by Douglas Silas, specialist SEN solicitor
Here is my update for this week.
Judging by what I am reading and hearing over the past week, it seems to have been getting a lot tougher out there for parents of and children/young people with SEN.
I therefore want to highlight this week some of the issues and also some people/organisations who are providing useful information.
I was also emailed by some parents/people after my update last week, one of whom said:
‘Thank you for your updates, they are proving very useful. It's good to have things in one place and not have to trawl through the vast amounts of information out there, particularly given I rarely know what I should be looking for, let alone where!’
I have therefore provided links again in this update.
I hope that this helps people again.
1. What has happened this week?
It is firstly useful to remind everyone again about the current situation for ‘vulnerable children’ – a useful summary of which was provided by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on its website, entitled: ‘Coronavirus spotlight: vulnerable children’, which states:
‘For some children, circumstances at home or in their community mean they face greater risks than others. Some, but not all, of these children will be supported by a social worker. The coronavirus crisis is likely to elevate the risks to these children, and services may be less able to respond to their needs.
School closures and vulnerable children
The closure of schools for most children, while necessary to halt rates of infection, is one reason why some children will be at greater risk. Schools act as crucial sources of safety and support, and act as warning systems for all children, especially those at risk.
At a basic level, schools often provide some children with their only hot meals of the day, but they also provide counselling, or just a place where they can feel safe and settled. Schools also act to alert other professionals when things go wrong.
The emergency measures put in place by the Government mean many children are not in school, and they no longer benefit from this scaffolding. But even for those children who are able to remain in school, it is not clear that the structures that help them will remain – with significant staffing shortages, and classes of different ages and levels grouped together, the environment will be significantly different.’
You can also find useful information about what is happening generally on IPSEA’s webpage entitled: ‘IPSEA update on COVID-19, school closures and SEN provision’, which is well worth a read.
In terms of things getting tougher, there was an article written by a parent in The Guardian entitled: ‘'We're on our own': how the pandemic isolates families of disabled children’, which said:
‘Families of children with special educational needs and disabilities are a resilient and resourceful group of people. Many of the qualities required to endure the coronavirus pandemic – vigilance, self-containment and mutual aid – are basic skill sets to parent carers. Whether at school, work or in community life, we are past masters at social distancing and social isolation.
Our families have poorer physical and mental health than most. We earn less, have higher household costs, are more isolated, and break up and break down more. Somehow, perhaps because we have no choice, we manage to endure.
Ours is also a vulnerable group – not just to the virus itself, but to the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
Little has been said by government or the national media about the very complex needs of our families during this crisis; no answers yet for a parent-carer like Debbie Taylor, an NHS psychotherapist and key worker who cannot send her daughter, Sarah, to school as she has tuberous sclerosis and is prone to chest infections.
The pressure on the NHS also means Sarah’s annual MRI scan, to check that tumours on her major organs have not grown, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, Debbie works and juggles caring for Sarah over an 18-hour day. “I am exhausted, there is no let up,” she says. “Normal coping strategies or self-care mechanisms are all gone. All our support systems were already unravelling. There is no plan B. We are now on our own.”’
There was also a piece on Autism Eye’s website entitled: ‘We Can’t Get Food We Need, Say Parents’, which said:
‘Families of autistic children are struggling to get food from supermarkets amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Parents say their children live on restricted diets and shops are being stripped bare of the foods they eat.
Some supermarkets, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have set aside periods when the elderly and vulnerable can shop.
Impossible to register
But Beth Morrison, who runs Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland(PABSS), says she has found it impossible to register as “vulnerable” with Sainsbury’s.
Morrison is self-isolating with husband Peter, 57. Peter had a heart attack three weeks ago and has had a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted.
The couple’s son, Calum, and daughter, Paige, are also self-isolating. Calum, 21, has epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism and a learning disability.
Not been able to book a delivery
Morrison, 54, from Monifieth, in Angus, gets much of Calum’s diet from Morrison’s. However, she has not been able to book a delivery online.
She said Calum eats only chicken or sausages from Sainsbury’s or Marks & Spencer.
“He is so sensitive with food — sensory issues with food. He can actually tell the difference just by smelling the chicken,” she said.
Morrison has relied on Calum’s support workers to go shopping.
Son will only eat certain brands
Anna Champion, 39, from Chippenham, said her son Ben, 12, who has autism and a learning disability, will also only eat certain brands.
She wrote on Autism Eye’s Facebook page: “I don’t know what to do. He is eating virtually nothing as I can’t get what he likes.”
A spokesperson for Tesco confirmed that families of children and adults with autism can use the store during slots set aside for vulnerable groups.
Families will not be asked for proof, added the spokesperson.’
One of the most notable things this week was the relaxing of the rules on lockdown exercise for some children/young people with SEN, which was summarised on Contact’s website in an article entitled: ‘Government clarifies exercise guidance for people with health needs’, which said:
‘The government has clarified social distancing guidance for people whose disability or health need requires them to exercise more than once a day.
