterbox Club
         
Labour Party SEN Policy Review

Progress and Next Steps Report

Taking Inclusive Education Seriously

Sam Sillars - My Trip to Brussels

Allfie's Position on Choice

Exclusions - What's Changing?

PI Parents Get Active in Newham

Planning a Successful Secondary Transition

Book Review - Taking the Time

Legal Question No. 6

 



Talking to Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay is an internationally renowned poet and playwright. He was born in Lancashire of Ethiopian parentage and spent his childhood in the care system, first with foster parents until the age of 11 and then in various children's homes in Lancashire. Lemn Sissay is Associate Artist at the Southbank Centre in London and patron of the Letterbox Club.

I’m sure you’re aware of the shockingly disproportionate numbers of young people in care being excluded from school, leaving with less qualifications, being more likely to go to prison than on to higher education and so on, so clearly something is going wrong here and our education system is letting down these young people. What you think the issue is?

Firstly, it’s important to say that if you’re in care the Government is your legal parent and therefore as a parent you would want the government to encourage their child into education in the same way a parent would encourage their child to choose education as a way forward. And the way that happens in families often is through the power of suggestion, a constant sort of drip, drip effect, you know - ‘So, when are you getting married?’, ‘So which University do you want to go to when you’re older’, ‘Have you seen your cousin? He’s going to University’ - this constant drip of often quite irritating, aspirational kind of questioning. That doesn’t happen to the kid in care. The staff aren’t asking those questions. And therefore there is a chasm where support and suggestions should be, so fundamentally I think it is because we are not serving the young person in care with what they need.

I remember when I was in care people would say ‘Oh you’re a great survivor’ and I remember thinking ‘I don’t want to survive, I want to live’. What I’m saying is that young people in care will always fight to live. Whether they’re recognised for that or not is another matter. But we’re not survivors, our point of access isn’t the damage that happened to us, it’s our brilliance, and even if we don’t recognise that when we’re in care, we do act it. I do think that young people in care employ extraordinary skills to deal with extraordinary situations on a daily and minute-by-minute basis. They are not recognised for that, they don’t recognise that in themselves, but I know its true and until we all know its true I will continue to underline the fact that young people in care are like superheroes, unrecognised for their great ability to live. I have to keep saying that until other people start saying it.

Superman was a foster child, the same as Harry Potter and Cinderella and James in James and the Giant Peach. Elizabeth Sallander was institutionalised, it was said that she was psychotic, she’s the central character of the Millennium series, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she was brought up in care. All these great heroes in literature and film were foster kids and institutionalised and some of them told that they were psychotic. Harry Potter was bullied by his foster parents, that’s basically the truth of it, a lot of dysfunction that happens to kids in care gets hidden and the reason it gets hidden is because its adults doing it. So we’re all in on this, we’re all part of this, we’re all responsible, all of us.

So what was school like for you?

I loved school. I loved it. It was like I could smell families on people and I didn’t have one, I could just smell the mums and dads putting their ties on and cooking them breakfast and everything that I ever wanted that I knew I could never have. But it was great, I could sort of be an extended member, not even of a family but of the idea of family, because when I was at school I was around all of these kids, we were all equal, it was one big, in many ways, children’s home, but with functioning families. So I had a great time and the staff loved me, all the kids loved me, and I was the centre of attention.

So you felt welcome?

No, I was also bullied, spat at, called a N****r, you know, the full works, but I still regarded it as somewhere that was just a great training ground as to who I was.

Do you think assumptions were made about you because of your home circumstance?

All kinds of assumptions, like if I befriended somebody, you know, you get a friend and you go back to their house quite a few times and the parents would often say to me ‘You know that we can’t foster you’ . But I think that what they often felt was the very powerful presence in me of what I didn’t have. I was such a shining child, so present, that I think that probably scared a few of my friends’ parents because they were like, ‘he’s so lovely’, you know?

So there was that kind of assumption and then there were the racial assumptions which were like, I would go out with girls and be told ‘Oh you can’t come back to the house’ , because there’s some sort of rabid grandma or granddad in there who’s never really got used to the fact that there’s ‘us’ about. All kinds of assumptions were made and have always been made throughout my childhood and adult life about me. I mean there’s so many stories that I know of, of black people in care being drugged, being told they’re aggressive, that’s the most potent word to a black man or black boy, ‘you’re aggressive’. And I always felt that people wanted to account in some way for their own lack of understanding regarding race and humanity really. I think of diversity and race as an acknowledgement of humanity.

Did you grow up in a diverse community?

No, I was the ‘only black in the village’! As a kid I didn’t meet a black person until I was nine, I didn’t know a black person until I was sixteen. So I was basically everybody’s experiment, but fortunately for me I always knew that these ideas were flawed. There was a part of me that was, like ‘This is all crazy’.

So presumably there was a lack of black culture represented in school?

There was none. When I was at school, it was like, if we were discussing elephants it would be, ‘Oh Lemn, tell us about that’. Or ‘Lemn will know this’, you know. I pity them. One of the greatest gifts you can have as a human being I think is to engage and connect with things that are outside of your understanding, people outside your own understanding, to connect is just the best.

And so at school, did you connect with other children?

