Meeting the Minister

On Monday, Tania and I, along with Steph from Steph's Two Girls, headed into London for our meeting with the Minister.  We always seem to face some transport issue whenever we do this (last time, trains were delayed) and this time was no different.  On arrival at Waterloo Station, we had the unusual experience of waiting for a taxi, not queueing for a taxi which is the norm', but no taxis arrived.  When one eventually arrived, we realised why there were no cabs when we had to divert as Westminster Bridge was closed because of course, the Tour de France was in town.  However, we arrived at the Department for Education's offices with time to grab a coffee before heading in for our chat with Edward Timpson (SEN Minister).

mr tWe have taped the interview and also, we took along our own camera crew (because that's the type of girls we are)!  Once we have edited the video and sound clips (we're only editing because we are sure you don't want to hear us comparing our loom band bracelets), we will share them with you.  We did recommend that more Youtube style clips were used by the Dept.  The clip we shared last week really did seem to engage parents and we had lots of feedback and comments about the content.

We raised many of the comments and issues we had received from our readers including:

  • Is it really going to happen?  Will the Code of Practice be approved in time?
  • Communication.  So many parents are still being given inaccurate information or told things like "less statements, same needs"
  • Personal Budgets - how was it envisaged that these would be used?
  • How does the DfE foresee the health and care section of the EHC Plans working?
  • Personalisation.  The initial Green Paper was very focussed on person-centred but families feel this has become less apparent as the process has moved on.
  • Teacher Training - as the teacher now has the focus on delivering the outcomes for children and young people with SEN, how would this be achieved?  What training would be available?
  • Culture Change - not all Local Authorities, schools, practitioners are engaging with families and using person centred practices so how do parents approach this?

I will summarise a few of the responses (we will elaborate more over the next week).

Edward was very certain that the Code of Practice would go through in time and he obviously believed this.  However, as he is the Minister with responsibility for SEN at the DfE and not Minister with responsibility for the Psychic department at Hogwarts, we will just have to wait and see.

We discussed the various ways in which information is being communicated, not communicated or mis-communicated.  Special Needs Jungle are working on a joint project with the DfE to produce parent friendly information around the reforms and we left today with a new task as part of this project which we will share at the end of the post.

We would love to hear from parents if they have received any information from their Local Authority or School about the forthcoming changes and what this will mean for your child.  How has information been sent to you?

It would also be great to hear from you as to how you like to access information.  Do you like Youtube clips, or do you prefer documents you can read online or print off or do you prefer easy-read guides?  What works for you?

opp templateWhen we discussed the concerns around Personalisation, I think the words "person-centred", "personalisation" and "one page profiles" were used in abundance.  The Minister assured us that person-centred practices should be part of the new process for all children with SEN.  He talked of a family he had met who had said how great it had been for them to sit with people from Education, Health and Care in the same room and instead of being told what they were going to do, the practitioners actually asked questions about what would help, what support did the family think the child needed, what worked for them before they jointly decided outcomes.  He discussed how this family had access to a personal budget to help them achieve some of the outcomes.  This was a great example of making the process personal and not just ticking a box and he seemed very happy about how this had worked.  In reality, as we said to him, this may not be feasible when the reviews are scaled up (with the best will in the world, I don't see it being possible to have health, social care and education in the same meeting and more importantly, having the relevant decision makers in the meeting).  However, on this occasion making it about the child/young person and discussing their needs as an individual left a lasting impression.  We suggested that the use of One Page Profiles was a great starting point for families.  It costs little to produce, it helps to ensure that the child/young person is seen as an individual and they are of huge benefit when staff changes happen as new staff can get a really quick but thorough understanding of the child/young person.  I would highly recommend families look into One Page Profiles if they don't use them already.

Culture change is essential in order for the new legislation to be of real benefit to our families.  Edward seemed aware of this.  He also appeared to recognise that some Local Authorities and Schools are already ahead in the way they work with families.  For so long, it has been a them and us situation for many families.  Some schools are great and offer a fully inclusive curriculum, they work with parents (knowing the value of having a parent on board) and some Local Authorities don't cherry pick parents to work with.  However, they are not all the same.

So, out of interest, what would be your top tip for schools and Local Authorities who now need to work with families, whether they want to or not.  What would be your tip on improving relationships and ensuring that the battle ground becomes a rarity rather than a common occurrence?

Our latest project:

The Minister is very aware of mis-communication and would like to work with Special Needs Jungle to address some of the information being given out.  We have been asked to collate a top ten pieces of mis-information.  We know there are lots of rumours and inaccuracies out there (I was told by a SENCO that the legislation was now in place on the day the Bill was receiving it's third reading at the House of Lords).

