Sunday, 19 June 2011

SEN: stuck in a rut

Cut the Gordian knot
Norman Perrin has made an interesting posting on his Paces blog in which he relays salient points made last week (8 June) by Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt, in submitting a Private Memeber's Bill 'to require the Secretary of State to increase parental involvement in provision of education for children with special educational needs'.
(Norman makes the aside that Ms Mordant's Bill has been seconded by David Blinket (a former Labour Secretary of State for Education), though what to make of this I have no idea.)
I scribbled a quick Comment on Norman's blog, in which (typos corrected) I wrote –

The problem with the Green Paper is not that it doesn't go far enough but that it is not leading anywhere. Instead it is well and truely stuck, crushed and wriggling, within the current paradigm, and neither government nor its critics have any mechanism whereby they can break out. Apologies for harping on about an old notion of mine, but the UK (yes, the whole country, not the Balkanised Blairite mare's nest that we have now!) will get nowhere on this matter without a thorough-going, root-and-branch Royal Commission. Example:

I know that this time round I can whistle for that. I do still wonder, though, how long it will take for the country to realise that the current fussing around 'special educational needs' comes up with no fundamental change, and that the voters are being taken for a ride, with the country, its children and their families not being moved one inch out of the SEN mire.
This is what I had written in February of this year –
A Royal Commission
If one accepts that there can be no quick fix, then there is no need to rush. So here's a solution that politicians might like, since it shows that they have done something concrete but it leaves their options open. In the meantime, others must take up the burden of critical examination of what has gone wrong, winnowing down the hard specifics of what is proposed in response into new generalisable, operationalisable notions more readily managed by the normal political processes.

This approach does not of course involve just the evidence and interests of those implicated in present arrangements and approaches, but those of all citizens who want to contribute to the process. A Royal Commission is no informal discussion like the Conservatives' present Commission on Special Educational Needs. It is not a cheery, consensual group drawn from existing professional establishments, like Mary Warnock's Committee of Enquiry. It is not an assemblage of the usual suspects. A full-blown Royal Commission potentially brings to bear the power and the intellectual force, the independence, that those 'most vulnerable in society' require on their social case if their problems are even to be properly understood, never mind have anything effective done for them.

A sledgehammer to crack a nut? No. There is precedent, albeit a long time ago now, when services for such children were first emerging as priorities in this county and in other advanced economies around the world. Yes, it was more than a century ago now, but social mechanisms and structures set in train in those days have now largely run their course. It is high time to start anew. Given the likelihood of the United Kingdom's having a Prime Minister who has had himself the indelible experience of parenting a disabled child, there is perhaps opportunity too. If not now, when?

Oh well, that moment has passed. But next time round, how might a Royal Commission differ in its processes, and probably therefore its findings and recommendations, from what is being done now – the Green Paper providing just one example?

By not being so cosy. Would it not be nice to 'defeat the protective systems... etc? See below

By way of an Appendix

Back in January 2010 I had I added a brief note to that posting, to explain something of the nature of Royal Commissions –

In Commonwealth realms a Royal Commission is a major government public enquiry into an issue... A Royal Commissioner has considerable powers, generally greater even than those of a judge but restricted to the 'Terms of Reference of the Commission.... Royal Commissions are called to look into matters of great importance and usually controversy. These can be matters such as government structure, the treatment of minorities, events of considerable public concern or economic questions... using the very broad coercive powers of the Royal Commissioner to defeat the protective systems that powerful, but corrupt, public officials had used to shield themselves from conventional investigation. Royal Commissions are usually chaired by one or more notable figures. Because of their quasi-judicial powers the Commissioners are often retired senior judges.

I was referrin6 to the following:
  • 1885   Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb set up
  • 1889   Report of the Royal Commission on Blind, Deaf, Dumb and others
  • 1904   Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded
  • 1908   Report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded


Perrin N. (2011) SEN Green paper doesn't go far enough: MP, Paces, 18 June

Sutton, A. (2011) SEN – time for political decision: but, please, a measured one. The future of SEN – VI. Conductive World, 8 June 

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