Who to follow on Twitter for SEND advice and information
List of people to follow for #SEND
The following advice was written by another parent;
“By joining Twitter I’ve reached some amazing people that I could never otherwise have hoped to, but it is important to be careful what you tweet and to remember:
1. There is no Edit button
2. Anyone can read your tweets. Even if you restrict your account, there is nothing to stop someone taking a screenshot and sharing.
3. Deleted tweets do not remain deleted. They can be recovered.
Take care what you share on twitter.”
This list isn’t definitive, but the people below can help to connect you with others. Please ask questions or for help if you ever need it. There’s a vast array of expertise within this list and all are dedicated to making things better for children and young people with SEND. Welcome to #TeamSEND!
I hoped that change was coming and that compassion would prevail. I hoped that after years of the most brutal cuts to vital services for disabled children, adults, and their families, it was our turn to be heard and things would finally begin to change.
On Friday morning
I cried as I felt an immense tidal wave of fear, sadness, and despair sweep into the corners of every vulnerable, marginalised group of people.
On Friday evening
I saw the light from the incredible SEND community begin to shine through. Disabled adults and parents began reaching out asking anyone struggling to check-in and letting the community know that they’re not alone. Professionals began making sure the community knew they weren’t going anywhere and the warmth from that light, which was full of love and solidarity was, for me, the first step back towards hope.
I realised that whilst I’d never for a second excuse or diminish what we’ve been through over the years as individuals, as families, as a community, we need to rise higher, grow stronger and not deflect from our path toward change. Now is a time for feeling. People are terrified and I understand why, I’m terrified too, but it’s also a time to step forward towards the light of our community. Because, although we’re right to be concerned based on what has happened in the past, ‘Team SEND’ is made up of some of the most incredible, compassionate change-makers there are, and no matter what happens along the way, our team marches along that path beside us.
So, draw on the love, hope, and solidarity of our community, please reach out if you need help, and join us back on that path when you are ready to.
Our Inclusive Future:
“We are a groupmade up of disabled people, their families & allies who are coming together following the election to plan an inclusive physical & online event to send a message to the government promoting our voices & rights. Also to celebrate the disabled community” Follow @OurInclusive on Twitter
I’d not attended a #BrewEd event before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I did know was that considering the people who were involved and those attending, that it would be a really special #SEND day. So the thought of travelling all the way from Kent to Wales didn’t matter, I just really wanted to be a part of it.
I’m still processing it all, I’m still feeling ‘alive’ with everything I learned, the people I met, the conversations had, the camaraderie, the passion, commitment and most of all, the truly inclusive feel of the day. I wanted to share what I took from the day and I encourage anyone who might be considering attending a #BrewEd event, to do it!
Traveling from London to Wales with Rachel Rossiter was so much fun. We chatted about everything SEND and had a lot of laughs along the way too. Arriving at Chester station, we were greeted by Gareth Morewood, who organised #BrewEdHawarden and who very likely knew instinctively that we might be a bit stressed from the travelling (he’s very good at that!) and met us wearing his chauffeurs hat and a big, welcoming smile. From that moment on, I felt welcomed, relaxed and ready to go!
That evening I met Terry Culkin, a down to earth, interesting and friendly guy who was so easy to chat to and be around. The four of us met up with Lizzie Jamieson for dinner at the venue and had a look around the rooms to help prepare us for the next day.
Everything was set. Everyone was prepared and as people began to arrive, the atmosphere simply grew from the one already set by Gareth to naturally include everyone else. I have no doubt this was a conscious aim, but I wonder how he managed to achieve it with what looked and felt so natural and fluid. Inclusion is often a mystery to many, but despite the room being full of ‘strangers’ #BrewEdHawarden proved it’s always possible.
Perhaps it was due to Gareth’s meticulous planning of everything from the lanyards to the raffle prizes, from making sure that not only the logistics were covered, but also that everyone felt prepared and relaxed and most importantly, in their own individual ways. Perhaps it was the trust people have in him and in the #BrewEd ethos. Perhaps it was because it was an event based around SEND. Perhaps its all of those things and more.
And we’re off!
Over the past few years I’ve been asked to provide training, speak at events and conferences and these have been around various subjects including ADHD, Parent partnership/coproduction, autism from a parents perspective, our journey through the SEND system and on ‘challenging’ behaviour.I very much doubt anyone who knows me would ever describe me as shy or quiet! However public speaking is very different.
These opportunities have taught me that parent’s voice is valuable and valued. That I can unashamedly share that I have a diagnosis of ADHD and people still want to hear what I have to say and that some people view a lived experience as being the best way to learn. These opportunities have raised my confidence immensely and have given me the confidence and the push I needed to finally launch ChatterPack@ChatterPackUK with my (very talented Designer!) daughter so I can share knowledge and what works from both an ADHD perspective and via my professional role in speech & language therapy.
The following is an overview from my perspective, of a day which I will remember for a very long time and for all the right reasons!
I was honoured to be asked to speak and decided to use this opportunity to bust some myths around ADHD whilst also highlighting #ITakeMyPillsBecause a campaign close to my heart. Thank you to everyone for opening your hearts and minds and challenging what you ‘see’ and what you ‘know’ about ADHD.
Taneisha talked about supporting autistic children from the perspective of a mother of an autistic child and as a SENCO
Taneisha is warm and caring, one of those people you just naturally relax around. What she taught me was so valuable and it wasn’t just about autism and how she supports her son, parents and children in her school. The most powerful thing for me was when she spoke about polarised views and how these can be really unhelpful. She talked about how there isn’t one single way which is right for all families and children and how this applies to her work. For example by recognising a parent’s decision or view might be perceived as unhelpful, but by valuing the ‘little things’, focusing on the outcome and recognising that every family and situation is different that partnerships can develop and outcomes for the child can improve.
“I might want something for my son, but other parents/carers might want something different”
Cat (who I’m sure is a secret Speechie!) ran a music workshop, which was brilliant and so much fun!
She demonstrated the multiple foundation skills which are practiced within simple, fun and motivating activities and perfectly demonstrated the power of the pause………….The whole room was totally engaged and fell silent!
I love how she encourages others to consider the skills which can be developed when we trust children to take control of activities. Also to give things like these a go, that motivation is key and to have fun!
Lizzietook the reigns for a planned pairing with Tom, who for personal reasons sadly couldn’t make it.
The talk was inclusion-driven and jam packed with passion. It demonstrated how age and experience has no bearing on knowledge or professionalism and rightly so, highlighted the lack of opportunities to gain experience and expertise in SEND during initial teacher training. Lizzie then thanked Jon Reid and Jo Billington for encouraging her to focus on SEND during her studies.
Most importantly for me, this talk reminded us all that inclusion isn’t about disability, SEND or non-SEND, children or adults, but that it’s about, includes and involves everyone. It’s about belonging, participation and community.
Rachel an experienced and knowledgable SENCO talked passionately about high expectations for pupils with SEND and barriers in the way.
Rachel made clear the distinction between those with complex needs and diagnosed SEND and that those were not the pupils she was referring to in her talk.
She asked if it’s possible that there is an over identification of SEN (namely MLD), rather than a recognition that basic good and inclusive teaching could support many of these children to access the curriculum? If this is the case and if it’s addressed, it could potentially have a huge impact on those currently being identified as having ‘MLD’ in relation to high expectations. Rachel referred to the rise in teachers discussing and using methods which have been used successfully for many years by teachers who take a more inclusive approach. This is a positive move as it has the potential to develop inclusive practice in more schools.
I enjoyed listening to the success stories driven by shifting priorities and using outcome driven solutions.
Bethlyn spoke about the importance of parent partnership and inclusion.
She shared many simple, cost free ideas on ways which schools can be more inclusive as well as highlighting what parents have to offer. Bethlyn asked questions such as “Do you know what your parent know?” A powerful question when considering working together and utilising the skills of the whole community.
I couldn’t agree more with her approach to challenging opinions around ‘SEND parents’ and liked how solution focused this talk was, always returning to ideas on building on what is already in place. My favorite part of this talk was when she described a hypothetical inclusive day from the perspective of a child.
Lucytalked about outcomes and asked who are they for? Mine? Yours? Ours?
Throughout this talk, Lucy demonstrated a real passion and drive to learn within her new role as assistant SENCO. The thing which stuck with me the most, what her openness and honesty around how much learning she still has ahead. Honesty like this is so important when working with vulnerable children and their families and can really promote positive partnerships to develop and grow.
Lucy spoke about positive outcomes. Also about the various stakeholders involved in education and how this can sometimes lead to educators measuring the wrong things. Outcomes must be as individual as the child is!
Barney talked about how children with SEND are becoming ‘commodities’
Using his excellent research skills and years of experience, Barney illustrated his talk using a range of quotes from articles and publications. He presented some deeply concerning evidence on how decisions around vulnerable young people’s futures are being made. The quote which struck a chord with me, what when he said how easy it is to ruin children’s life chances by focusing on grouping children by disability rather than individualising. He described how a 14 year old deaf child who achieved a reading age of 11 years. The average for deaf children is 7 years and he asked, “is this a good outcome?‘ The answer was without doubt ‘NO’ but I feel its so important to highlight these things in order to keep challenging views.
“The problem with grouping children by their disabilities, is that we judge them against all the other children with the same disability. Not as an individual. Not by where they’re at & who they are”
Rachel talked about her journey with home education via a Q&A with Gareth.
Rachel’s journey, for me, demonstrated how, by using starting points whilst always moving forward and not staying static, progress from some very difficult starting points, can and is being made.
Rachel’s talk covered the ‘Low Arousal’approach (further explained by Gareth) and how it’s so important to change the environment and numerous other things in order to lower anxiety. Then healing and progression can begin. I loved hearing about how she is always looking forward to the next steps, no matter how small they might be. That mistakes happen, we’re all human! That not all learning happens in school. How small adaptions to Language can make huge differences & how sometimes, parents really are the experts.
‘When a person is drowning that is not the best to teach them how to swim.’ David Pitonyak
This quote from Rachel was the quote of the day for me.
Terryis an immensely talented artist and a very approachable, supportive and friendly man.
It was mesmerising watching Terry draw our ‘toons’ and he added an incredible element to the day seeing the messages given via the talks come to life. I can’t wait to see the finished results!
Last but never least Gareth The man who made it all happen.
Gareth’s hilarious, welcoming and naturally inclusive nature relaxed everyone right at the start and set the scene for the day. His unconditional kindness and immense knowledge was freely shared with everyone and I particularly enjoyed the discussion about the importance of low arousal, anxiety and emotional regulation. The work he’s doing withAndy McDonnell sounds not only very interesting, but also very important. You can read more about it here.
Gareth is not only a genuine and lovely guy, he also deeply cares about improving education for vulnerable children, their families and for educators. He must have used this quote from Damian Milton at least 10 times throughout the day and its a great one!
“Personalisation not normalisation”
A final thank you.
Thank you David Bartramfor donating a copy of his book Great Expectations to everyone who attended. Also to Lynn McCannwho’s book ‘How toSupport students with Autism Spectrum Condition in Secondary School’ was also kindly donated and which I won in the raffle!
Thank you to the #SEND community who were unable to attend, but who supported us all via Twitter. You were definitely all there in spirit! Finally thank you to the wonderfully supportive and friendly delegates who tweeted along and made the day so special and rewarding.
Everyone with same goal. The same aim. As one. (P.s yes, those are Kazoos. A leaving gift from Cat!)
The meeting was not only an opportunity for the few parents who attended, but views, opinions and ideas were also gathered from parents across the country within the working group Parents Alliance for Inclusion. Those which directly related to Ofsted’s new inspection framework were discussed during the meeting.
The following is an overview of the discussions held during the meeting and does not include everything which was discussed. Some more significant concerns are being addressed via other, appropriate methods. Parents present at the meeting: Claire Ryan, Jo Billington, Helen Weston, Barney Angliss, Bethlyn Killey and Jonathan Jones, HMI.
