“He’d be cheaper in long-term care” I was an LA SEND Manager forced out over disgusting comments from senior colleagues

by a former council SEND Team Manager

Last week, parent Rachel Filmer wrote on SNJ how the disgraceful comments from the Warwickshire councillors about children with SEND were not unique. That sparked a former teacher who had moved to work in a local authority (LA) as a SEND team manager to get in touch with their shocking experience. In the six months they worked for a council in the Midlands, they were exposed to similar dreadful comments about disabled children by senior colleagues. But, when they tried to raise their concerns, they discovered there was only one thing the council cared about - and it wasn’t the children.

We’ve chosen not disclose the identity of the writer of today’s article, but we’re sure they are not alone in this experience. We’d like to hear from you if you have a similar story to tell.

I tried to whistleblow about council colleagues’ comments about disabled children, but no one wanted to hear it

Watching the BBC news report a couple of weeks ago where Warwickshire councillors were filmed during a council meeting, discussing and expressing opinions about SEND children and young people, I feel I need to speak out.

I worked as a SEND Team Manager at a West Midlands local Authority between September 2018 and March 2019. During this time, I regularly attended similar meetings and heard similar discussions and comments that were equally as disturbing as those in Warwickshire.

I distinctly remember three occasions where I was so disgusted and angry, I felt physically sick. In one, the needs of a young autistic boy in a mainstream school were not being met. His behaviour was so extreme the school were saying they couldn’t meet his needs and they were planning on excluding him. This was the third time the little boy had been suspended. The school had given notice and the mum, a single parent, was at her wit's end. I was in a meeting with some heads of service discussing this child. The Head of Education stated quite emphatically, ‘’Why should this feral child get SEND funding just because his parents have no control over him? It’s not down to the local authority to fund kids who are out of control, that’s a parent's job.’’

There were other comments in many meetings about parental responsibility and how parents should take steps to educate and control their children.

In another meeting I attended, this time a high-needs funding panel (16 plus. There was a young person with complex needs who’d recently moved into the area and had an EHCP. The LA would now have to support the EHCP as the young person was now within its borough. However, the LA didn’t want to uphold the specialist residential college provision that was named in the plan. Instead, a similar provision was suggested at a cost of approximately £75,000 a year that had education, health and social care funding sharing the costs. During the discussion, the high-needs funding commissioner said, ‘’…it will be cheaper to put this person into full-time residential care’’. I was disgusted that they would consider placing someone in long-term care just because it's marginally cheaper.

Random school allocations to meet the EHCP transfer deadline

Finally, as we approached the February 15th EHCP deadline for allocating school places, we had many EHCPs that were still outstanding and hadn’t been processed. I was instructed to get them finalised and name a school, it didn’t matter which school. I was given a list of schools with places and told that the case officers had to put a school in Section I of the EHCPs and get them out before the cut-off date.

I argued with them over the situation, but was told if they don’t like the school named they can appeal later or end up at the SEND Tribunal. I was told confidentially that this was a ‘higher order’ from someone within the council and if not all children had a school named it would be bad for the lead councillor who could lose their seat, which would be “devastating” for the council. Of course, it also meant the LA might face a fine from the Ombudsman (if someone complained about it) for not meeting school admission legal requirements.

So, the case officers had to put school names on EHCPs, whether that school was appropriate or not. Can you imagine the heartache these families felt opening their letter and final EHCP just to find any school had been named? Can you also imagine the frustration school heads also felt looking at the needs specified in an EHCP they knew they couldn’t meet? I can’t describe how I felt knowing that children were being exploited in this way, their needs being disregarded just so a council leader could remain in post on their large salary.

Concerns ignored and scapegoated

I met with the head of the council’s disability service about my concerns but I was berated for not telling him in advance, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed and putting the council and its leader in jeopardy. I was then scapegoated and held responsible for the admissions team having to rush letters through at the eleventh hour. But there was no concern at all about the poor children who had a school named that they couldn’t access. All the tribunals and appeals this would spark would cost the LA far more money than any fine.

I was offered a way out; three months’ salary and an open reference to leave immediately. I met with a representative from my union, Unison, but even that was unethical, as I believe the representative had already been approached by the council before I could put in a grievance or negotiate to leave.

I was then approached by a solicitor who drew up a non-disclosure legal agreement that I had to sign to say I would not discuss my leaving arrangements, I would not discuss council business and I couldn’t work for a local authority for at least 12 months. I was paid to keep my mouth firmly shut. The solicitor had said he did this a lot for local authorities, and paying someone off was quite a common way of keeping people quiet for a while.

My confidence was shattered

The whole six months working for the council knocked my confidence, broke my spirit and made me lose all respect for local government. I am teacher with 30 years' experience. I had been a deputy principal in an independent residential college, working passionately to help young people and children with SEND to access appropriate and meaningful education. I’d won 15 tribunals, supported many young people to access education and care and went into an LA role thinking I could make a difference. I thought I could bring about change and help children, young people and families, but sadly, I wasn’t able to do that.

I’m glad the Warwickshire comments are out in the public domain because this was, and still is, the way councillors behave. The public need and deserve to know this. My story is not unique. I’m not saying there aren’t good and caring people working in LAs. There are, but there, are also too many uninformed, ignorant people in high profile positions, holding purse strings, who have archaic attitudes and no idea what it takes to support a child or young person or their families with SEND. This must change.

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