Letter of complaint.

I do not usually take to publish letters of complaint, but this merits a bit more ‘shout out’ than my usual offerings! The complaint by myself and @e2ska is about this document:

Norfolk Childrens Services Special Educational Needs and Disability Criteria for Education Health and Care Plans


Norfolk County Council has issued the above document to explain the eligibility criteria for a Needs Assessment and subsequent writing of an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP). The document should be read in conjunction with a further document setting out what provision Norfolk expects its schools to be making from within its own resources (not yet published).

We welcome the fact that Norfolk has acknowledged its duties to publish this information under the Children and Families Act (CFA), 2014. We set out our response below to this document, which we have found lacks coherence. More concerning is the appearance that the local authority (LA) is applying criteria to a Needs Assessment and EHCPs that are above what the law requires. Whilst LAs can, quite rightly, develop their own criteria (SENCoP 9.16), it cannot be above that set down in legislation.

The document purports that the Local Offer sets out all of the support and services available in relation to SEND. The Local Offer in fact sets out what the LA expects to be available. It would not be possible to identify everything.

The list of legislations on page 4 omits some key pieces, in particular the Equality Act (2010). Schools have a duty to provide aids and services as Reasonable Adjustments, which might include netbooks or Speech and Language Therapy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) guidance is very useful here, to the LA, educational placements and parents alike. It would help put section 2.2 into context.

The table on page 6 is very misleading. Children requiring EHC plans ‘have needs so complex […]’ is wording that sits above what the law requires. The correct terminology is found in the CFA s20:

(2) A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she—

(a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or

(b) has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

The gov.uk website suggests SEN might affect the following:

  • behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
  • reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
  • ability to understand things
  • concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
  • physical ability

The purpose of EHC plans, leading on from the Warnock Report (1978) and statement of SEN, was to enable children to attend mainstream schools with whatever additional support is required to enable this to happen. A child cannot be refused a mainstream placement unless their attendance would be incompatible with the efficient education of others, and neither the school nor the LA can take reasonable steps to remove that incompatibility. This is a very high bar (CFA s33(2)). Cost and suitability are not a factors (it may be worth noting that Norfolk SEND Partnership incorrectly cited suitability and cost in its last newsletter to refuse a placement within an Academy). The diagram on page 6 is suggesting that children either access SEN Support, or they attend a Special School, which is therefore wholly wrong. Additionally, children in special schools may not have ‘a complexity of need requiring coordinated support across health, education and social care’, since some may attend purely due to the differences in physical environment.

Comparing Norfolk with the rest of England can carry two meanings; either schools are unable to make provision due to lack of resources, or that Norfolk has a higher incidence of children with additional needs. It is not made clear what the LA’s belief is.

The list of SEN ‘myths’ are not all myths. Where a school cannot meet a child’s needs, for example because they do not have the resources to identify them, or if identified, they do not have the funding to meet them, the LA must assess and where necessary, make and maintain an EHCP. Where a school cannot fund provision, the LA must, even where cost to do so may be over and above that of a special school placement.

Whether a child is in need of assessment is, as reported correctly, a two-part process. The ‘process word’ however, is whether a plan may be ‘necessary’. This has been clarified in Buckinghamshire County Council V HW [2013]: ‘Necessary sets a standard that is somewhere between indispensable and useful or reasonable’. The bar for assessment is therefore quite low and broad.

Section 3.2 misquotes the four broad categories of SEN, which could be confusing. The language used in this area, and in other areas of the document is unnecessarily negative, it is the effect of any needs that indicates whether an EHCP may be necessary, rather than the severity of that need.

We found that section 3.2.1 confusing and muddled. Defining the difference between profound and multiple learning (MLD) and severe learning difficulties (SLD) does not add any value regarding whether or not a Needs Assessment should be carried out and it is not understood why autism/social communications difficulties have been singled out and no other diagnoses have been. This may lead readers to believe that a diagnosis is necessary for assessment, leading to more parents and practitioners seeking a diagnosis as a way to gain assessment. It is a child’s needs that lead the Needs Assessment, not diagnosis.

In 3.2.2, the terms ‘profound’ and ‘severe’ are being used, although as stated above, the legal description is ‘significant’. The subsequent descriptions appear to be applying criteria above what the law allows.

3.2.3, the broad heading of sensory and/or physical needs has been extended to include medical needs. Whilst this is not a problem as such, it could create confusion. The discussion under hearing and visual difficulties is again appearing to apply criteria that is above the law, through the use of ‘severe/profound’. Section 3.2.4 suffers from the same treatment.

The discussion of the difference between SEN and other difficulties which may result in challenging behaviour is welcomed. However there is a difficulty in reconciling the LA’s suggestion that it will rely heavily upon information obtained as part of the request for an EHC needs assessment, with the ability of the school to obtain such evidence if it falls outside of the school’s resources to provide this. The LA retains a duty to support such children outside of the SEND system. It is not clear to the reader how such children will be supported/route of referral.