The meeting began with a quote from Lesley Cox “inspection is primarily about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from their school. Inspectors will test the school’s response to individual needs by observing how well it helps all pupils to make progress and fulfil their potential.” (How Ofsted evaluates SEND provision in schools 2016. file:///Users/admin/Downloads/nasen_conference_050216.pdf )
We felt this was a contradiction and asked why this decision had been made?
Jonathan responded that there is lot that schools can do that can’t be measured because it may take time to have an impact. The example given was work schools might do around obesity and that personal development is around the school’s provision not around the impact of that provision.
Parents suggested that additional topics, which also come under that heading including social development, equality and diversity, all have a direct impact and feel require both measuring and inspecting. Parents added that they are concerned that preventative measures around mental health difficulties are absent from the framework.
Jonathan discussed a few points in relation to this and said that ‘relationships’ were looked at during inspections. Parents asked how this is done? Jonathan Jones HMI said one of the important aspects of inspections is to both observe and to speak to the children directly about whether they feel safe at school.
Parents detailed how methods used to gain parent and child’s views within inspections are often insufficient. Parents then offered suggestions, so that inspectors could ensure the information gathered is accurate. Jonathan Jones HMI agreed to take these concerns and ideas back to Ofsted.
Next, there was discussion around reducing the need for schools to produce data. The examples given were around the amount of time it takes to go through the data, rather than inspectors seeing the results for themselves. Parents said that they want more assessment, more outcomes and more data, especially for children and young people with SEND, not less. Parents feel that the framework looks more inclusive, but without the accountability, will it work in reality and will it be consistent? Children with SEND are often working in small steps and those steps need to be visible to Ofsted. The concern is that if OFSTED don’t look at these small steps, they will go unrecorded.
Jonathan said that one of the biggest reasons for this decision was because there was so much time in inspections was being used in trying to validate internal data, accuracy can’t be easily measured. Ofsted are proposing that we don’t look at data, but instead Inspectors look at progress in other ways. Ofsted don’t want to look at numbers on a board, but unique individual progress. He also said that just because Ofsted are not looking at internal data, that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Parents asked why Ofsted separate out personal development when it is always individual, particularly for children with SEND? Jonathan said that Ofsted aim to make the system simpler and said that parents want to know what the behaviour like in school. He said that Ofsted use hard data for this, and that schools say they cannot separate out personal development from other aspects of school performance. Ofsted will ask schools what they are actually doing around personal development, what provision are they making?
With regards to outcomes, Jonathan Jones HMI said that it refers to a narrower view than, for example, the SEND Code of Practice. When Ofsted speak about outcomes, they are referring to the end of KS1, KS2 etc.
Parents asked why, as this decision does not seem a sufficient signpost for schools, why outcomes can’t be the same for everyone? Why are the outcomes different in the framework than those in the SEND Code of Practice? Parents then referred to a quote around differentiation from, ‘Creating a Culture how School Leaders can Optimise Behaviour’, Tom Bennett 2011. This is a concern, as in practice this could be turned into a ‘tick box’ exercise and in some cases, it is being taken literally. There are teachers who don’t differentiate at all and therefore exclude vulnerable learners from lessons. Not all teachers have the ability to adapt language or the task to remove barriers, therefore it’s not necessarily the wording of some points within the framework, it’s the individual interpretation of it.
Jonathan said that Ofsted are interested in seeing if, when thinking about the curriculum, if teachers have provided a sequence and a structure that enables all learners to understand. There is some research due soon around lesson observations and work sampling where more of this will be teased out. He then went on to give an example of an inclusive curriculum and task. However parents felt that the framework ought to include what each point does and doesn’t mean via providing practical examples in order to clarify.
Parents moved on to talking about children’s experiences of inclusion and said how we learn from our children as they’re in school, not us. A parent then read out a child’s view of inclusion which began with “My children’s experience of inclusion is that it doesn’t exist.” Parents reminded Jonathan Jones HMI that when considering seeking opinions from vulnerable children, who already don’t feel safe in school and asking them to talk to strangers after, as many schools do, being ‘prepped’ for Ofsted inspections, that they likely won’t ever tell an inspector how they really feel.
It was suggested that one way inspectors could gain a real understanding of how children feel, how they are supported and if they are included, is to talk to their peers instead. Peers are very insightful about the experiences of other CYP and by talking to children about how they perceive those with SEND, would be very insightful. However Inspectors would need to listen carefully to responses in order to identify any patterns. For example around any negative impressions of what their disabled peers can and can’t do and whether these are in fact, an issue with a lack of inclusion.
Many children with SEND absolutely have a voice with their medical Health professionals. They have also often have a very good understanding of how inclusive a school is. Parents asked why OFSTED don’t talk to them or include them within inspections?
Jonathan said that one of the things Ofsted are hearing within consultation responses, is questions asking for confidence that there is consistency between inspectors. Ofsted are trying to address that through training.
Parents referred to a FOI request which contained questions about training of inspectors and said that this has been blocked by OFSTED. It was felt that this undermines transparency between schools and parents. Parents went on to discuss what is meant by ‘enhanced training’ which some inspectors have as part of their training.
Jonathan said that all Inspectors have a SEND aspect to their training and that Ofsted always ensure that a SEND aspect is included in all areas of training but that Ofsted provide enhanced training to those who are inspecting specialist settings.
Parents gave an example of a child who might spend time in mainstream and a specialist setting. Also others with complex needs who are full time in mainstream schools and therefore, expressed how parents are confused by this decision. Parents also asked if ‘enhanced training’ and expertise were the same thing? Does 1.5 hours of enhanced training mean that the Inspector has SEND expertise and shouldn’t all Inspectors have this training?
Parents went on to discuss diverse needs with communication, interaction and the impact this has on accessing the curriculum. Parents asked how Inspectors could be confident that the curriculum is inclusive, that lessons are presented appropriately and therefore, why Inspectors don’t have speech and language therapists as part of their team? Jonathan Jones, HMI engaged in a discussion around this. He raised concerns about cost effectiveness and how a speech and language therapist could speak to the quality of education.
Parents responded saying how this relates to quality of education and included how many children with SEND are being taught by Teaching Assistants, not teachers. Also that EHCP’s across the country state provision must be ‘embedded into the curriculum or lessons’. It is therefore the responsibility of education to meet these needs and without expertise around language at all stages of planning and inspecting, Inspectors cannot confidently state that the curriculum or the delivery of it, is appropriate for all learners and inclusive. Jonathan agreed to take this back to Ofsted to discuss further.
Parents added that the new framework has removed the duty to provide BSL interpreters for inspections, why? The teachers of the deaf cannot interpret for them, so how will Inspectors gain the children’s views? Jonathan noted this and said he will take it back to Ofsted.
Discussion moved onto parents asking about “understanding and not disconnected facts” and if that could be made more explicit in the documents? Jonathan said Ofsted have done quite a lot of training with inspectors and school leaders on cognitive psychology and how learning takes place. This is in the public domain.
This developed into a discussion on the research used to inform the new framework. One of the parents noted that of the more than 321 pieces of research cited in the framework, none focused on SEND and none related specifically to learners in specialist provision. There is reference to mental health and literacy difficulties within the research, but nothing specifically focusing on SEND.
Parents questioned how the framework can claim to be ‘evidence based’ and ‘inclusive’ (both words used frequently in the framework documentation) if no research related to learners with SEND had been used to support the framework. Parents suggested that this oversight implies that learners with SEND are so insignificant to OFSTED that they don’t even warrant inclusion at the level of basic research. In addition, the relationship between the framework and the research could be interpreted as if the decisions were made first and then research was found to support it. As if it was retro-researched rather than being research-led.
Parents went on to explain how many teachers will view the framework as ‘gospel’. They will not have the time or the skills to be able to critically review its contents in terms of the quality of the supporting evidence. They are likely to feel that it must be adhered to and may not have the skills or experience to confidently adapt it to be inclusive or appropriate. Parents highlighted how some school staff would benefit from explicit examples of expectations in relation to children with SEND.
Parents asked, in light of this if the consultation should be extended? Jonathan Jones, HMI said that it is not his area and that he cannot comment, however he will take everything said back to Ofsted.
Moving on, parents referred to the parent’s group set up to have parent’s voice heard within the consultation period. All parents should have an opportunity to be involved and feel their voice is valued. However, many don’t. Many don’t have a voice at all, but if Ofsted work with parents and value their voice, it could be a positive demonstration to schools on inclusion of all.
Jonathan was asked if alongside continued formal discussion such as the meeting, if Ofsted would consider working with parents on something practical which Inspectors could use during inspections. Parents have many cost free and simple ideas on ways Inspectors can look at inclusion in school and this could be a positive and helpful way for both parents and Ofsted to work on lines of communication in order to inform and support schools to do the same.
One idea was to develop a leaflet or a list for inspectors to use during inspections containing ideas such as:
Inspectors asking children for their views on their disabled peers.
Involving and asking health professionals.
Checking inclusion via attendance on school trips and if parents had to attend or not. School events such as performances, visitors etc. This could be done by checking home/school contact books for key dates.
Looking at complaints to governors.
Asking for evidence that all reasonable adjustments have been considered and checking on how many have been put into practice effectively and appropriately.
Are schools offering appropriate opportunities, individual support or reasonable adjustments for parents to ensure equality of opportunity to participate
Parents said that this could encourage schools to think deeper about how they include vulnerable children and children with SEND. There is good practice in some schools and there needs to be many more opportunities to share what works. School to school support could work, but Ofsted need to demonstrate that they are serious about inclusion. Jonathan said he will take this back to Ofsted.
Parents referred to how reference to SEND is within an appendix and separate to the framework. The points within this section should apply to all learners and all families and it shouldn’t be a separate ‘SEND thing’. It should be in the main framework too and it’s not clear that it relates to mainstream SEND provision. It looks like it applies only to specialist provision, units attached to mainstream etc. Jonathan agreed this could have been worded better and will take it back to Ofsted.
Parents went on to quote “being whole and undivided” (Amanda Speilman) we need to talk about all schools, all children, all inspectors. We need to ensure that all inspectors have deep knowledge of SEND. This led to discussing discriminatory school policies such as 100% attendance and how discriminatory it is for children with chronic health and mental health needs. How some schools are rewarding with e.g. passes to jump the queue at lunch time and how this could only create divide rather than an inclusive community. Will OFSTED look at 100% attendance reward schemes and other potentially discriminatory policies?
Parents continued to discuss this topic including behaviour policies, zero tolerance and Jonathan agreed to take this back to Ofsted. He said that Ofsted do look at attendance, but that the pressure schools feel around this has not come from Ofsted. He said that there is an issue with consultants e.g. those offering help to implement the new framework and often that is how myths are perpetuated.
Parents said the issue with potentially discriminatory policies link with the need for Ofsted to employ experts within their Inspection teams. This is in order to ensure the quality of education provided, that all learners have appropriate, equal access to the curriculum and that this is within an inclusive environment. Parents suggested that as well as speech and language therapists and BSL interpreteurs, educational or developmental psychologists should be involved when inspecting behaviour policies and their impact on children. Jonathan Jones, HMI agreed to take this back to Ofsted.
Thank you to Jonathan Jones, HMI for meeting with parents, for engaging in an open and honest discussion and for agreeing to take these concerns back to Ofsted in order to discuss them further.
We look forward to hearing Ofsted’s answers to our questions very soon!
Finally, thank you to Barney Angliss, Helen Weston, Jo Billington, Bethlyn Killey who attended the meeting with me, and to Matt Keer, Katherine Runswick-Cole, Jayne Dillon and Emma Dalrymple who helped behind the scenes. Also thank you to the dedicated parents from the group Parents Alliance for Inclusion for their support and ideas to offer Ofsted. One big team effort and hopefully, we shared as many parent’s views as we could squeeze in!
As a result of the following letter to Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, parents met with Ofsted’s Jonathan Jones HMI. Questions posed and the answers given coming soon.
Dear Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education.