I connected on a compromised level really, as long as I was jokey and they could tell racial jokes and I could let them pass, as long as there was a ‘deal’ then it was fine. I mean, it was feeding me emotionally.

So during primary school, you lived with your foster parents?

Yes, and the first year of secondary school.

And then what happened?

They put me into care for doing things like taking biscuits from the tin without saying please and thank you, or staying out late. They’d never had an adolescent before, so they had no understanding, they thought it was personal, that it was a battle, me against them. Again, I feel sorry for them.

And was your behaviour changing at school at that time?

Yes, whose doesn’t? I was on the cusp of adolescence, me and the entire year. But I was loved by the teachers, totally.

Do you think that got you through?

I don’t know about that, what I mean is, teachers would say, ‘You know Lemn academically you’re all over the place, but you’re going to be famous’.
But it’s quite a traumatic thing to happen to you at 12 years old, for your foster parents to send you away, to say we’re never going to talk to you again, for the rest of your life and neither are any of your family, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, there’ll be no more Christmases for you, you know?

So you were totally cut off?

Yes, from everybody because they told everybody not to be in touch with me.

Did anyone support you with that?

No, nobody, I mean nobody. I was locked into a children’s home at 12 years and kept there until 17 and then let go as if nothing had happened.

So that was enough to distress any concentration at school, but also there was a total racial thing against me, I couldn’t swim because ‘black people don’t swim’, I ‘should be running’ I’d be ‘a good runner’, I’m ‘obviously not going to be academically any good’, I mean those were things that teachers would say overtly. And some teachers would not even want to teach me, so you know, it wasn’t a pure environment, everything was set to f**k me up.

Times I’d get home from school and have spit on the back of my coat. Us kids from the children’s home, we were almost like, you know those wars where it ends up a group of men and they’ve all got their guns facing outwards and they’re in a circle?  It was a bit like that in the children’s home. All of us kids in care were all like, ‘Come on you f**ers’, and then we’d do it to each other too.

It sounds awful.

Well, it was. I really love my life but there’s no reason to deny how awful it was. It’s funny how people do that, you can rewrite your own past, but I’m not going to, I can live with that, that’s alright. But I shall not forget it and I won’t ever stop talking about it.

So you went to talk at a school this morning, what was the message that you took?

That your experience does not make you who you are, because you are who you are. I’m not defined by my scars, but my ability to heal. I think we don’t pay enough mind to the skills it takes to heal. The skills are more active, more dynamic than the scar and the making of the scar. The dynamism is in our ability to heal, that’s where we are truly dynamic, something steps up. The first time you touch a scar it really hurts and the first questions you start to ask when something’s wrong tend to really hurt, they’re angry and live.

That makes me think of loss?

Yes, this is about loss and bereavement and grief, all about that. It’s all about that. And betrayal, fundamental betrayal. It’s all about that.

So are you comfortable with being a role model for young people?

I’m not, no, I said at the school today in fact, I’m not one of those ‘Roll out the role model’ poets, you know, but call me whatever you want to, I’ll still be what I am, so if people want to call me a role model that’s fine that’s their choice, I’m fine with that. I don’t think I am a role model, it’s not what I am, I’m a working writer, so if that’s a role model that’s fine.

But I imagine there are a lot of children that would connect to you and your experience?

Yes, I am sure there are.

So I suppose I mean it in that sense?

Yes, I’m happy to be that.

So who were your role models?

I didn’t have any. I didn’t have any, period.

You were kind of self-sufficient?

Yes, there was just no choice in the matter.

What would you say to a young person who’s struggling to get through school? Maybe feeling some of the prejudice that you felt?

I think I would say that your instinct, the voice at the back of the mind, is the real you.
If the kid in the classroom thinks that they might be gay, but they can’t say it to anybody, when I say to them, ‘The voice at the back of your mind is the real you’, they’re like, ‘S**t, scary!’. Or the kid who thinks his dad beating his mum is wrong, but he’s being told its right, the real him at the back of his head is saying, ‘This is wrong’.

So do you think that you were in touch with your voice as a child?

I was actually yes. I did weird things, like when the guys from the children’s home went out to rob I said I would never steal from a house, I would never go into anybody else’s house, because one day I would only have a house. I remember thinking ‘I’ve only got me’. I knew that I would stay in care, when I left care I knew that I would have nobody, I was very aware of things that people would not admit to me. I was like, ‘wait a minute, I’ve got absolutely nobody’. So that sort of had its affect.

And when did you begin to write poetry?

Oh from early on. I’ve always written.

Was that something you did at school?

Yes, in fact it was the Head teacher that gave me ‘Mersey Sound’ by the Liverpool poets and that really changed things, you could say that’s one of the pivotal moments within my development.

So could they see your poetry had something?

Yes, there was a teacher called Mr. Unsworth who really encouraged me and would read my own poems. So I was talking about that voice at the back of the mind and that’s what came out in the poetry. So poetry has always been intrinsically linked to truth. And it’s my family.

What do you think Head teachers could do to address this imbalance within schools we talked about for young people in care?

Look after the emotional wellbeing of the child. I think that’s a crucial and important distinction in the development of children in education. I don’t think the statistics that the Government is looking for to define whether it’s a successful school or not take into consideration the emotional wellbeing of the children and I think that the poorer, the more stressed the society that the child’s being brought up in, the more important it is that they are emotionally well, because that will help their education. This is why the arts are so important in schools.

