Posts Tagged With: discrimination

Legal Alien

Dear Ofsted

It’s almost the end of my son’s primary phase of education. He has no school to go to in September because he is disabled by the people who are meant to help him learn.

[The school’s mentioned in this post are not in Wigan]

The school we thought was the right one, and where my son had a place, has proved not to be the right school. At break times, the pupils in wheelchairs are lined up on the playground like cars on a forecourt, and left, very neatly in a row doing nothing and interacting with no-one. I saw this with my own eyes, and I also saw staff from a feeder primary leave 3 of their wheelchair dependent pupils in a lovely semicircle, unable to mobilise, on the playground, while they went inside for a brew. This was part of their transition to secondary school.

Another reason the school isn’t right, is because even when kids have a statement or EHCP with specified 1:1 written into it, the school don’t provide it. They say they don’t provide a named 1:1, but assure me the pupils who need 1:1 get it. I’m no mathematician, but if there are 10 kids in a class, with a teacher and 3 teaching assistants, and a child needs the toilet, that would potentially leave the teacher and 1 TA in the class. And whilst the pupil who needed the toilet has gone, with the 2 staff, another child needs some help from the TA, to turn a page in a book for example, that leaves no TA left to support the other 8 kids. And so on, and so on. There seems only one explanation for what happens if TAs are taken from the classroom to help a child: the other children don’t have support. They wait their turn to get help. They must be sitting waiting, doing nothing, because TAs cannot be in 2 places at the same time. This thing about not having ‘named’ 1:1s (which just means not having 1:1 all the time it’s needed) is bizarre. How can a TA feed 2 children at the same time? Does he/she have 2 pairs of hands? Can he/she help a child drink, at the same time as helping another child cut up his food? Can he/she spoon feed a child at the same time as stopping another one choking on the full sausage he’s put into his mouth and not chewed up properly? Can he/she take a child to the toilet when 2 other children are relying on her/him to feed them? The answer has to be no. But it must be happening, and each child who isn’t given the 1:1 support specified in their legal document is having to compromise like no other child of their own age without the same needs has to. My youngest son doesn’t have to wait to go to the toilet. At lunch time he gets his food and eats it and has time to play outside, just like the other kids. Why is it ok to expect the most vulnerable of our society’s children to wait unnecessarily to have their basic needs met, before they even begin to attempt to learn in a lesson?

At this right school, that’s now the wrong school, parents aren’t involved in setting targets in the IEP. The targets are set, and sent to parents. They can be reviewed at the annual review, the SENCO and head of year told me.

At this wrong school, after 4 transition sessions of 2 hours each, and no-one attempting to find out the practicalities of how my son eats and goes to the toilet (because the transition sessions were between 10am and 12pm, which didn’t coincide with lunchtime, or toilet time) the SENCO seemed surprised when we raised concerns about the lack of readiness for starting in September.

This isn’t a mainstream school. It’s a special needs school, rated outstanding by Ofsted. A school in which staff stand around chatting, eating bananas on the playground, while the Ford Fiestas are lined up quietly and neatly on the forecourt. Obviously they didn’t think anything was wrong, and presumably Ofsted would have seen that when they inspected, and they didn’t think it was wrong either. It kind of undermines the inspection system in my view. Well, actually no it doesn’t. The inspection system is what it is and doesn’t need this to undermine it. The people inspecting clearly think it’s ok for non mobile, totally dependent kids to be lined up like that. No one trying to engage these kids to play a game, not talking, not singing, not pushing them around the playground to see what the other kids are up to and joining in. So as long as you have people rating a school outstanding, based on the things I saw in 2 visits, it has to be happening all over, and not just in this school. It must be, and this is why I’m not submitting a complaint to you. You cannot change the SEND landscape by inspecting schools in the way you do. Your inspectors need training. You need training from parents who are experiencing these unacceptable, disgraceful practices and you need to understand why it isn’t ok to not involve parents in setting targets, and why it’s not ok to abandon profoundly physically and learning disabled children in a playground unattended and uncared about.