At 3.3, the LA discusses whether it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made in accordance with EHC plan. It states that it will be the findings of the analysis of the factors above which will be used to consider this. However this is akin to putting the cart before the horse. The document is setting out reasons why a plan would be necessary as opposed to may be necessary. For a great many children it will not be known whether or not they will fall within the descriptions stated, and as we are stating, those descriptions appear to be creating a bar which is higher than relevant legislations.

This document is failing to recognise that there are more children with SEN within mainstream school than within the special school system (4-5 children within a class of 30 may have SEN – 14.4%). While it does correctly state that it is the school’s duty to provide well-founded interventions in the first instance, there is little clarity to the discussion of the LA’s duty to assess when the school does not have the resources to assess a child’s needs itself, or after having assessed the child’s needs, not having the resources to make the provision.

The SEN Code of Practice at 6.15 makes the case for higher quality teaching, alluding to higher skills levels to be available within schools as being the more cost effective and sustainable way of creating inclusive education. This is not disputed within the document, but it is hidden in the back of it, rather than being the start point. In many ways this document has been written back-to-front, which means that it does not follow a logical sequence, and reinforces the confusion. It does not make its argument for schools to increase its expertise very well, and it is only after schools have done so that the numbers of children identified as having SEN will fall.

We realise that this document should be read alongside another document setting out what the LA expects schools to be providing from within its own resources (SEN Regulation 53, schedule 2), but that now retracted document failed to actually do this. We would welcome the LAs direction to schools and parents in order to provide clarity for both. At this time, support is fractured across the schools within the county with soaring exclusions and lower numbers of school rated good or above.

We respectfully requests that the LA amends this document in light of the well-founded criticisms above without delay. We would also like to respectfully propose that the document be set out in a logical sequence, e.g.

  1. Definition of SEN and SEP, Children & Families Act, 2014, s20/21
  2. SEN Support, including SEN Regulation 51/Schedule 1, CFA s66 and the Equality Act/EHRC guidance for schools.
  3. Criteria for a Needs Assessment
  4. Grounds for refusal to assess
  5. Criteria for Issuing an EHC Plan
  6. Grounds for refusal to issue
  7. Moderating the process


Bren Prendergast – SEND Advocate/EHC Plan Adviser.

Emma Grimbly – Adviser-Advocate, ASD Helping Hands.


Perceptions and Equality

Many years ago, well 17 years and seven months, pretty much to the day to be more precise, hubby and I took the boys to Disneyland Paris. It was the February half-term and my eldest was turning 6. Although money was a bit tight, we booked a hotel on site. The boys’ faces lit up when they saw Tigger entered the lobby of the hotel. It’s one of the magical things about childhood, the ability to see past a person dressed up, and imagine them to be this wondrous character from their videos or books.

My youngest was three and non-verbal at the time. He coyly walked behind Tigger; with his face full of nervousness, shyness and awe, he gently held Tigger’s tale with the delicateness you would use it Tigger’s tail was made of gossamer. He was shooed away by Tigger’s minder. This puzzled me since it was quite clear that had Tigger moved, Tigger would have been completely unaware that his tail was being held at all. I don’t know what effect it had on my son’s thinking at the time, but I knew the magical experience was broken, he let go of the tail like a hot potato. I quickly distracted him and we moved on. It was sad that Tigger’s minder could not differentiate between my son’s delicate touch from that of a marauding pirate.

The trip to Disney made at the lovely memories. We were browsing the gift shop and I fleetingly took my eyes off my youngest son. I instinctively knew that he hadn’t left the shop, I would have seen him in my peripheral vision, but he was gone. We searched the shop, we searched outside the doorway; he wasn’t there. I went back to where we were standing and looked down. My son had walked onto the bottom shelf and bedded down with the Pooh bears; he was all snuggled up. I didn’t berate him, I took a photo! It remains one of my most treasured pictures, one of those ones that would melt any mother’s heart, even if I say so myself. I’m not usually given over to such sentimentality, but this was Disney and this was the magic of childhood.