What do you think about exclusions?

I think that discipline, the nature of discipline tells us more about the institution than it does about the children. Discipline is very understandable you know, its very binary, very black and white, very night and day and that’s why people like it, because the structures of discipline do all of the work for us. Think about discipline at home, slapping children really draws a line, a vicious line, and that discipline will tell you a lot about, not the person who’s being disciplined, it will tell you everything about the person who is doing it. I’ve visited children’s homes all over the world and I always ask the simple question, ‘How do you discipline the children?’

And what do they say usually?

Well, different things in different parts of the world. In Greenland they said, ‘Oh, so we take them out with the dogs into the wilderness and we work through it’. Beautiful.
We think we’re the best at it in this country and we’re actually some of the worst, we’ve imported our ideas all over the world through colonialism and we’re wrong.
And this brings me right back to the beginning, if the Government is the parent, then they need to be held accountable as a parent.

What do you think of Michael Gove then, as a ‘parent’?

Basically him and his coterie are just so busy making ideologically driven policy changes, I don’t know if they even know their arse from their elbow. What they’re also doing is blaming the teachers, it’s like everybody’s busy pointing the finger and the last person to get the service is the child and the first thing to get through is the policy changes. They all disgust me. It’s so insipid.

Interview by Chloe Bowles


The Letterbox Club

The Letterbox Club is an award-winning programme that aims to 'Improve the Educational Outlook for Looked After Children'.

Now in its sixth year, the programme provides educational support to looked-after children aged 7-13 by delivering to their current home address personalised parcels of carefully selected books, stationery and tailored maths games once a month for 6 months.

Letterbox Club has achieved significant improvements in reading and number for many of the children who have been members, and has had considerable success in enticing children and their foster carers to read and play games together.

Letterbox Club is available to local authorities on a subscription basis and 4800 children have been enrolled for 2012. This means that Letterbox Club will deliver over 28,000 parcels to looked-after children in the UK this year, across the six months from May to October.

For more information about Letterbox Club please visit www.letterboxclub.org.uk
''If my Tracy Beaker were real, she would have relished those parcels.'
Jacqueline Wilson, author and Letterbox Club patron

Statistics
73% of looked-after children have Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Looked-after children are 10 times more likely to have a Statement of SEN. Pupils with a Statement are 8 times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no Statement.

Only 6% of children who have been in care go onto Higher Education.

26% of prisoners have been in care as children, compared with just 2% of the total population.

Labour Party SEN Policy Review

There is nothing like being in opposition to give political parties the incentive to rethink policies and recently the Labour party have announced a review of their current policy on Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and Education. The review is being led by Sharon Hodgson MP who is the opposition spokesperson on SEND and Education and she is also a parent of a young disabled person.

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

To examine the current landscape of provision for children and young people with SEND, including highlighting examples of current best practice.

To crystallise opinions on the Department for Education's 'Support and Aspiration' Green Paper.

To work towards a clear pledge of what children and young people with SEND and their parents or carers should be able to expect from education, health and social care services in identifying and providing for their needs.

To generate, and provide a basis for the development of, new and innovative ideas to improve the identification of and provision for children and young people with SEND, while achieving the best possible use of limited resources.
There have been four parliamentary sessions to discuss each of the review areas and ALLFIE and the inclusion movement were well represented at each meeting. From the start we have been concerned about the tone and language used in the review discussions - highly medicalised and a real lack of new and innovative thinking. We are also very worried about the lack of balance on the Review Panel - for example there is a special school head on the panel but no representation from mainstream.

We have met Sharon a number of times now in her role as shadow spokesperson on SEND and she has spoken publically about the benefits of inclusion so we invited her to our members event, in March, to discuss the Review.

More than 50 people came to the meeting, including disabled adults, children and young people, parents, teachers, and Sharon was inundated with stories and evidence about the benefits of disabled learners being included in mainstream education. It is also important for Sharon to understand the struggles that people have faced/continue to face to get into and stay in mainstream education. It turns out Sharon had a similar struggle with getting her son into mainstream!

Choice came up as always and we were able to explain to Sharon that choice is a myth for disabled learners - ALLFIE has forwarded our paper on Choice to Sharon which explains this in more detail (see page 12). ALLFIE and PI also offered Social Model of disability training to Sharon and the panel to change the starting point of the Review - we are continuing to push for this!

What can you do? Well there is still time to influence the Review and we would urge you to contact Sharon (sharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk) with your stories about inclusion and why it is important for disabled people to feel part of our communities from the start of our lives and what you think Sharon needs to know about 'what works' in terms practice, policy and support. And don't forget to copy us in!
Tara Flood

Progress and Next Steps Report

No return to Compulsory Segregation - is this what the Queen's Speech Heralds?
The response to the Green Paper ' Support and Aspiration' was finally published 10 months after the close of the consultation in June 2011 to coincide with the Queens Speech announcing that legislation will be brought forward in the Children and Families Bill.