Ordinarily, people are advised that they may leave the house for exercise only once a day, for example to take a run or go for a cycle. This should be within the local area only, to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
However, if your child has a health need or disability that means they need to exercise more than once a day, it is fine to do so. Similarly, if your child has to take a specific form of exercise beyond the local area, it's ok for you to take them there. This might be, for example, if your child has autism or learning disabilities.
The government advises that such exercise would ideally be in line with a care plan. And of course, it is still important to follow other social distancing rules such as keeping 2m away from other people.’
There was also an interesting article by barristers, Steve Broach and Alice Irving, (which you can find on the Special Needs Jungle’s website) entitled: ‘Why the Coronavirus lockdown adjustment for people with disabilities and mental health conditions was the right thing to do’, which said:
‘Changes to lockdown policy for disabled people and those with mental health conditions
A recent example involves two families with autistic children (the claimants), working with lawyers (Bindmans LLP and Steve Broach at 39 Essex Chambers, one of the authors of this article), to secure a change to the government policy that people should only leave their homes once a day for exercise. The policy was amended to allow people with a specific health condition to exercise more often, or to travel away from their home to exercise, if it is necessary for them to do so.
This is an important change in the policy. Adherence to lockdown and social distancing rules is essential to ensuring we, as a country and community, come through this crisis. However, while it is hard for all of us to abide by these rules, they do not impact on all people equally. Seeking recognition of this is not a case of disabled people using an excuse to avoid adherence to lockdown requirements. It is a recognition that, for some people, not being able to go outside more than once a day is not merely unpleasant but has a potentially significant impact on their health and wellbeing.
This is clearly illustrated in this statement from a parent of one of the claimants:
“Over the last couple of years, our autistic son has made huge strides self-managing his sensory, communication and health difficulties and asking for what he needs in order to be able to cope with them. These include long walks in the countryside, which he finds very relaxing and pleasurable from a sensory point of view, and being taken for drives in the car while listening to music with his dad.
"So when the lockdown was announced, we were worried that being limited to one outing a day in the local area would make it impossible for our son to deal with the situation and that this could lead to severe meltdowns. Having the guidelines clarified by the government has lifted a huge weight from our shoulders, and as a result, our son has been managing well with the limitations of the lockdown while maintaining social distancing.”
While the main guidance still states that you should only leave the house for “one form of exercise a day” a new section was added entitled “Can I exercise more than once a day if I need to due to a significant health condition?”
It is worth setting out this new section in full:
“You can leave your home for medical need. If you (or a person in your care) have a specific health condition that requires you to leave the home to maintain your health – including if that involves travel beyond your local area – then you can do so. This could, for example, include where individuals with learning disability or autism require specific exercise in an open space two or three times each day – ideally in line with a care plan agreed with a medical professional.
"Even in such cases, in order to reduce the spread of infection and protect those exercising, travel outside of the home should be limited, as close to your local area as possible, and you should remain at least two metres apart from anyone who is not a member of your household or a carer at all times.”
The way that the guidance was changed shows that disabled people and their families are not powerless, when a new policy rushed through by the government in response to the public health crisis fails to adequately consider their rights and needs. In this instance, two families with disabled children, working with lawyers, brought about meaningful and important change to a government policy. This will benefit disabled people nationwide.
Lawyers are continuing to partner with disabled people and their families, to safeguard the rights of disabled people in these difficult times.’
There was also help on ‘Supporting siblings’ (again on Contact’s website), which said:
Parents often talk to us about the importance of siblings and the difficulties that can arise for the siblings of a disabled child. These challenges rarely stop the relationship siblings have with their disabled brother or sister being one of the most important in their lives.
Below we highlight some of the issues that may crop up for siblings of a disabled child and give tips to respond to them.
Limited time and attention from parents
· Every so often put the needs of siblings first and let them choose what to do.
· Decide on certain times you'll dedicate to siblings individually, for example bedtime or day trips once a month.
· Try to find activities that the family can enjoy together, but also other activities to enjoy separately so each child has something special.
· Try to arrange short term care so you can attend important events with siblings, like sports day.
· Sometimes take your disabled child along to their sibling's event: siblings supporting each other works both ways.
Confusion about their sibling's disability
· Learn to recognise behaviour that expresses anger or frustration at their disabled sibling.
· Talk to your children about disability so they know that no one is to blame for their brother or sister's difficulties.
· Encourage them to see the similarities they have with their sibling. Draw pictures of each family member and look at their strengths and weaknesses.
· Meet other families who have a disabled child so your other children see that disability is an everyday part of life and not unique to their family.
Worry about bringing friends home
· Talk with your child about how they might explain their brother or sister's disability to a friend.
· Encourage but don't expect siblings to always include the disabled child in their play or activities.
· Let them retreat to their bedroom, and when they're older you can think about letting lock the door.
· Acknowledge siblings' negative feelings about their brother or sister and talk about the feelings of guilt they may feel. Explain that everyone gets angry with other family members sometimes.
Stressful situations at home
· Encourage siblings to develop their own social lives.
· Some siblings find it helpful to meet other young carers to share difficult emotions in a supportive environment. There are young carers support organisations across the UK.
· Some siblings may prefer to talk to someone outside of the family. Your GP may be able to recommend a suitable counsellor, or you can visit the Counselling Directory website.