Here are a few we have heard frequently:

  • There will be less statements, despite the same needs.
  • Schools don't have to use person-centred practices when going through the assess, plan, do and review process.
  • Only Parent Carer Forums have any say on what families need so if you don't engage with them, you don't have a say
  • Children who cope well in school (due to the support and routine) but need support out of school will not be able to have support other than basic SEN support
  • Personal Budgets can buy anything you want, so even if the Local Authority offer the same service, you can choose to buy it privately and the LA have to agree
  • The Local Offer is a directory of services

What have you heard?  What information have you received that you are uncomfortable with?  What are you being told that you just can't believe it is true?

Once we have collected your comments, we will be sharing the top ten with the Department and they will look at ways they can address these for families, whether that is video clips, info graphics or whatever will depend on the comments.  So let us know.


Debs Aspland
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  1. vaguest

    My top tip for my own Local Authority would be to sack (or move to another department well away from anything to do with education) a certain member of staff who has shown themselves to be a bigoted, nasty piece of work, time and time again. There is no way that person is EVER going to be able to work with parents, since they apparently view us all as money-grubbing scum whose children don’t deserve to have any money spent on them, let alone more than a “normal” child would. That is the distinct impression I and others have got from this particular person time and time again. I had a meeting with the person once and came away feeling physically ill. I cannot see their attitude changing, since they ignore the current legislation in the first place, so obviously have as much contempt for the law as they do for parents.

  2. Jo

    My question is what exactly is the goal of education? I ask this in the climate of testing where results based on academic scores seem to mean all. There seems to be little concern for those children who through not fault of their own but rather genetic differences, medical conditions etc have to struggle. To have to fail before anyone helps you is so unfair. To constantly have to work hard to keep up, to run the risk of being labelled lazy, not trying hard enough when just getting up and to school is a huge accomplishment in itself.
    This all was driven home to me recently. Three phone calls in a matter of a couple of hours because my son was off sick on the first day of year 6 SATS. He is bright and very academic……So would help the statistics significantly.
    My other son has a variety of issues which make school a tough place for him… So we homeschool him. Yet he has made huge progress in many areas this year. Just not necessarily in the ones tested for.
    It was a bitter pill to swallow to realize they would want one but not the other…..
    I am not even sure where to look for the local offer. My real concern is this is a money saving excercise more than anything else.

  3. I live in a pathfinder authority and have two children with Statements. I’ve heard nothing. What information I have is what I’ve learned online.

    What also troubles me is the number of schools for autistic pupils. Its all very well reforming the system but what is the point if there isn’t a school for our children. I have been pressured into home educating my aspergers daughter due to lack of provision. The only other alternative is to bus her miles and miles away but she can’t manage this due to her AS and anxiety. In any case why should we have to send our SEN kids so far away; non SEN children don’t and they don’t have the issues our children have.

    When it comes to giving a tip to local authorities, well I would say that professionals must listen to what parents are saying. When I first shared my concerns with my son’s school I was often ridiculed by a very bigoted SENCO. It was an awful experience to sit in meetings and to be told that my parenting was to blame or that I had a bad attitude to education but that is what I often had to endure. This bullying has to stop because not only does it block children getting the help they need but it destroys relationships between parents and school.

    Education professionals must also respect our knowledge. They mustn’t assume that because they’ve done a course in autism or have an autistic child for example that they know all about MY child. They don’t; SEN children are not all the same! I suppose what I’m saying is I’d like to be empowered instead of put down. Like a lot of other SEN parents I’ve had to sacrifice my career for my children and as a result I’ve learnt a lot about my children and their conditions. It would be great to feel that my experience and knowledge can be useful to society.

    1. Jo

      Strongly agree with everything you put in your comment!!!
      Wholeheartedly agree with professionals taking the time to listen to the parents.. I have had a similar experience to what you describe.. Everyone thought they knew better and Mum just is over reacting…..
      Well said.

  4. downssideup

    Thank you for representing us all and working so hard on this complicated area for us. I am working on updating Natty’s One page Profile now for transition to a new teacher next year. They are invaluable.

  5. christina cramsie

    Jo is exactly right, the definition of education needs to be looked a, exams are a test of memory under pressure, not of intelligence. Also teachers do not have enough training to fulfil the role that is now expected of them. I am not confident that parents opinions will be taken into consideration and acted on. I have a son in a non maintained special school, where his needs are not being met and I am being listened to even less than I was in mainstream. For them to implement the changes in specialist reports would cost money so they won’t do it, or acknowledge there is a problem. It is all to do with saving money and box ticking rather that meeting the childs needs that is in both mainstream and special schools. I’m not sure the reforms willmake a difference because if there isn’t the money to make reasonable adjustments or enough training nothi g will change

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