'Progress and Next Steps' seeks to push through major legislative changes to get rid of Statements and replace them with an Education, Health and Care Plan for 'severely' disabled children aged 0-25. These new approaches are currently being trialled in 20 Pathfinders involving 31 Local Authorities. Now there is not enough time to properly test these out. It is also proposed to get rid of School Action & School Action Plus and to have only one school based stage of extra support. In the current cuts climate this will inevitably mean less support for disabled pupils in school.

If the Government's School Funding Proposals are examined, alarm bells need to be ringing. They are proposing only 2 levels of SEN funding. £6,000 per pupil for high incidence low cost needs such as BESD or dyslexia or speech language and communication needs and over £10,000 for low incident high cost needs. The school will need to apply to the local authority individually for each of these. Currently many pupils on School Action Plus are funded by Local Authorities by £10 - £15,000. So many parents will be forced to get an Education, Health and Care Plan whose children currently manage on school based support.

However the most concerning part of Progress and Next Steps' is found on page 29 under the response to improving parents' choice and control. In the Green Paper the Government asked was there a bias towards inclusion. In their response they do not mention inclusion or a bias towards it. Could this be because a large majority of respondents did not agree with them? However, much more concerning is that although parents will have a right to express a preference for any state-funded mainstream school, special school, Academy or free school and their preference met by the Local Authority unless to do so would be:

Unsuitable to the child's age, aptitude, ability or SEN, or

Incompatible with the education of other children with whom the children would be educated, or

An inefficient use of resources.

Given the battles we had to get rid of some of these clauses leading to the 2001 SEN and Disability Act it is clear the Governments' bias to inclusion is back with a vengeance. This is a charter for prejudice and discrimination against disabled children and students leading to much greater enforced segregation. The reason is obvious; disabled children and free-market education do not fit together well. We all now have a huge battle on our hands. Make sure you and all your friends and colleagues join this fight!

The timetable is as follows.

Tuesday 15th May - Progress and Next Steps document published

June 2012 - First update on emerging findings from pathfinders is published by SQW

July 2012 - Draft clauses for the SEN & disability section of the Bill published

Autumn 2012 - Scrutiny by Parliamentary committee

January 2013 - Bill introduced into House of Commons

March 2013 - final evaluation of the pathfinders published with findings to be fed into the legislative process

May 2013 - Bill carried over into next Parliamentary session

Early 2014 - Bill receives Royal Assent

Mid 2014 onwards - Implementation
Richard Rieser


Taking Inclusive Education Seriously

I work as a school (or educational) psychologist (EP) and believe that EPs should put inclusive principles first and play our part helping all children and young people experience success at school and in life. Educational psychologists are not neutral; we are not bystanders and we have relevant skills to promote inclusion.

That's why most of the EP profession were delighted by the 1997 Green Paper "Excellence for All Children". It set out an Action Plan, with some resources, although without significant legislation, to promote young people's inclusion into "A Good Local School for Every Child". The National Union of Teachers passed an historic pro-inclusion resolution in 1996 and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) quickly followed suit.

Creative thinking and thoughtful experimental practice became possible and thousands of parents, tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of EPs began to outline what good inclusive practice might look like. Researchers looked long and hard, and came out with the conclusion: "On the whole, educational inclusion works".

This creative thinking helped us realise that inclusion is not about sticking disabled children into unchanged mainstream schools, often destined to fail. Instead, it's about changing schools so that all children can be educated, and develop friendships and wellbeing, alongside their peers. This understanding is set out by the "United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2006, Article 24)", thus:

"Inclusive education is a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children."

Thoughtful Practice: EPsforInclusion
As many EPs began to ask "What contribution can we make to inclusive theory and practice?" 'EPsforInclusion' was established in 1998 to support EPs across the country (and, in fact, there is now an 'International School Psychologists for Inclusion') and we realised that we are influential and privileged; we can make an impact in many contexts, usually with children and young people from 0 - 19 years old and our advice is sought in the classroom and across schools by all staff (including managers), from parents and in the community generally, by Local Authorities, government and policy makers as well as sometimes by disabled people.

Bob Burden (1994, School Psychology International) pointed out that:
"Psychology is never value-free, although it may sometimes appear to wish to be so. . . . . The question must therefore be asked: To what purpose can and should psychology be put in schools?"

Principles First
Operating from a "Principles first, practice will follow on" perspective, some EPs began to point out that we operate in a crucial context - education - and education can offer ways out and ways forward for the most vulnerable and challenging children, and, in fact, for the poorest and most excluded children around the world. The Social Model (of Opportunity) has been crucial to this debate. The approach within that model is about changing people's thinking, making the environment more accessible and transforming organisations and their policies, practices and procedures to provide genuine opportunity for all children and young people. And this is where EPs should come in. With this emancipatory perspective, and with so much potential influence, EPs can have a beneficial impact on the lives of children and their families.
EPsforInclusion has held 20 Seminars, encouraging EPs who recommend good practice that is about empowering - not assessing - children, families and schools, enriching and nurturing, listening to parents and supporting all key staff in schools (including, headteachers and support assistants), supporting disabled peoples' organisations, recommending disability equality training, and much more.