Sibling tips from other parents
We asked some parents what advice they'd pass onto others, and this is what they said.
· Don't get down about sibling troubles - your children can gain and learn from difficult experiences.
· Join a parent support group - they really help.
· Tell the child's school if they're having trouble adapting to having a disabled sibling.
· Keep the siblings informed about their brother or sister's disability.
· Allow children to speak their mind, even if you're not always comfortable with what they say.
· Don't put pressure on your non-disabled children - it might take them time to fully understand the situation.’
In educational news, there was a nice article by The Guardian entitled: ‘Read my lips: how lockdown TV could boost ch, which said:
‘Research shows that turning on TV subtitles boosts kids’ reading ages, particularly among primary school children.
An urgent call is to go out to children’s television broadcasters this weekend, backed by major names in British entertainment, politics and technology. Writer and performer Stephen Fry, best-selling author Cressida Cowell and businesswoman Martha Lane Fox are joined by former children’s television presenter Floella Benjamin as signatories to a letter, carried in today’s Observer, that urges all leading streaming, network and terrestrial children’s channels to make one simple change to boost literacy among the young: turn on the subtitles.
If English-language subtitles were to be run along the bottom of the screen for all programming, they argue, reading levels across the country would automatically rise. Longstanding international academic research projects prove, they say, that spelling, grammar and vocabulary would all be enhanced, even if children watching TV are not aware they are learning.
The campaign aims to improve reading ability across the English-speaking world and has won backing from former President Bill Clinton, who said: “Same-language subtitling doubles the number of functional readers among primary school children. It’s a small thing that has a staggering impact on people’s lives.”
It’s a simple change that will make the world of difference to millions of young people
The drive is being run by a campaign group called Tots, or Turn On The Subtitles, and launches this week. The open letter to broadcasters from the organisation, founded by old friends and entrepreneurs Henry Warren and Oli Barrett, draws attention to the benefits of featuring same-language subtitles as a default on programming aimed at children across the world - almost a billion of whom are now being educated inside their own homes.
The campaign is aimed at broadcasters and online platforms, and names Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube Kids, ITV and the BBC, many of whom have shown interest in the idea. Campaigners are pushing for this change to be made at a moment of maximum benefit.
“This needs to be done as a matter of urgency. This simple change will make the world of difference to millions of young people at this extremely challenging time,” reads the letter.
Warren, a businessman who has specialised in education technology, said he aims to raise awareness of the issue among parents as well as broadcasters. The plan is to start with video-on-demand content now, and then move on to converting all children’s programming.
“It starts helping as soon as a child can decode basic phonemes,” said Warren. “But the real benefit is when a child is a sufficiently competent reader that it is done subconsciously.” Parents would be able to turn off the subtitles if they wished, or change them to another language. And if broadcasters prove slow to respond to the renewed pressure, Warren hopes parents will hear the message.
“To be blunt, though, even the best awareness-raising often fails to reach the families that need it most.” It is an intervention, Warren adds, is not supposed to replace home reading, merely to supplement it.
Researchers using eye-tracking software have shown that children follow subtitles on screens. While many broadcasters have engaged with Tots in recent months, and most have few technical obstacles to surmount, final editorial approval for the plan has been difficult to get.
A Dutch study of eye-tracking during television viewing found in 1991 that the subtitles drew the eyes of viewers for a considerable time. A previous study also found that action-oriented cartoons, such as Popeye, did sometimes draw children’s eyes away from the text below, but not in more verbally dense shows, such as The Garfield Show. And two years ago, PlanetRead, a literacy charity based in Canada, America and India, carried out research in rural Rajasthan, India, which involved showing children animated stories. One group of struggling readers watched with subtitles and one without.
The overwhelming majority of children, 94 per cent, were found to have engaged with the subtitles, especially in the simpler shows when words appeared at a rate of around 81 a minute.’
2. What does this all mean?
As I have already said, things are now getting tougher out there and I am sure that this is just going to increase as the weeks go by. However, as I have also referred to above, it is still possible to be creative and assertive sometimes.
Although I know that some schools will go back again next week after the Easter break, I also know that the difficulties I have highlighted above here and in past updates will still continue for many parents and children/young people who are home-schooling now.
3. Where can I find further information?
I would again remind you of the very useful resources and information provided on the following websites:
- Council for Disabled Children
- Special Needs Jungle
However, I also came across other useful information this week, in particular on Contact’s website here:
- ‘Important information about Covid-19 coronavirus for families with disabled children’
- ‘Coronavirus Covid-19 and families with disabled children’
- ‘Find other families like yours. Chat. Ask. Share. Support’.
I would also highlight the fact that you can now get digital copies of the magazines: SEN Magazine and Autism Eye which are both very helpful to any parents or professionals involved with children/young people with SEN.
Remember also, that there are also other videos on this website, especially the one at the top of this page which explains the coronavirus and its effect clearly to children.
Keep safe until next week.
With best wishes
P.S I understand that there are a number of educational or other useful resources now on the web - I would be very grateful if you could let me know of any that people are finding useful, so that I can direct others to them.