While it was my eldest’s birthday, I realise that I am relaying stories my youngest. On the morning of my eldest’s birthday, we took both boys to breakfast. We had paid out for a ‘character breakfast’, it was not cheap, but what price can you put on a birthday treat? My boys had been bought up to try a little bit of the options presented when at a buffet, and go back for more if they like something. I hate waste, and I really hate to see abandoned plates full of food. Just because you can freely help yourself, it doesn’t mean that you should. At six, my eldest was perfectly capable of selecting his own foods, and carrying his plate that table without fear of spillage. My youngest however, was still in the inbetween stage, so I collected breakfast for him. I spied the scrambled egg, and picked up about two teaspoonfuls. This went on the plate alongside a sausage, a rasher of bacon and some baked beans. Pluto wandered over, and my boys’ eyes opened wide. Pluto picked on my youngest and collected up a small amount of the egg onto a teaspoon, and popped it into my son’s mouth. My son had obliged by opening his mouth wide. Unfortunately, what Pluto didn’t know, was that my son hates the texture of egg. I had only put a tiny amount on his plate in the hope that he would change his mind. He hadn’t, the beaming smile on my son’s face turned into hilarity on everybody else’s when he spat the egg out onto the table. Pluto was having a hard job containing himself. He bent double, his shoulders going up and down!

What I find confusing is the idea that my son, when viewed through the lens of others’, would be painted as wayward, the product of bad parenting. His coy lack of eye contact with Tigger is a sign of weakness, something that will ensure that he will always miss out on ‘the’ job. This trait must be ‘removed’. Because he viewed the soft toys in the gift store through the lens of a small child, spoilt for choice, living the ‘dream’, he did not think to respond when his name was called. He must, therefore, be a defiant child, a child running wild. Should I go into egg-gate too? I think you get my drift.

We view others through the lens that we create. If we view women as weak, in need of protection of males, we project an image that all females are in danger. If we refer to boys, in general, as bandanna-wearing, baseball-capped thugs, our imagery wanders to the football hooligans who take over bars and restaurants, ruining the experiences of the ‘good’ people. It makes no difference whether ‘the event’ was a single person, the use of language is evocative, inciting prejudices. Coupling the image of thuggery with the need to protect ‘poor, and vulnerable women’, we create fear and inferiority. But where did that fear come from? In the case of a recent TV interview, it came from a man, a Head teacher, who also painted ‘men’ in the role of expert. His men were professionals, his women were weak. The conversation was not only there to incite fear, it also served to put down women in general. I was reminded of the war poem that I previously cited within one of my blog posts which went along the lines of: they came for […], but I was not […], so I didn’t speak out. Then they came for […], but I was not […], so I didn’t speak out. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

I am very fearful of this kind of talk, the picking off of the most vulnerable tends to eventually lead to you. Who will be left to speak for you when everyone else has gone?

The way we interact is a major focus of psycho-social research. It is known that if we have low expectations of our students, our students may not make the progress that they would make if we viewed them as being capable of going on to university. It is called the Pygmalion effect, but we must first alter our own lenses in order to view others in terms of ability. When we see a ‘type’ of person or behaviour as a threat, we become blinded to their ability. A child who is unable to make eye contact is not a threat to the teacher, after all is a blind person a threat? The deaf were, at one point, considered a threat because of their sign language. Blinded by fear, their hands got tied to their chairs so they could not ‘covertly’ communicate. I was once told by my GP that I was ambitious for my son. It had never crossed my mind to ‘be’ ambitious, my role as mother was to nurture with the same gentle touch as my son used when touching Tigger’s tail. I’ve cupped my boys’ talents like I would a chrysalis, awaiting for them to grow wings and fly. Does that make me weak because I didn’t force the chrysalis to transform more quickly? Was I a weak woman, being held to ransom by her male children? No, because I made reasonable adjustments. I didn’t need a law to tell me I must, I did so because my lens is generally one of a humanist.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it clear that we all must make reasonable adjustments, and most people will fall into one of the protected categories, whether gender, age, religion etc. Blanket policies cannot be applied, for example, it would be unlawful for a company like McDonald’s to insist that all members of staff wear a baseball cap. This is not the same as saying that certain groups of people should be exempt from wearing head coverings. It would be perfectly reasonable for McDonald’s to say that all members of staff must have the hair covered, the discrimination lies in the type of covering. A Sikh, for example, should be able to wear a turban and a Muslim woman, the hijab. This does not, in any way, undermine McDonald’s. It is no different within school, we can have strict policies on behaviour, but it does not undermine the school to make reasonable adjustments in order to apply the rule fairly across all types of learner. We expect reasonable adjustments to be made to the school uniform for religious reasons. Similarly, adjustments should be made to the uniform for reasons of disability, it does not undermine the school rules. All schools must comply with reasonable adjustments duties, which stem from the Equality Act. A blanket policy that disproportionately targets a specific group of learners is more than likely to be unlawful.

The strengths and weaknesses of a school lies with the perceptions of its senior leadership team and governing body, not in its pupils. It is the lens in which they view themselves, their teachers and their learners which will create success or failure. If I viewed my son’s actions on that trip to Disney as being those of the child who was out of control, potentially violent even, I would have been a bad mother.

Turning full circle

One of the first Mental Institutions was opened in Norwich. Strangely enough, it also houses one of the last. Before the big boy institutions took over there were some small retreats you could book yourself into, presuming that you had the means or contacts that is. It was considered that mental ill-health could be resolved by resting and taking part in some therapeutic activities – and plenty of fresh air to boot, no doubt. I believe they were generally run by philanthropists with a desire to ‘make a difference’.

