I wrote this to my MP, and now you can all read it too, because I am one pissed off mama!
Dear Mr Hoban,
I wrote to you some time ago about my son’s special needs and you kindly intervened regarding the extensive waiting list for an OT appointment. We now find, as parents of a child with special educational needs, that we are up against another stumbling block and having to fight yet again. Two years ago we withdrew our son from mainstream education due to: the school putting in place inadequate provisions, my son falling behind in his learning, and being subjected to terrible bullying. Now my already poor health has continued to worsen, and my son is not able to be adequately socialized, and so we need to return my son to school. We have decided to apply for a statement, which has gone past the proposal stage and he is now at the assessment stage. We have been told not to hold our breaths though as statements fail on an all too regular basis; a fact we are told which also forms the basis of schools becoming unwilling to commit the time to attempting to get statements for children, even when they should really have one.
Whilst we’re waiting for the assessments to take place we are having to look around schools for our son. We are finding that there are either inadequate numbers of places available or a general reluctance to take on a child with a statement. Many of the people we have spoken to have brought up the matter of funding. The alteration in funding for statemented children, so that the school must find the first, I believe, £6,000pa is making schools very unwilling to take on a child with complex needs. Now on the one hand I know that the government make the argument that this £6000 should come out of the schools’ SEN budgets, but as they are integral to the schools’ general budgets I can understand the reluctance to take on a child who will draw another £6k from the budget and reduce the availability of finances to spend on the educations of the rest of the children. Whilst schools are already frantically fundraising this is unsurprising. We are now hoping against hope that the statement is successful enough for our son to attend a special school. Failing that our only options are placing him in a mainstream school, without a statement again, which was a failure in the past, who probably would inform the LA that they could not provide for his special needs should his statement be successful, or continuing to homeschool despite my being very unwell and my son being very lonely, but where he would at least receive the quality of education he needs. We have also been informed by schools that if he has a statement saying he needs, for instance, 20 hours a week, that he would not actually get that 20 hours a week but that his LSA would go and support other children during his allotted time, leaving him alone. My son has Autism and ADHD and he needs writing to be done for him, he requires considerable over-learning, has poor attention and retention and little working memory. He needs continuous support and I have absolutely no faith that he will be able to receive this. How is it justifiable to fail children so badly? I have read the SEN green paper “Support and aspiration…” and I find the title ironic. There is little support and no aspiration. Indeed it was the lack of aspiration the school had for my son which ultimately led to his withdrawal. At one stage their aim was to get my, then 7 year old, son to write three words per day. He could have been capable of so much more but months after they’d promised interventions, such as Clicker, a computer program, they had failed to be delivered and he was left with inadequate time with an LSA.
Now, I know you can argue that Coalition developments are changing this but I have little faith that they are more than a cost-cutting exercise. Added to this is mine, and many teachers’, general concern about the deregulation of SEN; with School Action and School Action Plus becoming demolished and the frameworks replaced with the simple label of SEN, and calls for less children to be regarded as SEN at all. The right wing press acts as if the one in five children being deemed to have special educational needs is some accident of poor legislation, when in fact it was a stated aim, designed to ensure that no child was left behind. Yes, it wasn’t always successful, but how can deregulating SEN, and the rebranded replacement for statements, be any more successful? Taking children off of the register will simply lead to more children being left behind. I am also very unhappy about the idea of budgets simply being handed to parents; going into home education as I did I found myself initially clueless about how to teach my child, knowing him at home and knowing him in a learning environment were two very different things and I was shocked to discover just how significant my child’s needs are. This leads me to two conclusions: firstly, that my child should have been statemented sooner, but that funding issues and the aforementioned time constraints (which predated the more recent changes, and came from budgetary restrictions in the LAs as a whole) prevented his school from taking this step, and secondly, that parents who have not schooled their children are not always in the best place to judge how their child’s educational needs can be met. We are not trained, even sociologically, to know how to be parents of children with special needs, we fumble around in the dark until we hit upon something, teachers, and more particularly SENCOS, do have that training. I can only presume that handing budgets to parents is intended to introduce the free market into the arena of SEN provision, thereby leading to further cuts in the SEN bill. However this does not then ensure continuity of support, nor does it suggest that these providers will be sufficiently regulated, nor made to adhere to a level of excellence. If SEN provision were more properly funded then my child would never have fallen through the gaps in the first place, and if this new legislation regarding funding and the deregulation of SEN were not being enacted my child would not be continuing to fall still. It is my son’s basic human right to be given an appropriate education yet a lack of funding has resulted in his potential being frustrated every step along the path. This must change. Deregulating SEN will make it worse, changing the funding has already made it worse, and rebranding statements and giving parents the control of the budgets is at best ineffectual and at worst a cynical attempt to give parents the illusion of control whilst still slashing funding and undermining the ability for schools to adequately provide.
My son has the right to an adequate, appropriate and effective education: where the teachers have as many aspirations for him as we do, and where the government supports, rather than undermines, those aspirations by providing schools with full and proper funding for children with special educational needs. Would you settle for less for your children? My son says he wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up, the support he’s received thus far will see him mopping the floors in McDonald’s. I believe he has the potential for the former, yet the system is simply preparing him for the latter. We are not in a Brave New World where your role in life and position in society are decided at birth, yet this is what this surmounts to. My son should be provided with the same potential as every other child to meet his life’s goals and it is heartbreaking that he has been sold so short, and that the coalition have undermined what little support there already was whilst dressing it up as progress. I do not need or want to hear political spin about what the government are doing. I’ve read the legislation and I have the intelligence to critically analyse it. I want this matter addressed properly, once and for all. I am continuously hearing from parents about how they had to “fight” for their child’s right to a supportive and adequate education, we should not have to fight at all, it is a right all are born with. The EHRC Protocol 1, Article 2: Right to education states,
“No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
Meanwhile Article 23.2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that,
“Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development.”
So why is it then, that in a country that is still relatively wealthy, these needs are not being met unless parents “fight” continuously to receive support for their children? I very much doubt you, or any other member of parliament, would be happy with that situation for your own families, yet so many in government are complicit in making it even harder. Perhaps if you all had to live on the average wage, with children with special needs, you’d all feel somewhat differently about the matter? It took 3 years for our son to be seen by CAMHS to get his final diagnosis, due to staff shortages and SALTs and OTs have reduced in their numbers dramatically.
As a person with a disability, and the spouse of a man with mental illness I have become accustomed to the coalition going after the most vulnerable in our society. Earlier this year I experienced appalling treatment at the hands of ATOS and was placed in the WRAG and yet no one is helping me into work. I have been deemed too ill to even be worth trying to help with that by the Job Centre (and I’m inclined to agree with them, though you may find this surprising, I find the concept woefully depressing), whilst also apparently being well enough to look for work by an organization that wouldn’t even make a home visit to see me, despite my being bed bound. My husband has felt the terrible effects of austerity in the area of mental illness, where beds are being cut and medication being relied upon in replacement for therapy, and as someone who works in social care, he has seen the disastrous effects of coalition policy upon other vulnerable people. I have not been assisted into work, and my husband has received nothing additional for his work, so how exactly do the Conservatives justify their parrot like repetitions of “we’re making work pay”. Indeed we’re buckling under the weight of prices versus wages and that’s with a full-time earner in the household. I am saddened that you, during your time as Employment Minister made so much apology for a process which has been disastrous for so many, as mentioned this includes myself, but that is another matter altogether. It is terrible that the government are holding the axe above vulnerable adults, it is almost unthinkable that they would do the same to vulnerable children. I expect better than that for my son, and I expect better than that for all children. I sincerely hope that you agree.