P.P.S. I also want to highlight again the fact that there are currently a lot of scams out there, both online and through texts/WhatsApps. Please be extremely careful and help yourself and others not to become victims.
You can learn more at: www.FriendsAgainstScams.org.uk.
I always seem to say in my last SEN update at this time of the (academic) year, that I cannot believe we are already nearly at the end of another (academic) year – and this year feels just the same.
In this SEN Update, you will find sections entitled:
As I always say, I know how busy everyone is, so please feel free to read just the sections that are of interest to you or read everything; the choice is always yours.
Don’t forget, to ensure that you never miss out on one, you can get my SEN updates personally by completing your email details below, or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use, at the top of this page.
You can also share this update with others (please only do so if it may be relevant to them) by using one of the icons usually to the right or at the bottom of this page.
THE NUMBER JUST GETS LARGER EVERY YEAR(SEN STATS)
If you have read my updates previously in the last few years, you will know that at this time every year, I like to share the latest annual statistics about Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans (previously Statements of SEN) issued by the Department for Education (DfE).
The latest version of the DfE statistics was issued on their website at the end of May 2019 and there are a number of different versions that you can find here.
The DfE’s webpage states:
‘This publication includes information on:
It is based on the statutory SEN2 data collection.’
The main points I have pulled out are as follows:
‘The total number of EHC Plans has continued to increase …
There were 354,000 children and young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans maintained by local authorities as at January 2019.
This is an increase of 34,200 (11%) from 2018. This is driven by increases across all age groups, with largest percentage increases in the 0-5 (13%) and 20-25 (32%) age groups.
The total number of children and young people with Statements of SEN or EHC Plans has increased each year since 2010.
There were 48,907 new EHC Plans made in the 2018 calendar year …
There were 48,900 children and young people with new EHC Plans made during the 2018 calendar year. This is an increase of 16% compared to 2017.
The number of new EHC Plans has increased each year since their introduction in 2014.
The proportion of new EHC Plans issued within 20 weeks has fallen …
In 2018, 60% of new EHC Plans were issued within 20 weeks.
This shows a decrease from 2017, when 65% of new EHC Plans were issued within the 20-week time limit. This figure excludes exceptional cases where the local authority need not comply with the 20-week time limit if it is impractical to do so.’
As always, the DfE documents go into a lot more detail and there are also some visual representations and more breakdowns on what they have said here but, unless you work within this area and need this information, or work for academic purposes, you will probably just want the headline information that I have quoted above.
Of course, the main thing of note, is that, again, there has been quite a sizeable increase over the course of 2018 of children and young people with EHC Plans and 40% of new EHC Plans are not being issued within (the required) 20 weeks.
It also concerns me a bit that we seem to have been steadily increasing the number of EHC Plans (or Statements of SEN before them) over the past eight or so years, even though we were told that the introduction of the new SEN Framework would mean that more children and young people with SEN would be able to have their needs met without EHC Plans.
Yet this does not seem to be the case for reasons that I have highlighted earlier this year in a previous update, which was talking about some people saying that there may now be a SEN crisis (the one talking about the SEN Law Conference).
I am really not sure what more I can say here now, since the statistics seem to speak for themselves in many ways. However, trying to look at this as objectively as possible, it does seem to me that the main increase in the last year (at 32%) has been in the 20-25 age group, which seems to be new entrants to the SEN system that may not have been there before. Also, the second largest percentage increase (at 13%) was in the 0-5 age group, which might be because we are getting better now at identifying SEN in children under the age of 5.
But given the fact that we are still living in an era of public funding cuts, it does seem to me that this continual increase in EHC Plans and the corresponding demand on public funds, may mean that if we continue in this manner to increase every year, the increases will not be sustainable.
I know that this feels like the ‘elephant in the room’ but I do feel it needs to be said and we all need to put our heads together to work out the best way around it, otherwise no-one is going to be happy in the end, as the number of EHC Plans just seems to get larger every year.
“A PLACE AT THE TABLE” (MEDIATION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE)
I recently had the pleasure of attending the launch event for the project report called ‘A Place at the Table: a report on young people’s participation in resolving disputes about special educational needs and disability’ written by Margaret Doyle (who is herself a trained mediator).
Again, it may be easier for you to read the full report which you can find here. However, I know that everyone is very busy so it may be easier if I try to summarise a few things for you here.
Probably the best place to start is to quote the text from the report’s website which states as follows:
‘Decisions made by local authorities on SEND provision reflect many aspects of concern in administrative justice, including the quality of initial decision-making, accountability of public bodies, human rights considerations in the delivery of public services, mechanisms by which people can challenge and appeal such decisions. The project has sought to contribute to our understanding of the way these aspects of administrative justice are experienced through the mandates of children’s rights and participation and access to justice to our knowledge from a best practice for including children’s and young people’s voices in the process.