Time for EPs to stand up and be counted
However, the Coalition governments' proposals in its Consultation Report "Support and Aspiration" wants to 'remove' the so-called 'bias towards inclusion' and shift the focus back onto children's 'deficits'. It's time for EPs to join the fight back. The AEP put forward an excellent resolution to the Trades Union Congress in 2010, supported by all the unions. It states:

"Congress notes the progress which has be made in all aspects of social inclusion during the last 13 years. It is concerned about the threats to this progress which are now being made and that the social and educational progress of children and young people will be marred by proposed changes to the policy and practice of inclusive education.
Inclusion is conducive to the health and wellbeing of all children and their families; inclusive practice is education promotes active citizenship, high self-esteem, improved academic outcomes and shared responsibilities. It is also cost effective and promotes empathy between children, integrated communities and improved life chances.

Congress therefore seeks an assurance from the government that every child still matters and has an entitlement to inclusion and that schools can expect resources to make this a meaningful educational experience."

Meanwhile, the Division of Educational and Child Psychologists (within the BPS) wishes to update its position on inclusion, which begins:
"The recent drive toward inclusive education is about more than 'special educational needs'. It reflects changes in the social and political climate wherein a new approach characterises thinking about difference" (Policy Board, 2002, updated 2005).

EPs can and should support inclusive education. We know that inclusion works. Let's help make it happen.
Keith Venables
Keith Venables is Convenor of EPsforInclusion, contact him on: psychinclusion @yahoo.co.uk


My Trip to Brussels

As a young member of The Voice, Inclusion, Participation, Empowerment and Research Project (Viper), I was really pleased to be asked if I wished to be an English delegate to go to Brussels and attend a European hearing on inclusive education, held on 7 November 2011.

The hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels aimed to provide young people (14-18) from across Europe, both with and without special educational needs, the opportunity to make their voices heard. I was even more excited when a school friend called Charlotte decided she would like to come too. Before we set off to take part in the European Conference called 'Young Views on Inclusive Education' we had to sit down and chat about what we thought Inclusion is all about. We couldn't wait to get to Brussels.
On the morning of Saturday the 5th of November we caught a taxi at half past five in the morning. Once at Oxenholme train station we began to relax, we couldn't believe we were really on our way.

The business class coach on the Eurostar was completely empty; needless to say we enjoyed our food and didn't stop chatting. We were surprised to realise that we had actually been through the tunnel and were already in France. By the time we arrived in Brussels we were too tired to explore the sights, so we had a light indoor picnic instead.

At 8am on Sunday morning we were breakfasted and ready to transfer to the Novotel Conference venue. There we met up with the other delegates from all over the European Union. Charlotte and I were in the same group and we were discussing Inclusion in Secondary Education.

Victoria was our charismatic interpreter and she had the challenge of translating between Portuguese, Spanish, German, Greek, Flemish and Finnish! A a lot of people were skilled at English too which really helped. It was fantastic to chat and exchange ideas with so many young people, but at times I was a bit confused by all the different languages. It was great to spend time with Charlotte sharing ideas too. I thought it was important to say how invaluable having an adult mentor has been for me. It is really important to have positive disabled adults as role models.

The feast in the evening was held at "The Concert Noble" an impressively decorated building. The rooms were hung with enormous glittering chandeliers and ornate gilded walls. We had a lovely meal and then danced together until we were transported home. A great night!

On Monday we had the opportunity to feed our comments forward and to have our voices heard. It was beyond amazing, being in the European Parliament totally surrounded by interpreters and speaking our ideas! We had the chance to network with the delegates from Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Some of the views we shared on inclusion were:

"It is our right to get quality education that gives us better job opportunities and improves our life chances." Italian delegate

"All pupils should be in the same school and the same classes." Spanish delegate

"Inclusive education will help inclusion in society." Portuguese delegate

"Everyone has the right to a good education regardless of who they are. The starting point is teacher awareness and teacher education."
Dutch delegate

"Inclusive education is an investment. It makes you stronger." Estonian delegate

"All schools should be accessible and provide accessible tools and offer personalised education. They should be problem-solving communities." Icelandic delegate

The Brussels trip was truly amazing. My friend Charlotte and I have great memories of all the inspiring young people we met. They had fantastic ideas for the future of inclusive education internationally. It was good to hear from young people living in different countries, we found we had so many interests and concerns in common.

I would suggest people check out what the young people had to say at the event. The final reports are available at www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/european-hearing-2011/results-files

Outside of the hearing was a varied display of posters created by each delegation about what inclusion meant in their own country. To see these, follow the link - http://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/european-hearing-2011/young-views-european-hearing-2011-brussels

Thank you to ALLFIE (Alliance For Inclusive Education) for nominating me and being so supportive. I would also like to thank Charlotte for making me laugh so much during our trip, and Megan for her artistic help with the poster.

I hope this event will benefit kids in future generations.
It gave me a massive confidence boost putting my opinion forward.
I hope I'm listened to.
Sam Sillars



Allfie's Position on Choice of Schools for Disabled Children

The schooling culture experienced by many disabled people in this country is a process that starts with an assumed deficit, followed by obsessive measurement and assessment, then devaluation and segregation, leading to exclusion and rejection.

Many people believe that parents of disabled learners have the legal right to choose which school their child will go to. This belief is wrong. No parent has the right to choose a particular type of state funded school for their child. All parents can state a preference for a particular school. However, it is the school, following a formal admissions procedure, who selects the child for the particular school.

