Inclusion Now Articles Issue 38
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from this archive.
Priestnall School - Educating for Life
Support for Disabled Students
A Personal View of Deaf Education
NUT Adopts Inclusion Policy
We Have a Voice! Disabled Young People and Campaigning
Young Voices - New Resources
How Can Professionals Learn from 'Bloody Awkward' Parents?
Supporting Families when Problems Arise with their Child's School
It has always been important for me that Priestnall School is a truly inclusive, community school. I have been Director of Curriculum Support (SENCo) there for 12 years and in that time we have regularly been judged as 'outstanding' by Ofsted and HMI whilst maintaining a truly inclusive philosophy. In this article I hope to highlight the strengths and positives for everyone.
My starting point is always the Salamanca Statement (1994):
'Regular schools with an inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all.'
I have felt it important not to look to others for 'enforcement' or 'compliance' but for me, as SENCo to take the lead and not only show others why inclusion is vital, but to empower everyone to support our community as a whole. Many argue that 'pressures' such as academic attainment and short-term goals are more important and 'outweigh' truly inclusive values and principles; at Priestnall we continue to demonstrate that a truly inclusive environment benefits all. It is important that schools understand this is still very much worthwhile.
A key part of the maintenance of an inclusive school community is appropriate provision for all; one of our more unique experiences was a series of Dog Training sessions held on Monday evenings, set up to support the transition of students new to the school. We had eight young people with their parents/carers and their dogs for a series of sessions, which included support and information from a local veterinary practice. Jack, one of our students on the autistic spectrum in year 7 thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, as did his mum! Jack enjoyed getting to know the other dogs - the next day telling his form tutor and peers all about it – the interest from other students in Jack's animated stories about the sessions was even more powerful, as verbal interaction and reciprocal communication had been virtually non-existent previously.
During a recent visit to Priestnall by Tara, Chloe and Joe from ALLFIE, Jack commented on the highlight of his year so far being the Dog Training – and Jack was keen to point out that 'Tara' was his hero…. 'Tara the dog that is!' when chatting animatedly about the sessions.
Finding appropriate ways within the curriculum and outside of it to support positive engagement is a vital part of an inclusive 'offer'. Indeed the recent year 7 Parents/Carers evening was filled with glowing comments about how some of our most vulnerable young people had started to really thrive on the opportunities – which, perhaps not surprisingly, has a significant additional impact on attainment and progress, when comparing individual starting points upon entry to Priestnall in year 7.
Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with an ex student, Gabby, now a young lady of 22. Gabby's contribution to my core values is immeasurable; having worked with her in year 5 right at the start of my SENCo career. Gabby has never let disability define who she is, and with this approach my philosophy developed significantly. Gabby used her GCSE art to look at other's perceptions of her disability when compared with who she was, as a person. This developed further into the short film 'Notions of Self' – exploring who we are, through dance, music and art – which culminated in an evening performance. You can see the film at: http://www.youtube.com (search for 'Notions of Self Seminar')
Gabby was and continues to be a real inspiration, and during the recent visit from ALLFIE she recounted her work experience travelling to local primary schools to inspire the next cohort of young people. Gabby found an increased level of challenge to daily life when leaving Priestnall School; and this replicated many recent stories of young people really thriving in our environment but then struggling with post-16 providers, and in Gabby's case at University with a lack of understanding. These stories make me even more determined to ensure the inclusive agenda is maintained and valued as a real human right.
Afonso, a young man currently in year 11 also offered his thoughts and experiences of being a student at Priestnall. Afonso commented:
"I am 16 years old and have been in mainstream education since primary school. I am really pleased to be in mainstream at Priestnall. I am a bright teenager and wanted to show it. I am doing well and will achieve good GCSEs. I have already got a grade C in core science. When I first started at Priestnall, some pupils would not speak to me or look at me. When they wanted to know anything about me they would ask Miss but Miss told them to ask me themselves. Very quickly they realised I was a person, and I now have many friends."
Key elements of our work allow young people to really be 'themselves' and also for peers to understand diversity too; many students choose to tell their peers about themselves with an 'agreed script'; Lois, a student in year 9 explained to her peers about her needs on the autistic spectrum during a Life Education lesson – she felt it was time.
Our inclusive model is based firmly within a Whole-School Approach – this is well evidenced through some of our pioneering work in this area with regard to autism (many articles and papers can be found on my website – www.gdmorewood.com). A shared, corporate responsibility for all is vital, something which is replicated in our whole-school rewards systems maintaining the whole-child ECM outcomes as most important and our 'strap-line' – 'educating for life'. In ensuring each individual young person is treated as such, whatever their starting point in life, creates and generates a truly harmonious environment where learning thrives.