The project has focused primarily on young people aged 16-25 in England and their involvement in SEND mediation. Reasons for this focus includes the new rights conferred on young people at age 16 by the Children and Families Act 2014; the steep increase in mediation numbers, from 75 in 2014 to nearly 2,500 in 2017, and the distinctive fault of parties in mediation, as decision-makers, which differed from their role in tribunal appeals or ombudsman complaints. The expectation is that it will be of value to the issue of participation of children and young people of all ages and in other jurisdictions and in other forms of complaint and dispute resolution, including appeals to the SEND Tribunal and complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The report draws on interviews and discussions; documents produced during the project, including blog posts and a briefing paper; and a summary of a round table discussion held in June 2018. Participants, who have been hugely generous with their time and contributions, have included mediators, tribunal members, local government, advice and advocacy organisations, parents/carers and expert academics.
Three key things have been explored in this project:
I can also probably do no better than to quote from the ‘Emerging Findings’ in the report itself as follows:
‘During the course of the project, key messages have arisen that go beyond mediation and tribunal practice needing to adapt for more inclusive participation. A key message is that ‘participation’ covers a range of types and levels of involvement, from expressing views to making decisions. In the SEND context, it is important not to see this range as a hierarchy, with some types of participation more valuable than others. Facilitating participation and taking account of children and young people’s views have long been emphasised in the SEND Code of Practice. However, in the context of legal advice under the Children and Families Act, it is decision-making rights for young people that are new. Yet it is currently difficult to determine the extent to which young people are exercising their rights to request mediation and to register an appeal to the SEND Tribunal because the data is not collected. The conclusion reached in this project is that few young people are doing so.
It also appears that a small number of young people attend SEND mediation or SEND Tribunal hearings. Figures from one SEND mediation provider, which works with about one-third of all local authorities in England, suggest that children and young people attend mediation in only 8% of cases. The extent of children and young people’s involvement is not possible to determine from the collected data, so this figure is likely to reflect a range of levels of participation, including attending only and not being involved in meaningful decision-making.’
Margaret goes on to say:
‘The emerging findings suggest that:
1. Young people are not exercising their rights on SEND decision-making to the extent that might be expected. This may be because they know about their rights and choose not to exercise them. Alternatively, it may be because of the lack of a rights 'infrastructure' to support them to exercise their rights. We do not know enough to determine the reasons, but without adequate information and advice, it is difficult to expect children and young people to be aware of and exercise their rights.
2. The emphasis on participation is both a source of anxiety for young people and a means of empowerment, much as learning to drive can be. If it is a source of anxiety for some young people, this does not necessarily mean they do not want to be in the driving seat (although some may not), but they need support and practice. Decision-making is a learned skill.
3. Parents face a significant change in role as their children grow up and become rights holders, and they may need support in how to move from being advocates for their children to supporting their children to take a lead as decision-makers. The concerns that parents express about decision-making rights of young people with SEND reflect the importance of the relationship and the need to address their anxieties as well as those of young people themselves. Yet little support is available specifically addressing this.
4. The legal concept of mental capacity appears not to be well understood in the SEND context, and assumptions about capacity of children and young people can generate conflict and hinder attempts at meaningful participation in decision-making. Approaching young people's participation from a capabilities perspective rather than one of mental capacity may allow for more scope for supported participation and decision-making. Such a perspective also recognises the importance of relationships and trust between young people, their parents, and LAs.
5. Addressing both attitudinal and practical barriers may require a significant shift in culture and in political will to provide the information and advice infrastructure necessary for the exercise of those rights to become a reality. Significant changes in the information and advice infrastructure (rights awareness, legal aid, SEND expertise, advocacy) are needed to make exercising this right a meaningful and realistic option for those children and young people who choose to do so. The responsibility for these changes rests primarily with local authorities and the Department for Education as the statutory bodies, but they cannot happen without the involvement and commitment also of schools and colleges, health and social care professionals, parents, and mediators and tribunal members.
6. Insufficient data are collected and published by mediation providers and the SEND Tribunal to allow for a full picture of young people's participation. The rights for young people enshrined in the Children and Families Act are not being reflected in procedures and practice, and this contributes to a lack of administrative data on, for example, numbers of young people participating in mediation and tribunal hearings. Help will be needed from the Department for Education and local authorities.
7. Mediators and mediation providers could be doing more to engage with young people directly and to adapt their processes to be more flexible and inclusive. This includes initial awareness raising and providing information that is accessible to young people. The Professional Standards for SEND Mediators could be more detailed in the expectations of what training and experience are required of mediators in relation to working with young people with SEND.
8. Consideration is needed as to how young people can be involved as co-producers of guidance on designing/redesigning dispute resolution processes that facilitate their participation as decision-makers. This is a design challenge, however, to ensure that such co-production is not tokenistic and exploitative, and it is resource-intensive if it is to be genuinely inclusive. Established participation groups of young people with SEND have an important role, but they are not intended to be representative of young people generally, and there will be a range of views and preferences as well as a range of needs to take into account.’
Finally (at the end of the ‘Executive Summary’), Margaret’s says the following under ‘Recommendations’:
‘A number of ideas have been generated from engaging with supporters from a range of perspectives. The ideas have led to recommendations for improvements in practice and for further research, which I have set out in more detail in the final Part of this report.’
Again, I do not think I can say very much more, can I? Can I suggest again that, if this is something which may/should be of interest to you, it is probably better to read the report in full which, again, you can find here.
