Dear Miss Sarah Teather
I know you mean well. I know you really want to do something to help improve the lot of kids with special needs. And you might think you understand the challenges faced by parents who have children with SEN and disabilities. But really, you don't. You can't, because, as far as I'm aware, you don't have any children, let alone any children like ours. So while you might be able to intellectualise it, you really can't possibly know what it's like, unless you've lived it, day in, day out.
And something else you don't seem to know about, is what is actually going on at ground level within the pathfinders for SEN reform. You might know what you've been told, but unless you've actually sat in on a few of the workstreams for the different pilots, or the Local Change Board, you really don't know. And even if you have, it's not likely anyone's going to say, actually Miss Teather, you're living in a parallell universe to the one that everyone, who're desperately trying to put the pieces of this reform together, are in.
You're planning, so you say, to inform the draft bill on the results of the pathfinder trails. Err, what trials? There will be trials - there are enough dedicated professionals and parents working to get them underway - but there won't be any substantive results by the autumn. So what then? Are you going to press on regardless? Because if you do, then you've just wasted a shedload of money shelling out for the pathfinder authorities.
I watched the select committee on SEN last week online. All five experts said there should be a delay in bringing legislation. And you said, okay, let's put it back a month or so until the autumn. I don't think you meant autumn 2013, when we most certainly would have enough evidence to inform a substantial draft bill.
I know that your officials have been told that the pace of legislation is far ahead of the pace of the pilots, but it seems that no one is actually listening. Why not? What makes you think that you and your officials and the Rt Hon Mr Gove know better than those people who have been seconded to carry out the trials?
For a start - and I've mentioned this on my blog before (you do read my blog, don't you - it's award winning!) you can only start an effective EHCP pilot if
a) you have some families who've actually signed up to it
b) you have a Key Worker and a Plan Writer in place to help the parents through the process and to write the actual plan and
c) you've actually finalised what a plan should look like. Unlike you, I'm on an EHCP workstream and we are closer to getting c) than we were, but it is so important to get it right that it needs a number of drafts.
As I said, it's just my opinion, but at least I've actually been through statementing with my sons. Twice. And written a book about it. So actually, maybe my opinion is more informed than yours. Just maybe.
You can achieve all the reform you need without chucking the baby out with the bathwater because I'm not even sure there was a whole lot wrong with the statementing system in the first place. It just needed people to put the child at the heart of it and not egos, budgets or brinkmanship. It needed people to do what they were supposed to do, in a timely fashion. It needed more support for, often vulnerable, parents right through the process. It needed SENCos to be able to put the needs of the child first without worrying about their jobs. And it needed those SENCos to actually know what's in the SEN Code of Practice. Some are great, but that's no help if you're at a school where the special needs help is poor.
As a result of the way the current system has been executed, literally thousands of parents have been left in debt, emotionally battered, angry and sometimes even divorced. A whole industry of well-paid SEN lawyers has grown up out of bad practice of local authority SEN officials who have forgotten who they're there to help in the first place. And don't think you're going to put the lawyers out of business with the new reforms - at least not at the pace you want them done.
It's not just a case of policies. It's, first and foremost, a question of hearts and minds, of a will and an ability to do things differently. Training, and lots of it, will be needed. Inadequate training of staff in policies and cultural change will lead to poor results for the child, a bad experience for parents and an adversarial system. Kind of like the one we've got already.
And don't think that every single professional is on board with your and Mr Gove's reforming zeal. They're not and if you're going to make things work as they need to, you have to convince them that it's a good idea or you'll have failed before you've even started.
Are you listening yet? We, in Surrey, have some pathfinder events going on this week and on the 12th July. If you don't believe what I've said here, why not throw on a disguise and pop on down so you can see what they're saying about the pace of reform behind your back?
Look forward to seeing you (or maybe not, if your disguise is good)
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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