Keeping up with the politics of SEND

Keeping up with the politics of SEND.jpg

Oh it’s all going on in the world of politics isn’t it? Labour Party defections, Brexit shenanigans… it’s almost as if nothing else is going on in Parliament. And yet through it all, the SEND inquiry plods on and nothing changes for the better. Even as a procession of professionals, SEND or otherwise, troop through the committee room of the Education Select Committee, disabled children are still getting denied support, excluded, or are in limbo as their parents take up arms and fight for their rights to an education.

I haven't immediately covered the last couple of sessions of the SEND inquiry here for various reasons (one of which might be a case of CBA), but I did watch both of them. 

There have been two recent sessions. First with staff from the FE/specialist Post-16 sector where the most notable thing said came from the committee chairman himself, Robert Halfon MP. At the end of the session he summed up by thanking the witnesses for their “extraordinary evidence” saying there clearly needed to be a “much tougher framework” for Post-16 as it seems to be “a big tangled mess”.  He has clearly joined the thousands of us worn down by the grating shrieks of the slow-motion super-tanker crash of the SEND reforms colliding with austerity cuts, with disabled children as the collateral damage. 

This session wasn’t all doom and gloom though. We heard that there is a lot of good practice in the sector and a good evidence base, but what’s need is a “repository” to place it in so that it can be accessed by all. Ahem... isn’t that what the SEND Gateway was supposed to be? Maybe those in the know should pop their sparkly resources in there and then tell everyone where to find them on Twitter, where teachers seem to spend most of their time when they’re not in school. They really should stay off social media, it's bad for your mental health, dontcha know?

If you want to watch the Post-16 SEND Inquiry session in full, you can do so here

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Council CEOs say whaat?

Then more recently, it was the turn of local authority leaders on the impact of the reforms. Needless to say, it was a lacklustre performance from these poor, over-paid souls. You can read news articles on the session from Jess Staufenberg who wrote in Schools Week wrote about 'Council leaders defend taking parents to tribunal over SEND support'. Meanwhile, the TES’ Helen Ward picked up the line on schools 'taking overly macho approach to excluding pupils with SEND’. Personally, I felt this lot were all just a bit too fond of the sound of their own voices, bringing home how removed these people really are from what it’s like to be a parent of a disabled child. Watch the evidence session here, if you can bear it. I value my mental health, and I was sure it would be covered by the education press, so I thought I’d spare myself and leave it to them. 

Elsewhere in the Houses of Parliament...

Meanwhile, in the Commons, Lib Dem MP Sir Vince Cable led an adjournment debate on SEND. Writing about it on the Politics Home website, he said:  

"One of the most distressing experiences of MPs’ surgeries is meeting parents who are struggling with the responsibilities of caring for a child with special educational needs, and who have been let down by the services which are supposed to support them, time and time again.  A single mum in a small flat with a child who needs constant attention while she tries to look after other children, and hold down a job to make ends meet; a couple who have sacrificed careers, holidays and a social life to care for a child with severe, complex needs, seeing the child growing up to an adulthood of continued dependence while they themselves are ageing and their own relationship is falling apart….

"At a human level a painful conflict results between parents who want the best for their children (and have the law on their side) and local authorities who want to do their best but are under financial stress after years of painful cuts. More and more requests for EHCPs are being declined or delayed, and funding cuts have led to reductions in the specialist teachers and educational psychologists who provided expert advice to schools teaching SEND pupils. Rationing has taken the form of foot-dragging over ‘statements’, now ‘care plans’.  And attempts to mandate adequate local schooling rather than what parents consider to be superior specialist schools, often leading to tribunals, with additional cost, emotional stress and anger."

Sir Vince Cable MP, Politics Home

As he said in his article, these debates don't change the world, but it was interesting to note 12 other MPs wanted to speak as part of it, and all had experiences from people in their own constituencies to add. And they do, he said, “...force ministers to account publicly for what they are doing or, in this case, not doing.  I want to know how, with the promise of an ‘end to austerity’, ministers are going to fund SEND support properly without causing further damage to schools in general of those who depend on local authority services.”