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
As we are nearly at the end of the academic year, there do not seem to be many forthcoming SEN events that I think may be worth going to.
I would only highlight the following
FALLING FLAT ON MY FACE!
I am going to end this update a little differently today, by not telling you a single personal story, but sharing with you a couple of stories.
But I also want to first put things in context.
A lot of people like to say that you should always try and reach as far as you can when you do something. This usually stems from the feeling that you need to be able to show yourself and others that you have tried as hard as you can and could not have done anything more.
This is very motivating and trying your hardest like this sometimes leads to outcomes that no-one was expecting. In fact, it is also said that sometimes it is good for a teacher to ask their pupils at the end of a test, if they have really tried as hard as they could have and to put their hands up if they have not.
You will be surprised at how many children will actually put their hands up and admit that they didn’t do their best, but how this lesson then teaches them for the future and motivates them to always do the best they can.
But sometimes, you need to also remember not to reach too far. Although I also subscribe to the view that you should always try to do your best, as a physically disabled man using a wheelchair, but who still has to try and balance on his legs sometimes, I have found that I can sometimes actually reach too far for something sometimes and then over-balance; so the next thing I know is that I am on the floor, having fallen flat on my face!
There are numerous stories I can tell you about times like these; like when I am reaching for something very carefully and slowly, putting in enormous effort to get it, but just as I am about to get it, finding that somebody, who genuinely thinks that they are helping me, then moving it to somewhere that they think is closer for me to get it, but me then being surprised and disorientated by this and not only then not getting it, but also losing my balance and falling flat on my face!
Or the times when I am reaching for something, but just as I am about to get it, ending up knocking it a bit further away from me and then having to reach a bit further for it again, but ending up knocking it a bit further away from me again; and doing this over and over again until I reach just too far and, you guessed it, ending up losing my balance and falling flat on my face!
What I have learnt from this though is that I just need to learn to get up myself again. I have also found that this is actually better for me in the long run, both mentally and physically. Overall, I have learnt that, whist it is important to always try your hardest, you should not over-reach for something.
So, whilst I know that it often feels a bit counter-intuitive to not reach as far as you can for something, or to watch someone struggle and not do anything to assist them, please remember that sometimes you can help me by not helping me!
With good wishes
P.S. I always find it helpful to find out what people think about my updates, so please take a few seconds to tell me what you think by going to 'Summer (Half) Term 2018/19 'SEN Update – Your Thoughts’.
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This will be my last update for 2017 (the chronological year, not the academic one), so you will not hear from me now again until next Spring (i.e. January 2018).
In this SEN Update, you will find Sections entitled:
I have deliberately only written four sections in this update (rather than my normal five) because they are a bit lengthier to read.
But as I always say, I know how busy everyone is, so please feel free to read just the sections that are of interest to you or read everything; the choice is always yours.
(Don’t forget, to ensure that you never miss out on one, you can get my SEN updates personally by completing your email details below, by using our App (SEN.fyi), or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use listed at the top/bottom of this page.
You can also easily share this update with others (please only do this if it may be relevant to them), by using one of the icons to the right of/at the bottom of this page (if on a mobile device) or on our SEN.fyi App (by using the ‘share’ feature at the bottom of the page).
THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT (NEW SEN LAW CONFERENCE)
Some of you will know that for over two decades, Jordan Publishing has held an annual SEN Law and Practice Conference ever year, usually in the first week of March.
Personally, I have spoken for Jordans (as it has come to be known) for the past 13 years, and have actually also always attended the whole day-long conference myself, as I have always found it very useful to hear from other speakers/practitioners in the SEN field about what is happening about SEN law.
The Jordans conference has historically always been well-attended, (people working in the SEN field also see it as a ‘must got to’ networking event), with a range of excellent speakers, not only solicitors, barristers and Judges working in the SEN field, but representatives from Government, Local Authorities (LAs) and parental organisations. It has always had its 'finger on the pulse' of SEN and there have always been good sessions providing analysis of SEN practice and procedures, together with good casework updates, to name but a few things. However, the Jordans conference has also been said to be too expensive for some people.
Unfortunately, Jordans were taken over last year prior to their (now) last conference. Their new owners have decided to no longer hold an annual SEN conference from 2018.
But I am glad to say that I have now joined up with the education law barristers from Matrix Chambers and also the charity, IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Educational Advice), in order to now stage a new annual SEN Law conference, which we plan to launch and take place next Spring in London on Tuesday 6 March 2018.
The venue and speakers are not confirmed as of yet, but what I can tell you so far is that it, again:
I am very excited about this venture. We are hoping to not only attract the same audience as before (i.e.lawyers and those from schools/colleges/LAs/parents organisations etc.), but now also make it more accessible to as many other people as possible (both parents and professionals).
We are hoping that it will again also become the ‘must go to’ event for anyone working or interested in SEN law (whether personally or professionally) and that it will also serve as a valuable opportunity for different (and similar) people in the field of SEN to get together once a year, in the years to come.
We are not sure as of yet how many people will be coming and whether we should hold the conference just in London, or should also put it on again in somewhere like Manchester (we realise that many seminars/conferences are in London and can be very expensive (both in time or cost) for those commuting from the north to attend).