I am writing to you about OFSTED’s new inspection framework and the ongoing consultations, which began in January 2019. In order to achieve “an approach that leaves plenty of space for diversity, but nevertheless makes it possible to recognise and discourage things that just aren’t good enough.” (A.Speilman 2018) careful consideration must be given to the improvements required in respect of children and young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).
OFSTED’s 2018 annual report set out how our most vulnerable children and young people with SEND are being failed at disproportionate levels. Indeed, when discussing your 2018 annual report, you warned that provision for these pupils is disjointed and inconsistent with thousands missing out on vital support to which they are entitled.
Pupils with SEND are seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than those without SEND and pupils with an EHCP (education health and care plan) are 6 times more likely. Your report rightly echoed these concerns along with others. “Mental health needs are not being supported sufficiently. The quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans is far too variable. Critically, the gap in performance and outcomes for children with SEND is widening between the best and the worst local areas.” (OFSTED 2018)
The National Deaf Children’s Society found 9 in 10 parents feared for the future of their children’s education. Only 30.6% achieve a GCSE strong pass – Grade 5 or above – in both English and maths, and 57% fail to reach expected levels in reading, writing and maths in Sats tests at the end of primary. More than 70% of autistic children attend mainstream schools. Ambitious about Autism found that 60% of teachers in England do not feel they have had adequate training to teach autistic children and 35% of teachers think it has become harder to access specialist support.
However, Nick Whitaker HMI, specialist advisor for SEND says: “Children who have SEN and/or disabilities are part of the big picture that makes up a school; there is no division here. Academic excellence, and effective SEND provision, are all part of the same picture and a school cannot be truly outstanding if it’s letting some of its pupils down.” (High Standards and Highly Inclusive 2018)
It is therefore deeply disappointing that of the 321 pieces of research used to inform OFSTED’s new inspection framework, none had SEND as the main focus. Also of concern, is that the only information around inclusion within the draft school inspection handbook is: “Schools should have an inclusive culture that facilitates arrangements to:
identify early those pupils who may be disadvantaged or have additional needs or barriers to learning
meet the needs of those pupils, drawing, where necessary, on more specialist support, and help those pupils to engage positively with the curriculum
ensure pupils have a positive experience of learning, and achieve positive outcomes.” (S234 draft handbook, OFSTED) OFSTED seek to inspect how leaders and staff create “a safe, calm, orderly and positive environment in the school and the impact this has on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils (S278 draft handbook, OFSTED)” however this cannot possibly be realised until the rise in potentially unlawful behaviour policies, which go against the meaning of inclusion are still in force. Placing inclusion at the heart of OFSTED’s new framework, could potentially be the start of real change for our most vulnerable learners. Inclusion benefits the whole community and will reduce pupils experiencing avoidable mental health difficulties, high rates of exclusion and unacceptably low attainments of SEND pupils. As a result, inclusion would raise academic achievements and outcomes. OFSTED seek to “ensure pupils have a positive experience of learning, and achieve positive outcomes.” Pupils who are suffering emotionally, those who do not have the vital provision necessary and those who are regularly or permanently excluded from accessing education cannot possibly achieve this aim.
There are highly inclusive schools rated ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED, who describe their approach as “battering with kindness” and “unconditional positive regard”. A Head Teacher of one of these school says, “It is my drive to see every child who walks through my doors here at Parklands succeed. I am not talking about exam results; I am talking about contributing to society. Prior to my appointment at Parklands, there had been 150 exclusions in 2014 alone. In 4 years, this was cut to 1. After gaining outstanding; we now take on children from excluded settings, offering a second (and in one case a third) opportunity to succeed. There is another way! As schools we can’t be allowed to off role or to exclude just to get behaviour ‘good.’ Where do these children go? What expectations of contributing to society are we making? Follow positivity and understand the needs of the children so we can make society better for everyone.” (Chris Dyson)
Inclusion and education in mainstream schools is a right for all, however implemented with the correctly and with the right intent, it benefits, involves and includes everyone within the school community. There are numerous ways Inspectors can encourage and ensure schools are constantly reviewing, adapting, improving their inclusive practice. Many of these are cost free, they simply take a will to listen and adapt.
Parents from all regions are eager for this to become a reality. Will OFSTED meet with a group of us? Will you work with us as partners and give us the opportunity to help shape how the new framework is put into practice in a highly inclusive way?
You can read the full blog via the link below or via specialneedsjungle.com
Discussion around various forms of punishment used in schools, are commonplace on Twitter. Recently many have been inspired by the Ban the Booths campaign https://banthebooths.co.uk/ The thing that has struck me about these conversations, is that there appears to be numerous interpretations of the common terms used. Isolation, seclusion, inclusion are often used to describe the same thing, yet both in terms of legalities and arguably, outcomes, they are all very different.
As a parent to 3 children and young people, I fully support the Ban the Booths campaign. Not because I disagree with isolation, I don’t, but I do disagree with long term isolation, which is what the campaign aims to address. Why do schools feel isolation is their only option?
“When under pressure to solve a behaviour issue the urge to do something, anything can be overwhelming, especially if you are fresh out of ideas. I’ve done this in the past, undoubtedly to meet my own needs. I can both support my colleagues, but also show I’m tough and uncompromising. Sadly, the issue at hand remained unsolved and this, ultimately supports no-one as the issue remains no less likely to re-occur again in the future.”
After numerous conversations and reading blogs from people with various views, I am left with many questions:
Are schools aware if what they are doing is isolation or seclusion?
Are schools aware that separating a child from a class in order to help them calm in a supportive way, is not being questioned and accepted as being necessary at times?
Do schools who use isolation, or any other punishment, understand the possible legal implications if the child has SEN?
Do they understand the possible impact for those who have experienced trauma, mental health difficulties etc?
Do all schools, or teachers within the same school, have the same definition of what ‘disruption’ is?
Are some schools isolating for (e.g.) a physical threat to themselves and/or others, or for (e.g.) breaches of strict uniform policies? If so, would opinions change on what is and what isn’t an acceptable reason to use isolation, or to punish at all?
“A child in care gets taxi to school. Taxi sometimes late = day in isolation. Child in handed down shoes with Velcro not laces = day in isolation. Just to be clear, booths not filled with violent kids. Filled with collateral damage of system that rewards lack of inclusion.”
What is Seclusion?
‘The supervised confinement and isolation of a person, away from other users of services, in an area from which the person is prevented from leaving.’ (Department of Health, Para 87 P and P 2014) Any use of seclusion is likely to contravene Article 5 of the Human Rights Act: The right to liberty and security and its use in any setting should be questioned. Seclusion should not be used as either a treatment or a punishment. (CAPBS)
Schools and education authorities have had a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils since 2002 (originally under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, from October 2010, under the Equality Act 2010). This duty is likely to relate to the majority of pupils with SEND in schools. Therefore, It would not be acceptable for example, to punish a child with ADHD for acting impulsively, for not being able to sit still or for not being able to focus and complete work on time, nor to expect them to sit silently and still within an isolation or seclusion room. It would not be fair to punish an autistic child who has reacted badly to change of routine or sensory overload. Or for those with sensory difficulties who cannot wear the same uniform as everyone else. It is likely that any blanket policy will discriminate against those who require reasonable adjustments.
We don’t seclude, we only isolate…….don’t we?
If a person is isolated and prevented from leaving a room of their own free will then this meets the accepted criteria for seclusion, even if it is called by a different name such as time out, isolation, chill out, or support. It is also important to consider that a child may feel unable to leave, even if the door is unlocked via a perceived threat of what might happen if they leave.
What is the difference between seclusion and isolation?
Isolation suggests someone is in an area away from other people and in some cases, is on their own. Seclusion would mean they are isolated and also confined to that area. Elected isolation however, can be a positive and helpful tool within an inclusive environment. Inclusion doesn’t mean being present 100% of the time, so options to take time out, can be really helpful and can take many forms. Such as an exit pass, allowing young people to access quite spaces in order to calm before returning to the group or class.
I think it’s fair to say, that if a child needs time out, the skills of the ‘supporting adult’ will likely reflect on the outcome. Do they instinctively understand how young minds might work? Do they know not to bombard with language or questions? Are they able to keep their own emotions in check and know when to keep their distance? Are they patient and when ready, able to support they young person to identify what went wrong? Can they help identify triggers and areas for development, so that together they can make a plan for support to change the outcome next time?
“Sending our children to a room to cool off ends in a chat, some love, repair, reset and move forwards. Isolation in schools can end in more isolation, judgments from adults, cards marked, unforgiving environments preventing any possibility of change happening.”
We all need to isolate ourselves at times, but as adults, we are able to self monitor our emotions, to recognise when we need to sit on our own and when we are ready to return. We are able to put preventative methods in place and in order to enable our young people to do the same, they will need time, teaching and guidance through compassion and care.
So what is the advice for schools who isolate or seclude?
The most recent non statutory advice, Advice for Head teachers and staff in all schools (DfE, 2014) suggests schools could adopt a policy which allows disruptive pupils to be placed in an area (an isolation room) away from other pupils for a limited period. It says use of this strategy as a disciplinary measure should be clearly stated in the school’s disciplinary policy. The advice adds that only in an exceptional circumstance should any use of isolation that prevents a child from leaving of their own free will be considered.
I refer back to Lucie Lakin’s quote above and ask, is this what is happening when a child is isolated for wearing the wrong uniform? For constantly forgetting equipment for class? For being cheeky or rude to adults or peers? Are reactive-only and restrictive practices the only way? Are they the only or right way and do they work, for those who are aggressive or constantly disruptive?
“I haven’t been to isolation. I’m a bit scared about being sent there though.”
” Some teachers don’t ask for reasons, or give them a chance to explain. They just say ‘i’m not interested in your excuses, go to isolation’. Its unfair to not at least let them try and explain. Makes me feel annoyed.”
13 year old with SEND commenting on peers being sent to ‘insolation’.
What is the desired outcome of isolation?
Will isolation teach a child how to self monitor their emotions? How to recognise when they are not coping? How and when to isolate themselves, or seek support in order to prevent further incidences? Will it teach trust and respect for themselves, their peers, the adults around them?
Firstly, and most importantly, inclusion has nothing to do with punishment. Describing the use of isolation booths as a way to achieve inclusion, is a contradiction of terms and goes against the meaning and aim of inclusion.
“Inclusion is a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It is about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance (removal of barriers).A number of educational establishments have found that a move towards inclusive education has led to an improvement in general educational standards. This is backed up by research.”
What if funding directed towards punishments such as isolation and in some cases, seclusion, were redirected towards pastoral care and support?
What if young people were given the opportunity to experience consequences which taught them a better way?
What if young people were asked to find solutions and involved in their development in an active way?
What if we aspired to achieve an inclusive community, rather than one which involves long term, or inappropriate isolation?
Everyone’s ADHD journey is very different. The following advice is based on my experience as an adult with ADHD and a parent to a young person with ADHD.
I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult 12 years ago at the Maudsley Hospital, London. The team there spent time during and after the assessment to discuss my new diagnosis with me. However after that day at the Maudsley, I didn’t get any further support at all for over 10 years. I didn’t know any other adults with ADHD and at times I felt quite alone in my journey. I had a child with ADHD, but dealing with your own diagnosis and working out what that means to you can be very different.
Over the years the medication I’d first been prescribed (Straterra, Atamoxetine) became less effective. Recently, under the guidance of an ADHD specialist Psychiatrist, I changed my medication (to Elvanse, Lisdexamfetamine). This change was a positive, but also a very difficult experience for me.
14 years after diagnosis, I felt like a newly diagnosed ADHDer all over again and those ‘lost’ and ‘alone’ feelings crept back in. I searched around for information online to help me through this stage in my journey, but quickly realised there is very little information on what to do after diagnosis, what to expect during titration of medication or what is ‘normal’ during this time.
Now this period has passed, I wanted to share a few of my top tips for anyone newly diagnosed, trialling medication or those who are supporting someone else through this.
Find your tribe! We are out here and there is so much information and support within the ADHD community.
