The Let us Learn Too petition is misleading, DfE? Really?

The Department for Education has claimed that the Let Us Learn Too petition SNJ and SCA are involved with and support is "misleading"

The campaign has been driven by SCA member, Hayley Harding, a solicitor and parent of an autistic child. Hayley, along with her own son, Ellie Mai and her mum from the campaign video, and another parent Deanne, with her daughter Amber, presented the petition to 10 Downing Street at the end of last week. It has been signed by 11,346 people, ourselves included.

Hayley has done remarkably well and we have been glad to support her.

However, despite rarely hearing a word from the SEND Review team, and despite it only just inviting the parents it actually funds, the National Network of Parent Carer Forums, onto the Review team this autumn, it has managed to hit back.

Giving a comment to an article on the campaign in one of its national mouthpieces, the Daily Express, a DfE "spokesman" said:

"We aim to improve outcomes and better prepare young people with special educational needs or disabilities effectively for adult life through our Send Review. The claims in this petition are misleading. This Government is committed to supporting and protecting children with Send. "We are working closely with children and young people with Send, their parents and carers to ensure their views remain at the heart of this work."

Daily Express

PS, it's SEND, not Send - it's an acronym of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Some of the campaign families handing in the petition

Examining the claims and the evidence in the Let Us Learn Too petition

So let's examine the petition in detail and see if this is an accurate response.

  1. Claim: "In 2019, the Commons Select Committee SEND Inquiry report painted a devastating picture of the state of SEND provision and since then the situation has deteriorated further"

Is this claim true? It is. Just read SNJ posts passim and the report itself

  1. Claim: "Disabled children and young people have been disproportionately disadvantaged by the impact of Covid and school / college closures"

Is this claim accurate? Indeed it is, according to Ofsted's interim visits to local areas, our own research, research by Amy Skipp here here and here and an inquiry by the APPG on SEND that leaned heavily on ours and others' research.

  1. Claim: "The SEND Review has taken almost two years so far and has been delayed three times."

We wish it wasn't true, but it is. In fact, it's now over two years since the SEND Review started. The DfE has failed to meet three self-declared deadlines for publication. They've blamed the pandemic of course and the group has been reconstituted, but perhaps they're just slow readers at getting through all the evidence they have in front of them.

  1. Claim: "There has been little transparency about who has contributed to the Review"

This is (arguably) true. This written Parliamentary Questions answer given by the previous incumbent of the role, Vicky Ford MP, is the most complete list. It includes groups who were not materially contributing to the Review at the time the answer was given.

Find the text
  1. Claim: "Those most directly affected have been largely excluded and even misrepresented"

As we're talking about children and young people with SEND and their families, this claim is most probably true. This letter suggests that the only parental group involved (the NNPCF, as above, that the DfE pays for and who can't campaign) has only just been invited on to the SEND Review Steering Group. So it's likely no parents were involved in the summer, when the Review entered a crucial phase.

"Thank you for your letter of 23 September, introducing the NNPCF and inviting me to meet with you and your steering group.

The NNPCF's constructive engagement over the years has been invaluable in helping us to develop policy around special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and, more recently, to supporting families during, and recovering from, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The network's ability to draw on views from a large number of parents clearly makes your organisation a highly credible advocate, and a crucial critical friend.

I am delighted that you have agreed to be members of the SEND Review Steering Group, to help us to conclude the review at pace and develop proposals which are informed by the experiences of families, as well as ensuring we can better communicate the progress we are making. The Review is a key priority for the Secretary of State and me and we are determined that it should lead to genuine improvements in how the system works and how people experience it.

I would be delighted to meet you and to meet members of your steering group."

Will Quince MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families

Without wishing to criticise individual members of the NNPCF, who genuinely do what they can, they would surely not disagree that PCFs cannot freely campaign, in many areas are a very small group of people, in some areas are run by LAs, and have disillusioned groups and members deserting to form truly independent groups (who are welcome to join SCA). So to call them a "critical friend" is stretching the point. To paraphrase President LB Johnson, the DfE likes its critical friends inside pissing out rather than the other way round.