I was lucky to have completed a Certificate in Mental Health Studies with The Open University. Lucky in two main ways because a) they no longer run the course and b) the course was also attended by many service users.  I got as close as I could to what’s like having mental ill-health, and what it is like to experience ‘care’, as I could without being there myself. I am also acutely aware that it could be any of us at any time and indeed, one lady was sectioned for a short time whilst on the course. Many on the course had been sectioned at one point or another. I learned, both from these personal experiences and from the course materials that ‘care’ no longer meant rest, relaxation and therapeutic activities. ‘Care’ was more likely to lead to being restrained, face-down, while your undergarments are removed so that ‘medication’ can be administered, forcibly, via an injection in the buttocks. I, like most, thought that these places were there to ‘therapeutic’. How wrong was I?

While ‘learning disability’ and ‘mental distress’ are recognised as separate conditions, they are frequently provided for together. The Lunacy Act 1890 used the terms interchangeably (e.g. idiot and lunatic), the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 and the Mental Treatment Act 1930 made separate provision, then the Mental Health Act 1959/1983 bought them back together again. The 2007 MH Act altered the definitions of mental illness and introduced an exclusion for people with learning disability, so that they would not be considered to have a mental disorder simply as the result of that disability. In the hey-day of the mental institution, it wasn’t therefore just those experiencing mental ill-health that found themselves in an asylum; there were those with learning difficulties, often placed there when their parents died, ‘wayward’ children, petty criminals, single mothers and ‘cast-off’ wives. In respect of Norwich, it is also suggested that a Reverend was placed in the asylum to avoid the scandal of being accused of rape. I doubt this would have been a one-off tactic for law evasion.

Sadly, although asylums were closed and most people were rehomed back into the community, we are wandering back into the rule of the big institution again. Sizeable prison-like homes for children and, well prisons for the rest. Way too many people who are in prison have mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Their incarceration is rationalised by the masses. As naïve I was in considering that mental hospitals were there to make sick people well, I thought prisons were there to, well, sanction the ‘bad’. Hmm. I didn’t know until the end of his life that my grandfather had suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He served in Burma and never discussed his experiences, or claimed his medals. His spells in hospital papered over the cracks, but did not make him well. He had relapses. Likewise, prisons remove offenders from the streets, but do not stop reoffending. In fact, behaviourists have established that punishments not only do not work, but may actively reinforce the behaviours you wish to remove.

What do asylums and prisons have to do with our schools? Well, lots really and I’ve only just scratched the surface here – I could write a complete thesis on this! There is an increasing ‘boldness’ to addressing what some educators are calling ‘the elephant in the room’, that is, inclusion. Inclusion should not be ‘at all costs’ and that ‘other children are having their education disrupted’. Is it ok to say ‘but we’re happy if those ‘included’ kids have theirs disrupted’? I tweeted the other day about how, while defending themselves as not being racist, I’m hearing a flow of racist comments. No, I will not validate your position, you are racist. The same as I won’t defend a position of excluding children, around 85% of whom will meet the legal criteria of being disabled. That would be Disability Discrimination. I’ve drawn parallels between racism and disability/social exclusion before. The two are the same in my book, as is making sexist choices regarding employment. I was listening to Allana Gay talk the other week about how, the higher up the leadership team you go, the more male and white the ‘team’ becomes (Whole School SEND). I am not surprised that Women Ed and BAME are becoming aligned with SEND to lobby for change. Inclusion should include all.

I wonder whether schools think about where their pupils disappear to, or what becomes of them later? Out of sight is usually out of mind. I know that Natalie Scott wonders what happened to her little ‘Superman’ because she told us about him. We know what the damaged little child called Jazz (Ampaw-Farr) did next – and she told us how she cherishes a teacher’s actions (TedxNorwichEd). But what has happened to Superman and did that teacher ever know of his impact on Jazz’s life? Humans. Real compassionate humans.

The wheel is turning full circle on the rights of children to be educated alongside their peers, if you can call it full circle. Perhaps more of an arc, as we climbed towards the top, we’ve found ourselves sliding back down again. We never quite made it to the summit. I read, early on in the ‘old’ SND reforms, of London boroughs that moved their special schools lock, stock and barrel into mainstream schools. Special school teachers taught alongside their mainstream counterparts, their special school children learned alongside their mainstream counterparts. Special schools were closed. I don’t know how sustainable that became and it would be interesting to hear feedback from those who were there, back in the ‘80s. Now, in 2017, there is a rising clamour for special schools, from both teachers and parents alike. Children with ‘high incidence, low cost’ SEN (not my words) are being refused mainstream school places. And, like the linking of learning difficulty and mental distress, SEN has become linked to bad behaviour. Now, I would pretty much agree with the linking of the two, since the mere expression ‘SEN’ appears to result in the bad behaviour of too many school’s leadership teams. If a child cannot access a lesson, it will not do the work. Simple common sense. If you are going to exclude a child for ‘low level disruption’, can you please exclude yourself from CPD sessions? or conferences? I hear your chatter when the speaker is talking (and I do it too, sometimes). A child does not (usually) go to somewhere ‘much better’, in the same way as being sectioned and forcibly injected in your backside isn’t ‘better’. Nor is being restrained, face-down. In fact, it can kill.