Titration of medication is very different for everyone. Some don’t notice any difference until they reach the right dose, others struggle massively until they reach the right dose. You shouldn’t ever feel ‘drugged’ or lethargic. If you do, that might mean the dosage needs adjusting so speak to your Doctor or Psychiatrist.
Try (and I know this is very hard for us) to be patient. You can’t do everything at once, or expect everything to change/improve right away. The stage after diagnosis and whilst trialling medication takes as long as it takes. It is different for everyone.
Set reminders on your phone, write post-its, ask family members to help, or do whatever you need to in order to take your medication regularly, on time and to remember to re-order it. Some medication can impact on sleep, so make sure you take it early enough for it to have worn off by bedtime. I leave my medication near my toothbrush so I don’t forget it. I also use Siri, reminders on my phone (which can be set to remind daily) and Google home for reminders for upcoming events and daily, easily forgotten things (e.g when cooking)
We aren’t invincible! Take one day at a time and give yourself small, realistic steps to accomplish each day. This can help to raise confidence and helps with the procrastination…… Sometimes! If you don’t manage your target that day, be kind to yourself and try again tomorrow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and as your mind clears, you can increase the challenges. Just always be your own best friend.
Set a reminder to note down how you feel each day and what you have accomplished. That way you can see how you are progressing or what you need to do to move forward. I use notes on my phone because although I bought a nice new note book, it is still in the packaging….somewhere!
Don’t make any big decisions or choices during this stage. This includes shopping! Amazon delivered many random things to my house for a few weeks during titration. It didn’t make my Husband happy, especially when the new bed for the spare room arrived straight after the new vegetable planter!
Some people find that after diagnosis they re-evaluate past experiences. I certainly did. Diagnosis brought back experiences throughout childhood, school, work and with family members and so much suddenly made a lot more sense. I called this ‘re-boxing’ and it gave me a sense of relief, self-forgiveness and an understanding that I hadn’t experienced before.
If we begin to experience sense of clarity about ourselves and how we want to do things differently, it’s only natural to want our loved ones to recognise that too. I found it incredibly frustrating that my family couldn’t automatically see that I had changed and that I was no longer the same forgetful, clumsy, disorganised person I was before. I had changed and I wanted them to simply accept that. However, I needed to show them I was different, demonstrate via my actions that I had changed.
We have huge feelings and if you’re like me, you’ll want to keep hold of those, not that we have much choice! We experience negative emotions to a much higher degree, but we also experience positive ones just as much too. If you start to feel anxious, or angry, a few simple steps might help.
– STOP! Think ‘what is this feeling?’ Identify it and name it.
– Ask yourself for evidence to either support it and then for evidence against it.
– Is it justified? If not, try deep breathing and to calm. If it is justified, by focusing on it, thinking and looking for ‘evidence’ can lead to a solution.
– Be in this moment, here and now. What can you feel/hear/smell/ see etc. All of this will help ground you and work out your next move.
– Once you have identified the feeling (try and avoid using ‘anxious’ as it can be too general) and if it is justified, allow yourself to feel it, but also plan a way to move on. Is it your problem? Or someone else’s? Is there anything you can do about it? Or do you need to let it go?
Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything! Try saying things like ‘I’ll let you know’ (and then set a reminder!) That way you can think carefully and clearly in your own time.
SELF-CARE!! This is possibly the most important. Exercise can give a sense of calm like nothing else can. Getting started can cause non-stop procrastination though, so you’ll need to be tough with yourself. Getting a gym buddy might help, but tell them at the start not to accept any excuses! Self-care is also about the food you eat, the time you allow yourself for a bubble bath, to listen to your music, watching your favourite Boxset. Its time for you, guilt free.
Don’t burn out. New found clarity and energy can make us feel invincible, but burn out can lead to meltdown. Meltdowns are so distressing and can take a very long time to recover from, but they are often a way of letting us know that we need to stop for a bit or slow down.
Sleep is vital, but can be tricky. Try a fixed night time routine, avoid screens or anything that might alert rather than relax you. Weighted blankets can help. Dim the lights, warm drink, soft music etc. You can also ask your Doctor about Melatonin, which isn’t a sedative, it just helps get your brain ready for sleep.
If you need to talk to a therapist, make sure it’s an ADHD specialist. My therapist also has ADHD and she has an intrinsic understanding, which has helped avoid and move past any additional explanation or unhelpful suggestions. She has also explained why other therapies haven’t worked before – because they weren’t adapted for an ADHD way of thinking. Even mindfulness needs adapting for us, so if you’ve tried some approaches and they didn’t work, that might be why.
Know you are not alone. I started these tips by saying ‘Find your Tribe’ and I am saying it again, because it can be truly empowering. Finding other ADHDers has given me the strength to go public with my diagnosis and to be proud of my unique brain.
Q&A With Jonathan Jones, HMI.
High Standards. Highly Inclusive.
The following Q&A with Jonathan Jones, HMI, Specialist Adviser, was inspired by the blog written In September by OFSTED inspector Nick Whittaker, HMI, Specialist Advisor, SEND. High Standards and Highly Inclusive
Nick Whittaker, HMI starts his blog by saying;
“I was struck by a phrase someone used in a discussion back in the summer – ‘big-hearted schools who welcome SEND students and see their Ofsted rating drop’.
I’d like to unpack that a bit.
I believe, and Ofsted’s inspections of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in schools are built around this idea, that the experience of pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities is a bellwether of the school’s performance.
Children who have SEN and/or disabilities are part of the big picture that makes up a school; there is no division here. Academic excellence, and effective SEND provision, are all part of the same picture and a school cannot be truly outstanding if it’s letting some of its pupils down.
We’ve been told that some schools are refusing pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities because they are concerned that this will be reflected in their Ofsted rating.
Schools should be truly inclusive. And by that, I mean inclusive in the real sense, including children and their parents:
in setting targets linked to the child’s education, health and care (EHC) plan or SEN support plan
as part of collecting information about what is important to the child, now and in the future, and how best to support them.”
Q&A with Jonathan Jones, HMI.
The recent OFSTED blog on inclusion was very much welcomed, especially at a time when so many children, young people and families are struggling to get appropriate education. However, there is a great deal of confusion around how ‘inclusion’ is assessed and ‘scored’, also which schools, approaches and evidence are targeted to provide the necessary information.
I have gathered questions from parents via social media, parent support groups and email. The following are a summary of these, as well as some suggestions from parents to aid the development of these inspections.Jonathan’s responses are in purple.
Will an inclusion rating be separate to an overall score?As can be seen in our EIF slides, a separate rating for inclusion is not being proposed in the EIF 2019.
How is ‘success’ measured? Do OFSTED consider NEETS, pathways into adulthood and exam data?Inspectors currentlyconsider the impact of funded support on the outcomes achieved by children and young people with SEND, the expectation is that the identification of SEN leads to additional or different arrangements being made and a consequent improvement in progress. The grade descriptors for ‘outcomes for pupils’ include an evaluation of how well pupils are prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment.
As ‘inclusion’ as a concept can be difficult to define, what specific training do inspectors have in order to rate this accurately?In the common inspection framework, inspectors must evaluate the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school including those with SEND. All inspectors receive specific training and on-going updates. Specialist inspectors receive an enhanced level of training.
How do schools evidence that they have considered all individual needs and reasonable adjustments throughout the school day?In judging pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare, inspectors evaluate the experience of particular individuals and groups, such as . . . pupils with SEND, looked-after children, those with medical needs and those with mental health needs. The common inspection framework makes it clear that inspectors, ‘must look at a small sample of case studies about the experience of these pupils’.
How do they do this for special events such as school trips, sports day, seasonal celebrations? Rewards and motivators such as 100% attendance awards? Does this data include how many children are unable to attend these events, or how many parents are required to attend to provide support needed? To what degree are they included and is this appropriate? Inspectors are required to consider how well leaders and governors promote all forms of equality. Inspectors gather and evaluate a wide range of evidence, including evidence from discussion with pupils and parents, information provided by school leaders, and written comments from parents, including the free-text responses recorded on parent view.
How do inspectors gather information about non-official or unlawful exclusions, including sending children home for school events, only allowing them in for a small part of the school day, forced home education or off rolling? This is especially concerning as some parents don’t realise that this is unlawful and therefore don’t report it. Inspectors gather and evaluate a range of evidence about attendance and exclusions. This includes the scrutiny of the school’s attendance records and the reasons for non-attendance. Inspectors, ‘will assess the school’s use of exclusion, including the rates, patterns and reasons for exclusion, as well as any differences between groups of pupils. Inspectors will gather the views of parents, staff, governors and other stakeholders’.
Seclusion vs Inclusion:
How do schools evidence when, how and for how long seclusion has been used, and will OFSTED be looking at this data? Can OFSTED comment on the use of small, closed or locked rooms and tents used to contain and seclude distressed CYP. Such as the use of ‘Blue Rooms’? Can OFSTED comment on the use of restrictive practices and restraint in schools? Will this data be inspected and impact on an inclusion rating? Ofsted published guidance for inspectors in March 2018. This guidance is called, ‘Positive environments where children can flourish, a guide for inspectors about physical intervention and restrictions of liberty’. This guidance applies to all social care inspections and to the inspection of schools.
Appropriateness of curriculum:
Some CYP with learning difficulties, significant language needs and functional difficulties, who attend specialist schools don’t have access to an adapted curriculum. Will OFSTED be looking at inclusion in specialist settings too? HMCI has made it clear that the effectiveness of the curriculum will be central to evaluating the quality of education in the new education inspection framework. This will include all specialist schools. HMCI has stated that the curriculum is the ‘substance’ of education and inspectors will consider the design and implementation of the curriculum and its impact on the outcomes achieved by all pupils.
Will they include specialist and mainstream schools rated outstanding? Currently, state-funded and non-maintained special schools judged to be outstanding are not exempt from inspection under section 5 of the 2005 Education Act. Mainstream primary and secondary schools judged to be outstanding are exempt from inspection under section 5. However, HMCI has powers to inspect at any time under section 8 of the same act. An exempt school may be inspected where, for example, concerns are raised about standards of leadership and management or HMCI, or the secretary of State, has concerns about the school’s performance.
The following are interesting suggestions which are useful in the thinking about how we gather the views of children and young people and their families. They will be welcomed as part of the formal consultation period beginning in spring 2019.
Include outside professionals in inspections. Such as Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists. They can provide expert opinion on whether the school is inclusive in terms of their area of expertise and in relation to individual needs.
Inspectors could look in home/school contact books of both SEND and non-SEND CYP around specific dates such as school trips, to compare attendance and success. Also, at e-mails, texts and home/school communication in its wider form.
Inspectors could ask parents and CYP specific questions. Perhaps have a SEND panel made up of CYP, but arranged so they are encouraged to, and able to speak freely. Another suggestion is to have a ‘happiness survey’.
British values such as peer perception of their disabled classmates. Do schools focus on teaching CYP about acceptance and difference? Do they monitor opinions and actions of peers? Some parents report peers saying things like ‘X can’t do that’ rather than ‘how can X join in too?’
Comparing the % of SEND parents in PTAs, attendance at parent evenings, complaints, the spread of CYP with SEND across sets in subjects, but also compared against their needs and potential.
Asking parents and schools about home-school communication and inspecting flexibility and effectiveness. Monitoring any key positive or negative descriptions given.
Asking all members of staff, including caretakers and lunchtime supervisors about CYP with SEND to monitor their understanding and acceptance.
Look at how many CYP are highlighted for support before they begin to fail.
Look at the percentage of CYP with similar diagnoses and the levels of support they receive. Obviously needs will differ, but is it predominantly the CYP who outwardly express distress who receive support? Or do those who internalise distress have their needs recognised too?
During a conversation with @JonJonesHMI on Twitter, I was asked to explain more about the frustration and disappointment parents felt about opportunities to have their voice heard during the inspections. Some parents said they felt ‘excluded’ or unable to contribute for various reasons and this was not how the inspections were described as being. In order to gather as many views and experiences as possible,
I asked in online SEND parent support groups, on Twitter and via email. My email to Jonathan Jones HMI is below and Jonathan’s responses are in purple font. I would like to thank Jonathan for being open to listening to parents experience and his permission has been gained to share.
