I attended a very interesting conference on special educational needs on Friday. It was held to mark the launch of a new organisation aimed at providing a 'one stop shop' to parents needing to find professional services such as speech and language and occupational therapy for their children. It aims to establish a database of professionals who can work with children in teams that talk to each other and deliver a seamless service for the child. It's still at an early planning stage and its founder, SLT professional, Janet O'Keeefe, is actively looking for ideas and people willing to join her.
The event also marked the launch of Janet's book, Towards a Positive Future, which I have written about here.
The conference had several interesting speakers some of whom I hope to be able to bring you more from on this site in the weeks to come. The event was held at the Mary Hare School for hearing impaired children near Newbury. The school does inspirational work in providing an education for its pupils, helping each through individually designed hearing equipment. As a non-maintained state school, the school's head, Tony Shaw, said they are 'not considered to be part of inclusion' and have had their funding cut by central government. This, despite the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, himself having a sister with a hearing impairment.
The school has had to diversify to survive, establishing an ear mould lab that services the NHS. Despite this, Mr Shaw says they never forget what they're there for. He said, "At the core are the children we have the passion of serving." It's a sad fact that, in the politics and cost-cutting of government both local and national, this message is too often overlooked.
Another speaker was Kevin Geeson, CEO of Dyslexia Action, who talked about the opportunities and risks of the Green Paper. He highlighted concerns about the assessment of hidden disabilities such as dyslexia in that it may not be picked up early enough and the question of who will control the personal budgets given to children to provide for their SEN. Mr Geeson said the Green paper brought an opportunity to provide the proper skills and support for teachers to include all children in the curriculum. He said, "Good teaching for children with hidden disabilities is good teaching for all."
Education solicitor, Inez Brown of Anthony Collins solicitors, set out the legal framework and funding of special needs and pointed out the problem with parents appealing against SEN decisions for children at the new Academies because the Academies do not fall within the Education Act. She also pointed out that the Green paper removes Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy out of educational provision - something every parent of a statemented child should be aware of. This means that the local authority cannot be challenged about these things at a Tribunal. Ms Brown also made a startling statement about the trialling of the new green paper which has just been announced and I am hoping she will be writing more about this on this site very soon.
The conference also heard from internationally acclaimed academic, Professor Heather Van Der Lely who has developed an early-identification test for dyslexia called GAPS. I will write a separate piece about this so won't go into detail here. The professor pointed out that seven per cent of children have a specific language impairment - seven times the incidence of autism. She is trying to bring about the widespread use of GAPS which, she says, is quick, efficient and highly accurate. The crucial issue is, of course, that there are not enough Speech and Language Therapists to help all those that the test could identify. Perhaps the government should focus on how to recruit more SLTs into the profession and create a environment that enables enough of them to stay within the NHS.
The next post will detail the speakers from the afternoon session of this very enlightening conference.
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