Let’s have inclusion units where we can exclude all our SEN pupils, the reasoned arguments go. Only, they are not ‘just’ for SEN, they’re for all those with mental distress and those with bad behaviour too – I think we’ve already been there though already, haven’t we?

Two poems from the OU course K272 – Poppy Buchanan-Barker & Phil Barker drew parallels between Nazi Germany in the 1930s and life today (based on the words of Pastor Martin Niemoeller, victim of the Nazis)

20th Century Values

First they came for the Communists

And I didn’t speak up

Because I wasn’t a Communist.


Then they came for the Jews

And I didn’t speak up

Because I wasn’t a Jew.


Then they came for the trade unionists

And I didn’t speak up

Because I wasn’t a trade unionist.


Then they came for the Catholics

And I didn’t speak up

Because I was a Protestant.


Then they came for me –

And by that time

No one was left to speak up.



21st Century Values

First they came for the dispossessed

But we didn’t speak up

Because we thought that we weren’t dispossessed.


Then they came for the marginalised

But we didn’t speak up –

Because we thought that we weren’t marginalised.


Then they came for the dissidents

But we didn’t speak up

Because we thought that we weren’t dissidents.


Next they came for the asylum seekers

But we didn’t speak up –

Because we thought that we would never be asylum seekers.


Then they came for the mentally ill

And there was no one left to speak for anyone.



OU (2010) ‘Searching for understandings’ in K272 Challenging ideas in Mental Health Milton Keynes: The Open University

The irony of inclusive conferences and junior league difficulties.


Today I got to go to TEDxNorwichED – second year running too. I have to say, it was generally a lot better than last year, but again like last year, I left before the last group of speakers came on. Like last year, I faced the same barriers which led to my leaving early too.


Last year I felt the speakers were, in the main, ableist. We did have 2-3 speakers actively advocating for the education of all like Alison Peacock, but for others, it seemed that the fact that some learners need things that are different from, or in addition to, their peers seemed to not register. It wasn’t just me feeling this way, it was also noticed by other inclusionists. This year we not only had speakers who have cerebral palsy (Joan Latta) and autism (Callum Brazzo), but we also had an extremely moving and harrowing account of childhood abuse by Jaz Ampaw-Farr, and Natalie Scott’s impassioned speech for all children to be educated – even if it meant she had to walk in human shit (literally, as a teacher in a refugee camp with no facilities). True determination against dreadful hardships.


We had neuro-diverse, socially diverse, colour diverse, age diverse and specialism (or otherwise) diverse speakers this year. The whole thing was filmed and can be viewed online. I did not agree with it all. There was a sprinkling of pseudo-science, you know the type where it starts with some researched facts, but also includes large dollops of anecdotal nonsense/urban myth. There was also the performance so rehearsed you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an actor delivering a monologue in EastEnders. I can’t criticise as it may be that’s the only way the person can give their performance. Like all the speakers, how ‘good’ they are comes from your own viewpoint and personality. I should have asked Natalie and Amjad for a selfie – or at least took a picture of Natalie’s killer heels!


Like last year though, I found it ironic that I should be attending a conference dedicated to education, to inspiring others, to inclusion and yet I sat there excluded. I have no idea how many people were there, a few hundred at least. I believe the venue takes up to 500 and there weren’t many empty spaces – but yet I was again excluded for exactly the same reasons as last year. It’s a lonely place to be, surrounded by people. Being dairy-free, is, apparently, tough. In terms of disability and exclusion, it’s pretty much junior-league stuff but no less annoying. What the caterers had done was to throw a load of junk in a bowl (salad and cold veg), shoved on a dressing of some kind and decided that would do for ‘the others’, all of them, no matter their need. Everyone else dined on appetising, chunky goodie-filled ciabatta. Not just one type of sandwich/roll, not one choice of filling, but many choices. All that bread, but NONE without filling, not one solitary slice. How hard would that have been? Cake and tarts were served later – but not for ‘the others’. For us, no choice. Fruit or nothing. Breakfast was barely any better. At least I got bacon, no bread, of course. Hungry, I stood outside. Excluded. Sulking too. Unhappy.