Many people believe that parents of disabled learners can select a local mainstream school because brothers and sisters or friends go to that school or because it is in the local community. These beliefs are wrong. All these reasons for stating a preference can be dismissed if the school decides the disabled learner inhibits the learning progress of other non-disabled learners.

The offer of "choice" between a separate class and a segregated class is a fiction when one option is directly based on contrasting one's lack of ability with a so-called normal 'academic' standard. This leads to discrimination of the disabled person. Segregation is a devaluing experience to the disabled person because it is a denial of the human right to belong to your own society and to be treated on an equal basis with others.

Choice between local schools should be unnecessary - every school should be a good school and an inclusive school. The current Equalities Act requires all schools not to discriminate directly or indirectly against disabled pupils, to eliminate harassment and make reasonable adjustments so that all disabled pupils can be included successfully. It is time school staff and governors were made fully aware of their responsibilities and trained and resourced to do so.
Adopted May 2012

For full background paper please go to: www.allfie.org.uk/pages/work/press.html


Exclusions - What's Changing?

For the first time ever the Children's Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, has used her inquiry powers under the 2004 Children Act to investigate school exclusions across England. The "They Never Give Up On You" report, published in March has found that most schools work hard to cater for students. However, for the first time on record, schools have admitted illegally excluding children.

The School Exclusions Inquiry report follows eight months of work gathering a wide range of evidence from the Government, key organisations and agencies in education, young people and visiting schools across England. Whilst the inquiry found good practice in many parts of England, it also found some significant areas for concern and improvement.

Three key themes have emerged from the inquiry - legal versus illegal behaviour, fairness and effectiveness. In terms of illegal behaviour, the inquiry found clear evidence of illegal exclusions. These ranged from Year 11 students being sent home at Christmas and told not to come back until their exams in June, to "informal" exclusions when someone is told verbally, with no correspondence with parents, to go home for a few days, or not to come back before the school has interviewed their parents. This informal "sending home", not recorded and done "by the back door" is illegal. A barrister specialising in education law has alleged that some Academies are illegally stopping students from appealing against exclusions, because their funding contracts are between the school and government, and do not include rights for the child or family.

In terms of effectiveness, the inquiry also looks at best practice in inclusion and the management of children at risk of exclusion, and at effective ways of dealing with behaviour issues to support all children to reach their full potential. The report includes reflections by professionals and parents, and also by children and young people themselves.
From our perspective, the most shocking statistic the Children's Commissioner got from the DfE statisticians was that a Black boy with SEN was 168 times more likely to be excluded than a white girl without SEN. Overall children with a statement of SEN were 8 times more likely to be excluded than a child without SEN and for those on School Action Plus it was 37 times higher.

Therefore it is deeply worrying that the Education Reform Act 2011 removed the right of Independent Appeal Panels for Exclusions to reinstate the child if they did not agree with the Governors decision.

Appeals are often too late and as the Conservative backed Centre for Social Justice argue in their 'No Excuses' Report (Sept 2011) it is the development of inclusive values and practices such as mentoring, counselling, restorative justice and a good whole-school policy that are most effective in reducing school exclusions.

However, two small concessions were won by the Special Education Consortium which come into force from September 2012.

Firstly, if the child being considered for exclusion by the Governors has special educational needs they need to commission an independent expert in SEN to maker a report prior to their decision to exclude.

Secondly, if the child is permanently excluded and is disabled under the 2001 Equalities Act definition, then the parents can take and appeal to the SEN Disability Tribunal and they have the power if disability discrimination is established to order the school to reinstate the child.

Although there is no doubt the "They Never Give Up On You" report has some disturbing statistics, it is important to remember that the same statistics add real fire to our campaigning messages around inclusion.
Tara Flood & Richard Rieser


Parents Get Active in Newham

In March 2012 PI's DCATCH funded project in Newham ended after 18 months. During the last 12 months the parents of disabled children who had attended 6 months of training and completed one of the accredited training modules got ready to co-deliver training to professionals in the children's and young people services in Newham.

Hearing some of the feedback from parents and professionals involved in this project is such an encouragement to renew our commitment to our work with parents and highlights that our training can bring about real change!

Any course for parents must in the end benefit the young disabled people.

'When my son smiles it makes my heart good to be free from the medical model understanding and thinking' Janette

All participating parents say that they gained greater understanding of barriers to their child's inclusion and how to resolve them. Most importantly all feel better able to advocate for their children and to communicate their needs and wishes more successfully.

'Before (the course) it was professionals saying 'yes' or 'no'. Now I can explain what is good for my child's future and independence. I can help solve problems' Seema

80% of the participating parents say that inclusion of their child has improved thanks to clearer understanding of its importance and their increased confidence and negotiation skill.

Learning to work with the social model of disability continues to bring understanding of the direction of change in the personal as well as in the bigger picture.