You can read the whole debate here

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In other news...

The bad news continued for deaf children, after an NDCS report found there is a 'lost generation' of deaf pupils falling behind at GCSE. Their analysis showed how attainment gap starts in key stage 1 and continues through GCSEs. Read more here

By way of a change, Jess Staufenberg also wrote about some good news: SEN lawyer, Ed Duff’s victory in a landmark judicial review, that essentially hands schools more power to challenge council SEND placements. Medway Council in Kent was in the dock after an eight-year-old autistic boy with severe learning needs was denied specialist schooling for at least four months after a council unlawfully “eviscerated” his plan for provision. The high court ruled Medway was “irrational and unlawful” when it stripped requirements for specialist provision from the boy’s education, health and care plan (EHCP), forcing a mainstream primary to admit him. Read Jess’ report here 

Mental health has been in the news with Children’s Mental Health Week. Leading researcher, Tamsin Ford noted again in Schools Week, that children who are excluded are more likely to develop a mental health condition than their peers who stay in mainstream, “Schools have to function, and managing behaviour in school is really hard, but maybe moves to alternative provision should be about meeting children’s needs and not because they’ve had ADHD and they’re being put in a situation they cannot cope with and not being provided with a sufficient remediation period.”

And if they didn’t have mental health conditions before they went to school, they certainly will by the time they’ve heard about what’s described as children being treated like “grass” that had to be “flattened” by academies aiming to level out behaviour problems. In news that should shame the entire academy system, anonymous whistleblowers claimed pupils were regularly screamed and shouted at, sometimes until they began to cry. Pupils were “marched” into the assemblies while staff lined up at the front. Our sources claimed they were encouraged to shout at pupils if they were found to be “disrupting” the assembly. This included pupils who were slouching, or not looking forward. Youngsters called out for these misdemeanours were regularly excluded.

Which brings me to Ed Timpson’s Exclusion review, which isn’t published yet but “sources” say will “demand excluded pupils count in schools’ results. Maybe with codes for reasons for exclusion too? If you’re not up on the off-rolling scandal, you can read a parliamentary briefing paper here (PDF)

Back in the House...

Back over in the Lords, Lord Blunkett, who is himself blind, had a bit of a polite scrap over SEND funding. Some members tried to raise valid points but the government minister, Lord Agnew, batted them all away quoting government policy, whether it answered the question or not, a bit like his colleague Mr Zahawi does in the Commons. Sometimes I wonder if ministers send AI versions of themselves out to regurgitate policy while their real versions put their feet up by the fire in their clubs)

Finally, you may have missed a debate on Children with Life Limiting Conditions led by Jim Shannon MP. It's estimated that more than 40,000 children and young people in England have a life-limiting or life-threatening condition. As well as the care provided by families and unpaid carers, palliative care for these children and young people is delivered by health and by social care respite providers. 

Mr Shannon raised concerns over leadership and accountability with 46% of local health providers, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), failing to implement the Government’s choice in end-of-life care commitment and have no plans to do so. Only a third of CCGs say they’re implementing the guidance, and a further 19% stated that their plans to do so are in development. He wanted to know if the Government and NHS England would consider implementing ways to “bridge the children’s palliative care accountability gap” and develop a system to monitor LAs and local health bodies are supporting children’s palliative care in accordance with their legal duties.

It was a wide-wide-ranging and, at times, moving debate. You can read the Hansard debate record here and the background briefing papers here (PDF)

I hope this little round up has been useful - it’s easy to miss much at the moment, but important for us to keep our eyes open. 

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two young adults with autism. Tania is a member of the Whole School SEND Expert Reference Group for SEND Leadership, the Ofsted SEND Inspections Stakeholders Group, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Royal Holloway, University of London Centre of Gene and Cell Therapy.
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.
Tania Tirraoro
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