Firstly, let me wish you a belated Happy New Year, I do hope that you have a good and peaceful 2020.
Although this is my first SEN Update of the new chronological year 2020, it is still just the start of the second term in the new academic year 2019/20.
In this SEN Update, you will find sections entitled:
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.
WHERE ARE WE GOING? (EDUCATION COMMITTEE)
You could be forgiven for thinking that the last few years that the media has been dominated by the issue of ‘Brexit’ (don’t worry, I am not going to discuss it here) and that during the last few months, the media has also been dominated by politics again in relation to the election last month (don’t worry again, I am also not going to discuss this either!).
What may have been overlooked though is the Education Committee’s report on SEN and Disabilities that was published on 23 October 2019.
The first few paragraphs of the ‘Summary’ of the report states as follows:
‘In 2014, Parliament legislated with the intention of transforming the educational experiences of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The reforms were ambitious: the Children and Families Bill sought to place young people at the heart of the system. However, as we set out in this report, that ambition remains to be realised. Let down by failures of implementation, the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many.
The reforms were the right ones. But their implementation has been badly hampered by poor administration and a challenging funding environment in which local authorities and schools have lacked the ability to make transformative change. The Government has recently taken initial steps to rectify the latter of these two challenges, but there is much left to be done.
There is too much of a tension between the child’s needs and the provision available. The significant funding shortfall is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of all involved to deliver on the SEND reforms and meet children’s needs. Ultimately, however, unless we see a culture change, within schools and local authorities and the Government, any additional money will be wasted and make little difference to their lives…’
Those were the first three paragraphs of the summary but there are actually 12 paragraphs in all. The other paragraphs also talk about the need for greater oversight, the need for reduced bureaucracy and conflict, the need to reduce unlawful practice, the need to improve experiences and opportunities, the need to improve the input of health and social care, the need to improve therapy provision, the need to focus again on the Local Offer and the need to adopt a whole-school approach, rather than just adopting a piecemeal approach.
The Education Committee's report is split up into two parts, which are respectively entitled: ‘Our Report’ and ‘Our Evidence’ and it is quite long and detailed. If you want to read the whole report, which runs to 127 pages, you can do so in one of its forms here: Online/PDF/Interactive Report, or you can read their ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ which only runs to 38 paragraphs (which, in turn, refer to relevant parts of their report).
But to try and make your life a bit easier, it may also help you if I set out here the first seven paragraphs of the Education Committee’s ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’, which state as follows:
‘1.We are confident that the 2014 reforms were the right ones. We believe that if the challenges within the system—including finance—are addressed, local authorities will be able to discharge their duties sufficiently. (Paragraph 17)
2.We recommend that when the Government makes changes to address these challenges, it should avoid the temptation to address the problems within the system by weakening or watering down duties or making fundamental changes to the law. (Paragraph 18)
3.The Department for Education set local authorities up to fail by making serious errors both in how it administered money intended for change, and also, until recently, failing to provide extra money when it was needed. (Paragraph 20)
4.The significant shortfall in funding is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of schools and local authorities to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. However, unless there is a systemic cultural shift on the part of all parties involved, additional funding will make little difference to the outcomes and experiences of children and young people with SEND. (Paragraph 21)
5.While we acknowledge the extra money provided in the spending review, both for schools and social care, we deeply regret that this spending review process was insufficient in tackling the fundamental challenges facing both children and adult social care. We acknowledge the Government’s recent Budget announcement and hope that this will be tackled at that point. (Paragraph 24)
6.Nobody benefits when Departments avoid accountability and try and pass the buck. The Department for Education, together with the Department for Health and Social Care, should develop mutually beneficial options for cost- and burden-sharing with the health and social care sector. (Paragraph 25)
7.Nobody appears to be taking any action based on the counting and measuring that is taking place, but even worse, no one appears to be asking anyone to take responsibility for their actions. There appears to be an absence of responsibility for driving any change or holding anyone accountable when changes do not happen. (Paragraph 27)
Again, I am not going to repeat here everything that they said there as, if you do want to see everything for yourself you should read the Report/’Conclusions and Recommendations’ yourself.
However, I think it is clear from what I have quoted above, that more needs to be done to properly implement the changes still.
As I have said before though, a new piece of legislation often takes 10 to 20 years to bed in and, when you think about it, although we have been talking about the need for a new SEN framework now for well over a decade, the Children and Families Act 2014 has actually only been implemented for just over five years now.
SEN LAW CONFERENCE (UPDATE)
As you will probably already know from the reminder email that I sent out earlier this week (on Monday afternoon), the annual SEN Law Conference for 2020 that I am delighted to stage with IPSEA and Matrix is soon taking place on Tuesday 3 March 2020.
This year, it is going to be held again in Central London, but will be held this year (mainly for space reasons etc.) at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms, London WC2B 5DA near Holborn.
I am very pleased with the agenda and the range of speakers this year, which you can see for yourselves on the conference website.
