It’s been a very stressful time in the Bottomface household of late. Minkey, the middle Bottomface child, has autism and ADHD and for the past 2 years he has been home-educated after his last school placement broke down due to insufficient provision. Now my health is failing, and Minkey is desperate to return to school to make friends again. We are both locked in the house and lonely and though I continue to teach him, often from my bed, it’s not a good enough situation for either of us. As such, a couple of months ago we embarked on the mission of having Minkey statemented. It’s an emotionally exhausting process. As he is home-educated we had to write the appendix B: a huge document usually completed by the school. You can no longer look at your child as the wonderful whole that they are, but you must break them down into a series of problems. It’s an awful thing to have to do, but do it we did. Then came the, what we thought was a comparatively easy, task of finding Minkey a school. We received a great number of rejections right away simply because there are too few school places available. After that came a lot of resistance to accepting a child who needs a statement. Schools cannot simply reject you, but who would want to send their child with relatively complex special needs to a school who implies they’re unwanted?
We eventually found a couple of mainstream schools who are willing to accept Minkey. One of which is a school that is dramatically failing and having to replace staff on a revolving door basis and the other who accepted us with open arms- or so it seemed. At their initial meeting with Mr. Bottomface they offered us the world. They would completely be able to support Minkey with his needs and they would even accept him before the statement was completed. Two weeks later Mr Bottomface returned, replete with Minkey by his side, so that Minkey could look around the school. He fell head over heels in love with it. As he left Mr Bottomface gave them a copy of Minkey’s statement proposal. I wrote to the school within a couple of days after organising a time when Minkey could go in for a trial lesson, as they had suggested when he looked around their school. Two weeks later I received a reply. Some “things had come up from their reading of the proposal” and they wanted to discuss them with me in more depth. A month later that meeting finally happened. They were exceptionally resistant to the idea of having him. They were careful in how they worded things, but they felt it important to point out to me that they now, under changes in legislation, have to fund the first £6,000 of a statement and their budget couldn’t easily stretch to giving him the support he needs. We had heard this before, but had stupidly made the assumption that this school were different. The meeting went on for 2 hours with me feeling a growing nausea and willing myself not to cry. After basically destroying my hope for Minkey’s future I left the meeting with arranging that trial lesson nonetheless because we are now in a position where it is that school, special school or home school.
I am more than happy for Minkey to go to a special school, but for that to happen his statement needs to be successful. We cannot plan towards that because so many simply fail. So what do we do if that happens? Do we send him to a school that don’t think they can support him ( and who I believe would tell the LA that they can’t fulfil his statement if indeed it was successful) or keep him home with me though neither of us is getting what we need from the situation (I rest and he friendships), but where at least he will get something nearer to the education he needs? The problem is schools are in a panic when it comes to SEN. Labour planned and succeeded in identifying 1 in 5 children with SEN. The Daily Mail will convince you that that means that 1 in 5 children have been diagnosed with autism or ADHD and that therefore these diagnoses are meaningless and that the one in five was an accident of poor legislation. Labour’s actual plan was to identify many children in this way so that no child was left behind, it wasn’t perfect because some children still were, but it was a damn sight better than when I was in school and had to leave at the age of 14 because they simply would not provide for a child with a disability. The ConDems are dismantling this. At the moment kids are either identified as School Action- where all support is given from within the school, or School Action +, where support also comes into the school from the outside world, on top of that is a statement, a legal instrument whereby the support a child needs is deemed to be of a scope where their needs are legally protected and enshrined. Alas SEN is being deregulated. School action and school action plus will no longer exist, this undermines the very framework which ensures a child’s needs are met, statementing is being re-branded and the budgets handed over to parents. Add to this the fact that the schools are having to fund from their own budgets anything up to 12 hours per week or £6K per annum, and you find yourself in a situation where your child’s needs are no longer protected, your child will not get the support they need, more children will fall through the net completely and never catch up with their peers, or the situation we are in where schools are increasingly reluctant to take on a child with special needs at all. The SEN budget of schools is integral to their general budget as such they will not get additional money for taking Minkey on until he reaches the 12 hour + mark and only by the amount he receives. If a school has a certain amount of children with statements the weight upon their general budgets, and the quality of education they can give to all, becomes excessively heavy. I, therefore, do not blame them for their reluctance. The govt supposedly set out to make SEN better, and have tried to sell it to parents by giving them the illusion of control. Well this parent ain’t buying it. This is simply another cost cutting measure aimed at the most vulnerable: in this case children like my son.