We beleive first and foremost in each child's right to a quality education that is appropriate for the child and the parents right to choose the form that education takes. If a range of provision and schools are available to meet the needs of all children, other considerations become supplemental or irrelevant.
Below we include our formal response to the Gloucestershire draft SEN Development Plan.
We the parents of children predominantly served by Area Special Schools have campaigned for the retention of the service provided by Area Special Schools. This formal response to the Draft SEN Development Plan expresses our fears and concerns related to the proposals not only for our children, but also for all special needs children now and in the future. We also have concerns relating to the potential damaging effect that further inclusion, inclusion pursued for not purely ethical reasons, could have within our mainstream schools and to mainstream school children's education. We hope that you will take the time to read this in its entirety and consider that our only motive is to protect and enhance the special provision that is now available to our children.
Inclusion: We already have inclusion in the county, is it enough? Should we do more, if so why? Have we got our balance right? How much stock should we place in statistics? Where do we draw the line to say that one system of provision is better than another for an individual child? Do we actually have the ability to commit further to inclusion properly? Are we sure that we will be providing a better education for all special needs and in consequence not be adversely affecting the education of other children? Do parents of special needs children want their children taught in an inclusive provision? Is it right for the county to remove MLD parental / pupil choice? What do special needs children need most, equal opportunities or advantaged opportunities?
One final twist that must be given full consideration is, that in reality, the special needs children that will be most affected by adopting the proposals in the SENDDP are the children who are and who would be served by special schools. It is clearly proposed in the plan to close all MLD special school provision completely and 25% of EBD provision. This we are told is an ďeither orĒ situation and it is intimated that further inclusion is not possible without acceptance of the proposals. This is a statement that smacks of bullying and is patent nonsense. This is a major and fundamental change and one that cannot and should not be considered unless it is being done (A) for all the right reasons and (B) if there is the confidence and consensus from all concerned. We believe that these recommendations have been arrived at largely on cost considerations alone, we are told we canít have our cake and eat it. This in itself is reason enough to cast doubt about the motives involved and to be cautious about accepting these recommendations.
Where we feel it is Unworkable
It is one thing to provide a new system that has been evolved and perfected to the point where the old system becomes obsolete by choice, (Much as gas to electrical lighting.) But parents and professionals alike will need more than assurances to be able to accept such a change as is being proposed. People need to see the thing working before you can expect them to put their faith and in this case special needs children, into one basket. You have to prove your point and this has not been done. To compound this, there is the unshakeable belief that there will for some special needs children, always be a need for a suitable segregated provision for them to be able to thrive. It is not possible to include all MLD special needs children. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that the multi agency co-operation that could improve the lot, especially of EBD children, with it's need to have support and co-operation from other agencies, will be available even in the long term. For these reasons alone any decision that involves the potential closure of any special schools must be deferred until we have more than assurances. This is a case where we could have our cake and be able to eat it, if we were not being forced into cooking all of our ingredients at once. After all thereís not much point in having a cake if we cant eat it.
The SENDDP is the culmination of a rolling commitment from Gloucestershire County Council to monitor and evaluate the SEN provision for the County and to further enable itís long standing commitment to move towards a more inclusive SEN provision. This document (SENDDP) is the culmination of a long process following the SEN review from 1994 and should set the standard and quality of the provision for all SEN children for many years to come. We have at this juncture the opportunity to set in place a special needs provision to be proud of. The issues and motivating factors are many and complex and the overriding impression is that there is generally a desire to do the best for all SEN children. The danger is that not all SEN children are the same and we cannot generalise or make a standard provision. The proposals set out in the SENDDP are not a panacea to the multitude of SEN problems and requirements that exist in Gloucestershire today. It is our firm contention that acceptance and implementation of these proposals will potentially make the situation and prospects for all SEN children worse.
We believe (and the round of consultation meetings have only reinforced this) that the proposals have been developed with a predominantly financially motivated lead. This instantly instils a conflict of interests when costs override or control principal and quality. We accept that funding for education in Gloucestershire is a problem in its own right. As funding problems become worse the urge is further heightened to reallocate SEN funding. It all becomes an easy temptation. For some there is hope that ultimately the proposals will improve the chances of adequate funding and eventually, the provision for all SEN children in all schools. No money liberated by acceptance of the SENDDP will be guaranteed to go to SEN, nor could it be, for it will be subject to annual budget reviews and the whims of future political administrations. We should be striving to meet the needs of all SEN children, not spreading the purported potential available funding, watering down areas of excellent provision, in an attempt to meet the needs of the many. This will just create a lesser provision that will not ultimately benefit anyone. We will not sufficiently save enough money by pursuing the proposals, to do the job properly and we donít have excess sustainable money in the budget to do the job properly. Even if we did, the best included provision that could be created would not be suitable for a significant proportion of SEN children. The only time that closure should be considered is if there is no longer a requirement.