But, it is important to remember that learning isn't always about academic outcomes; maintaining the animal theme an ex-colleague was moving away so we swiftly agreed to have her tortoises in the Faculty as residents. The looks on students faces and the shared responsibility for their wellbeing has allowed for unparalleled peer-to-peer support. Witnessing some of our most vulnerable young people sharing the experience of looking after the tortoises provides some truly unique inclusive moments, something we see every day.
It is impossible to capture a 12 year developing model in one piece of writing, however I have tried to highlight some of the specific elements that are key to a truly inclusive mainstream school community. Ensuring an inclusive curriculum offer, that there is an openness and honest approach to peer awareness and education and training staff and other adults is vital – the academic outcomes and progress against individual starting points follows.
We have evolved our staffing structure to have less Teaching Assistance but more whole-school training and specialist support; including Trainee Educational Psychologists undertaking doctorates at the University of Manchester; our own Speech & Language Therapist; a psychotherapist and specialists who can deliver bespoke support packages to increase participation and access to everything we offer.
My final message I suppose, is a simple one; being an inclusive school has far more positives with regard to the value of all involved than negatives – and, quite simply, it can be done. I have been doing so for the last 12 years and continue to do so every day. Choosing not to do so is not an option at Priestnall, nor should it be anywhere else in the world.
Gareth D Morewood
Gareth D Morewood is Director of Curriculum Support (SENCo) and a Specialist Leader of Education at Priestnall School, Stockport. Find out more from his website: www.gdmorewood.com.
On April 7th, David Willetts (Minister for Universities and Science) announced changes to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), the education support funding for students participating in higher education. We believe that it is no accident that the Government have announced the changes to the DSA only a few weeks after the Children and Families Act received Royal Assent.
ALLFIE repeatedly raised the issue, with Government Ministers and civil servants, that disabled students in Higher Education should also benefit from a slimmed down single-assessment process and Education, Health and Care plans, whilst the SEN reforms were being debated in Parliament. On each occasion we were advised that disabled students in Higher Education were sufficiently provided for by the DSA. The timing indicates an additional and well calculated attack on the right for disabled students to mainstream education.
Disabled Students Allowance
The Disabled Students Allowance was introduced in 1974 to supplement the universal services and resources available for the general student population. Disabled students receive a non means tested financial grant to cover the individual educational needs they require to flourish in Higher Education. DSA currently covers specialist technology - including computer software, non-medical helpers (like a note-taker or reader), additional travel costs and other costs such as photocopying, books, and transcription.
What will the changes mean for disabled students?
The Government wants universities to pay for many of the costs, particularly equipment that is currently covered by the DSA. The Government says it wants DSA to only be for more 'complex support needs'. With the additional support costs shifting to higher education providers, we are deeply concerned that universities will be much less willing to accept disabled students, as they will fear having to pay for support which would have come from DSA. We are deeply concerned that disabled students with higher support needs will face increasing discrimination in higher education.
Despite the shift of responsibility, the Government is not offering universities any new money to allow universal services to cover greater numbers of disabled students with specific needs.
Closure of the Independent Living Fund
We are also worried about Disabled students with specific care needs who currently get funding from their local authority and a top up from the Independent Living Fund. The ILF is now closed, thanks again to the Coalition Government, to new applicants from last year and will close for all existing users in 2015. For many disabled students the ILF has proved essential, because it has enabled disabled students with additional support needs to be able to access higher education because it covers essential personal assistance support from a ring-fenced Government fund.
'My ILF and DSA ensured that I was on an equal level with my non-disabled peers. My access needs were met, I had specialist software and academic tools that meant I was in control of my studying and I was able to employ a Personal Assistant to provide personal care and academic support when I wanted it, how I wanted it. All of this meant I felt valued and respected by my peers and lecturers. I wouldn't be where I am today without ILF and DSA.' Miro, who studied a BSC in Psychology at a University
What can you do?
On Friday 6 June, the National Union of Students are coordinating a national lobby of MPs – saying no to cuts to the DSA! Find out about how to join in NUS's DSA campaign:
Alongside getting involved with the DSA campaign, we are also asking you to support disabled people and their families' 'Save The Independent Living Fund' Campaign, which is being coordinated by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) campaign. For further information about DPAC's 'Save The Independent Living Fund' view DPAC's website: http://dpac.uk.net/category/action/
It may seem a little odd reading this article from someone whose education and school days are long gone. But I have an opinion about the issues and experiences of young Deaf people that I would like to share.