THINGS WE DON’T (BUT SHOULD) TALK ABOUT (MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES)
This section of my update is a bit different from my normal ones (for example, where I like to share information, try to put forward a solution to a problem or give an analysis of something).
Today, I really just want to highlight an issue that has been on my mind a lot these past few years, so that we can hopefully start to talk about it. I guess that I really just want to also get people thinking about it a bit more.
The world has really changed a lot in the past decade or two, hasn’t it - mainly with the advent of rapid advancements of new technology, particularly through the increasing access to and use of the internet. It is almost like there has been a quiet revolution going on and we have just accepted it!
I certainly do not criticise the proliference of the internet with the now immediate access to the vast amounts of information we have at our finger tips, together with our ability to use emails, smartphones, tablets etc., but I have also seen a rapid rise in the use (and misuse) of Social Media.
This seems to have now become an almost obsessive compulsion for many children and young people during the past decade or so, even though many Social Media tools have not really been around for that long (it may surprise you to learn that Facebook actually only launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, but others like Instagram only started in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011). But we have seen the rise during this time of substantially more mental health difficulties in children and young people (mainly teenagers, although teenage years can now seem to sometimes start during primary school!), especially during the past 5-10 years.
I know that many people put this down to the increased use of Social Media, which I tend to agree with - I have seen these pressures on children and young people (for example, their peers posting pictures of themselves having a good time at parties or places, where other people feel that they are missing out [I believe that this is called ‘FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out’], but I think that mental health issues also go a bit wider than this and that this may only be part of the story.
For example, I have now seen how children and young people of today seem to be expected to grow up too quickly sometimes. They often feel from a young age that the future also seems quite bleak for them, in terms of getting qualifications, getting a job, or getting on to the property ladder, let alone making it to university and being saddled with substantial debt for the rest of their life. These were not really concerns for those of us in past generations, where we did not necessarily think of these things as problems, or did not necessarily think of them at all until later in life.
Which leads me onto what I want to say today about mental health issues...
As I see it, the children and young people of today have it much harder and now face many more issues than those of us who have come before in previous generations. I think that we therefore need to be sensitive to this. I also know that there are many children and young people (and their families) also experiencing mental health issues everyday which, because they are not often talked about, only seems to add even more pressure onto them.
It always strikes me as ironic, how people often openly feel sorry for other people who are physically ill or injured, but who do not seem to extend that same care and empathy/sympathy to people who are experiencing mental difficulties. There is almost an implication that they are somehow ‘lesser’ people because they cannot cope. I know that in my parent’s generation, people did not really speak about mental health issues. Although it was more openly discussed in my generation, I have seen that in my children’s generation now, mental health issues are even more openly talked about, but perhaps still not enough.
However, when you really think about it, it is quite remarkable sometimes how we often don’t notice children and young people (or even adults) struggling with these types of difficulties, but yet they still have to try every minute of the day to overcome their anxieties and behave in a ‘normal’ way, so that they can attend school/college/work.
I have also seen a real build-up in the cases of children and young people with mental health issues that I now have to deal with, mainly in terms of them becoming ‘school-phobic’, having anxiety or even more attachment issues. Unfortunately, I have also noticed that many people (including professionals who you think should know better), still don’t seem to understand or realise properly the deep extent of these difficulties.
For example, I have seen parents struggle to get their children into school, who are then thought of as not being good parents. Or I have found educational professionals not really understanding or appreciating the anxieties and stresses that children and young people often go through, just to get into school or college; and to then realise that they should adopt a more positive stance with them (i.e. praise them for getting there, rather than concentrating on the times when they have not able to make it there, for whatever reason), as otherwise they are actually putting more pressures on them than they are already facing (perhaps putting on themselves).
We also have to realise how as adults (both parents and professionals) that we can sometimes make a ‘flippant’ remark or throwaway line without thinking, but this can have serious implications and ramifications for a child or young person for many years to come.
I am very concerned that we don’t (but should) talk about mental health issues more and try to understand them better - by not only looking at treating the ‘symptoms’ but also the root causes sometimes.
Hope that I haven’t upset anybody by speaking about this here, but I thought it important for me to say.
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
That provides a good segway for me to talk about forthcoming SEN events.
This is because I would like to highlight the ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools’ conference being run by Optimus Education in London on 8 November 2017 and in Manchester on 23 November 2017.
I realise that this is very short notice for many of you (it is only next Wednesday for those of you who want to attend it in London), but I think that it will highlight many of the things that I have referred to above, with a couple of the keynote speeches being entitled: ‘Overcoming The Stigma Of Social Prejudice That Still Surrounds Mental Health’ and ‘Understanding The Impact Social Media Has On Mental Wellbeing’, as well as workshops on topics such as ‘Self-harm and Eating Disorders’, ‘Depression’, ‘Stress and Anxiety’, ‘Self-Esteem’, ‘Attachment Issues’, ‘Parents and Families’ and ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’.
In terms of other forthcoming events, (don't worry, I will provide more detail in my next update about the SEN Law Conference on 5 March 2018), the only other things that I think that might be worth going to soon are:
IT ALWAYS SEEMS TO HAPPEN TO ME, DOESN’T IT?