However, I’m afraid that the ‘Early Bird Discount’ is now only available until this coming Monday 13th January 2020 so, if you have not already booked your place, now may be the best time to do it, which you can do again on the conference website here.
I understand that ticket sales are already approaching 200, so I probably need to remind you again that, during the past couple of years, we have been fully booked up some time before the event and have then had to stop selling tickets.
So, if you were hoping to come, please hurry to get your ticket as soon as possible, whether or not you wish to avail yourself of the Early Bird Discount.
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
In terms of other forthcoming SEN events in the next couple of months, I would draw your attention to the following:
PUTTING YOUR FEET UP!
My apologies again - this last section is a bit longer again today than usual.
I know that many of you have heard me relate stories over the past few years from my international bike rides, using a specially modified recumbent trike, for the charity, Norwood, that helps children and young people with disabilities (just in case you don’t know already, I am physically disabled myself and use a wheelchair to get around).
But I have realised recently that I have not actually told the story of how I managed to start riding in the first place, nor tell you how I got my trike in the first place. That is a story in itself!
So, I have decided to tell you this story today...
It all began when I started speaking with my friends, Paul and Stephen, who themselves had done many international bike rides before for Norwood. They shared their stories with me (sometimes when we were all coincidentally training in the same gym) about having done bike rides in places like India, South Africa, or in other exotic climes.
Hearing their stories and adventures made me want to do one myself. However, as I was already physically disabled and had a deteriorating condition, which was progressing a little bit quicker than I expected, I knew that it may be impossible or, at least, quite a tall order for me to ever do one.
They now tell me that they thought I would eventually let the subject drop. However, I persisted discussing this with them over the years and eventually, to their surprise, I ultimately plucked up the courage and asked them if I would be able to do a ride with them.
Of course, we all realised early on that if this was to be any kind of possibility, I would need to become a physically strong rider and we would need to ride on a tandem of some kind, where they could do the most energetic work and I could do what I could. However, we also realised that we would have an added practical difficulty because I could not balance properly (as my condition causes me to fall a lot).
We genuinely thought that it was not possible to connect a trike and a bike and get two independent chain-sets, working together, so I decided to present the problem to Vincent (who is also a wheelchair user), who designs and makes my wheelchairs. Vincent is one of the few people who I trust to advise me about things like this, as he is very good at making and designing not only wheelchairs, but also other kinds of mobility devices for disabled people (for which he has even won a ‘Tomorrow’s World’ award - remember that?) Unfortunately though (for me), Vincent works and lives in Liverpool, whereas I am based in London.
Knowing that we would benefit from a face to face meeting, Paul and I went with my wife, Erica, and another friend to visit Vincent. After driving up there for about two and half hours, we discussed the problem in great detail with him, but he said that he did not think that it was possible. However, he told us that he remembered helping a disability bike club in Manchester once. He made a call to them and, to our delight, they told him that if we rushed over to them straightaway, we could look at some of the bikes they had at a race track they were using that afternoon.
We therefore all quickly piled into the car (without Vincent) and drove to Manchester, about another hour's drive away. We reached the club/race track just a few minutes before they were due to close. There were a number of different bikes/trikes that we now saw, including bicycles and other forms of twin person bikes and trikes. This included the trike I now use (called a Hase ‘Kettwiesel’), but we first spied another kind of three wheeled tandem/trike, where the disabled person would sit and pedal on the front and the non-disabled person would sit and pedal on the back.
After persuading the club’s staff to not end their session quite yet, they allowed Paul and I to give this tandem/trike a go and we set off around the track together on it. Sitting at the front, I was powering as hard as I could go to try and impress Paul and it all seemed to be going quite well for the first 200 metres of the 400-metre track. However, at that point it got much harder for me and it took me a lot more effort to finally complete the last 200 metres.
When we passed the finishing line, I was then very surprised to turn around and see Paul with his feet up near the handlebars. Paul then told me that, when he had seen how strong I seemed to be for the first 200 metres, he had decided to take his feet off his pedals and put them up for the last 200 metres to see how strong I actually was!
Paul then said that, as he now could see that I was much stronger than he thought I would be, I should try and ride on my own on the ‘Kettweisel’. I therefore was put onto this trike and went off by myself around the track (my eyesight was a lot better in those days, which allowed me to ride by myself!).
It was an incredible feeling my being on that trike for the first time as, for the first time in many years, I felt really free again. I zoomed off around the track and made my way back around quite quickly. When I came back in everyone was smiling at me and I too had a big smile on my face!
“That’s it then…” said Paul, “…we’ve now found the trike for you, haven’t we?”
In the next couple of weeks. Paul and I had bought a Hase ‘Kettwiesel’ for me, which he also had modified and the rest is history.
So there you have it, that’s the story!
See, a lot of things can happen when you don’t look behind you…
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 'Spring Term 2019-20 'SEN Update – Your Thoughts’.
There are just 3 quick questions.