If I was parent of a deaf child today, my overriding priority would be to ensure their educational needs were met. I would be asking the Education Department and Schools the same simple question – How will you ensure my child has the best education possible - an education delivered in a fully accessible and equitable environment? What we are currently seeing is a lack of understanding regarding the communication skills needed for a young deaf learner. Even after all these years there remains a lack of skill in the delivery of communication support/resources for deaf young people in the classroom. At the moment someone with a level 2 BSL certificate can become a communicator and provide the communication support to a deaf learner - irrespective of age (from Primary school right through to University) or level of study. When you know the level of understanding and training attached to a Level 2-3 BSL qualification it is obvious that this is just not enough. Deaf children and their families should expect that the person who has the role of 'communicator', to have a much higher level of skill when it comes to communication support and for workers.
Over the past two decades there have been many changes to the education system in the UK with some progress being made; more young deaf people are getting to university. However there are children still struggling, leaving school with few or no qualifications, and limited social or communication skills, unsure of their place within either the deaf or hearing community. There is some data that suggests nearly 70% of deaf school leavers have some type of mental health issue, due to the communication problems they experience.
I can recall being very excited when I heard that British Sign Language (BSL) was being re-introduced in schools in the 1980s. This seemed a real opportunity to cross barriers and boundaries and develop a communication strategy that met the needs of all deaf learners. Sadly, things are changing again. There is now a real concern about the impact that the cuts to local authority budgets will have on the levels and quality of support for Deaf learners.
The Deaf community has a view that Deaf children should be educated in a learning environment with full access to British Sign Language (BSL), deaf culture and by teachers who are skilled and proficient in BSL. My personal view is that this can happen. We need to work together to ensure there is qualified and trained communication support, that both Deaf and hearing teachers understand the Social Model of Disability and the Cultural Model of Deafness; Deaf teachers teaching in mainstream schools; that the learning environment is fully accessible, and is where both Deaf and hearing children can learn, have fun and develop together.
The 'Special Education and Inclusion' policy was overwhelmingly adopted at the NUT Conference in Brighton on Sunday 20th April 2014 by over 1100 delegates representing 330,000 teachers in England and Wales.
There were two amendments, now incorporated in the policy. The second, which called for the union to campaign for an inclusive system from which no child was excluded on grounds of disability, caused some debate with 20% of delegates voting against, but they then very largely adopted the amended motion. Many newer delegates were unfamiliar with the arguments for inclusion and the Union had a big training and education job on its hands as part of its General Campaign to defend Education from privatisation and profiteering being promoted by Mr Gove.
During lunchtime on the 21st a fringe meeting, organised by Hackney NUT on SEN and Inclusion was very well attended with more than 100 teachers from across the country addressed by Jonathan and Lucy Bartley of CSIE and Parents for Inclusion, who had campaigned for 2 years to get their son Samuel into a mainstream primary school and were now fighting for him to transition to a mainstream secondary. Jonathan confronted Cameron during the last election over his policy of ending a bias to inclusion and got him to give the assurance that no parent who wanted mainstream would be denied. Jonathan said: "This commitment has not been honoured in the Children and Families Act (part 3) and the subsequent draft Code of Practice which make it much harder for families who want inclusion to get it".
Richard Rieser of Hackney NUT and World of Inclusion and author of the Conference motion described the battle to get the Children and Families Bill amended and how we now need to build a campaign to defend and improve inclusive provision. Max Hyde, President of the NUT spoke saying how important the inclusion of disabled pupils and students was and how impressed the Union delegation to Finland had recently been by inclusive practice and competence of teachers and that the whole country only had 8 special schools for deaf students.
Nick Wigmore from Executive (Manchester) spoke of how his child with autism spent three hours a day on a bus rather than being at his mainstream school as the Local Authority had placed him in a special school and no schools in the area were prepared to take him. He gave an assurance that the Executive would implement the policy and campaign for an inclusive alternative to the Children and Families Act. More than 60 attendees signed up to being part of an informal network to develop the campaign.
SPECIAL EDUCATION AND INCLUSION (NUT Policy)
Conference reiterates its policy of 2011 of supporting inclusive education and developing disability equality in mainstream schools.
Conference recognises that Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill (though expanding the protection of a Statement through the Education Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan) to 0-25 year old children and young people), does not provide adequate safeguards for the large majority of children and young people with special educational needs at the school/college based stage.