Callum talked about being autistic and standing up and making a fuss. Yet, my fuss fell on deaf ears. No food means no painkillers. No painkillers meant I had to leave.


We talk of learning difficulties, learning differences, disability, colour, gender, glass ceilings, inspiring and improving lives, but the basic need for food? Should I have bought my own? Should a person in a wheelchair bring their own ramp? How about the person with autism, should they be given a choice of seats or told to sit in ‘the special area’? Should the person with learning difficulties be assigned to trolley collection when they want to work the tills? Should I have brought my own packed lunch when everyone else gets choice?


If you watch the event online, listen to the speakers talk, the irony of my situation will not go unnoticed. Junior league, yes. But for a great many of us junior-leaguers, it’s those tiny little adjustments that can have the biggest effects.



Many years ago I worked as a hairdresser. One older client always sticks in my mind, not because she was just lovely, but because she was super-lovely. The lady had Parkinson’s you see, and doing her hair was never an easy task. Her limbs used to move quite violently, causing her whole body to jerk about. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she was just having a blow-dry, but she was a shampoo-and-set lady.

The first hurdle to get across was shampooing her hair, even leaning backwards, her body moved so much that her back invariably got soaked. Then there was the fun of getting those rollers in. At least her clothes were reasonably dry by the time she emerged from the dryer.

Let’s ramp it up a wee bit more. Every 3 months she would come in for a perm. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that perming this lady’s hair was akin to trying to thread a needle whilst on the deck of a trawler in a hurricane! I’m not trying to be funny or flippant, it really was no laughing matter. I used to wonder how she slept at night and whether having your muscles spasm like that made them ache. Sometimes though, we were able to time ourselves well and she would pop a tiny little pill and the hurricane force winds suddenly turned into a gentle breeze. Seeing was truly believing. I’d apologise for making her so wet, she’d apologise for moving so much. Never a terse word was exchanged, especially as I was the one doing the soaking but as I said, she was super-lovely.

Fast forward to about 5 years ago. I was volunteering in a Year 1 class. It was with some trepidation that I went in, since little children aren’t really my thing. I mean, what are you supposed to do with them? Will they understand what I say? I use big words and all that. Anyway, it turns out that they’re pretty much like big kids, only smaller. You kind of forget when they’re all sitting down.

The classroom was an old Victorian one and you couldn’t have shoe-horned another child in. Carpet-time, although a great idea, doesn’t really work when the seams are about to burst. It really was a case of spotting empty chairs to stand on to move around, a bit like a  don’t-stand-on-the-floor-or-you’re-out kind of game. Carpet space was as small as it could be for 30-odd kids to be seated. Could you imagine my client with Parkinson’s working here? What if she were a long-established member of staff? What do you do?

Well, my lady was in that classroom, she sat on the tiny chairs and she sat on the carpet. Her limbs were constantly in motion and was always bumping and nudging the other children, apart from those brief windows when it was time she could take her carefully controlled meds. Her bumps were not hard, more like the bouncy paws of an excitable puppy. Only, it wasn’t my lady, it was someone else’s lad. And he didn’t have Parkinson’s, he had ADHD. But his meds would wear off, just like my client’s, and his limbs would make contact with others’, just like my client’s, and he would apologise, just like my client. Only I wasn’t his hairdresser, not was I his teacher. Unlike me, his teacher didn’t apologise. She made an example of him, she took away his playtimes and his golden time. She told him that he wasn’t trying hard enough, she said she knew he was doing it on purpose. She knew because sometimes sat still, she told him he knew how to. She said he was naughty, that he disrupted the class.

This was tweeted to me yesterday by @remelrose1 It’s only adults who cause confusion, discrimination and hatred. Children have to be taught these.

How true.

Why so many exclusions?

This morning the local paper ran a story about the rising school exclusions in Norfolk here

There has been an almost 50% rise in exclusions last year with another 50 already expelled in the first seven weeks of the current year, according to the article. Four Head teachers gave their reasons. The first suggested that some expel to assist with the pupil gaining the specialist support they need – only it doesn’t. If a pupil needs specialist support, firstly there is the S66 governors duties to use their best endeavours to secure this support. Schools can also support parents in applying for an EHCP. The idea that exclusion triggers a chain reaction where a pupils needs will be met is, at best, incredibly naïve. Norfolk has too many pupils sitting at home doing nothing, I am in contact with some of these families.

Another suspects that some schools exclude to improve their league tables. Yes, that I can agree with. I have played the prediction game and, unfortunately, ‘won’.

A third states that the Short Stay Schools for Norfolk do not inspire confidence, so s/he won’t send a pupil there. The Head of the SSSfN said there were no quick fixes and the SSSfN’s role was misunderstood. Well yes, if the school from which the pupil has been sent does not changes its own systems, whatever cause the pupil’s reactive behaviour will still be there.