Thank you for the opportunity to explain in detail about parental concerns with the LA SEND Inspections.
It’s apparent that it’s challenge allowing parents an equitable chance at submitting evidence to their local area SEND inspection. I don’t think that there’s a one-size solution to the problem, and it is encouraging to hear that OFSTED are doing what they can to address it via social media, outreach to charities and PCFs.
In order to respond to you accurately, I sought the views and experiences of as many parents as possible, via online SEND groups, email and on social media. I was quite overwhelmed by the response, and gained the views of over 150 parents from a wide range of areas/LAs, perhaps demonstrating the importance of this subject to parents.
It’s of interest, that approx three quarters of respondents are not affiliated with a PCF, nor were they during their area inspection. However, approx half are ex-PCF members/leaders and left for various of reasons. Although possibly linked to this subject, I won’t go into those reasons here, as I appreciate its not the information you asked for.
With regards to the Local area SEND inspections, the points below were raised multiple times, and most were included in over 90% of responses.
Parents’ opportunities to speak to Inspectors:
We understand that Inspectors have direct, unfiltered access to parents via the webinars, however it is widely felt that this method gives little scope to provide more than a yes/no snapshot of parental views. Overwhelmingly, parents felt disappointed by the webinars, in particular the lack of opportunity to add details and specifics. (Which perhaps links to the ‘individual cases’ issue detailed below).
“We are currently reviewing how we gather parental views via the webinar. We are hoping to provide a webinar that is open over a longer period of time which will help get around the inconvenient times that parents have told us about. It will also allow parents more time to make comments rather than only having 30mins to do so.”
Inspectors have access to parents at the visits they make to settings, but they are concerned that Inspectors discuss the suitability of the settings they plan to visit with the LA beforehand. Also, many parents weren’t told about their child’s setting being visited, therefore were unable to contribute in this way.
“Inspectors do not discuss the suitability of settings with the LA. The lead inspector chooses the settings and informs the LA during the notification. The LA informs the settings that they have been identified. The LA has the responsibility for informing all parents and carers of children who have SEND and live in the local area. We are very clear with the LA that all parents can attend the settings meeting (so long as their child attends that setting) and that neither schools nor the LA are to select or invite specific parents.
As well as meeting representatives of PCFs, inspectors hold a meeting with parents (often in multiple locations). These meetings are open to all parents of children who have SEND in the local area. Parents are also able to send in their comments to LASEND.email@example.com
Parents can meet inspectors via direct meetings, although almost all parents who responded raised a concern that LAs and/or PCFs are selecting which parents attend.The two most used phrases to describe this were, ‘cherry-picked’ and ‘only the right parents get to attend’. It is widely felt that meeting is possibly where Inspectors get their best opportunity to harvest detailed parental evidence, however despite wishing to attend, there are parents who the LAs will actively avoid selecting, but who could potentially give very informative evidence to Inspectors.
In addition the vast majority of SEND parents are not affiliated with a PCF and because of this, and due to the various sizes, experience and range of SEND involved, PCF’s alone cannot be deemed to be an accurate representation of parental views, experiences or concerns. In addition to this, many parents were not aware when the meeting was being held, and therefore couldn’t ask to be considered.
“The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms.”
I’ve been made aware that OFSTED & CQC have the final say over which parents they speak to, but how would an Inspector know if parents have been specifically chosen by the LA or PCF to attend these meetings?
‘Inspectors do not choose which parents to speak to. There should be no ‘selection’ process.”
How are parents informed of these meetings in order to have an equitable chance at being considered to attend?
“The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms”
Inspectors saying they are not interested in ‘individual cases’:
Parents are not expecting inspectors to directly sort out their individual cases, they’re reporting that inspectors aren’t using individual examples as a basis for drawing up lines of inspection enquiry, and therefore feel it’s a justified concern.
When a parent tells an inspector that the LA told them e.g. ‘Your child cannot have an EHC assessment until they are 3 years behind their peers’, it’s an individual example, but it would give inspectors valuable information in order to determine whether it’s a one-off, or whether it’s a widely-used unlawful local policy.
“The example that you provide is exactly how inspectors are to consider such evidence. I would hope that parents do not feel that inspectors aren’t interested in their individual cases but it is that we cannot investigate or comment on this. What inspectors do is consider what wider issues this indicates. Exactly as you illustrate above.
You can appreciate that if every parent were to explain their individual cases in a meeting then it would not be practical. I think the challenge for us is in managing expectations. Ofsted has no powers to investigate complaints or individual cases. Similarly we cannot use one case in isolation as being indicative of the quality of the whole provision. This is not to dismiss or ignore the failings in an individual case.”
The same is true for Tribunals & LGO complaints. Parents have said that some inspectors have a tendency to assume that these are reflections of individual parent dissatisfaction. That they see these cases as individual / anecdotal outlier complaints, rather than cases of statutory failure that might suggest that more systemic failings are going on beneath the surface.
“Inspectors routinely consider the outcomes of tribunals and LGO cases in their preparation and with the discussions with leaders.”
One example given was from a father, who pursued a complaint about his local area inspection. In the complaint correspondence, he was told that individual cases are not pursued, and that notice would only be taken if the case was representative of the majority of cases. Parents are therefore confused how Inspectors would know if an individual case was a majority experience unless it’s investigated further.
“Inspectors are holding differing meetings with all different people and not just from the LA. We evaluate a large amount of evidence prior to the inspection and during the inspection. Inspectors ‘triangulate’ what they see and hear and then come to conclusions. Where there are weaknesses, this is because there is a weight of evidence supporting this. Ofsted has no powers to investigate individual cases.”
The way in which evidence from parents gets treated during the inspection process itself:
The way that parental evidence is framed in many inspection outcome letters is often instructive: parents “feel”, “believe”, “are anxious,” “are worried”, particularly when this evidence is critical of local area services. Evidence from local professionals tends to be framed far less emotively: they “report”, “confirm”, “comment” or “describe.” A common opinion is that there is perhaps a degree of unconscious bias from some inspectors when evaluating evidence from parents and carers versus professionals.
Although evidence will be surely be relayed in various ways, most of it reviewed by parents who studied the submissions, say they were sober, data-driven, and clear in their findings of how effectively the local area is implementing the reforms. Surely there must be evidence to support the parental submissions in order for them to be included in the reports, otherwise wouldn’t OFSTED or CQC say so specifically?
Alternatively, if the evidence is there, why are parental submissions either consciously or unconsciously being framed this way? It might not seem like a big issue, however, as SEND parents, we’re used to the “Mum feels…” approach in meetings and reports. It is one that discounts our input from the offset.
“In our earlier reports, parents and other stakeholders identified this very issue. We have reviewed our writing guidance and inspectors are to write clearly and unambiguously on what the evidence says.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to share this information with you. Thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you soon
I’d like to start by quoting the formidable Sally Phillips ‘The special needs club is one that nobody wants to join but once you’re in, its the best club in the world’.
The reason its the best club, is because it is full of parents, carers, medical professionals, teachers, educationalists, Lawyers and supporters who all have one single aim, to improve the world for children, young people and adults with SEND. We all have different areas of knowledge, experience, expertise, but collectively we are a powerhouse and you’re already a very welcome member!
Finding yourself thrown into the SEND world, educational processes and legal and medical terminology can be overwhelming. I thought I’d write a quick list of top tips for new SEND parents struggling to get their children’s needs met. It isn’t a definitive list and it isn’t a list that everyone must do in order to achieve the right outcomes. It’s just a list of suggestions based on mine and my families experiences over the years and one which hopefully will help.
TIP 1: It can be hard to be assertive if it doesn’t come naturally. Being a parent of a disabled child means we can’t dodge regularly being told what our children can’t do, or for some parents, being made to feel we are the only ones who see their difficulties. We are often told what to do, when and how to do it and feel like our parenting is under microscope. Its therefore understandable that this can cause us to doubt or for us to fear ‘rocking the boat’, but despite how others might perceive it, when assertiveness is required, we know we are not after confrontation, arguments or to ‘get people into trouble’.
How others perceive us for challenging decisions made for our children, or for not recognising their struggles is not something we can control anyway. Being assertive via factual, firm and informed challenge can sometimes be the only way forward.
TIP 2: Local Authority employees must share out limited resources from an ever shrinking budget which, may lead to decisions that are unlawful, but It is also a sad fact that very often only the parents and schools who challenge and use the law, secure exactly what the child needs and is their lawful right to receive. It can never lawfully be about only what is available. Parents can seek advice independent of the Local Authority via organisations such as IPSEA or SOSSEN, or they can Instruct a Solicitor (via legal aid if eligible) or ask other parents via SEND Facebook groups and on Twitter. (See the list of ‘who to follow for SEND’ on this blog site)
TIP 3: Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn yours and your child’s rights and if relevant, how Statutory processes such as the EHCP process must be carried out. You don’t have to wait until your child begins to fail to learn about rights or seek support and it can be so much easier if you don’t wait. IPSEA charity run courses for parents both in person and online. This can give you a firm foundation to move forward from.
TIP 4: Be wary of SEND myths. Common ones are around access to EHC assessments and how children ‘must be behind academically to qualify for an assessment’. ‘they’ll never get an EHCP so its not worth applying’, ‘parents can’t apply themselves for EHC assessments’, ‘only children in specialist schools have EHCP’s’, ‘the provision in an EHCP must be flexible’ etc. There are countless other common myths and all unlawful.
Always check the advice you are given to ensure it is accurate. Experienced SEND parents, independent SEND charities and legal professionals have heard numerous examples of these myths before and can quickly tell you if the advice you’ve been given is lawful or not and what to do next.
TIP 5: We all know it shouldn’t be like this. We all feel frustration and dismay at the amount of hurdles and challenges we and others face. We all want the system to improve, but that is about the larger picture, and in a way, it’s a separate battle to any immediate difficulties your child is facing now. The appeal processes and laws are there to protect our children and for us to use and, as unfair as it is, individual challenge is a vital part of what most of us have to do in order to secure the right support for our children.
TIP 6: Focus on the main/end goal. Try not to get distracted by anything which is not going to get you and your child to that goal. This includes alternative (and sometimes unlawful) suggestions to resolve an issue swiftly. For example if a Local Authority offer a non statutory plan rather than an EHCP to avoid an appeal. If you are offered an alternative school in order to resolve a formal challenge quickly, but it isn’t the school and/or provision which you and supporting professionals know your child needs. If you appeal or challenge a decision, don’t be persuaded or tempted to stop an appeal/challenge/complaint until you have the full, detailed agreement and timescales in writing, or better still, in a signed final EHCP.
TIP 7: It can feel like sometimes there’s just too much to learn or understand. It can really help to break the SEND processes into manageable chunks and focus on one step at a time.
For example, the EHCP process. Try to focus on requesting an assessment and making sure that the Local Authority’s decision on whether to assess or not, is lawful and accurate. If you don’t feel the decision is accurate, you can appeal. If/when assessment is agreed, focus on making sure it is carried out thoroughly, accurately, that all appropriate assessments are sought and that all reports are specified and quantified in terms of provision.
Once this is done, move onto understanding the processes involved in the next stage. This might seem overwhelming, but for every stage there is good independent advice available via IPSEA, SOSSEN, legal professionals or via parents on social media or in SEND Facebook groups. You’re never alone!
TIP 8: Self care is important but we often overlook it. If you are the only person fighting for your child’s rights then you need to keep that fighter strong. You can’t pour from an empty cup so make time for yourself to refill it occasionally and try not to feel guilty about doing so either!
A few months ago I attended FestABLE, an event dedicated to SEND and inclusion. I was so excited to attend, to meet friends, other parents, educators and professionals and I arrived with a mental list of the talks that I was looking forward to hearing. There was a lot going on and it was a large venue, but the detailed programme and map helped me make sure I knew exactly where to be, and when. After a few hours of meeting people, chatting and attending talks, I began to feel quite overwhelmed.