'Until I started the course I never heard about this (the social model of disability). We need to have the social model of disability so that our children can have a better life' Janette

Secondly there are the benefits to the parents themselves. This is what Seema says about her experience on the course:

'I must say this course gave me life key. And that is listening and speaking. Before this course I was always thinking: why me? I am thinking now: why not me? When I listened to other parents I realise I am not doing too much for my kids and I am not the only person who has life living issue. I must say after this course I have very good relation with my husband and all my children not just with special. I am listening and speaking well, feel very confident. The world is bright. I have started my business again. I have very good relationship with friends. I can hear other people's problems, supporting them to solve problems. I am feeling alive and the world is right.'

She adds that Urdu is her first language and that she is learning to express herself in English.

Thirdly the parents got a taster of the interaction between professionals and parents in a training situation.

'I was so impressed in how we as a team were able to put ideas across and the professionals really opened up to us. The professionals became much more aware of disability, and other workers came to me asking questions particularly around the social model of disability' Shafaq

The professionals from different teams within early years provision who attended the training sessions with such confident, clear and strong parents went back to their services with a much clearer understanding and many ideas on how to become more welcoming and inclusive.

What do the professionals say themselves? For many, the highlight of the sessions, and the most useful part, was hearing the parents' experiences:

'Learning from parents and hearing their experiences and stories - their challenges, their successes'

'I would like to attend another training sessions as the session was so informative'

'It really makes me want to share with my colleagues'

It is Interesting to note that hardly any of the professionals were familiar with the Social Model of Disability and appreciated being introduced to working with it.

And how do the parents continue to bring about further change?

'I want to empower more parents' Seema

'I am challenging perceptions all the time' Afia

The parents stress that they have become already active as a result of this course and are working more closely with professionals. Some have been invited to work more closely with the schools of their children for example. They are also supporting other parents who professionals referred to them and are taking a lead in changing attitudes in their communities. Several offer to translate and interpret into different languages.

Seema called a meeting with other parents at her child's school to gauge the interest in setting up an inclusion group. It was attended by 20 parents!

Several parents attend the Parents' Forum in Newham and many speak up at local events.

'I always spread my knowledge about inclusion and PI' Janette

This project was supported by five learning mentors all of whom are parents of disabled children from Newham themselves and graduates of the Inclusion Training Pathway 2010. It was their enthusiasm and dedication that inspired many of the 'new' parents.
Cornelia Broesskamp

 

Planning a Successful Secondary Transition

In these times of uncertainty for our children when their rights are being undermined by Government policy and local cuts, we as parents have to be more prepared than ever to support our children's right to a good education.

Nowhere is this challenge more stark than the transition from primary to secondary school. As every parent will testify, this is an extremely stressful time, but as parents of labelled children know from bitter experience, it can be an unwinnable fight to ensure their children are enabled to attend their local mainstream secondary school with their peers, siblings and friends.

So, what can we, as parents and allies to our children do, to help ensure that their transition to secondary school is supported and successful?

Plan early!
Our son is in Year 4 currently and we have already started planning for his by beginning discussions with all parties involved - his current primary school, the potential secondary school and the local authority. From previous experience of the barriers that face disabled children's accessing local provision - you can never start early enough to prepare those involved!!

Identify a secondary school/s
We began looking for an accessible and 'inclusive' local mainstream school four years ago when searching on behalf of our eldest daughter who is now in Year 8.

Make contact with the secondary school
When applying for our daughter we informed the school that one of our reasons for choosing it was for it's accessible environment and commitment to inclusion.

Make the school aware of you and your child
We arranged a meeting with the Deputy Head and then the new Head, to discuss the possibility of our son attending the school. We gave them a copy of his statement of SEN and started to talk about his support needs within the social model of disability.

Ensure the Local Authority are kept in the loop
Having obtained the support of both the primary school and secondary school regarding the timing and details of our son's transition, we then got written confirmation from Local Authority that they would support our son's transition with his current cohort even though he would be 12 and a year late, to the named mainstream secondary school we had identified. The LA were actually relieved that we had done all the hard work and obtained schools agreement!

Build relationships
Particularly with the Secondary school staff - it helped that our daughter was already attending the school and that we wanted our children to all attend the same local school. I also invested time and energy into the Secondary school PTA and other areas where we could get involved, such as supporting functions, becoming ambassadors at parents evening etc. We wanted to show that we were keen to support the school.

Positive planning
We drafted our own transition plan for our son which included supporting him to create a 'who am I' picture and information book which we then gave to the secondary school head and SENCO.

Finer details
We then contacted the SENCO to start to plan the nuts and bolts of the transition including access visits for our son to ensure the school environment is accessible and future building works take his needs into account and also to plan for his social inclusion etc.

And finally be positive!
Although this is nowhere near the end of the story as our son will transition in 2014. We have made sure that the Secondary school knows we will support them to be able to include our son by sharing our knowledge and expertise with them. Our son's Primary school have promised to share with the secondary school good practise that they have developed to enable his inclusion in Primary school. be shared with the Secondary school.

In all of this - the fact that I have been supported by Parents for Inclusion to believe in my son's right to be part of his local community and school and the work that I am involved in supporting other parents has been crucial in giving me the confidence to support my child's rights.

I am also involved in the Transition Inclusion Group Project run by Parents for Inclusion and funded by the Walcot Foundation, which supports parents who are on a low income, whose children have an additional need and attend one of nine identified Lambeth schools with the transition process. For more information please do contact us at PI on 0207 7383888.