Conference is further concerned at the damaging impact and pace of change envisaged by the government, in particular:
1. The introduction from April 2014 of mandatory changes in school funding and the higher needs block;
2. The negative impact of these funding changes on both mainstream and special schools additional needs block and Age Weighted Pupil Unit, that will lead to a reduction in funding for special educational needs (SEN);
3. The proposed change over from Statement to EHC plan of three years from September 2014;
4. Notwithstanding the late incorporation of disabled children/young people without SEN into some of the statutory duties, there remains a significant disconnect between SEN and Disability Equality Duties which cover many of the same pupil/student population.
5. The increased statutory responsibility on Local Authorities at a time of reduction in Local Authority budgets, in particular reductions in specialist and advisory teachers in SEN and disability; and
6. Proposals to phase out teaching assistants.
7. The weakening of the presumption of inclusion by conflating previously different tests that will make it far harder for those children and young people with SEN who want a mainstream placement to secure one;
8. The loss of the Individual Education Plan and the new Draft Code of Practice placing the responsibility on class and subject teachers for recording progress and meeting parents of children at the School Stage. This has significant increase of workload implications;
9. The right of Special Academies and Special Free Schools to enrol children and students with SEN on an indefinite basis, without an EHC Plan, which is not permitted for maintained and non-maintained Special Schools.
Conference recognises the negative impact of the above changes on the inclusion and education of disabled children and young people and those with SEN. Furthermore, Conference condemns comments from The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that Inclusion is only right for some disabled children.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive to enter into urgent policy discussions with the Opposition and other interested parties in the voluntary sector, trade unions and parents' organisations, to develop a strategy of damage limitation and to ensure alternative mechanisms are developed to enable all children and young people with SEN to have their needs met and to maximise the development of inclusive practice throughout the education system. Following these discussions and not later than January 2015, Conference instructs the Executive to launch a public campaign to ensure this plan becomes a General Election issue.
In order to safeguard the provision for disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs and to ensure that teachers' workload is not increased in meeting these needs, Conference instructs the Executive to carry out the following:
- Produce guidance for all members on the impacts the above changes will have on students and staff;
- Provide advice and support to Divisions urging them to ensure the Local Offer fully reflects the choice of a range of quality inclusive mainstream provision with sufficient places, for children and young people, with the whole range and severity of impairments.
- Launch a publicity campaign on the impacts and the possible alternatives;
- Support for members on a school-by-school basis and across Local Authorities in balloting for sustained industrial action to protect existing provision, jobs and conditions.
- Campaign for a fully inclusive education system which ensures that disabled children are not excluded from education on the grounds of disability.
My name is Yewande, and I am 22 years old. I first got involved with ALLFIE when I joined ALLFIE's VIPER project. Before this, I had not done any participation or campaigning work.
The VIPER project, which stands for Voice, Inclusion, Participation and Research, ran for 3 years from 2010 until 2013. I was one of 16 young disabled people who researched the best way of getting disabled young people involved in decision making. We looked at whether young disabled people were participating in decision making about services that they use, including education. We had lots of meetings where we learned about how to do research, carrying out fieldwork, influencing change. We also did some work about what it means to be a disabled person and having a positive identity as a disabled person.
After the research finished we had several opportunities to go and talk to different people about what we found in our research and the work we had been doing. I had meetings with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the former Minister for Disabled people, Esther McVey. Since being in VIPER I have gained lots of new skills and experiences. For example, I have more confidence to speak in public. Also, I understand much more about how to do research, what good participation looks like and why it is really important for disabled children and young people.
I really believe that disabled young people should get involved in campaigning work because it gives us the opportunity to have a voice and for our opinions to be heard. Before VIPER, no one had really asked me what I thought about the services that I used. So being part of the project I felt, for the first time, that my opinion was valid. Being part of a campaign can lead to changes, as I have seen with VIPER and ALLFIE. After the project finished, various organisations and people who worked in participation wanted to talk to VIPER and about what good participation is, and why our project was so successful. We have also written a Participation guide (see next page). If young disabled people campaign it not only improves things for them, but for young people in the future. Being a VIPER has also given me a chance to meet lots of other young disabled people and build friendships with them. Being part of a campaigning organisation that is run by disabled people can help young people broaden their horizons by getting to know other people, and they gain understanding about different people from different walks of life.