I needed some quiet time on my own to relax and reboot, but one of the talks I was desperate not to miss was about to start. What if I went and sat outside for a while and then went into the talk? That was a scary thought because what if I disrupted it and all of those people turned to look at me? I was beginning to get more and more overwhelmed so I made a decision that I must put my needs first.
I found my way to one of the smaller cafes which was empty apart from a smiley Lady behind the counter. I wonder if she knew I was anxious because she left me alone, which is exactly what I needed at the time. To my delight, inside the cafe, there was a large screen showing the talk which I had wanted to attend. I sat alone, drank some water, watched the talk, calmed and my day continued stress free.
This described what I and others did and provided,but what I’d experienced, I believe, was inclusion.
A teacher on Twitter, who I have great respect for, said she wasn’t sure if she actually achieves inclusion, but that she tries to. Knowing this teachers approach towards inclusion, difference & SEND in general, I felt strongly that they probably are, and that by questioning whether they’re achieving inclusion or not is really a positive thing. I’ve seen conversations from other educators who make big statements about how inclusive they are, but the thing that confuses me is that they rarely, if ever, engage in conversation around it.
Achieving real inclusion is certainly something to shout about, its rare these days so why wouldn’t they want to discuss more? Share good practice? Is inclusion ever achieved to a point where we can sit back & don’t have to do anything else? Possibly for some, probably not for others. Therefore is it sensible to have more confidence in those who continue to question whether they’re inclusive and who engage in discussion to keep learning and developing ideas?
What is the first, or most important thing to consider in order to achieve inclusion for all? Are any considerations more important than others? I asked parents and educators on Twitter to share their thoughts. These are the key words used; management ethos, courageous leadership, attitude, strategy, solution focused, enablement, role models, culture, truth, individuality, belief, belonging, compassion, respect, feeling considered, integrity, awareness (that not every need is obvious) and the ‘will’ to make it work for all.
Looking ahead, I struggle to believe that inclusion is something that’s achieved and can then be left. If its truly valued, then good practice would suggest it needs and deserves constant monitoring and review as needs adapt and change perhaps they increase or lesson and/or improve. On the surface, I appreciate that this sounds like a lot of work, but if we consider the key words above, if many of those things were truly present and prioritised in a community, monitoring and review would come naturally. It would happen all the time, everyday ideally to the point that we won’t even realise we’re doing it. It just ‘is’.
So what actually is inclusion? One formal definition is ‘The act of including and the state of being included’ but is this specific enough to use in order to start making an environment and community inclusive? It should be, but I’m not sure it is. Should we make sure that, although each situation will vary as to what is needed, the foundations, and more importantly the culture of inclusion are understood by all?
For me, inclusion is not just about disabled children, it’s about all children, all adults and environments. It includes everyone & everything but it also involves everyone and everything. Inclusion requires action but it is fundamentally a mindset, a way of being at all times and in all environments.
After many discussions with children, young people, parents, teachers and professionals about inclusion, it appears that there are common themes and problems stemming from lack of inclusion. There are also common themes around good practice.
The following 7 ideas and suggestions are based on those discussions.
1. The community is a whole. It isn’t separated into categories such as SEND & non SEND. In a school for example, they are simply children with varying degrees of needs and skills. Obviously it’s important to recognise disabled identities and to be fully aware of, and understand individual needs, but an inclusive situation is one where many disabilities won’t impact involvement.
2. Adapting the environment for physical needs such as installing ramps and accessible toilets could be considered to be the more obvious adaptions that are made to include, but consideration of physical adaptions also need to be for those with hearing impairments, visual impairments, sensory needs, language, literacy needs and others too. An inclusive environment includes all and benefits all so adaptions to the environment are most likely required, however they won’t necessarily be diagnosis or SEND specific, they could potentially help many other too.
3. In addition to environmental adaptions, consideration of our actions and words are crucial. What do we do, or don’t do? What do we say or don’t say? Perhaps we should do and say more, perhaps do or say less, or maybe we should do or say things differently. Evaluation and monitoring of both words and actions I think, are very important because they not only encourage the correct culture by providing positive role models, but also in terms of including all who struggle with identified and unidentified difficulties such as developmental language disorder, hearing impairments, processing difficulties, mental health difficulties where our words, actions and the approaches we use can be either very helpful, or really unhelpful.
4. There is a great deal of untapped knowledge and skills in communities and in schools. By involving parents, children and professionals, and by doing so in various ways, allows everyone to benefit from a collective knowledge and skills pool. It helps everyone to be involved in the discussion around needs, but also around solutions.
By including families and looking at what works outside of school, solutions can be collectively and effectively problem solved. For example, is an autistic child at a disadvantage when they are in their favourite and safe space, not having to interact and only doing things of their choosing?
Unforeseen situations could arise, but they’re probably not. Obviously it isn’t realistic to recreate every child’s bedroom in school, or to allow them to spend all day in playing xbox! However, by looking at factors in those environments and activities and noting skills which are and are not being used as well as those being avoided, it could reveal a great deal of information about needs and about how to adapt things to encourage inclusion in school.
5. ‘Support’ and ‘independence’ encourage vastly varying views and definitions. Inclusion absolutely can help children develop or achieve independence but the views of what is meant by ‘independence’ are as varied as definitions of what inclusion is and isn’t. For me, Independence means achieving things with as much or as little support as is needed.
It doesn’t mean being able to do things unaided or without any support and support can be provided in numerous different ways. It isn’t always in the form of a piece of equipment, a printed resource or even an action from someone else. Support can be having some time away from the group, which is fine because we don’t have to be present continuously in a group in order to be or to feel included in it.
6. I’ve seen definitions of inclusion which only really describe a child being present in school or in a classroom either full or part time, but is this accurate? Unless that child is also fully included, happy, learning and achieving to their individual potential, and unless they are they a fully valued and included member of the community, then that can’t be inclusion, surely?
Possibly a more important factor to consider is the degree to which they want to be included. A friend’s 8 year old disabled son wrote ‘I really really just want to be part of everything they are doing’, however another child might struggle with a class topic or assembly’s and need the option to leave. Whilst its important to include everyone, it is also ok to opt out sometimes and understanding and allowing this, is being inclusive.
7. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t think its accurate or helpful to call rooms or units that segregate children, often for behaviour difficulties, ‘Inclusion rooms’. Going back to the key words, honesty is important, so if that child is there for their safety and the safety of others, or to avoid exclusion, even if the aim is to support them to reintegrate back into the community, then surely being honest about that drives focus towards the support needed in order for them to be fully included again?
There are obviously countless reasons for behaviour difficulties, however in terms of inclusion, if a child is struggling with behaviour to the point they need forced seclusion or exclusion, it is certainly very likely that there is an issue with overall inclusion in their community and environment.
Working towards inclusion for a diverse community will undoubtedly take a great deal of thought, time, knowledge and perhaps training but the end results will benefit everyone. No parent wants their child to ‘cope’ in school and I’m sure educators don’t either. High expectations are vital but they must be based on inclusive foundations in order to enable all children, in particular children with SEND to thrive not simply cope.
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The following advice was written by another parent;
“By joining Twitter I’ve reached some amazing people that I could never otherwise have hoped to, but it is important to be careful what you tweet and to remember:
1. There is no Edit button
2. Anyone can read your tweets. Even if you restrict your account, there is nothing to stop someone taking a screenshot and sharing.
3. Deleted tweets do not remain deleted. They can be recovered.
Take care what you share on twitter.”
This list isn’t definitive, but the people below can help to connect you with others. Please ask questions or for help if you ever need it. There’s a vast array of expertise within this list and all are dedicated to making things better for children and young people with SEND. Welcome to #TeamSEND!
Which adjectives come to mind when you think of a SEND parent? A warrior? Agitator? Tenacious? Unstoppable? Strong? Annoying? Unrealistic? Over anxious? Something else? The processes around SEND can bring out the best and worst in all of us, but behind every irate parent, is a child who is struggling. It’s our job and human instinct to protect them however we know best. The way we do this and react, is of course our responsibility, but it’s only fair to keep in mind what it really means to be a SEND parent. Here’s some of the things you need to know about us.
We didn’t choose this path.
As much as I wouldn’t change my children, and I genuinely mean that, who would choose to have to navigate countless professionals, appointments, appeal processes, legal jargon, LAs? It’s rarely our children who cause us the greatest struggles. It’s often everything else, especially accessing education, support and services.
We don’t get a day off.
Think about a Tribunal process, when everyone involved gets to go home at the end of the day and ‘switch off’. We don’t. We can’t. Can you imagine how terrifying it is to feel like you can’t cope, but the fear of judgement, stigma & perhaps even social services, stops you from asking for help? Would this happen if the child didn’t have SEND? As soon as SEND is mentioned, it’s often assumed that is the problem and It’s often not the case at all.
We don’t enjoy fighting.
Tribunals, Judicial Reviews, formal complaints are tiring. They often leave scars and take away so much precious family time. Who would choose to spend their weekend studying the CoP for an upcoming Tribunal over spending time together and having fun?
We’re not stupid!
SEND parents are often the most informed on SEND Law and their children’s rights and those who aren’t, often ask others who are. I was easily convinced that unlawful practices were great ideas in the early days, but when I saw the damaged they caused, learned about my children’s rights and appealed, it ruined relationships with the SENCO and teachers. So much precious time was wasted when small, mostly cost free, reasonable adjustments would have made a huge difference. The result was a disability discrimination Tribunal, and them needing costly specialist placements, so assuming this is ‘cost saving’ is simply wrong.
Work with us. We can help.
Our children are the experts on their needs, but we know our children best. We’ve often had to work out strategies to support them in countless ways, so why not tap into that knowledge as valued partners? I don’t want to ‘participate’ with professionals in my children’s education & development, I want it to be a partnership.
We respect honesty.
If you don’t know, please just say that so we can work things out together. This applies to all areas of our children’s SEND. As a parent, I have a lot of respect for people who admit what they don’t know. Those who obviously don’t know, but insist they do can be very harmful towards our children.
Understanding and real support goes a lot further than sympathy.
We don’t need sympathy, we may need empathy, but we mainly need to feel like a valued member of our child’s ‘team’.
When we talk about headaches, people say “I get like that all the time”. We can empathise, share a common problem, suggest solutions etc. It’s not the same with neurological differences, yet it still happens.
If we talk about ADHD simply in terms of attention, it seems to prompt people to comment “I’m a bit ADHD”, “I often get distracted” or “I find it hard to pay attention to….” Is that because people understand ADHD to be simply- struggling to pay attention? Possibly, but It’s not as simple as that, and that is what has made me want to write this blog.
I’ve read numerous life stories of adults with ADHD and the very real struggles they’ve been through. Reducing it to an ‘attention problem’ somewhat dismisses all that they’ve experienced, especially when most of their struggles were due to a lack of early diagnosis, understanding and support.
These are some of the topics covered in the ADHD life stories:
-A teenager, living in a big city with no danger awareness.
-A child at school, so impulsive, that they say the first thing that they think of, but upset and offend all their peers in doing so.
-A teenager always ‘daydreaming’ and forgetting homework, so they’re constantly in detention & being told off.
-An adult needing a better job to support their family, but can’t study because they’ve no idea how to start.
-A person with all the answers & bucket loads of knowledge, but a brain that makes them dart around 1000 different things before they can access it. There is no direct route.
-A body and mind so exhausted it needs rest, but a brain that simply won’t allow it.
-A person trying hard to focus, but with every sound and movement it gets so much harder.
-A person with huge ideas, but no ability to structure them, let alone finish them.
-Huge emotions (good and bad) and little ability to regulate or process them.
-A child trying so hard to stick to the rules & blend in, but getting constant negative feedback (sit still, stop rocking on your chair, put the pencil down, stop fidgeting)
-A lone parent who has such problems with organisational skills, that they can’t manage the families finances.
-A person who has experienced so many failures & negativity, that they have serious mental health problems or a mental illnesses.
This is what worries me. If we reduce ADHD to ‘an attention problem’ we ignore the impact ADHD can have on lives. If we don’t challenge comments like ‘I’m a bit like that too’ what does that say to the people living with ADHD?