Yesterday, my son was in his end of Y6 performance. ‘Pirates of the curry bean’. For months he’s been watching different versions on YouTube, reciting lines in the middle of the night when he wakes up all excited. But he didn’t have a part, because they (the school) couldn’t get him on the stage (in his wheelchair). When we bought our tickets, the TA was shocked and ‘worried we’d be disappointed’. She wasn’t wrong. I was utterly heartbroken and livid at her, at the teacher, at the headteacher. My son never disappoints me, ever. My son said ‘welcome to the show’ at the beginning, and ‘thanks for coming’ at the end. He didn’t get a mention and an applause at the end, when each of the actors were called out for their part in the production. My husband told me this, because I had to leave the room shortly after 2 of the children lifted a wheelbarrow on to the stage and playfully pushed each other around on stage in it, talking about cockles and mussels. My immediate thought when I saw this (which was funny and the children were amazing!) was how the teachers who’d organised the production found it more important to have the wheelbarrow scene in than have my son on stage. I also remembered a photo I’d seen some time ago, of Tanni Grey-Thompson sat in a wheelchair somewhere in London, campaigning for better wheelchair services.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33595627

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http://www.rightwheelchair.org.uk

 

My husband attempted to explain why what happened last night was unacceptable, and the teacher told him she hadn’t thought of getting a ramp so he could access the stage. I don’t need to say anything more on that. Do I? I really hope you can understand the severity of this without me spelling it out to you.

Again, I’m not going to make a formal complaint.

I’m not making formal complaints about these two schools because it will achieve nothing. Selfishly, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief tomorrow, when my son gets home at 3.30. It is selfish, because I know other children will receive the same treatment in the future, but I really don’t believe I can make any difference whatsoever. The only thing it would do is make me ill.
I think the word I want is ‘systemic’. I know many parents contact you with similar and often worse stories of discrimination against disabled children in our schools, and I suppose what I’m asking is that you do something about it. My son will be at home with me in September, and I know he’ll be safe and happy, but he should be at school, making friends, experiencing the world and I will never come to terms with the reason he isn’t. There are many children who can’t stay at home because the school they thought was suitable isn’t. They have to attend schools which have such low expectations and aspirations for their futures, and it’s frightening.

The origin of the word ‘alien’ is:

Middle English: via Old French from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another’, from alius ‘other’.

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/alien

My legal alien, an 11 year old boy who has every right to be at school and doing what he wants to do, but can’t because he will always be seen as no-one’s responsibility. An ‘other’.

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When will Ofsted see that children like my son are being denied so much and having their futures taken from them?

Yours sincerely

Diane Kay

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Ever Decreasing Circles

I read the article by Laura McInerney in the Guardian about the high percentage of excluded pupils who are also disabled and/or have Special Educational Needs (SEN), and the difference in exclusion rates between mainstream and special needs schools, and due to it being summer holidays I didn’t manage to share my thoughts before the newspaper closed the article for comments. I really want to though because so many of the comments remind me of the ones left for the Secret Teacher blog piece from May this year called “I’m all for inclusion in principle, but it doesn’t always work”.  (I wrote about this here)

The particular comments which spring to mind from Laura’s article and the secret teacher piece are those which generally blame the child, so my first thought is that no amount of funding can change things when people (including teachers, headteachers and other participants in the ‘SEND system’) continue to demonise children who don’t fit neatly into the stereotypical ‘Special Needs Child’ box. It’s too easy, and dangerous to have a ‘mainstream’ vs ‘special needs’ culture, because it allows views of those with the potential to discriminate to go unchallenged, and let’s be straight, it’s discrimination when disabled children or children with SEN are treated like they don’t belong in a mainstream setting, just because the things that disable a child or prevent a child from learning are not being addressed. I think by always talking about funding when highlighting the numerous barriers faced by pupils with SEND just keeps the fire burning and we will keep on going around in circles.

As I understand it, mainstream schools are expected to fund the first £6k of a pupil’s SEN provision. What happens then is anyone’s guess in many schools, but what should be happening, either alongside the consumption of this £6k ‘pot’, or after it’s been used up (which is usually far too late), is a thing called statutory assessment.
1. Is this a fluid process where everyone is proactively preventing failure and planning for success by requesting/undertaking a statutory assessment? Not always.

Shift over to special schools, where funding is different, and pupils must have (had) a statement or be attending for the purposes of being assessed. It might have been that the special needs school received a fixed amount per place, which was there whether a child filled that place or not. It could be that staff who work in special schools have 2 pairs of hands, and can feed, hold resources, take to toilet, clean and dress 2 pupils at the same time, as is my theory for why 1:1 support often ‘isn’t necessary’ in special schools. This would be a major saving of funds.
2. Did/do special school pupils all have statements/EHCPs? No.

So if pupils (in any type of school) don’t have statements or EHCPs, which should detail specifically what the childs’ needs are and what provision is required, the funding element is irrelevant because at the point of ignoring and consequently not acting on a child’s SEN, that child is not receiving what he or she needs, to be on an equal footing. And equal footing doesn’t mean being the same, it means having the right support, when they need it, to make the most of the opportunities available to other children.

