Last week I spoke at a top-level conference for council Chief Executives and Leaders from the SE7 - seven local authorities across the south-east of England.
I was there as part of the Surrey pathfinder, to talk about how parent involvement had become integral to the SEN reform process. Parental participation was demanded by the government and in the Surrey pathfinder, it has become much more than just 'joining in'.
I'd like to share my short speech with you because I know that we, in Surrey and the SE7, are among those leading the way to culture change for everyone involved in special needs & health and social care provision for children and young people.
I'm not saying Surrey has changed yet at the 'coalface', but a change is gonna come...
If all this is new to your school, SENCo and local authority, whether you are a parent or practitioner, please read this. As I said in a post the other day, the DfE wants culture change training to start now. But to coin a phrase - if you're going to HAVE something different, you have to DO something different.
Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments...
My name is Tania Tirraoro, co-chair of Family Voice Surrey. I also run a "Times Top 50" website called Special Needs Jungle that aims to help parents whose children have special needs & disabilities.
I started that website as a direct result of the experiences I had of trying to get statements for my own two sons who have Aspergers and other difficulties. It was adversarial, stressful, frustrating, at times emotional - and we had it easier than many, never having to go to tribunal.
In the five years since then, I have heard so many parents describe horrific - and hugely expensive - experiences of battling to get the help their children need. Of quite disgraceful treatment by local authorities, considering that those parents were only asking for support…
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that parents were viewed by professionals as grasping, demanding and, quite frankly, a bloody nuisance - interfering with their jobs ‘delivering’ services to ‘the client’ (in other words, children)
Parents have been left at breaking point, bewildered and angry as to why they should have to fight for what you would think anyone would want for any child - the right support provided in a timely manner.
You might look at me and think I'm one of the "sharp elbowed middle-classes" the right-wing press like to sneer at. But that's not where I came from and I'm in this to help those parents be heard, who don't even know they're allowed to have a voice.
So. Here we are. The government decided enough was enough. Things had to change - and what was more, parents were mandated to be a part of it. Imagine that. I can only guess at the gasps of horror from SEN departments across the land.
But, I have to say, and I know Susie [Campbell, Surrey's Pathfinder Manager] will agree that- in Surrey at least- the sky did not fall in on County Hall and it’s all working out quite nicely so far.
From a starting point of mutual suspicion that has taken time to overcome, we’ve worked to build up a relationship that has steadily improved - because we wanted it to work.
We now operate what we’re calling co-production - working together as equal partners - this is a revolution in thinking and really, it’s as it should be!
Parents representatives sit on every workstream of the pathfinder and on the Local Change Board.
I have seen guards come down over time and views shared in a measured and respectful way - but of course it hasn’t all been plain sailing - as in any sphere, it can depend on individual personalities and it’s up to everyone to make sure this is managed.
On the whole, parents have discovered that practitioners don’t have horns and practitioners have discovered that parents have valuable insights that they may not have previously considered. This can only be for the benefit of who this process is all about - the child.
There is still a long way to go with: culture change for many within local authorities and with confidence for parents outside the pathfinder - there’s no magic wand.
But the genie is out of the bottle and when the pathfinder is over, parents aren’t going to away quietly and those with whom I work within Surrey don’t want them to - and neither does the government. We’re already involved in other work for example the Disabilities Expert Group and Gap Analysis for SEN provision.
This is going to be the new normal - But - and this is a big but - it needs to be sustainable.
Parents came into this as hopeful and willing volunteers, but now that the benefits have been realised and we are working as co-producers, local and national government need to look to how they can support the continued involvement of parents as we ALL work together to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEN & disabilities.
So - what's your opinion of the reforms?