Yesterday the Head Teacher of my Son’s primary school told me that the laptop computer they ordered for B has arrived. Well this is great, but I can’t help feeling it is all a little too late and being angry that it has taken this long.
This comes in a week when there has been much discussion about the proposed changes to the way the children with ‘special needs’ are supported in UK schools. I put special needs in inverted commas because it is not really a term I like, but I will probably come back to that another time.
I haven’t read all the detail of the Green Papers and Government proposals etc. I haven’t got time to study it all in great detail, but from the radio discussions I’ve heard, articles I’ve read and picking up on the general banter I feel I have cause for concern.
No one can claim the existing system is great. To get a ‘statement of special educational needs’ which is a legal document setting out the needs of an individual child including the name of shcool / establishment to provide the needs etc. is a difficult and lengthy process and often there are disputes about who provides and pays for the various elements.
In simple terms as I understand it, the new proposals are to replace the statementing process with a single assessment that will include a child’s education, health and social care needs with the idea that all the services will be brought together in a co-ordinated way. Again, no-one can argue that this isn’t a fantastic idea and a great principal, but I can’t imagine that getting access to such an assessment is going to be an easy process. At present it is hard enough to convince a local authority to carry out a statutory assessment for a statement, so I’m sure it will be just as hard, if not more so, to argue for a joint assessment of needs (not sure that this is the right terminology).
However, for the majority of children with ‘special needs’ getting a ‘statement’ under the current system is not possible. This is my real concern. M is visually impaired and B has asperger’s and is visually impaired, but they don’t have ‘statements’. The way the process for statements is set up is that you have to be able to prove that your child is behind their peers in terms of the school curriculum and that this is because of their additional needs. This has been a constant bug bear for me. My children need materials to be produced in large engough print for them to access, they need computers they can see. My Son needs help to work through social rules, etc. but they are bright. They achieve at the same level, or slightly above average. That is what they are capable of, so why shouldn’t the support be there to enable them to achieve THEIR potential? Why should we have to wait and see if they fall behind before we can access extra help? If that happens it could be too late. They would loose confidence and be frustrated. Why should we have to let them ‘fail’ before the system will recognise the support they need?
In our case, as I mentioned in my last post, B and M have done well so far, the primary school have been largely supportive. But, and this is a big BUT. Neither of them have had a statement, but they have been on the ‘special needs register’ at a level called ‘Shcool Action Plus’. Again, I’m not an expert in the details, but my understanding is that all maintained schools receive a budget from the local authority to meet the needs of children needing ‘shcool action’ and ‘school action plus’. In our case these resources have been used to pay for some extra social skills work and a laptop (eventually) for B and very little extra has been provided for M.
One element of B & M being on ‘school action plus’ is that we have a system for regualrly reviewing and monitoring their progress and checking they are accessing resources etc. and setting new targets for the children and for staff in school in order to maintain their progress. This is done through the use of the ‘Individual Education Plan’ (IEP). Every child on school Action and School Action Plus should have an IEP and it is a means by which school and parents can monitor progress and the school has a budget for meeting these needs. Again, this system is not perfect, but my understanding and fear about what will happen in the future is worse.
For those children who can not access a new multi agency assessment, and I suspect it will only be a small minority who can. what will the situation be? The government are saying that half a million children currently identified as having special educational needs should not be identified as such. They are saying that better teaching and better pastoral care is the answer.
So what will happen to children like B and M? Our school has already asked several times if they can take M off School Action Plus because she achieves above average in the curriculum and she doesn’t appear to struggle with access. I have always said ‘no’ because School Action Plus and the use of the IEP is the mechanism we have to make sure her access to the curriculum is regularly reviewed and kept in check. If we didn’t have this mechanism it would be left for me to pick up issues through M and then to raise them with a teacher, but there would be no formal system to channel concerns and to monitor actions.
Under the new system, as B and M are unlikely to qualify for the joined up assessment what will be the formal mechanism for recognising their additional needs and for monitoring their progress?
Where will the requirement be within school budgets for them to identify resources to meet the additional needs of children like M and B?
Will local schools start to refuse to accept children like M and B because they will cost too much money?
Will the schools accept them, but then not adequately support them and leave them to ‘fail’?
What re-dress will we, as parents, have to challenge this?
Will parents of disabled children be forced to look back to special schools to meet the needs of their disabled children because mainstream schools are no-longer funded or required to meet their needs?
These are all issues that I find hugely worrying.
To go back to the start of this post. B has struggled throughout primary school with hand writing. This is as a result of the combination of having asperger’s, a symptom of which is often some form of dispraxia, being left-handed, and being visually impaired. A few years ago it was generally accepted by us and B’s teachers that his writing was becoming an issue. It wasn’t about the content, it was just that no-one (including B) could often read his writing. The school had used various strategies with B to try and help him to improve his writing, but none of them seemed to work. In the end we all decided that in these days of technology it would be foolish to continue to battle over handwriting when there were other tools available to allow B to express his views without having to put the effort into thinking about writing. So it was that 2 years ago it was agreed that the school would purchase a computer for B to use for writing tasks. There have been various frustrating delays with buying the computer, but these are more to do with the internal management of our school than anything else. My point here is that, in the future without reviews such as IEPs would it just be assumed that B has ‘bad’ handwriting because he had ‘bad’ teachers or because he didn’t try hard enough? I find this so concerning as things like writing will affect every other aspect of learning. If a child is struggling with the basic form of communication used in education then how are they able to demonstrate the rest of their knowledge and understanding?
It is not necessarily about better teaching and better pastoral care. It is about recognising different needs and putting in the resources and monitoring systems to ensure those needs are met. And I can’t see that these new proposals are going to change that for most children with ‘Special Educational Needs’.
If anyone out there knows the answer’s to any of my questions then please do share.
Thanks for reading.