3. What is the reason for 1 and 2 above ie. pupils not being assessed or not having statements/EHCPs, other than not having SEN? Because it is allowed to go on, repeatedly, even though parents complain and appeal. Nothing is done about it.

If discriminatory and stereotypical views are allowed to prevail about where a disabled child/child with SEN ‘belongs’, (and in my view the slant of people with such generalised views is usually towards special schools), then views of what kind of ‘behaviour’ is appropriate must also be swishing round in there too. For example, a child who ‘makes noises’ is not going to be seen as being ‘disruptive’ in a class of, say, 10 children, 5 of whom also ‘make noises’. ‘It’s just what ‘they’ do’. However, in a class of 30, one child ‘making noises’ might be singled out as being disruptive, because that isn’t behaviour displayed by the majority (especially if the view of the school is that a child with those kinds of behaviours doesn’t belong in a mainstream school).

Ofsted don’t help either. Inspectors are not always highly skilled in assessing the area of SEN. In a special needs school, pupils could be sat around smoking pot and it would pass as outstanding because the kids were all very calm and relaxed. A disabled adult once told me he used to go to the cinema and he was able to just go in to see whichever film he wanted to, without paying, because no-one ever approached him for his ticket. Same goes for Ofsted. Because inspectors often don’t know much about equality duties, stuff just happens, and it goes unchallenged.

The bottom line for me is that until we get some accountability, which doesn’t involve parents having to go to a tribunal or initiating a judicial review, nothing will change. If LAs are not penalised for failing our children, they will not bother to assess. They won’t bother to issue a statement or EHCP. They won’t bother to specify provision. They won’t bother to ensure the provision is received. They won’t review the provision. This increases the chance of a child being ‘disruptive’, and excluded, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief because the opportunity to speak up on behalf of a vulnerable child who could lose someone their job has passed. ‘Behaviour’ can be in many forms, and not all behaviour requires changing. Often, dangerous behaviour is simply because needs are not being met, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent behaviour which becomes so distressing for the child that it ends up in exclusion, and they don’t involve funding: Tolerance, compassion, empathy, advocacy, friendship, respect. These things can’t be funded. People can’t be forced to be tolerant for example, but they can be held to account if they aren’t.

This is not about money and I’m worried the issue of ‘inclusion’ is becoming far more complicated than it needs to be; it’s about guts, courage and fearlessness, and I’m not talking about the child. If every parent, teacher, SENCO,headteacher, journalist, lawyer, came together collectively to stop what is I believe an out of hand situation, we might have a better chance of creating some new statistics.

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To laugh or cry

Today is significant for more than one reason:

My boys are going to the summer fair at their new school, where I suspect they might buy something for their Grandad Michael’s birthday, which is today.  Happy Birthday!!

Also today, in 1994, my younger brother, who was 17, died of leukaemia.

Paul Guy

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Today also marks the day Connor Sparrowhawk died, in completely different circumstances.  Connor (aka LB) drowned in an NHS hospital because he had a seizure and was having a bath unsupervised.      From Connor’s death, a few campaigns have been born, which have resulted in increased awareness of the injustice dished out to learning disabled people and their families, and the lack of importance placed on the voices of both the learning disabled person and their family.  Please read and watch the film about Connor here #107days . So funny but sad.

Sara, Connor’s mum reckons it’s a wild dream to imagine a day when learning disabled people are just seen as the same as anyone else, so much so that we wouldn’t need to refer to people as learning disabled.  At this moment in time, I agree.  I think we are crazy to think that our ‘learning disabled’ people are close to being respected and valued equally, and this feeling is partly to do with the despondency I am feeling right now.  A despondency which is overshadowing a brand new chapter for my son, in a school which is refreshingly transparent and down to earth, with staff who call a spade a spade, and above all show compassion and a reluctance to fit my square son into a round hole.

I attended my sons disability discrimination hearing a few weeks ago, and the decision from the panel was heartbreaking to say the least.  My son’s treatment by staff at his previous school was not discriminatory, according to the panel.  The school has an outstanding rating for goodness sake.  How can an outstanding school possibly use discriminatory practices??? (They also said in so many words)

When I read the decision, I wasn’t heartbroken because I’d ‘lost’ the appeal.  I was heartbroken because it was clear from reading what I did that the panel do not consider my son to be human, and there are two particular points which make me think this.

1. The panel say my son wasn’t discriminated against when his TAs chat, in his presence, about whether it’s been ‘hard to entertain him’.  The reason the panel give, is that my son showed no distress at this comment. (Here is the audio clip entertaining a disabled child)

So, if a person being discriminated against cannot, by virtue of their learning disabilities, recognise that they are being discriminated against, show distress about it, and/or voice their concerns, is it ok to just allow it to continue???!!! Where would this end? This says to me “as long as someone doesn’t know, or can’t protest, it’s ok to do it” and I don’t need to say any more about that.