Any parents of children with ADHD reading this, it’s not all bad (and no, I’m not just saying that to add some cheer!) This isn’t a list of what your child will experience. If they have a diagnosis, then you’re reading this because you want to understand. That’s half the battle won. Living with real understanding (and in my case, taking medication) can change the direction in which life travels. Understanding we’re not ‘faulty’ we’re different, and to be completely accepted as who we are, is so powerful. It can turn lives around.
Would I cure my ADHD? No, It’s part of me and suggestions that we should normalise differences, goes against the diversity of what it is to be human. Would I want more people to be able to harness and understand it? Absolutely, but to do that we first need to understand ADHD as a neurological difference and the first step, I think, is accepting that it’s not just about attention.
I wanted to point out the impact ADHD can have on lives, but also what it brings. ADHD gifts include, limitless and non stop ideas, no boundaries, thinking BIG! Humour, hyper focus, huge positive emotions, loyalty and loads more. Real understanding can help to harness these gifts. This is why challenging stereotypes & dismissive comments is so important.
The following website has lots of blogs, information and videos, made by people with ADHD to help explain ADHD. It’s awesome!
When teachers make comments or write blogs which contain such big statements, they immediately alienate parents, the very people they are trying to work ‘with’. Why? What possible good can come from that?
Now insert the word ‘some’ into those sentences and I’d imagine many parents would agree that these things are possible.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I’ve never ‘pushed’ for a diagnosis of anything. Some may think I’m lucky, some might think I’m lying, nevertheless that’s still our experience. All of my children have been diagnosed via multi-agency assessments and I’ve ensure they have been thorough assessments (even checked the qualifications of some of the professionals involved!). Personally I think this is the best way to assess and diagnose, but that’s my opinion. Teachers haven’t always agreed with the diagnoses, and in a few cases this has caused my children harm, but that’s not what this blog is about.
I’ve never raised my voice or shouted at a Teacher. Even during or after 4 educational Tribunals, 1 Judicial Review and taking one school to a 5th Tribunal for disability discrimination. They were all extremely stressful experiences, but I don’t think that shouting or threatening anyone, let alone the very people I was trying to work with, is any way to behave and it certainly would’t have helped.
I don’t hate Teachers, I genuinely admire and respect the vast majority of them. I see they are trying to do a very difficult job under a huge amount of pressure with very little support……doesn’t that sound familiar though? *SEND parent*. I’m over the moon with the support my son gets in school now. Yes it’s been a long and often bumpy road, but his current Teacher is brilliant & he’s thriving.
SEND parents often have a very hard time navigating their children through education. We often have to fight very hard for our children, and as a result may well be expecting the next battle, but that doesn’t mean we are blinkered to the wider problems, or that we don’t want to help. Some parents have professional experience, expertise and skills that can really help problem solve issues.
So Teachers, please don’t alienate the very people you need to work with in order to make your job easier. Please insert the word ‘some’ into your statements, bring us into the discussion and let us try and help.
I think most people in the SEN world are aware of the recent events with Baker Small, the Solicitors who represent Local Authorities at Special Educational Needs Tribunals.
I’ve read all of the articles written by the press and each time I end up feeling that they have missed a very important element to this story. What it’s like for us, Parents of children with SEN. Although very real, It’s not just the anger at Mr Smalls comments that is relevant here, it’s the fact we, as parents, have to fight in the first place. It’s that the Tribunal process can take months, sometimes longer to complete from start to finish and this is not including the months, years even, of fighting we’ve had to go through before even getting to this stage. I want to thank Mr Small. Why? Well I’ll get to that later.
I have 3 children with SEN and over 10 years, I have gone through 5 Tribunals. 4 went to hearings and one was conceded by the Local Authority after months of preparation. I’ve been asked many times over the years to talk about what Tribunal is like for parents and have never felt it appropriate to give the full unedited details. I have never wanted to put any parent off appealing. It is there for us to use and we need to use it, because in many situations it’s the only way we can get our children’s needs met.
Now I want to talk about it, not to put parents off, but whilst there is an interest out there I want people to know the root of our upset, that it goes much deeper than Mr Smalls’ comments. That the system we have no option but to use is stacked against children with SEN and Parents and about the very real injustice we feel.
The first point I want to make is that Parents aren’t fighting to get costly provision which they have decided by themselves is appropriate. It’s medical and educational professionals who have assessed our children and made recommendations for the provision they need in order to access education and learn, to gain and/or keep good mental health, to be given the chance to succeed and become a part of their community one day.
Much of the provision initially suggested for my children wasn’t costly at all, but the effects of not providing this in a timely manner resulted in them failing and eventually needing much more.
The next point I want to make is that this isn’t a new problem. This system, in my experience, has always been adversarial. It’s not meant to be, it shouldn’t be, but it is and I’ve never experienced it any other way.
My first Tribunal was for DDA (Disability discrimination). My daughter had diagnoses of Asperger Syndrome, Dyspraxia, ADHD and Dyslexia. We weren’t asking for anything that cost money. I had bought all of the ‘fine motor skills’ equipment so my daughter could carry out the Occupational Therapy activities her therapist said she needed. She could hardly hold a pencil let alone write legibly.
I had made visual timetables and produced all of the equipment to the school so it was ready to go. I asked for 5 minutes of TA time in the morning and after lunch so she could be monitored and they could check she was doing it properly. They refused. I asked they warn her before change to her routine. They didn’t. I asked they stop telling her off for fidgeting and other things relating to her disability especially in assemblies and in front of the whole school. They wouldn’t. I asked they sit her at the front of the class to stop her being distracted. They ‘Couldn’t’.
There were other similar requests, all recommended by medical and educational professionals, all refused by the school, and a Tribunal Judge agreed with us and that the effect of the school not carrying these out had a significant detrimental effect on our daughter and we won the Tribunal.
I would like to point out here that the school hired a QC. Not a run of the mill Local Authority representative, not a Solicitor, not even a Barrister. A QC paid for out of the children’s educational money to defend an indefensible case. I’d also like to point out that this wasn’t about suing or compensation of any kind. I’m not even sure if that’s a possibility in these cases but we certainly didn’t want that. It was about justice. About my daughter learning at 9 years old that adults do care, they do see her struggling and they do want to help.
Tribunals start a very long time before a hearing. There’s year after year of assessments, meetings, forms, paperwork, watching your child fail enough educationally and emotionally to finally have the evidence to ‘prove’ what you and the professionals have been saying all along.
Then comes preparing for the appeal. Days, weeks even of sorting through paperwork & reports. Securing costly independent reports, depleting savings, loans, stress, desperation. Finally, when you’ve gathered all the evidence together and sent it into the Tribunal only to receive the LAs response.
Now I can only comment about my children’s cases but reading the LA’s response left me in pieces every time. Written by Solicitors, they are full of Legal quotes, law and every comment is aimed at dismissing your case. They have a tone of ‘neurotic, over anxious mother’ about them, the tone that I’ve had from the very start of my children’s SEN journey. I remember reading them (the last one arriving promptly on Christmas Eve) thinking I don’t stand a chance. How can I fight that? They know the law, I don’t, I’m just a parent.
That’s the thing about the Law. You can use the same ‘quote’ for various situations so it can be applied to dismiss one parent or applied to support another. I’m no genius but I do like to think I’m fairly intelligent and able to learn the basics of SEND Law so I can fight back.
However then comes ‘the bundle, a huge pile of paperwork sent to everyone attending the Tribunal including the Judge and panel members. Every paragraph, every page is full of your child’s struggles. How your child has failed. Comments dismissing the (professionally recommended) support you know, without any doubt your child desperately needs. Dismissive statements combatting the very real effect of them not receiving the support. Everything they can’t do in black and white and with that comes emotion, memories, pain and natural instinct to protect your child. Add to that, this bundle is shared for all involved to see whilst knowing the other side is going to try in every way possible to use these words to fight you.
They hold meetings in private discussing the evidence they will use against you, although as we see it, against our child.
Now imagine the hearing. A panel of 3 people, one of them a Judge. Now I have to say, the panels and Judges at every one of our Tribunals have been very supportive. They haven’t used Legal-speak with us or ‘grilled’ us like they have the other side. However the LAs Barrister, calmly, with no emotion (why should he? It’s not his child) fires Law at the Judge and they engage in lengthy discussion about whether it applies in this case. It’s not ‘a case’ though. It’s my child. I can’t engage in these discussions, I’ve no idea if what they are saying is right or wrong.
The LAs witnesses, who in my other daughters case didn’t know her or had never met her. Even the Head Teacher of her (temporary) school admitted she was aware of her but didn’t know her. They paw over the bundle, that ‘pile of papers’ to them but our child’s life and struggles to us. They sift through, quoting things you said months ago in a meeting when you had been up all night dealing with your SEN child.
That meeting when you’d had no sleep and a week full of assessments not to mention caring for your child 24/7. The professionals were fine at that meeting, they had slept as usual. Gone home the night before, leaving their stresses behind including that pesky up coming Tribunal. Parents can’t do that. They can’t leave the stress of the ‘battle’ behind, it’s there every day, every weekend. We deal with the effects of the wrong or no support and it’s draining, upsetting, painful.
Then comes the summing up. My emotional plea versus the LAs Legal team and their ‘Law quoting’ masterpiece. All I can do now is wait, wait for 2 weeks going over every comment made, coming up with a blinder of a response for that question posed by the LAs Barrister, or that hidden dismissive remark designed to make me look like I’m making it all up….. just far too late. All this, again, whilst caring for my struggling, failing child.
I think people know now that it’s pretty standard for SEND parents to fight. It is. But what I also want people to know it’s not an easy option. We wouldn’t go through all of this if our children were just a bit behind where we think they should be. This isn’t about a few comments made by a Solicitor on Twitter. I’m sure I speak for a lot of SEN parents when I say his attitude isn’t unique. Most of us have met LA Reps and Legal people with the same view point as Mr Small. Although I’m sort of grateful to him so here’s the ‘thank you’.
Mark Small is the only one I’ve known to be this honest, open and public about his views of SEND families. I’m thankful that he’s opened up the possibility for change to a system that is meant to be supporting and protecting vulnerable children and families, but in the process of defending our children’s rights, it’s tearing lives and families apart. It’s riding us of our savings and in some cases, our homes. It’s taking years out of our precious family life and replacing it with battles, emotional turmoil and throwing us into a legal world we did nothing to deserve and shouldn’t have to go through.
I think this is an opportunity to start real change. So thank you Mr Small.
For as long as I can remember words relating to disabilities have been used as insults or punchlines to jokes. Even some politicians and others in the public domain have been guilty of doing so. The Prime Minister was forced to apologise after this…. “In the Sunday Telegraph interview, the prime minister said of Mr Balls: “He just annoys me. But I’m very bad, in the House of Commons, at not getting distracted, and the endless, ceaseless banter, it’s like having someone with Tourette’s permanently sitting opposite you.”
It’s not just politicians, I’ve seen it from a teacher in their blog. On a support page described as ‘inspiring parenting’. Shared by ‘friends’ who really should know better than to think I’d find it funny. I’ve heard people describe the weather as being ‘bi-polar’ or ‘schizophrenic’. Seen laughter over memes stating how fantastic it would be to have a friend with OCD to tidy their homes’. Had people on Facebook share jokes about Dyslexia, Tourettes, autism. Been told stories about people having a ‘meltdown’ over the amount of washing they had to do. Should we just ignore this? Brush it off as just a bit of fun, after all, surely they don’t mean to be cruel, do they?
Are there not enough words to describe the weather or annoyances and differences in people’s personalities? Well I googled it…”The number of words in the English language is : 1,035,877.3 This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor for January 1, 2016. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day.10 Jun 2015″. Not having enough words is clearly no excuse!
