The DfE published its final, definitely, positively, are you sure?, absolutely last one, “The Special Educational Needs and Disability Pathfinder Programme Evaluation: Final Impact Research Report July 2015” recently.
It claimed to have listened to over 600 families who have been involved in trialling the reforms, proposed (and implemented, before the final impact was known, clearly) as part of what eventually became the Children & Families Act 2014. It’s not clear though, how these families came to be the chosen ones. I’m sure it must have been cherry picking season in Wigan at the time though.
I’ve tweeted quite a bit about how Wigan Council actively prevented my involvement in the pathfinder work. The council, and some parent/carers in Wigan also actively prevented a Parent Carer Forum (PCF) being set up. (There is no PCF in Wigan, not even a very small one).
If you read the SEND Code of Practice, PCFs are mentioned repeatedly, as a way of obtaining views of parents and to ensure they are involved in decisions about services. There is even an organisation dedicated to all things PCF: The NNPCF (National Network of Parent Carer Forums), which is funded by central government. Contact a Family: also support PCFs, by administering a yearly grant to every PCF in England. The £15,000 grant, which is funded by the DfE, is to “strengthen parent carer forums, so that parents can participate in planning and making decisions about services in the area.”
I’ve stopped asking now, because it is virtually impossible to get information from Wigan Council, but a couple of years ago, when Contact a Family were also concerned about Wigan’s lack of PCF (even though they were still giving the council the grant money), I was told it was better it goes somewhere, instead of nowhere.
What I do know though, is that Wigan Council have a ‘Data Hub’, which is another title for a children’s disability register, and if you’re a member of the Data Hub (there is no membership scheme, and it is simply a list of families of disabled children in Wigan), you’re automatically a member of the PCF (which doesn’t exist, because it’s the Data Hub, which is essentially a children’s disability register, not a PCF, because it’s just a list of names!!).
Quite new on the scene, is Wigan’s Parent Participation Development Group, which is hosted by a charity called Embrace, and has a brand/logo of ‘Up’ which stands for Understanding Participation.
I think (but there’s nothing to confirm it) this is now Wigan’s PCF, but as the logo suggests, participation is still a difficult concept and I’m not sure when, and how, completion of the ‘understanding’ bit will conclude, and/or its success will be measured. A recent email from the Parent Participation Co-Ordinator, was a flyer about a local country show*, so I reckon the group must be at level one, module A of the journey to understand participation :
Module A- Understanding Participation – what I participated in this summer.
• In pairs, ask your partner what they participated in this summer. How did it make them feel? What did they learn from it? How would they do it better next time?
Example: This summer I participated in the country show. I got as far as the road, but then the wheelchair got stuck in the cow pats and had to be excavated by a tractor.
• Each pair will then feed back to the rest of the group on behalf of their partner.
• On completion of this module, learners can move on to Module B:
Module B – Understanding Participation: Have you really understood it?
• No one will pass this module, so just return to Module A, this time titled: ‘Understanding Participation: What I participated in this Christmas.’
Nick Peacey’s discussion paper ‘A transformation or an opportunity lost’, published for RISE (Research and Information on State Education) also mentions PCFs “Encouragingly, there are Parent Carer Forums in every local authority to support such collaborative development. But the Forums need LA staff to talk to and the latest information suggests that cuts may be making this less easy (NNPCF, 2015). But the model has potential: it could allow, for example, comparative study of provision, outcomes, admissions and exclusions of pupils with SEND across a group of LAs working with parents’ forums and, ideally, disabled student groups” and I think this illustrates the status PCFs seem to have when reports/papers/survey results are published about the SEND reforms. PCFs do not represent parents’ and disabled children/young peoples’ views. They may represent some of those views, but in my opinion, PCFs are being used by the DfE to weaken parents/children/young people’s views because unless you are a ‘member’ of one, your voice is not heard.
I recently asked for more information from a Wigan councillor, who holds the portfolio for children and young people, about a project to improve the statutory assessment process, asking if parents had been involved. Her response was that she wasn’t sure, and some of the professionals involved have disabled children, but in any case I am always welcome to be involved in the Parent Participation Development Group (the set up I described earlier). Well thanks for that, but I already have a pretty good understanding of what participation should be, and it isn’t the Wigan way, that’s for sure. More importantly though, parents should not be expected to join a particular group just to have their voice heard. Yes, a PCF could be a good vehicle for obtaining views, but not being a member of a PCF (or any other set up claiming to be a PCF) should not exclude you from having your voice heard.
*The flyer advertising the country show was emailed out to parents who are on the ‘Data Hub’ mailing list. What it has to do with participation in the sense of collaboration and strategic input I do not know, but the great thing is, the accessibility at the show for disabled visitors is not even geared towards participation in the sense of simply attending a country show as the website describes: “Disabled Access – Please note that the show is held on grasslands.” I guess that means wheelchairs may get stuck in the muck. So, is this what the Parent Participation Co-Ordinator is being paid for? If so I’d love to know where the funding comes from for a role which seems to be more of an announcer of activities not everyone can participate in.