2. The panel say I have exaggerated the distress my son was experiencing when he was forced to go outside for 20 minutes, against his wishes, and without a coat on a day with a recorded temperature of 9 degrees.  (Here is the audio clip Playtime distress ) .  Bear in mind this is only 6 minutes of the full 20 minutes of distress.

I presume the panel listened to the same recording as everyone else, so it follows that they do not believe my son was in distress, or the level of distress isn’t serious enough to take action.

I can’t help thinking that if a non learning disabled child had been in that level of distress, he or she would have been able to do something about it and each and every adult who witnessed it would have been extremely concerned at the level of distress the child was in.  But what’s more, going off what the panel think in point one, that my son wasn’t distressed by the way he was spoken about, and conversely, how distraught he was in this point, what does it take for a child with my son’s level of need to be treated like a human being??  There is only one thing that can explain these 2 perverse views, and that is my son is somehow considered incapable of feeling, therefore cannot be human.

What does it take for people to stop defending the actions and protecting the reputations of large organisations?  In my experience, they are more than capable of doing it for themselves, so why not concentrate efforts on protecting the child?

I think we can achieve the goal of removing the gulf that currently divides learning and non-learning disabled people, but it needs us all to realise that the kind of treatment my son has experienced, and the neglect that caused Connor’s death is just the tip of the iceberg.

Parents and families are still seen as ‘amateurs’, ‘trouble makers’, ‘complainers’, but I tell you something, you’d have a far bigger mess on your hands without us.

 

for Paul Guy and Connor Sparrowhawk who both died on 4th July.

Paul Guy in his Iron Maiden phase.

Paul Guy in his Iron Maiden phase.

LB

LB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perks of being a parent governor

Following on from my earlier post about Wigan council claiming that a group of families’ desire to raise awareness of failings in safeguarding procedures was politically motivated, I’m reminded of a couple of incidents during my short lived term as a parent governor at Wood Fold Primary School.

The first one happened during a full governing body meeting in an autumn term, where an item on the agenda was to decide who had what roles on the governing body.  As I had quite a bit of experience of SEN, and I was an Advice Line Volunteer for IPSEA (https://www.ipsea.org.uk) I expressed an interest in being the governor for SEN.  (This is how it went, you said what you fancied, and if the person who was already doing it didn’t want to do it any more, the job was yours -skills analysis was to be a thing of the future). The parent governor who had been doing the SEN governor role for the previous year said she wanted to carry on as she’d learned a lot and was enjoying it.  She had no SEN experience as far as I knew. So I said ok, what about the governor for equality, that sounds just up my street? Again, considering I have the experience, certainly in the area of disability, but a passion for equality generally, it appealed to me.  It was then, that one of the other governors asked ‘could it not be seen as a conflict of interest?’ [because you have a disabled son].  I said I believed equality was everyone’s responsibility.  Later, when I thought about it more, I realised what she meant:  the risk of ensuring the school met its equality duties to pupils, staff and the general community meant that people protected by the Equality Act 2010 might just be treated fairly and without discrimination.  I can see now how that can be considered as a conflict of interest.  Not.

The second incident happened in July 2013, at the governing body meeting where I am claimed to have brought the school into disrepute.  (That’s for another time.) The LA had sent a memo out to all governors in Wigan advising them of the new SEN processes that were being followed from that September, as Wigan was a pathfinder council.  I’d queried the information provided by the pathfinder Lead, that children who didn’t require a certain level of funding or one to one hours would have their statements ceased to be maintained, and I’d received a bizarre response, expressing delight that I agreed with the new process!!  I raised concerns with the LA governor services that governors were being given duff information, and received a response along the lines of ‘not my problem’.  So, back to the governing body meeting, I explained my concern that children would slip through the net and as a governing body we could be failing in our duty towards children with SEN if a statement was ceased for the reasons being spouted.  At this point, the Chair of Governors asked me “so how does this affect you?”, seemingly implying that my son would be adversely affected by this illegal practice and that was my main concern.

What I can’t get my head around is why people are so despicable in thinking that a disabled child might receive something ‘better’ or ‘more’ than a child who doesn’t need extra support, and specifically relating to my position as a governor, how I could somehow get ‘perks’ that would advantage my son so much that it would disadvantage the other children.

More generally though, why is it that such unpleasant cynicism can be used to dismiss any form of positive action to ensure disabled children are not harmed, or that they receive the education to which they are entitled to and have a right to?  Has equality really moved forward?

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