 

Taking the Time - Essays, Poems and Occasional Writing by Maresa Mackeith

Published by Inclusive Solutions
www.inclusive-solutions.com
ISBN 978-0-9546351-7-6

This extraordinary book is a must read. The title in itself is a message to just stop what you are doing, and take the time to read and learn from these insightful essays and poems.

Maresa is a disabled young woman who does not use spoken speech, but has very much to say. In this book we are privileged to have a look in on her thinking and reflections. She uses a system of facilitated communication, and through this, she helps us move towards an understanding of what life can be like for those whose voices, dreams, thoughts, and feelings are not heard.

Maresa is very honest in this book and it is not an easy read. The reader is challenged to come out of one's comfort zone and into learning from one who is so wise. The advantage that Maresa has over many of us is that she has been able to "take the time" and watch and observe the hurly burly of this modern, and often excluding world, and honestly tell us what she sees and hears. It can be uncomfortable reading, in that it insists that the reader really significantly "take the time", and think about ways in which we can all learn to know more about each other and become closer, and not leave anyone out.

These writings were written during Maresa's teen-age years; beginning shortly after having started in a mainstream secondary, and after knowing the dreadful isolation and separation of a segregated special primary school. Although mainstream secondary was not easy, the challenges it presented were quite a move on from the alternative. Maresa describes the terrible pressure on teenagers to conform and compete and how very much can be learnt by allowing young people to not be afraid of difference. How real relationships, friendships and meaningful connections can only happen when we all come together with the right support - and after all isn't that what education is about?
That Maresa is a woman of literature is immediately known from her style. The poems are powerful and complementary to the prose of her essays. I highly recommend this book. It is an important read and in particular a must for all in education because it so clearly explains why inclusion is the only way to change our society with peace and hope.
Review by Zelda McCollum

Why?
Kids who question who they are
Are usually those who don't quite fit.
Why is this so?

The one whose face is scarred;
She has to question why.
She works hard
To make the sense
Of world opinion
About who should die.

Who is there left
Who thinks, and stays
As one who fits,
And never feels he's wrong
To be the way he is?

Maresa MacKeith
February 2004


Legal Question No.6

"I'm a parent who has fought very hard to have my child included in our local mainstream school. I've been insistent about my child's rights and the school's obligations to deliver his statement. The Head and the SENCO of the school just see me as a troublemaker, they think I'm being too demanding and have told me not to phone or come into the school any more. Are they allowed to silence me in this way?"

As a parent of a pupil at the school you have an implied right to be on the school premises. In legal terms this is known as licence. However, schools have a right to ban parents from school premises where they believe that a parent is being aggressive, violent or creating severe disruption to the school. Based on the information you have provided, it does not appear that your behaviour towards the staff would warrant a ban from school premises. Your child's school should have a written policy setting out the behaviour expected of parents on the premises and the procedures to follow if the school wishes to restrict a parent's access to school premises. You should write to the school requesting a copy of their policy to check that the school have complied with their procedures.

Before banning you from the premises the head teacher must give notice to you and provide you with an opportunity to make representations. The head teacher must take these representations into account before making a final decision as to whether to ban you from the premises. There have been some court cases that indicate that decisions to prevent a parent from entering the premises can be overturned if the parent has not been allowed to put their case. However, taking this sort of action is likely to lead to a total breakdown in your relationship with the school, which may not be in your best interests in the long term so you should seek legal advice about this.

Ultimately, if the school bans you from the premises, you have a right to ask for a review of the situation and for the ban to be lifted. Alongside this, you can follow the schools' complaints procedure, details of which can be requested from the school. However, if you do enter the school premises whilst banned you are trespassing and could be prosecuted by the criminal courts and fined up to £500.

Potentially you may have a claim under the Equality Act 2010 for disability discrimination. By law, schools must not "victimise" parents who have carried out a "protected act" as defined by the Equality Act. For example, if you made a claim or complaint of discrimination or an allegation that school or someone else has breached the Act. Equally, your child must not be treated less favourably by the school because of something you have done in relation to the making of a complaint of discrimination.

You may also be protected from direct discrimination under the Equality Act if you are treated less favourably because of your association with your disabled child. However, as this is a complex area of law you would need to seek further legal advice about this.

In relation to the provision in Part 3 of your son's statement, ultimately, it is the local authority's legal duty to ensure this is provided by the school. This means that if the school fail to provide the provision in Part 3 of the statement you may be able to take a legal action for Judicial Review against the local authority in the High Court. In practice, you will only have a claim for Judicial Review against the Local Authority for failure to provide provision in Part 3 of a Statement if the provision is specified and quantified i.e. it is clear about what is to be provided to your child.

Legal action should always be a last resort. In the first instance, you should contact the local authority to explain the grievances you have with the school advising them of the provision that you do not feel is being provided for your child. If this does not resolve the situation, you should contact a solicitor about the possibility of taking an action for Judicial Review for failure to provide the provision in the statement.

Joanne O'Neill, Solicitor
Maxwell Gillott Solicitors

Maxwell Gillott is a firm of specialist solicitors, providing legal advice and assistance for clients who face difficulties with the key public services of education, health and social services. www.maxwellgillott.co.uk