The fourth Head blamed the fractured system of between-school and between school and LA support. Sadly s/he added that in the past, schools agreed to accept their ‘fair share’ – and therein lies a problem. If you see pupils in terms of ‘fair share’ the pupils are already on to a loser.

I wondered if there is any correlation between the increase in Academies and ‘good’ graded schools in Norfolk. Chatting on Twitter earlier, Barney replied:

Perfect concluding remark. So:-

* Legacy problems

* Unrealistic short-stay aims

* Weak LAs

* Growth of academies

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t but either way, we have a problem here and it’s increasing.

There is always a lot of chatter about funding, but much of this is not about the money, it’s about the support. The majority of excluded pupils have SEN, whether ‘diagnosed’ or not. All pupils deserve Quality First Teaching (QfT), or Wave 1 depending on a schools use of terminology. If a pupil appears to be having difficulty, Wave 2 (targeted support) and perhaps Wave 3 (specialist support) should be implemented. However, the Waves model tends to fall silent in high school, when it really shouldn’t. ‘SEN support’ is not separate from this, it is part of it. However, some pupils should go straight to EHCP, as QfT, Waves & SEN support, are insufficient to meet more complex needs.

What seems to be happening in Norfolk is a breakdown in support, since I think it would be implausible to suggest that our children have somehow suddenly been taken over by something else. While much has been said about Labour and Education, Education, Education, not so much has been said about the rapid expansion of Teaching Assistants in our schools at that time. At one point, TAs were the biggest growth area for jobs! But we seem to have lost our way. I’ve been in schools where TAs have had no training, none at all. One conversation went along the lines of ‘oh, I’m only here while my kids are little, just for a bit of extra money’. She was placed with a child who had global delay, much of her time was spent trying to get him to do work he couldn’t do. I call it the osmosis model, if the TA models the task often enough, the child will ‘absorb it’ just by sitting beside him/her. Well no, the task needs to be set out into small, achievable steps. Did that pupil learn? No. Has that pupil been taught any strategies to employ in order to achieve independence as a learner? No. Is that pupil likely to remain passively accepting of this throughout his school career?

A great many pupils need to be taught a series of strategies to be able to understand the tasks and expectations that schools set. The osmosis model will not work. Something else has happened too. I’ve seen wording on statements of SEN drift from ‘X will need to be taught strategies’ to ‘the school will use strategies’. A complete shift away from empowering a pupil. It wouldn’t now be unreasonable for a school to state that they’ve tried all kids of strategies, but they didn’t work. They won’t work if a pupil cannot access them! TAs have such an invaluable role here, they can be worth their weight in gold to a pupil, or act as a lead weight (the teacher, however, is always the one charged with providing appropriately differentiated work.

It is the systems within each individual school that make that difference. I cannot help but wonder what systems are in place in schools that feel the need to exclude. We have heard it said, over and over again, that good strategies for SEN/D are good strategies for all. If all pupils are taught, for example, how to give, ask and/or receive help from a TA, a teacher and each other, it is far less likely that the behaviours that cause exclusion would escalate to such a proportion. The Maximising the Impact (MITA) and Maximising the Practice (MPTA) of TAs both provide effective guidance & framework to support a whole-school approach to supporting all pupils. With the MPTA approach, all pupils understand if they have independently completed work, whether they self-scaffolded, required prompting, clues, modelling or correcting, whether from an adult or peers. Such an approach also allows the teacher to identify which pupils are actively learning and whether the work was too hard or too easy. Pupils learn how to ask questions and how to seek support, rather than sit still or worse, not sit still, when an adult isn’t present.

What I have heard is, rather than teaching a pupil to be independent, some schools are actually removing all support to ‘make them’ become independent – and so we’re back to the osmosis model. Unfortunately, by osmosis, the pupil is likely to find him or herself on the outside of their school. The fact that the four Head teachers gave differing responses reinforces the idea of a very fragmented system. Whatever the causes and whatever the solutions, Norfolk schools (nurseries and colleges) must come together to resolve this situation because we cannot allow this to continue.

Anchors Away!

Last night, although going to bed at a sensible hour, I couldn’t get to sleep. My fault, I take medication for my joints three times a day & I forgot my afternoon dose. I have no idea why it alters my sleep, but a missed dose equals a wakeful night. I started reflecting on recent events, as you do!

I’ve realised that over the last year I’d been dragging an anchor around with me, which I’ve now cut loose from. I had been far more unhappy at work than I’d been aware of. I’ve always sought to be part of the solution and I’d become entangled with the problem. The problem, as with many education establishments was the systems, the senior leadership team and the governance. Not usual and I think many good teachers will recognise this.