Being involved in VIPER has connected me to ALLFIE and the work they do on inclusive education. I now regularly attend ALLFIE's London Voice for Inclusive Education network. I graduated last year, so it has allowed me to improve my CV by taking part in other projects. I had a very positive experience in VIPER, so I am now considering a career in participation. Since VIPER I have working with ALLFIE to support their New Voices group. I really want other young disabled people to have the opportunities to campaign and participate like I have done. Young disabled people should get much more involved in campaigning because it will do wonders for their confidence, and help them think more positively about being a disabled person. Most importantly it gives them a voice that gets heard, and they can influence change.
The VIPER project concluded with the production of 'Hear Us Out', a participation guide with steps for people to follow when setting up or running groups of disabled young people.
The guide covers seven key topics which can be read on their own or all in one go:
- Recruiting disabled young people
- Meeting young people's access needs
- Running the activity or a group
- Feedback and rewards
- Keeping disabled young people involved
- 15 stages to successful participation
- Who are VIPER
The resource is available to download free from:
Check out the new 'What Young People Say' section of the 'How Was School?' website to hear four young people talking about their school experiences:
"Primary was good to start with, we had a really good head teacher who made sure that everyone was included. But then obviously with change comes different opinions and we got a new head teacher and she liked to use the one-to-one support that I had for stuff like cleaning out the library and things like that" Emma
"You have to love your own baby becos everone says they are a nusance" Sally, age 8
I have come to recognise another truism! - If you are a parent of a disabled child, the school will give whatever support you believe is necessary for your child - as long as it matches with what the school is prepared to offer. If you want something different, you, 'the parent', who is typically the mother, become 'a problem'. The more articulate you are, the more you are seen as "bloody awkward". Colourful labels grow, the more you persist: "too pushy", "in denial", "neurotic", "deranged", "obsessed", "too emotional", "irrational", "naive" are a few of the polite names given to parents.
After twenty five years being with parents, advocating for their disabled child, I have not met a parent who wanted conflict with the school. A consequence of seeing the parent as a problem is that it is a distraction from supporting the child. There is a shift to devaluing and marginalising the parent, which generates a struggle that can continue for weeks, months and sometimes years.
The rhetoric from schools and education authorities promoting partnership between parents and professionals is common. This laudable aim, if realised, could save a great deal of pain and heartache for all concerned. The ultimate goal for most parents is for their child to feel safe, welcomed and a belonging to the school. This is "gold dust" one parent said. Initially parents will bend over backwards to keep on the 'good side' of school. They are motivated by the desire to make this goal a reality for their child to experience. However, because there currently exists an unequal distribution of power and authority between parents and professionals, the potential for 'partnership' is only likely to happen when parents conform to the plans of professionals.
One mother said:
"They (the professionals) made me a monster. At first, I was totally compliant with everything they told me about my son. I would have balanced on my head if they wanted me to. Then I realised they lied to me and started bullying me - now professionals are having to manage the monster they created."
The very act of questioning the practice of a school or an authority can result in the unleashing of an assault that can leave the parent exhausted. The struggle increases if the parent challenges more than one statutory service and therefore multiple professionals. Such a position can overwhelm parents, with formal letters, procedures, phone calls, e-mails, and now texts. The communications often contain implied threats, or advise the parent to simply accept that which is being offered by professionals, even when they know this will go against the parents' wishes.
Does this mean that parents are always right and professionals wrong about a child's support requirements? Such an assertion would be absurd. However, when a parent lacks confidence in the support provided by the school or when they are unable to influence the schooling experience for their child, when parents witness their child being disrespected, denied important opportunities, with no friendships, the parent is likely to be propelled into demanding change. When a parent is forced to take such an exposed yet principled position, time and again they will be subject to scrutiny and interrogation, by a number of professionals who will hold a different position, at a case conference or annual review. Whilst such formal settings are routine for professionals, for parents they can be traumatic. If individual professionals were subjected to the same degree of scrutiny and interrogation before a panel of critical parents they would, quite rightly, be calling upon their professional associations to represent their position.
The professional in a protracted dispute with a parent will have access to support throughout the process: they have time away from work, they can hand over to another colleague, they can have someone to type letters, make phone calls, arrange meetings, they get travelling expenses, time off in lieu if they work beyond contracted hours, they can even move to another job whilst in the middle of a serious dispute with a family, and they receive a salary. Professionals have protection from a school or system culture, where, in my experience, professionals will protect each other, keeping internal disagreements behind closed doors, allowing them to present a united front. No such accommodations are available to parents engaged in the same protracted dispute not of their initiation. When the professional decision is made it becomes bizarrely impenetrable. Parents are patronisingly encouraged to follow the "Complaints Procedures" if they are "unhappy" with the decision. This is another professional procedure that can take months, with little expectation of changing the original decision.
