Monday, 6 July 2015


On the same wide front

Education for the deaf and the blind have maintained considerable coherence in the face of the stifling onslaught of 'special educational needs' in England, not least they have the semblance of a requirement for specialist teacher-education and there seems general recognition that they require special pedagogies.

There is of course no such acknowledgement or requirement for pupils with motor disorders and as far as I know no popular pressure or organised campaign to change this – without which thee is little or no chance o social policy to open the door to Conductive Education in our education system.

Even in the relative security of education for the deaf, parents may still find themselves right up against it when they try to achieve specialist educational services for their children.

You may of course have no interest in educating deaf education, but if you have the slighted concern for the struggle to achieve entitled access to Conductive Education in England, then you ought to take a serious look at a nice item by Matt Keer published on line today in Special Needs Jungle. If you are somewhere else in the United Kingdom, or even further away under quite different jurisdictions, you might still wish seriously to wonder whether the covert policy meme revealed here might be working in some way close to you.

Of course, wherever you are, you may wish completely to ignore it. Just do not ask me what happened to the campaign.

Either way, perhaps the following excerpts from what Matt Keer has written might ring a bell –
I’m a parent of two deaf boys. They’re brighter than I am. They’re more determined than I am. They work harder every single day than I work in a calendar month. They are the dictionary definition of the 'strivers' that all political parties say they stand up for.
So far so familiar...
But like many children with special needs or disabilities, thus far they’ve had just a fraction of the life chances that I did. Not because of the SEND [special educational needs and disability] – at least, not directly. They’re fortunate enough to have a straightforward diagnosis of need, in a field where talented professionals can and do make a difference – when the professionals are allowed to.
What’s held my boys back boils down to something very simple. Until recently, they haven’t had all the support they needed, in the quantity and quality they needed it, at the time they needed it most. And this has happened for one reason, and one reason only: the local authorities legally responsible for meeting their needs have fought us every step of the way. Not because of austerity – our bitterest battles have been fought when resources were plentiful – but because the local authorities we’ve lived in have all had dysfunctional organisational cultures.
So far so familiar too...
The boys are now at a wonderful, life-changing special school for the deaf. Like many parents, we went to Tribunal to secure their provision. It was a bruising struggle against LA SEN officers who clearly had a lot invested in winning. I couldn’t for the life of me tell why at the time. It’s just their day job, right?
But one of the most arresting moments I remember from that day was the walk back from the tribunal building to the station. I was chatting to an education professional who had worked for this LA before, and who attended the hearing. She said something that completely stopped me in my tracks:
'You do realise that if you win this case and get your special school, those LA staff won’t meet their targets, and so won’t be getting a bonus?'
I didn’t believe her. I knew that this LA SEN team had a rotten culture – not just from my own experience, but from talking to local parents, local charities and a few maverick professionals from within their tent. But no-one would be that base, would they?
...Fast forward a year or two... once the Children & Families Act became law in September, I started researching SEN teams in 20 local authorities in England... Staff in at least 8 of the 20 LA SEN teams that I researched – that’s 40% of these LAs – work to explicit objectives and targets that at best clash with meeting the needs of the individual child. At worst, some of these objectives appear to be borderline unlawful... Stuff like this:
  • Targets that limit the LA’s use of statements and/or EHCPs... 
  • Targets to cap or lower LA expenditure on special school placements...
  • Targets limiting LA spending on out-of-county or residential school placements...
  • Ensuring that LA expenditure on high-needs SEN placements meets declared budget targets...
These are targets that incentivise LA SEN teams and staff members to play down, minimise or even deny a child’s actual special educational needs. A large number of LAs use these targets explicitly – and from the experience of parents, it is very likely that an even larger number of LAs operate on the same principles, just less explicitly...
Three of the 20 LAs I looked at refused to provide the data I asked for.
If your child is struggling in mainstream and needs a special school placement – and if you’re in an LA that gives its SEN staff specific targets to limit special school expenditure – then it’s going to be even more of an uphill battle. If your child has a particular type of special educational need that can’t be met in schools in your LA, they’ll probably need an out-of-county placement. If your LA gives its SEN teams objectives to clamp down on out-of-county spending, then it’s going to be even more of an uphill battle to secure this provision...
Some LAs are clamping down on the number of statements and EHCPs. As well as making it much hard to access specialist SEN provision, this also relieves LAs of some of the direct financial burden of meeting their legal obligations to children with SEN in mainstream. That places this burden much more squarely on individual mainstream schools, whose budgets are coming under acute strain, and who often struggle to meet the child's needs from their own resources. It's placing unsustainable pressure on the ability and willingness of many mainstream schools to be genuinely inclusive places.
Like many parents, Mr Keer is personally generous to his opponents in 'the system' –
Spare a tear as well – if you can – for LA SEN staff. Those working at the front line in SEN assessment teams are unlikely to have any choice in the targets and objectives that their management give them. And there’s no doubt about it, times are financially tough, and their senior managers can and do play hardball. A lot of parents I’m in touch with can’t get their heads around how personal some of their confrontations with LA SEN staff become.
Remember the bonus that the education professional said our LA SEN staff would lose if we won our Tribunal case? Those days are almost certainly gone. These days, I suspect that LA SEN staff need to meet these targets simply to keep their jobs. If things are getting more personal, it’s probably because LA staff now have a lot more at stake than some extra holiday spending money. It’s their rent, mortgages, and careers that are probably on the line now.
All so familiar still, in 2015, as yet another generation of parents has to learn the facts of life, the hard way –
I don’t expect this news will come as much of a shock to those of us who have been in and around the SEN front-line for a while. But there’s still an important message here.
The data I’ve collected is live, not historical. It has all been acquired recently, many months after the 2014 Children & Families Act came into being. Things were supposed to change. They haven’t...
What I do know is that for many of the LAs I’ve looked at, there’s no sign of this change coming – and it won’t come at all, if LAs continue to use targets like these...
One could say so much more but why bother? A new generation can enter the fray. Perhaps the process might be a little quicker now, given the supposed revolutionary promise of communication technology.

Ideas, organisation, hard work, panache, a little worldly savvy – nothing unfamiliar required here...

Abbreviations used

  • EHCPs     Education, Health and Care Plans
  • LAs           Local authorities
  • SEN(D)   Special educational needs (and disability)


Keer, M. (2015) Why SEND department targets mean ‘culture change’ reform may never happen, Special Needs Jungle, 6 July

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