There is much evidence that the attempts and moves made towards a greater inclusive SEN provision in mainstream schools post 1994 have been far from successful, especially with secondary school age children. The currant level of exclusions and the amount of disaffected children in the county should be evidence enough to demonstrate that to place more children with more profound SEN within mainstream schools is a disaster for all children, waiting to occur. This is a disaster that we can and must avoid at all costs. There is much evidence that society will pay the bill sooner or later for substandard provision or ignoring special needs. Recent research including a Channel 4 documentary ďDyslexic CriminalsĒ (July 27th 1999) has shown that 50% of Young Offenders serving sentences in this country were un-diagnosed dyslexics. In this county 23% of youngsters appearing before juvenile courts have statements of educational needs. That we a failing a significant proportion of our SEN children is without question. What are we proposing to do about it in the SENDDP? Close all MLD special schools & at least 25% of EBD special schools. We have heard much talk about timely intervention, the LEA officers confess that too much SEN help is given too late when problems are more manifest. If we are aware of this problem now, why have we not implemented procedures to put this right now? It does not cost a fortune and you certainly do not need to wait two years for a working party report or to close special schools to afford it.
Letís be absolutely clear on this. The proposals are for the eventual total inclusion of all MLD children and the closure of all MLD special school provision. Any children that do not fit into a mainstream provision will have to be placed in another type of probably inappropriate special school, be excluded or placed out of county. There will be no MLD special schools. There are no plans for the children that do not fit the plan.
The proposals are also to reduce the amount of children with the EBD label by at least 25%. To close at least one school. This is because the auditors say we have too many EBD children in segregated provision. The SENDDP is embarrassing by its lack of detail about what is going to actually replace it. There are only vague assurances and outlines and these are simply not enough. It is bad enough to recommend the closure of an excellent provision but to compound it by not saying how you are going to replace it is negligent or deliberate evasion. To expect people to accept it, is asking far too much especially when it is the well being and future prospects of special needs children that is at stake.
No one has bothered to mention the potential downfalls of adopting the proposals. Are we all to believe there are none? The why or how or what effect it will have. We have had some more words and assurance about early years intervention and multi agency co-operation. But the evidence of efforts made since 94 are lamentable and in consequence have had little or no effect. It could be argued that the implementation so far has made things worse. Early years are the key and it is in this area that we should be most focused. It is an area where remedial problems can be faced and have a level of long term success. It is inclusion at this early age, where hurtful, harmful prejudices that become hardened with age are not yet formed that inclusion stands a chance of success. Social integration and the rewards that can be derived long term from a more acceptable community are lost because we are not identifying children with problems early. We are not sufficiently financing, resourcing or enabling works in this direction. Yet this is the area that the most benefit could be derived from. This could bring huge dividends in the SEN budget requirement in later years. A child left behind or struggling without appropriate identification and support will develop compounded difficulties. That child could be damaged for life. As previously stated we are aware of and acknowledge this yet we have done nothing about it. Why? What hard evidenced and practical plans are there in the SENDDP for early yearís intervention? None. The recommendations should be rejected on this omission alone.
What could we have done to SEN rather than the unworkable insufficiently detailed suggestions that are proposed in the SENDDP? If we are so determined to improve the lot of all SEN children and to ensure that future provision for MLD SEN is at least as good as that available in the MLD special schools. What could we have done? Unfortunately we have to start this section with a list of;
What we should not have done.
The Working Party sat and deliberated in a select committee format. This format may have benefits in economy of organisation, but is weak in the direction of independent management or objectivity. When developing a new or alternative method of educational provision you would have thought that the one group of people that should have had paramount input, should have been the parents and children (where possible) that were going to live with the new system. To the shame of the working party, this is the one group that was ignored. Instead they worked for 18 months trying to find the answers to the following conundrum.
We want a more inclusive education provision
We must improve the lot of mainstream SEN
We donít have enough money to finance existing special schools and to improve SEN mainstream
This conundrum has been in existence even before the last SEN review in 1994 and the education department has been vigorously applying an inclusive SEN principal adopted by the County Council. This has only made matters worse creating an unsatisfactory situation both in mainstream and special schools. We have generally had a mess made of all our SEN provision because we have had the LEA pushing through a policy without proper instruction, guidance, monitoring or the resources to do it.
This without doubt is because it is cheaper to have a SEN child go through a mainstream provision than a special school one. The audit reports are littered with the evidence to back this assertion. It is fair to say that we should always spend our money effectively, but we should always measure this against what we are getting for our money. Has any money been saved by inclusion since 1994? Has it all been put back towards improving SEN in mainstream? Have all the assurances and promises made in the 1994 review been kept? What monitoring has been made on the effectiveness of the changes? I would suggest that the growth of children on Home Tuition or permanent exclusions from schools and even referral units would suggest that we are not doing the best for our children. The growth of disaffected children runs parallel with the moves towards greater inclusion. Is this a coincidence? This alone should bring into question the methods of implementing inclusion in Gloucestershire.