Being a parent who is knowledgeable about the education system, aware of legislation and particular policies, is not a guarantee that your child will get the support you believe to be appropriate for your child. Your contributions can be devalued if they differ from professionals 'in charge' because it is they who the system invests the authority in. I supported a mother who was extremely knowledgeable and articulate about the complexities of her child's support requirements, she was aware of different teaching methods, how to differentiate curriculum, adapt resources for particular children. She was familiar with the range of external agencies able to enhance the support available in school and familiar with internal workings of the local education authority where her child attended school. This mother started her professional career as a teacher in the same authority, serving eight years as a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO), followed by seven years as a deputy head teacher, finally taking on the role of education advisor. But now she was positioned as a 'parent' - she was asking for something different from that which the school was prepared to offer. She was described as being "too involved" and "too emotional" and "no longer objective" This mother was forced into a conflict with the professionals, from the authority she had served as a senior educationalist.
How can such exhausting disputes be minimised? Professionals have to learn to listen, and listen, then listen again - first to the child and the parent advocating for their child.
The professionals will have had training, they may well have many qualifications, they can have much knowledge about a particular impairment and yet know nothing about the support requirements of 'Heather' who may have that particular impairment. Professionals can only support 'Heather' effectively if they are able to develop a relationship with her. The parent, advocating for their child, can be a valuable introduction to 'Heather'.
If professionals ask questions, to which they don't already assume the answer, they are more likely to develop a meaningful understanding of the child. When a person is genuinely listened to, good relationships happen. This is far more likely to lead to the parent having confidence in the actions of the professionals who are there to serve their child. Professionals can build on a good relationship with the parent when they don't:
- Tell a parent their child is not the only one in the school.
- Tell a parent the school does not have the resources to support their child.
- Tell a parent that support to their child - will result in support being removed from other children.
- Tell a parent that you are an extremely busy person!
- Tell a parent that you are an expert in this type of condition, when referring to their child.
- Tell a parent the date and time of a meeting without first checking on their availability.
- Tell a parent to come to a meeting on their own.
- Tell a parent you have to leave their meeting early because you have an important appointment to attend.
- Tell the parent of an important decision, just before you go on school holidays.
- Give the parent a patronising smile and nod of your head, when you totally disagree with them.
George Bernard Shaw suggested that it is the reasonable person who adapts themselves to the world as it exists and the unreasonable person who persists in adapting the world to accommodate a different way of thinking. He concluded that all progress depends upon the 'unreasonable' person - or in this case, the "bloody awkward" parent?
I was asked to provide an account of how Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) supports parents when communicating with schools when problems arise. This has taken me on a journey of talking to our parent advocates and to parents we have advised, supported and represented to uncover the nature of these interactions and what works.
CEN was founded in 1999 and provides an advocacy service to parents whose children who have been excluded from school. We work with hundreds of parents each year who are mainly from black communities.
Because of our role advocating for parents whose child is facing exclusion, we are sometimes looked upon as an inconvenience or at worst troublemakers! This makes our role a fairly delicate one: defending the rights and representing the views of parents and pupils while attempting to maintain good relationships between parent/s and school.
It's important to recognise the context that we operate in. The research and numerous reports since the 1970s, including the Department for Education's 'Getting it, Getting it Right: Priority Review' in 2005, acknowledge the existence of discriminatory institutional practices in the way many schools treat and disadvantage black pupils, and this is reflected in the highly disproportionate numbers of excluded black children. Some never return to mainstream schools and it becomes part of a downward spiral of exclusion, delinquency, detention, crime, incarceration, and future unemployability. It's a high stakes game for everyone including the wider community.
One telling extract from the Children's Commissioners 2012 report into school exclusions in the UK states: In 2009-10, if you were a Black African-Caribbean boy with special needs and eligible for free school meals you were 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded from a state-funded school than a White girl without special needs from a middle class family.
Schools have their own challenges of course to deal with – overall school discipline, attainment, safety and reputation, all with finite resources to consider. Everyone is under pressure.
How then do we best manage situations where there are concerns, complaints or appeals when there is so much at stake?
We initially attempt a conciliatory approach to schools but that happens only in a very few cases because we are usually brought in when the formal exclusions procedures are invoked and therefore the informal conciliation route is generally closed to us. Notwithstanding, it is important to adopt a courteous, conciliatory approach while at the same time being firm and decisive in presenting ones case.
