Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Notes on the Green Paper: Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability

I’ve gone through the whole Green Paper tonight (http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm80/8027/8027.pdf ) and have the following comments (by section):

.0 Foreword (p.2-3)

1.1 The paper begins by establishing as given that the current system is inadequate and unwieldy, costly and unsustainable – with the desired outcome to be ‘less stressful for families and less costly to run’. This then immediately jumps into the idea of giving parents more control via a personal budget and introducing the idea of a budget, immediately limiting – what happens for example if the child in question needs more support than the ‘budget’ will pay for?

1.2 After the budget idea they go straight into Free Schools – which will ‘make it less likely that existing special schools will close’ they also mention ‘special free schools’ implicitly not supporting inclusion as the primary route but encouraging it further through the defence of the current special school system and new semi-autonomous special free schools. Nb. it’s highly unlikely any (non special) free school would want children with SEN as an additional cost. It isn’t clear in the least how or why new Free Schools would stop existing special schools from closing the correlation appears spurious at best.

1.3 This paper also points out that state schools can be named in a plan as a ‘preference’ not as a fundamental right.

1.4 Lots of repetition of Teachers being ‘free to decide what happens in their classrooms’. Currently the NUT and the Head Teachers Association have actively campaigned against the right of parents to name the school of their choice for their child and have supported segregation as a policy, under the guise of ‘making sure every child is able to benefit from learning’ euphemistically blaming the child who needs extra support for disruption and ‘too many adults in the classroom’. This innuendo is repeated almost word for word here yet not specifically defined.

Executive Summary (p.4-13)

2.1 Point 7 reiterates the manifesto and coalition agreement that ‘We will end the bias towards inclusion’ by offering more choice and by ‘changing statutory guidance for local authorities’ this latter phrase is unclear in the extreme and concerning.

2.2 Removal of a parents right to choose a mainstream school is outlined in point 7; “Parents of children with statements of SEN [inconsistency here as said would be abolished] will be able to express a preference for any state-funded school – including special schools, Academies and Free Schools – and have their preference met unless it would not meet the needs of the child, be incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or be an inefficient use of resources.” This is an outright attack on both parental choice and inclusion wrapped up under the sub heading of ‘give parents a real choice of school’ Orwell would be proud. This could be in breach of European Human Rights legislation and/or UN Charter on Disability.

2.3 Point 14 looks to local voluntary and community sector groups could coordinate the assessment’ [of needs]

2.4 Point 17 reasserts a vision of clear information ‘about the funding available’ to support the child, and changes the terms of the discussion away from providing services that should meet the needs of the child as they develop, to one where the LEA just makes a ‘local offer ...[of] what support is available and from whom;’ limiting by definition. Personal funding is not a way to deliver better services it’s a way to cut costs.

2.5 Point 20 states ‘Disabled children and children with SEN are more likely to be bullied or excluded than their peers’ – is this true (esp. the disabled part)? It’s just a preamble to this ‘...they tell us that they want to be educated by people who understand their impairments, without fear of being stigmatised by their peers...’ now that would be a great vision for mainstream state schools but I suspect that isn’t what they’re getting at.

3.0 Introduction
(p. 14- 27)

3.1 Point 42 – interesting data on the fact that the number of children attending special schools has risen by 4% of statemented children between 2006-2010 (despite the bias obviously) the only referenced information here is the data for 2006.

3.2 There are a number of breakdowns of data here – yet no breakdown of the actual diagnosis of most children with SEN.

3.3 Points 52 – 57 much of this data is evidence that the majority of ‘other’ SEN labelling of children in education is down to poverty – this Green Paper however doesn’t actually address child poverty in any way, rather it makes a spurious inference between SEN and crime etc and concludes that if the SEN label is removed then so is the stigmatising effects that lead to under achievement, crime etc. without addressing the fundamental issues.

4.0 Early Identification and assessment
(p. 28-40)

4.1 Much of this section is unclear on solid actions that will happen, much is deferred to the ‘pathfinders’ who will work with groups/professionals and LEAs from September. There should be strong and co-ordinated action at this point to define the range of needs of children with DS and the practical levels of support needed, this could prove invaluable when contesting the LEA’s offer and the budgetary constraints laid down at some point in this process.

5.0 Giving Parents Control

5.1 Point 2.20 (p.46) worries me not sure in terms of an LEA offer what they would mean in ‘...different provision schools make for children with SEN...covers four key areas: curriculum [including tailoring] teaching...assessment...pastoral support...’ It could be significant that these are defined on a school level? 2.22 goes on with more of this including the ‘school’s approach to SEN’.

5.2 Greater cut backs in speech therapy support – 2.50 whereby children at mainstream no longer get ‘expensive individual placements in individual provision [but access it] where therapy support is provided by the school in-house. Many children attend a special school on a day or part-time basis to access therapy...’

6.0 Learning and Achieving

6.1 Positive noises about greater inclusion of SEN training for teachers – but no detail about what this would comprise of. Would be good to see a teacher training qualification and how this would be broken out, whether compulsory and what the constituent elements are.

6.2 Statement as to how essential Special Schools are in 3.61

7.0 Services working together for families

7.1 Massive amount of change both in this Green Paper and across the NHS at the same time makes this section a tad optimistic, whereby professionals, newly empowered by local budgets and greater autonomy will all work together to create a new and innovative future. So new ‘Health and Wellbeing Boards’, new GP Consortia, new involvement of voluntary and community organisations and local commissioners... could be an unholy mess.

7.2 More reliance on specific specialist advice from organisations for ‘specific impairments’ mentions here Dyslexia and Autism Trusts but nothing for Down syndrome, this should be an area staked out asap (ref. 5.32, 5.33 p. 101)

7.3 Also of pragmatic interest is 5.34 that the Government is supporting the National Year of Communication in 2011 – so could be good to drop into all those Tribunals on lack of speech therapy support.

7.4 Speech Therapy is under review through the Liberating the NHS initiative (ref. 5.40-5.43)

7.5 Case Study example of ‘Ups and Downs’ accessing more educational psychology (5.47) – so again using charities to act as intermediaries rather than the state identify and address the need. ... leading to 5.55 onwards on the Big Society & Big Society Bank etc

I hope my comments might be useful in drawing out some of the direction of the coalition and the likely roadmap for children with Down syndrome in the UK education system over the next few years.

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