Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Children and Families Bill: a Senco speaks

I posted recently about my concerns about the Children and Families Bill and what it is going to mean in practice for our children.

These are not idle or theoretical concerns. The Bill brings the hope of greater parental choice over SEN provision which is very welcome. However, its promise is made in an unchanging administrative context of severe financial constraint and widespread disregard for the law on the part of some LAs. My concern is that LAs will recognise fewer children as having needs which warrant one of the new Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and that children applying post the implementation of the Act, who may well have had statements previously, will now be told to look to school to have their needs met - all out of already pressurized school budgets. This affects ALL schools.

I am also concerned that it appears the Government, its auditors Mott MacDonald and LAs are vigorously pursuing the piloting of EHCPs for September 2013. Where is the law which permits this? The Education Act 1996 has not been amended as it was to allow for the piloting of SEN DPs. The charities involved don't appear to have questioned it. The result will be that, even if optional, EHCPs are, at this stage, unrecognised in law because they are not statements as required by the Education Act.

Of course, without a statement, a child's needs will not be legally protected and the provision s/he needs will not be enforceable. They will be no better off than if they were on SA+.

The problem with this is, as we know, that delegated funding to schools for SEN (which is what non-statemented children rely on) is not ring-fenced and can be spent on anything the school chooses. Further, schools' duty to support the child is only one to make their 'best endeavours'.

This Bill, and current Pathfinder practice, doesn't just need a few tweaks: it requires a wholesale rethink to enable it to address the realities of the SEN world. 

I am starting to conclude that its primary intention is in fact to reduce SEN costs. This week, my fears in that regard grew further when an experienced and very committed SENCO shared her thoughts with me about the impending changes and what it is already doing to practice on the ground. She says:
“When I recommended two statements continue in their current form at two recent Annual Reviews the LA decided at the panel meeting to cease them because the funding for support is now in schools for children who require less than 20 hours 1:1 TA time. We are not a Pathfinder authority. We have been told that there will be no more statements after April 2014 and that the Government want only 1.6% of children with the new EHCPs. This is what our LA have advised us.
So, presently, although the law has not changed, our LA is refusing to issue any statements they don’t think will convert to EHCPs (so must have an educational AND health component) and are ceasing all statements under 20 hours. Schools have to deal in-house with children they would normally have recommended for up to 15 hours statementing support because we have the (very notional ) funding to supply it. It’s a very large step back in time and it’s all about saving money.
The authorities we border with have continued the statements. Parents are confused as they have been told nothing. The changes are being rushed through with no proper foundation and despite the failure of Pathfinder authorities even with an 18 month extension to find a path.
The worrying thing is that saying schools have the cash means there is now no legally enforceable right to provision for these children. Also, this affects children who can’t get a place in a special school without a statement
As a SENCO the weight on my shoulders has reached new levels. Now I have to decide how much support to give where the LA used to assess and then put their wise heads together to make the decision. And I am an experienced teacher and SENCO. What decisions will all the new younger SENCOs still gaining experience make? Apparently this was what SENCOs said they wanted from the government consultation...I certainly did not."

 I am really grateful to this teacher for speaking out like this because what is being said is deeply   concerning and needs to be put to the Government for comment. Please contact me if you have been provided with similar advice in your LA area.

NB: The only valid reason for removing a statement is that the child no longer needs it. If any council is removing them solely because of an internal policy, that is illegal and could be challenged through the courts. A case could probably be brought in the name of the child so legal aid may be available

Friday, 5 July 2013

The 'Team (getting) around (their duties to) the child'

Aah, 'multi-agency working',  'joined up working', the 'Team around the Child' etc etc.

It all sounds so good and promises so much. A whole TEAM around YOUR child, dedicated to working together to improve actual, measurable outcomes for them. Fantastic.

I am sure there are many cases where this happens, but, if we don't acknowledge the fact that, for many parents, endless multi-disciplinary meetings lead to little in terms of actual benefit to their child, we deprive them of a voice and credit many children with a benefit they are not actually receiving. 

Here is one parent's story:

"I remember by first multi-agency ‘Team around the Child’ meeting. I was there, humble, hopeful, scared, on the verge of tears, desperate. It sounded wonderful though.  This person was going to 'advise', that person was going to 'refer', another person was going to 'monitor' and another going to 'send your son's case to a 'panel'', and someone else was going to send his case to a 'board'. Yet another person was going to put together a 'programme' and someone else was going to 'assess'. We were going to get 'support' and my son was to get 'therapy'. Someone else was going to 'investigate' the 'opportunities' that our LEA had for children such as my son, and someone else was going to 'liaise' with us.
A couple of months later and I realised that some if not ALL of the above was happening in terms of moving funds and delegating money to people's case-loads, but yet not one single OUTCOME had occurred for my son.
In fact we hardly saw anyone, they were all busy referring, and investigating and writing programmes or whatever. I hung around here a bit complaining and apologising and thinking ' Oh, he's only little, we have lots of time'. But a short while later I realised that it was good as it was ever going to get unless I started to demand better. 