So, Will Quince, prove you truly want effective co-production and constructive criticism. Please take this as a formal request asking you to invite the SEND Community Alliance of independent parent groups and organisations to be included on this Steering Group. We truly don't bite, but we will certainly stand politely, but unequivocally, for the families we represent. Many feel their voices have been marginalised by the NNPCF's inability to be as forthright as individuals therein might like. Although arguably, we are still more influential from here, given the quarter of a million visits a month we can achieve.

The Let Us Learn Too letter also claimed that children and young people with SEND & their families had been "misrepresented". Again, that's probably true, if no parents were involved. We don't know, because the DfE publishes no minutes or summaries of their Review meetings, whenever they may happen.

It is highly likely that other system leaders involved in the Review have misrepresented families. Here's what the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) rep had to say recently, all the way from the SEND tar pit of Kent:

"Local authorities, schools, and health commissioners are facing a perfect storm of increased parental demand for high-cost specialist placements, often backed by the SEND Tribunal, insufficient capital funding for new maintained special school places, growing reliance on the costly independent and non-maintained schools, shortages of education psychologists, special educational needs teachers, occupational therapists and specialist mental health provision,"

Matt Dunkley, Chair f the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee
  1. Claim: The Department for Education refuses to confirm that the SEND Review will maintain all existing legal entitlements for children and young people with SEND.

Absolutely true, as we detailed in this post here.

  1. Claim: "The weakening of SEND legal duties in summer 2020 led to a loss of support for disabled children"

We know support dropped based on evidence from our own research, and research from Ofsted, the DCP campaign, Amy Skipp & countless decisions by the Local Government Ombudsman. It wasn't completely because of a weaker law but also because of poor practice.

  1. Claim: "Widespread lack of accountability is one of the main reasons the current system is failing, and without improvement whatever follows will fail too"

Almost certainly true, based on the findings of the Commons SEND inquiry & over 30,000 SENDIST tribunal appeals

  1. Claim: Increased SEND funding "has been used primarily to reduce existing local authority deficits resulting from inadequate funding for the 2014 reforms."

True, based on SNJ research by Matt Keer.

  1. Claim: "Too often provision and support for disabled children and young people is delayed until they reach crisis point, causing distress & long-term damage"

True, from analysis of 124 local area SEND inspections, surveys from SEND charities, & many, many parents

Reaction from Let Us Learn Too

We asked campaign founder, Hayley Harding for her reaction to the charge that the petition is "misleading". Most of Hayley's experience of the SEND system has, it's fair to say, come since the 2014 reforms of the Children and Families Act, which were supposed to transform the system. Her experience and that of thousands of other families, shows they have not. Hayley said:

"When the founders of Let Us Learn Too came together we were united in one aim, that being to get parents, carers and disabled people’s voices heard in the current SEND Review being undertaken by the Department for Education. This is a review that could be defining moment in SEND children and young people’s lives. No longer would parents have to battle their local authorities to get the assessments and plans they need, their needs could be recognised earlier so that they don’t have to reach breaking point by the time help is offered. Rather than having to put their energy into the constant battle to maintain therapy, parents/carers could focus on helping their children.
However, towards the middle of last year it became clear that the voices currently ‘round the table’ of the SEND review were not representative. At that stage there were no parents reps and the public comments being made seemed to reflect this.
This is why the response to our campaign by the Department for Education has been incredibly disappointing and echoes the reaction that parents face when they have to deal with their local authorities. To respond by saying our letter is ‘misleading’ without actually saying why is dismissive and disrespectful to more than 11,000 people who have a valid opinion and signed. While writing the letter, we were very careful to ensure that every claim was factually correct. If there was anything in there we would be happy to retract and so would welcome a proper response from the DfE."

Hayley Harding, Let Us Learn Too

Dear DfE, please substantiate your assertion..

Many of the claims in the petition come from evidence published on this website. We'd like to ask the DfE to go point by point to substantiate their claim that the petition is "misleading". We'll wait.

This SNJ post is based on this Matt Keer thread

Also read:

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