Yesterday I was at the offices of Youth Driver Trust, discussing how to assist schools in raising literacy standards. Something struck me while I was there and that was whether or not a school can truly evaluate itself. I recounted a local story: I had been on a Steering Group with a co-Head of a large city high school. They had decided to host an ASD & a behaviour unit. The co-Head was gushing about how teaching standards across the school had been raised and how well the students were now supported. They’d been previously awarded a ‘good’ Ofsted grade, I suspect they thought they were on for something better. Ofsted thought otherwise. Academy conversion was enforced. Thing is, I knew the school before I sat on that Steering Group. It was one of those schools that ‘removed’ pupils to raise grades we’ve been hearing about again recently. The problem is that it doesn’t tackle the internal politics that let those students down in the first place. The ‘problem’ had been located in the student, not the school’s systems. Their self-evaluation was flawed.

Today in the paper was an article about another local school, one that is considered to be ‘coasting’. This school is already an Academy, it may be stripped from its sponsor – my last employer. Teacher moral is reported to be at rock bottom, turnover high, but the cause, it seems, was with the pupils and their families. Now, if the ‘problem’ is located in the pupils and the teachers aren’t making any progress, surely the only place it can be resolved is within the systems, the senior leadership team and the governance? Self-evaluation again, appears to be flawed.

I’m not suggesting that schools and others intentionally create unhelpful systems, but if you don’t have a better model to view, how do you know? My anchor was trying to work in a system that is not yet ready for change. The toll on me was greater than I had realised.

Last week I attended a training course with Rob Webster & Paula Bosanquet -Maximising TAs. The programme came out of the DISS project (see, e.g. Blatchford, Bassett, Brown & Webster, 2009), demonstrating the high-cost, low-impact of Teaching Assistants. It is imperative to mention that this had nothing to do with the TAs themselves, but the systems in which they worked. TA ‘hours’ have become currency amongst parents, but with huge assumptions over their purpose. I nearly laughed out aloud with a little anecdote that was shared. I laughed because I had written into my son’s statement ‘can appear less able than he is’. The problem I was experiencing was the same as the anecdote, a child ‘choosing’ not to demonstrate knowledge because the adult would do the work for them. How did we get to this point?

I have been challenged to consider the systems in which we work to effect change. I feel at home. There is no attack on pupils, no attack on teachers, no attack on families. I have, once again, been energised by learning. Like how Nancy Gedge wrote recently (The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy), I once again feel part of a community, a learning community, a moving forward community (Nancy is also part of DYT). Yet again I’ve had affirmation that I’m not in the wrong when I say that inclusion should not be hard, that inclusion should follow good evidence-based practice, that inclusion means ensuring that all children are actively learning, together.

I would say that it seems ironic that the book I took with me to London on both visits was Re-Thinking Autism by Runswick-Cole, Mallett and Timimi (2016), but it wasn’t ironic at all. I took it because it fits with my philosophy. I have just read chapter 10, Schools Without Labels by Nick Hodge:

In my early visits to Marie she told me of the games and learning activities that she and Sam, her son, did together and the pleasure they both received from this. One of my visits followed shortly after the suggestions that had been made by ‘expert’ professionals that Sam might ‘have’ autism and that the parents should accept the label in order to access the specialist help that a child with autism would need…. Marie explained that now that Sam had been given the diagnosis of autism she and Sam’s father, John, ‘don’t know what to teach him, how to teach him’.

Hodge was making the point that suddenly, parents are disempowered by a medical diagnosis yet their child remained the same, Sam was the same Sam as he’d been the day before diagnosis. SEND has become a big business that carries both mystique and a hierarchy of ‘expertise’. This effect is not only found in families, but in schools too.

In my study Ben’s father, Mark, illustrates this process when he describes his puzzlement that a teacher who had previously engaged very effectively Ben suddenly stopped spending time with him….. The teacher explained that she had been visited by the autism specialist support team who had informed her that Ben had autism. Mark perceived the teacher’s understanding of autism to be that children like that want to be left alone…… ‘I could really see the difference in her, in the way that she talked… she is never going to see Ben as a normal child anymore… she is going to stamp Ben as autistic and in her words autism means “Oh they’re just wandering around in their own little world”’

I have blogged about this before, it is unhelpful to see others as ‘special and separate’, both due to the reasons above and for the industry that has sprang up reinforcing this. Like gender, we have more in common with each other than we have differences. Why should a parent or teacher suddenly feel inadequate because a label has been applied? What is the difference between teaching literacy to a child with a label, than a child who is simply behind his/her peers? Hodge argues, as I do, to park the label and teach to a child’s strengths and weaknesses.

We all have a role to play here and I’m eager again to play mine. I am again free to select best practice, evidence-based practice. I can enthusiastically deliver training to professionals and parents alike. I can once more talk about closing the attainment gap between pupils and with some authority. Best of all? I no longer have to sit in meetings and be told ‘you don’t know what you are talking about’ and have to bite my tongue!