Against my nature, my upbringing and my previously held beliefs I began to challenge the provision and the system and what I began to see shocked me to the core.

There are a lot of busy people, defending their paperwork and their meetings and shuffling money around, perhaps making speeches over Christmas dinner about their virtuousness. They are incredulous at the very idea you challenge their commitment to your child, yet the extent of their role seems to be simply to 'manage' them and their families through the education system for as cheap as possible.

There is no commitment to the role of these children in society as an adult, like there is with non-disabled children."
Too often, parents demanding evidence of outcomes for 'interventions' are seen as 'challenging', 'difficult' or even 'vexatious'. Why? We demand this every day in our school system for every child, in league tables and SATs etc etc. Ofsted demands it: the Government demands it. 

It is the very least our children deserve.

Meeting needs or protecting funds?

A parent recently sent me this account of the process of identifying her son’s needs which I think is, sadly, shared by many. The process described doesn’t bear any relation to that required by the Education Act. Will this change with the Children and Families Bill? I have yet to hear the Government, or any group involved in the reform process, point to one concrete proposal which will prevent these types of practices.

There is much said about the need to change ‘cultures’ in the SEN system. But how will the Bill actually do this? The law is already clear about what should happen, it just isn't always followed. This 'culture' does not arise because of the personal preference of individuals in the system: it is about saving money.

So, will the reforms provide LAs with lots more money to support the needs of children with SEN? 

I'm guessing NO.Perhaps we need to be honest about that as not only are we failing children if we aren't, but it doesn't benefit those doing their level best within extraordinarily tight budgets to pretend it's just about a culture shift.

The parent tells me:

“This is a link to the College of Occupational therapists [COT] and a report they produced into Dyspraxia.   

Although this report is from 2003 it makes very interesting reading and nothing appears to have changed since this report was made.  It shows how important the COT considers DCD [ie Dyspraxia], and the poor outcomes for children with this difficulty if they are not supported or provided with therapy.

In our own service I found that although we were referred to the OT for assessment, that it took 2 years before we were seen.  That was because of how the NHS OT service prioritised children, and those with DCD were always being bumped to the bottom of the list by children with needs considered to be more severe. 


When my son was finally seen and assessed he was not given a formal diagnosis.  I was told he had motor co-ordination difficulties.  He received no 1:1 OT therapy at all.  The OT service did eventually give me a list of 'exercises' to do at home with him.  However this was too little and too late because by then he had already refused school and I personally think he had had some sort of breakdown.

It was the CAHMS Psychiatrist who asked him to do some simple movements and stated in her report that he had dyspraxic tendencies.
None of these difficulties had been included in his Statement.  And at that time I was just becoming more aware of the fact that each and every need should be included in the Statement etc.
So I wrote to his OT asking her to clarify if "Co-ordination Difficulties" actually meant "Dyspraxia" and asking her to confirm the diagnosis made by the CAHMS Psychiatrist.  I also asked for details of what 1:1 therapy he would receive for Dyspraxia.


I received a letter back from the OT confirming Dyspraxia.  She then informed me that the NHS did not fund OT therapy for Dyspraxia and therefore he would not receive any 1:1 therapy.

Again I used the COT report, and the letter from the OT to prove that his needs had not been identified.  Even though every professional involved actually knew he had it and knew it was not in the Statement and knew that his needs were not being met [the same applies for his eventual diagnosis of Dyslexia and Sensory Processing Disorder].

All I can conclude is that needs were not being identified or diagnosed due to the funding implications of them”

SEN Panel says ‘NO’

Following my comments about SEN Panels in my post Applying for a statutory assessment’, I wanted to share with you the experience of one parent which further feeds my suspicions about their real purpose.
'SEN Panel says NO'
 Cartoon by
“We had a meeting in school to discuss my son. About 15 people attended. My son had been out of school for about 9 months at this point. The LA Inclusion Officer said that she wanted to submit some paperwork to the LA SEN Panel to seek funding for a suitable adult to take my son out of the home for things he would enjoy.  She said she could not get it ready for the next Panel meeting [which was in two weeks time], so would get it submitted to the Panel after that.  She went on and on about how she wanted the paperwork to be immaculate so that it was not turned down for any reasons by the Panel.
Six weeks later I found out, via the Parent Partnership, that the funding had been refused on the grounds that the Panel wanted more information of my son’s needs and how the funding would be used.  So the Inclusion Officer hadn't made the paperwork immaculate had she?  Then I asked "who" had been on the Panel.  It turned out that it was this same Inclusion Officer, her boss the Senior Inclusion Officer and a Specialist Teacher!  
So what happened is that the LA Inclusion Officer put together the paperwork [and this surely would have been in consultation with her senior Inclusion Officer].  They then decided to submit the paperwork to the Panel [ie. themselves], then decided to turn down the funding they had requested of themselves because they decided they needed to ask themselves more questions!  So I submitted that to SEND as evidence that they were attempted to look like they were doing something, whilst all the time they were really just trying to delay doing anything at all.  

After all, how can you submit a request for funding to yourself, and then turn it down because you have not given yourself enough information about how that funding will be used?”