What is the effect of using disability in such ways? I’d argue it devalues disabled people, that it damages awareness and acceptance of difference and that is before even considering the emotional impact on the people living with disability and difference. If you saw a loved one struggling with something everyday, would you find it funny if people used it as a way of amusing themselves and others? There’s a vast difference between laughing with and laughing at or at the cost of someone else’s struggles. My daughter is dyslexic and she and her dyslexic friends often laugh at their dyslexia. She found it particularly amusing when she couldnt read what she had written on my shopping list and joked she had created new foods. My son’s Tourettes often forces new sounds or new motor tics. Sometimes he looks up at me, surprised by a new noise he’s produced and laughs. In that moment it’s funny for him, it’s not a tic that’s caused him pain like others can, and yes, at times like this I laugh with them, but never at them.
There are also those who are acutely aware of offending so avoid using disability terminology. Knowing how to refer to someone can be a bit of a minefield. I was involved in a conversation on Twitter about the terms ‘high and low functioning’ when describing autism. Personally I think they are useless terms which tell you nothing about the level of a persons needs or their strengths. This is exacerbated by the fact many use spoken language ability as a way of determining whether a person is high/low functioning, which again is completely incorrect. This conversation ended when I was asked ‘how would you introduce your autistic child without using high/low functioning?’ My response was ‘by using their name and if it was relevant, I’d also say they’re autistic.’ Of course we need to look at adjustments needed in various situations. More description of needs is important when doing so, but labels don’t define a person. They are part of who they are not the totality of who they are. My son isn’t (as he has been described) ‘a Tourettes child’ or ‘a high functioning kid’. He’s a total, whole person with various diagnoses. He may choose to call himself autistic one day. He hasn’t so far, but I hope to do a good enough job to encourage him to positively embrace this part of who he is and this is not going to be encouraged if he sees his diagnoses and differences being used in derogatory ways.
Some words linked to disability (which I’m pretty sure you all know) are no longer acceptable to use. They have been used for such a long time as ways of insulting or ‘joking’ that they are now, and have been for a long time, offensive to disabled people, their families and indeed much of the general population. If we no longer find these words acceptable, why are we allowing them to be replaced in descriptions, jokes and insults with other words describing disabilities? Why use disability as the punchline when there are so many other words?…..Words matter.
Go on, be honest…..we’ve all said these but have you considered what these instructions mean in real life to children? I mean what are we asking of them? To switch their emotion off? To push the emotion deep down inside so it doesn’t spoil the flow of the day? Or do we really believe that children are able to recognise, understand and modulate their emotion in such a way that they can self talk themselves into a better emotional state?
A few years ago one of my autistic children developed serious mental health difficulties. This gave me a determination to study and learn as much as I could about children’s mental health in order to help. What I learned surprised me because it became apparent I had to look deep inside myself, into my experiences, my ego, my mental health in order to understand how that impacted on how I engaged with children when they showed emotion.
I talked to a family member about my studies. He has worked for many years as a Police Officer and is exposed to extreme emotion every day. His method of reacting (or not) can have huge implications in how a situation develops and he began telling me about an elderly lady who had her bag snatched on her way home. As a result, she struggled to leave her home and that crime had a devastating impact on her life. We compared it to another family member (also a Police Officer) who was dragged into a alleyway by a group of men, mugged and roughed up. He had a few days to recover but was back at work soon after and carried on with his life. That elderly lady didn’t have the experience and training to instinctively deal with conflict or the training to know how to defend herself. She hadn’t seen the horrific scenes the Police Officer had which helped him put his emotion and experience into perspective. At the same time, he hadn’t experienced living each day feeling vulnerable as the elderly lady had. They were both victims of a similar crime but the emotions they showed and the impact on their lives were very different. I felt surprise at my family members reaction to being mugged and sympathy that he had to go through that. That surprise and sympathy came from my emotion, not his. Although he understood, my feelings of surprise offended him and sympathy was the last thing he wanted or needed.
It’s interesting how much vast differences in skills and experiences shape our reaction towards emotional situations and the impact these have on our daily lives. It made me think about how this related to my learning about children’s emotions. Do we consider the emotional impact of everyday problems children face? Do we think about how much of our emotional reaction is helpful to the situation? Some children struggle with issues that no child should be exposed to and some that many adults would have great difficulty dealing with. However what about the issues we might consider to be less valid of extreme emotions? For example, if a child cries or gets angry because they lost their pencil, who are we to say that their emotion is less valid than the child who has lost something (which we consider to be) much more valuable? What if a child becomes aggressive because another child says they smell? Do we know what previous experience that child has had to cause them to react aggressively? If we knew the whole picture, would our opinion change? Should our opinion matter? Should we be rating situations as being valid of expression of emotion or not?
So back to ‘Cheer up! Calm down!’ What if we didn’t give these instructions but instead we encouraged the negative feeling to be expressed and acknowledged? I mean we can all have our ‘moments’ as adults. If you were feeling upset and someone told you to ‘cheer up’ would you? If you were having a metaphorical feet stamping moment and someone said ‘calm down’ could you? We might be able to hold the emotion inside until we are safely at home and let it pour out there, but should we really be asking children to do this in school? How can they hold in those big feelings and concentrate on school work, retain new information, navigate social situations in the playground?
Children who throw chairs in classrooms do so because they have reached a point where they can’t cheer up or calm down. Many children withdraw, shut down and internalise emotion but feel it just as strongly and need just as much support as those who externalise it. Many core features of SENs cause children to struggle with emotion and become particularly apparent when their needs are not being met. I don’t think there’s any doubt that not meeting SENs of a child is linked closely to behaviour and mental health issues and should always be the first consideration. Aggression towards themselves and others is not something that should be accepted or ignored, but these children need nurture not disipline. They need mutually trusting relationships so they can be guided and taught another way to deal with situations they find challenging. Speaking as a Mum who has bought (and replaced due to much use!) punch bags, biting toys, balls on string which can be kicked as hard as you like and still come back for more, cushions for headbanging which give feedback but protect delicate heads, this stuff WORKS! The more we say ‘don’t feel these emotions’, the more powerful the emotions can become. The more we ignore emotion and encourage children to bury and suppress it, the more it festers, grows, damages.
I’d like to throw one more phrase into the mix ‘go and find something to do’. Many children with SEN (and without) can’t do this. It’s an empty instruction which can lead to more problems especially at times when children are struggling with emotion. Planning is key. The incredible 5-point scale has worked well with my children (available on NAS website or Amazon). It encourages self monitoring and self scaling of emotion which is especially helpful for children who appear to go from 0-60 in seconds. It also allows you to work with the child to pre-plan what to do when they are at various stages of emotion. Another thing which worked for us was having a box full of index cards with different sections for different emotions. After acknowledging they were feeling, for example – upset, they would go to the box and look in the ‘What makes me happy’ section where there will find pre-planned activities to help.
Many children with SEN can’t tell you what’s wrong or what happened and often it’s not a single event but a whole range of things all adding up to an overspill of emotion. How does it make you feel if someone asks ‘What’s wrong?’ Or says ‘Talk to me’. You might be a talker, articulate, emotionally and cognitively able to structure your feelings into words which not only capture the intensity of your feelings but also invoke others to sympathise, empathise and offer solutions. You might be someone who internalises, unable or unwilling to share your emotion with others. You might be someone who feels the need to fix problems for others, but is that what they need or want? So instead of ‘Cheer up! Calm down!’ Let’s acknowledge children’s emotions more, encourage them to feel what they feel in a safe supportive way. Children’s mental health is vital to their development and shouldn’t be pushed into the background or minimised by instructing them to ‘Cheer up! Calm down!’
A few weeks ago I came across a conversation (among many others) on Twitter about dealing with children’s behaviour in school. One tweet which stuck in my mind was from a teacher in response to a popular blog on the subject. It read ”Massive drain on teacher time is dealing with *That Kid*”
I spent a long time considering how to try & fight *That Kid*’s corner, however with every idea came questions I’d like to ask that teacher. I decided that in order to try and change their opinions, I must first try and understand how and when they started seeing problems to be fixed rather than children to be supported. Without the background information and understanding, how can I help? How can I change those opinions? How can I help them to see past anything other than a problem to be fixed?
*That Kid*’s story………..(Permission has been gained to share, although It’s adapted slightly to ensure anonymity)
P started on the road to becoming *That Kid* in year 2. He screamed, kicked and punched his way into school everyday. He screamed at pupils, his teachers and the dedicated TAs assigned to help him. He screamed until he crossed the threshold to the classroom where he suddenly became silent apart from his quiet sobbing. P’s mother was excluded by other parents, her parenting questioned and judged by teachers who openly stated it was ‘a home problem not a school based one’. She didn’t know it had a name, she had no idea her son was a ‘School refuser’. He was too old for support from the Helath visitor, his needs weren’t considered great enough to warrant a referral to CAMHS so P and his mum were alone.
In junior school P began to hide from his teachers at times he knew he couldnt cope. He would go to the toilet and not return causing the teacher or TA to go hunting for his new hiding place and spending precious time persuading him to come out. He was told he was not trying hard enough and that he mustn’t refuse to speak when he was asked a question in class. His teachers knew he was bright but felt he wasn’t working hard enough and said he really needed to ‘apply himself’.
He fidgeted and tapped his pencils and feet disturbing the other children in the class. He chewed his clothes, his school books and school equipment much to the annoyance of everyone. He was the last to class and often late, walking as slowly as he could to each lesson often forgetting or losing things along the way. P was *That Kid* and his mother was, well you know, one of *those parents*. A parent alone and unsupported. A parent judged and dismissed for never agreeing that it was a ‘home based problem’ or one which would be solved by attending a parenting course. A parent who fought tirelessly right up until year 5 when P was diagnosed with a significant anxiety disorder and Asperger Syndrome.
P wasn’t naughty and P’s mum wasn’t a bad parent. P was living everyday terrified to go to school. Terrified of the social interactions he so desperately wanted to master. Overwhelmed by the crowds and noise in the playground before school, in the corridors, at playtime and he was expected to cope with all of this whilst wearing clothes that made his skin feel like it was on fire. Unable to focus or sit still, unable to organise his own thoughts and feelings let alone the equipment needed for each lesson.
P went on to develop serious mental health problems after years of what he described as being ‘pure torture’. P’s secondary school said his behaviour was attention seeking and that his mother was just too anxious and overprotective. P announced to his teachers that he went to school for an education, not to make friends and refused to go outside at break times.
His school viewed this as defiance so rather than looking deeper, and against the professional advice, they took their own path of support placing P in social situations which he neither had the skills nor the mental health to cope with, and it was only at crisis point that he got the help he so desperately needed. He was out of formal education for 18 months whilst he recovered.
He had already experienced years of disrupted education from being viewed as *That Kid*. His needs had been overlooked. His background hadn’t been considered. Why had no one ever asked those questions? Never listened to his desperate mother? Never looked deeper than what they saw on the surface? Instead they questioned his diagnoses and the support suggested by professionals designed to help him. What he needed was nurture and guidance to help him into trusting relationships where his needs could have been uncovered so much sooner.
For many years P’s mother had been told he was ‘too bright for a Statement of SEN’ but he couldn’t go back to mainstream school. She fought tirelessly through Tribunals and the High Court where her parenting was scrutinised, where she was again villainised for not agreeing with the education authority.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, she won…..P went on to receive specialist help for 18 months and his life began to change for the better. He had teachers who looked deeper, who saw a desperate child in need of their help and guidance. They gave him space and time to consider another way of dealing with situations. They praised and encouraged every small achievement and stood by his side through his bad choices.
He is at University no with a Tutor who accepts P as the amazing talented person he is. He owns his own car which he pays for with his part time job. He’s in a relationship with another autistic person and he’s finally experiencing the stability and understanding he’s craved throughout his precious childhood. P lives with anxiety and challenge every moment of everyday but he looks forward to the future now and P wants to live.
‘Dealing with *That Kid*’ isn’t an option to be considered. They need you more than the others and yes, they will take up more time and resources than others, but *That Kid* is just as valid as everyone else and deserves a childhood free from unnecessary pain. If you have the power to help how can you even consider not looking past the challenges and seeing a child in need of support and understanding rather than *That Kid*?