I have a memory of going to a Wigan Athletic away game with my dad when I was little. It was at Wimbledon. We’d gone by train and we had to get a bus back to the station after the game,and there were crowds piling onto the bus. The driver shouted ‘hold on, I’ve only got 2 pairs of hands’, and after my dad explained it to me, we thought it was really funny.
What’s not funny, is that special needs schools often think they can share out the one to one support, meant for individual children, and specified in their statements or EHCPs. I wrote about how I wondered if support staff have 2 pairs of hands here: Legal Alien
“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?”
I’m not being flippant now, I’m being deadly serious: A boy fell down a flight of stairs at a Birmingham school and died on Tuesday (see here) There aren’t many details, which in itself is worrying, but the boy was in his wheelchair, was blind, and attended a special school for children with learning disabilities. Without details of what happened, where was his 1:1? Did he have a 1:1? If not why not? A teaching assistant can and, I agree, encourage children to work in small groups as well as individually, but if that TA is also the 1:1 responsible for a child’s safety, that TA doesn’t suddenly grow another pair of hands, eyes, ears, to be able to keep 2 or 3 children safe. Being in a special school doesn’t suddenly mean the environment is automatically safe. It doesn’t. And neither does it mean the staff in special schools are superhuman. They aren’t.
So when decisions are being made about whether a child’s 1:1 can be shared between other children, determine how many pairs of hands he or she has, and if it’s just the one, decide whether LA cuts would justify any of these children being left alone for a split second and getting hurt or worse still killed.
I feel so sad for this boy and his family, and I know my condolences won’t even scratch the surface for them. I can’t imagine how they must be feeling. I hope they get answers though, and that someone is held to account.