We work on a case-by-case basis. There is no 'one size fits all'. Some head teachers are genuinely accommodating, understanding and aspirational for all their pupils and prepared to work in partnership with parents when problems arise. Even in cases when a parent is not prepared to believe that their child could ever have done anything inappropriate some head teachers can skilfully handle those kinds of situations.
But what happens when there are intractable differences and breakdowns in communication? What can we offer as an organisation? As in any human conflict, the source and maintenance of that conflict is differing expectations and perceptions between parties, which are not accepted as valid by either party. This already disastrous situation can be exacerbated as schools have considerably more power to outflank a lone parent and may also be operating without transparency and accountability to the people they serve. This is certainly the view of many of the parents who come to us for support. And as we are a free independent advocacy organisation we must represent their views and wishes in relation to their child within the procedures of appeals laid out in DfE guidelines.
An integral part of our work is working with the young person who we see as number one in the whole equation. It is alarming to witness the frequency of encounters between school and parent/s where the child is peripheral to proceedings impacting potentially the rest of their life.
There is one element the young person can learn – their overall sense of self and self-discipline, so that whatever the circumstances they can remain resilient. And as we know from copious reports and research over the past four decades that discriminatory practices are built into our education system, self-discipline is a key survival factor.
It is important from the very first contact to engage with the children, young people and their families in a way that establishes trust and promotes an active learning process based on empathy, contrition, self-discipline and sense of the occasion.
It is important for the young people to be able to analyse the situations in which they find themselves, including the factors that trigger and aggravate misunderstanding and conflict. It is thus that they gain the insights and acquire the skills to avoid conflict in the first place and mediate constructively if conflicts arise despite their initial efforts.
And as the situation demands, it is important for the young people to be able to apologise and experience contrition in terms of their contribution - if any - to the misunderstandings provoking the incident that triggered the head teacher's decision to exclude.
This process accompanies the representation we provide parent/s and their child and which are adversarial at Governor Committee Disciplinary meetings and Independent Review Panels. There is no escaping this element of our work but as I have already stated we aim always to be courteous and conciliatory and not to be pushed around.
The process is client centred, and at the end of each step in the process, whether through telephone or face-to-face contact, there is a debriefing to consolidate what has been learned and to gain an evaluation from 'clients' about the advice and support they have received overall up to that point - and particularly when the final decision is known and plans are being finalised for the child's future schooling.
It is not possible to guarantee the outcome the parent/s may want. The school may be committed to sticking to their initial position to exclude. But at least we have maximised the opportunity for a young person's development and enlightenment. As our founder Gerry German said, "Win or lose.... we win…."
Contact CEN on 0207 733 0297 for free advice, support and representation.
My family was lucky enough to take part in one of the pilots for the conversion to the new Education, Health and Care Plan for my son, Joseph, as part of the Pathfinder in Darlington, which was testing reforms to the current system of supporting disabled children and young people with Special Educational Needs.
Joseph is a fun loving boy who loves animals, particularly wolves and cats. He has behaviour, emotional and social difficulties; ADHD (recently diagnosed with); social communication difficulties and severe Dyslexia.
Prior to the Pilot
Going for Statutory assessment presented many challenges as we had to redo a lot of assessments previously and the amount of professionals involved were numerous, and I felt I was NOT part of the process and sometimes in conflict with the school.
The difficulty of Statutory Assessment was that Joseph had to go through lots of assessments, that were not co-ordinated and often duplicated. This meant we had a year of continual appointments and assessments, including common assessment meetings, OT assessments, Speech & Language assessment; Educational Psychology assessments; Reviews; IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meetings; CAMHS (Children & Adolescent Mental Health Services) appointments. I also didn't always get copies of the reports until the actual meetings, nor had they been distributed to other professionals (and even if they had, they had been rarely read).
Alongside this, Social Care were assessing for additional support, although this took a while as I had to make numerous complaints before this was undertaken. Health were also assessing him to see where his difficulties were; alongside this I paid privately for a Dyslexia assessment as it was something I felt was missing from the picture. YET DESPITE ALL THIS Joseph was still really struggling in the classroom and not engaging at school or in any other setting.
When Joseph was due his review of his statement, the SEND Pathfinder pilot has started in Darlington and I jumped at the chance to be involved as I felt this would mean Joseph's support would be far more centred around our family.
Joseph went through a conversion in January 2013 to an 'Education, Health & Care Plan (EHC plan). So what was different?
At this time a Keyworking model was being piloted in Darlington, (Keyworking in Partnership Project, Darlington Association on Disability) offering parents and carers as well as children and young people the option of having someone to support them through the new processes.