Gloucestershire has had the heart to move towards an inclusive education provision, but has not had a fully researched, detailed, proven and viable plan to work towards or the finances to do it properly. Unfortunately we still donít. If you want to debate this issue on finance alone, where are the actual figures? How much will we expect to see in savings on buildings and transport? How much can we all expect to go directly to SEN in mainstream schools? Will these sums be ring fenced and secure, sustainable from possible future cuts? These figures are not available and yet were all expected to accept that there will be some benefit. What is it?
If we can take you back to the growth of disaffected children who have already been let down by the existing system, what makes anyone believe that more of the same will make things right. All children with even the remotest chance of being able to manage (we use this word advisedly, because to manage is not to thrive) within a mainstream provision have already been included by direct action from the LEA following the 1994 SEN review. The children that are left in Special Schools are there because they need to be there. They are not there for an easy ride at the expense of mainstream SEN children and the ratepayers of Gloucestershire and they must not be made to pay the price of failings from the past.
So what could we have done?
We could and should involve parents of special needs children and where appropriate the children themselves in the debate and decision making process. Especially where any proposed change will directly affect them. These people should have been involved early in the debate, they should have been able to hear the evidence and make judgement for themselves. They are when all is said and done, the very ones who will have to live with any changes that are made. This did not happen and further amplifies the public conception of institutionalised condescension emanating from Shire Hall. This must stop and it must not be allowed to happen again. If you could only appreciate, as we do, the total holistic package that the special schools give to Special Needs children and their families you may view and judge them differently. You cannot make the mistake of judging them against mainstream schools. What is required from them and is given by them is totally different and cannot be replaced or replicated in mainstream schools.
We could have looked at how we could include within county, our out of county children. These children are separated from their families and friends because we do not, to our shame, have the provision in county to meet their needs. (How strange that other counties have these schools / centres of excellence and we have none, yet we are described by our own officers as over populated with special schools) This is an area that has not even been mentioned. We could have looked at how we could include children currently served in a private provision instead of LEA provision. These are areas that have a huge drain on the county funds. Developing our special schools into centres of excellence, pooling our resources to focus on specialised provision would certainly have contributed in this direction.
Instead of stunting the ideals and principals behind inclusion because we do not have the money we should not be lead into compromising quality of care and provision just to make the numbers fit. There must be no ulterior motive to the further pursuance of inclusion.
There is a lot of hogwash related to some costs, transportation for one. The SENDDP will not save us £2.5 million, far from it. Yes we should look at procurement, how this is done to best effect, but do not be confused. The small price of actual or emotional cost of transporting a child to a provision that will be most suitable and in the best interests of a child, is a price well worth paying. The Local School is not the be all and end all, certainly not from the parental perspective. There is sufficient evidence to show that special needs children often become more isolated in an included provision; many children of all abilities travel many miles each day to the school of they or their parents choosing. They are not deprived because of this; they usually end up with twice the friends and social contact. Do not apply a double standard to a child just because they have special needs.
Because all children, especially special needs children, are different and have differing needs, just how are these needs going to be actually met within a mainstream provision without being to the detriment of the special needs child and all the other children within the class. The truth is that we donít actually know. That is probably why there are no details available. Great focus and faith has been placed on the trial experiment with junior aged children. This is flawed for many reasons not least of all because you cannot apply the evidence predominantly formed in junior schools to secondary school situations. They are completely different. In order to be able to manage at a secondary school a child must at the least, be able to function independently. If the County had in place in just one area, a working included provision for children of secondary age that had a full five-year monitored experience that had sorted out the myriad of difficulties that will appear. Then you may have some real tangible evidence. What do we actually have to prove the assertions and assurances?
To compound the leap of faith that is needed to back these plans what real evidence is there to substantiate or validate any predicted cost analysis or that any proposed provision will be viable and sustainable? Nothing. We are expected to burn our bridges by closing the MLD special schools & 25% of our EBD schools and putting our children into an included mainstream provision. That provision has to be suitable and has to be able to meet the needs of the children. What happens if it doesnít? What happens if it costs more? We will be committed to a policy that has no way back from and no funds to meet the needs. Who will suffer? It has been intimated that to do this properly it may cost more in the long run. Can we afford it? If not then should even consider it. Would the Director of Education back plans that were going to cost more? Can he give a guarantee that funding will always be made available? Who is going to judge that funding and placement are adequate or suitable? In the SENDDP there are so many unknowns and too much lack of detail. These proposals should be rejected on lack of detail alone.
Most parents of SEN children who are in special schools would wish for their children to be able to go to a mainstream school and to lead a normal life. The truth is that we have to live with the reality of life and to deal with those realities face on. We know, many of us through experience that our children cannot cope with mainstream and that mainstream cannot cope with our children. This is no ones fault, it is just a fact of life, one that we live with. We know that to stand any chance for a life in the future, that the support and care, as well as the education that our children have available in the special school is simply never going to be available in a mainstream setting. Please do not close forever this one area of opportunity and hope that we have for our children and for the children of the future.
The new government value added tables both for KS2 - KS3 and KS3 - GCSE now give backing to parents views that their children are not just happier, but achieve better in Special Schools.