If you have read my SEN updates in previous years, you will probably know that, as a physically disabled person who uses a wheelchair (I have a degenerative condition known as Cerebellar Ataxia), I also have a ‘personal’ side to what I do, where I like to raise funds for Norwood, a charity that supports children and young people with disabilities.
I have done this over the years by doing a number of international, week-long, bike rides, using a specially-modified recumbent trike (which is attached to a ‘normal’ cycle in front of me, where a front-rider can steer and brake for me, as I also have visual and co-ordination problems). Well, a couple of weeks ago, I successfully completed my eighth international bike ride, this time in Israel (again), with my ride this year having the catchy title of: ‘Dead Sea to Red Sea’.
Again, I did the ride with my son, Zachi, (whose fourth time it was) but, as it was also Norwood’s 25th year of doing these ‘challenges’, they actually staged three different simultaneous bike rides and also a trek coming into the southernmost tip called Eilat (the two other rides were one in Jordan, called: ‘The Road To Petra’ and another one called: ‘North to South’ for fast riders, who were attempting to ride through the whole of Israel in just 5 days!)
And for a second time now, my friend, Sam (Cohen), who also has a progressive condition called Usher Syndrome, where he has lost all of his sight now over the years, after growing up being partially hearing, did ‘North to South’, again on the back of a tandem. Also, for the first time, my wife, Erica, did the trek - which was far more challenging for her than what we did (she was climbing up and down mountains without ropes!)
Together with a few others (especially as Sam and I need people to assist us), we raised over £20,000 and the whole set of events (which included about 250 people), has been said to have raised over £800,000! (it is not too late to sponsor us, which you can do here).
But rather than talking to you about the ride this time, I want to share with you something else that happened to me that week, which I think you may find amusing (although I assure you that it didn’t seem amusing to me at the time!)
As we were all buckled in and about to leave London on the aeroplane, we experienced a delay and were then told over the speakers by the captain that they had to remove 30 cases because the plane was overweight.
I had been the last on to the plane because they had taken me in an ‘ambulift’ separately (the vehicle that comes to the other side of the aircraft, which is used for the easy planing and deplaning of passengers who are incapacitated, have mobility difficulties, or who use wheelchairs), so that I could stay in my electric/powered wheelchair until the last minute (I like having my own independence). They then take my wheelchair from me when I board the plane, to put in the cargo hold so that it will be first off to meet me at the other end – this is all very normal.
But I then spent the whole journey thinking only that I hoped that it had not been my case that had been taken off, as I may then not be able to start the ride with the others the next day, as it had all my cycling gear in it. I did not give it a thought that my wheelchair may not be there to meet me.
However, you guessed it! When we reached the destination airport in Israel, my wheelchair was not there to meet me when I arrived. I was then told that my wheelchair would be taken straight into the airport (this has not happened at that airport before to me) and I was asked in the meantime to sit in a most uncomfortable, manual (i.e. people had to push me) and very ‘medical’ wheelchair, to take me from the plane to the baggage carousel until it was found (I am afraid that I take it quite seriously as to what I sit in and like being as independent as possible – imagine it being you choosing what car you drive and being able to drive yourself; not having to always ask others to help you – even to push you to the bathroom!)
At the baggage carousel though I then discovered that, not only was my wheelchair still not to be found, but my case now was also not there. We then eventually found that it looked like both my case and my wheelchair had been left in London. I was assured that the suitcase and wheelchair would be on the next flight out and was now lent another (manual and uncomfortable) wheelchair in the meantime to use, whilst representatives from Norwood had to wait for many hours at the airport, whilst I, together with other cyclist/trekkers were ‘bussed’ to our overnight accommodation.
Although my case was later found and brought to me at about 1.30am during the night, so that at least I could start riding with everyone else the next morning, my wheelchair did not arrive.
The next morning though, although I was then dressed appropriately for the ‘off’, just as we were about to start, the rider who I was attached to was nowhere to be seen and then we heard panicked calls for medics (there were some allocated to our ride) because a rider had fainted. Yes, you guessed it again; the rider who had fainted was the person who was supposed to be attached to my trike from the start!
One rider then came up to me and said: ‘You’re really not very lucky, are you - first, you lose your wheelchair, then you lose your bag and now you lose your front rider - perhaps somebody is trying to tell you something?’ to which we both laughed (my front-rider was later found to be alright and to probably have a ‘bug’).
Although I was assured again that day and the next morning that my wheelchair would be brought to me, it actually did not appear until the third night (I was woken from my sleep to take possession of it and apparently asked whilst half-asleep: ‘Am I dreaming?’)
One of the other riders also amused me when he said that this had all probably started as there been a baggage handler who had been asked to remove some weight from the aircraft and was looking at the bags and my wheelchair and saying ‘case?, wheelchair?, case?, wheelchair?……wheelchair!’
I know that a number of people were in contact with the airline about this (I have seen the emails) and I have been assured that the airline concerned is going to be making a sizeable donation to Norwood, so at least some good may come out of this very bizarre situation.
However, it’s a bit absurd when you think about!
With good wishes
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