The support provided by Keyworkers was to ensure that the process remained person centred and focussed on getting the right support for each child or young person at the right time.
Keyworkers supported with gathering the family's view, including the child or young person's, and ensuring that these were included in the final plan and that these views were taken into account.
Keyworkers also supported with the co-ordination of the person centred review and supported parents and carers to ensure that the right people were invited to the meeting and that all reports were submitted and shared before the meeting.
Joseph and I both had a Keyworker, and this made a huge difference to both mine and Joseph's experience. Joseph spent a lot of time with his keyworker gathering his views to feed into the meeting and this was great, as the new plan has both mine and Joseph's views at the front. I valued my keyworker as I had had so much upset at previous meetings with professionals I felt I needed someone for me.
The Review meeting was co-ordinated so everyone could attend and was done at a convenient time and place for me (I had the meeting at my work). I chose who would be best to attend, and although CAHMS was unable to, they did include a report that could feed into the meeting and I knew what would happen at each stage. Even the Secondary School which Joseph was due to go to in the September sent their SENDCO. This meeting was really good, it started with 'What do we all admire about Joseph' and continued in a very positive way and I finally felt that we were all working towards the same goal, that of 'the best for Joseph!' and I felt we were there as partners.
We were able to look at the barriers/ challenges to Joseph's inclusion and find solutions for issues, particularly Joseph's transition to Secondary School. We were also able to look at the concerns about Joseph getting to and from school, and we came up with a Direct Payment for travel. I employed Personal Assistants for Joseph who were able to support him with safely crossing the road and his vulnerability. Joseph has been getting this support since September and last week, we started to phase out this support, as he is doing so well. It is hoped by the end of this term Joseph will be walking to and from school independently.
In conclusion I feel that the new co-ordinated assessments and key working model are a real step forward, but we still have a long way to go until we get it right for every child / young person and their families.
"My daughter is starting at FE college in September and needs support with both personal care and learning. I understand that Personal Budgets will apply to education from September – does this mean she can take her own Personal Assistant into college to assist her with her personal care requirements? And can she expect the college to provide her with a Learning Support Assistant?"
A personal budget is a way of enabling people to be more in control, for example by having a direct payment to buy services. Direct payments have been used in social care for years and – following pilot schemes - from September 2014 special educational needs (SEN) funds can be put in the same pot (along with NHS money since April 2014). This more holistic approach is reflected in the combined Education Health and Care Plan (EHC) but there are different criteria for funding from each source and different ways of challenging refusals.
The law and guidance on the SEN side has yet to be finalised (both the Special Educational Needs (Personal Budget) Regulations and SEN Code of Practice remain in draft) and there will, no doubt, be legal disputes over interpretation once it is in force. Consequently information here can be provisional only.
Turning to the questions raised, the Personal Assistant (PA) could well be funded by direct payment from social care. Regardless, if the college refused to accommodate the PA, discrimination action could be considered (as would be the case now).
If the learner is starting college this September she should already have been assessed for a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) and other support needs. Assessments are changing this year with the last Learning Disability Assessments (or s139A assessment) being concluded and pathfinder / progressive authorities already using EHCs that must be used from September 2014. Either way, if general college provision is not sufficient, an application for top up 'high needs' funding from the authority will be required. That extra money can form part of the direct payment. The new regime encourages colleges to contribute from their budgets too though guidance acknowledges it cannot always be done. A learner is encouraged to use her combined funds innovatively and might, for example, employ her PA also to be an LSA (if appropriately qualified etc).
There are limits on direct payments. For example, when considering requests for SEN direct payments authorities can take into account any adverse impact on other service users and efficient use of resources. Direct payments for education can only be made for SEN provision in the EHC, not to fund the actual school or college place. Consent of an education institution is required for a direct payment to be used in it and where the payment is for SEN, the consultation requirements are quite detailed. When a young person is over compulsory school age (past the end of the school year in which she turned 16), her consent (or that of her representative if she does not have capacity) is also needed. If direct payments are refused a written reasoned decision and review process should be given.
Finally, some authorities (especially those still doing LDAs) may argue personal budgets will follow EHC assessments only and therefore apply from September 2015. Transition arrangements are far from clear and specialist advice is suggested if this problem arises in your case. This learner can expect an LSA should she need it even if it is funded more traditionally pending resolution of any dispute about a direct payment to cover it.
Emily Gent, 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.
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.
If you have any legal questions send them in to Inclusion Now and we will see if we can answer them.