Being the Elephant in the room


Had a really eye opening day last week.

I have two boys who both have what they call ‘complex issues’ that manifest as social, behavioural and emotional issues, hence after a long journey / struggle with mainstream education (think rectangles being made to fit into round holes) are now within the specialist system. I don’t often mention them here as a lot of the stuff is intensely personal and really difficult to blog about. This isn’t really about them but you need to know the background to set the scene. I’ve become involved as one of the many strings to my bow, with a parent / carer forum which engages (mostly constructively 😉 ) with the LA, inching along the co-production route to designing services. In the main as far as I can see, up until now, the staff have been fairly flexible, welcoming and accepting of this new approach to working.

Indeed, co-production is one of the few things that have survived the change of governments. The new Child and Families Bill (expected to be in operation by September 2014) puts working with children and families at the heart of the many reforms in the bill that deal with Special Educational Needs & Disability. Cue the conference on Wednesday, organised by one of the pathfinder authorities in the area (what went on has nothing to do with their organisation I hasten to add!)

All of the local authorities in the area were invited with a set number of places going to each authority. It was open to all who were involved in this area, parents, teachers, health partners, LA staff etc. I’ve seen reports that some authorities didn’t invite parents along at all or restricted them. My LA were good and just invited us.  It was obvious however, that we were most definitely in the minority. 

Cue the presentations. A speaker introduced her talk by rattling through the groups that were there, I looked forward, proudly, to putting my hand up as if to say, ‘I’m a parent, I’m here, I’m involved’. Didn’t happen.   Other professionals came and went, all proudly talking about how the reforms would be putting the family at the heart of it all – meeting their needs and outcomes they specify would be paramount.  Cue the questions – one from health – what if the solution proposed didn’t have a good enough evidence base and something else had a better evidence base, which one do we commission?  (ie who knows best?)The questions about budget / finances (answer from D of E murky as ever) .

Then came lunch.  in the queue I was talking to someone, introduced myself as a parent and she looked a bit agog that they actually allowed parents here and then proceeded to talk about how well its good to have parents here so that they can manage expectations, as other parents might look at the bill and have their expectations raised whereas really a lot of the work is going to be about how to persuade parents that the sky is the limit with regard to meeting the needs of children.  I then went and plonked myself down at a table where a group of (presumed) educationalists proceeded to discuss a common case.  The only thing that they managed to do well was not name either the child or the parents. They did however, proceed to moan about the cost to their budget, the fact that the parents had ‘bent the rules when they didn’t really need to to get the child into the school’ etc etc.  By the time I’d finished my food, I was fuming inside!  I didn’t know whether to be complimented because they just assumed I was a fellow professional and so wouldn’t mind their in house chat or fuming because they assumed that parents wouldn’t be here and so everyone was a professional and be having all these types of chats anyway.

Needless to say, I came away from the conference extremely frustrated and disheartened. The reforms to me, before this, meant a step away from what I currently believe is an adversarial system where a parent has to butt heads with the system and jump through hoops to get (at times) what is the absolute minimum of constructive intervention to a process where each and every family gets what they need – a decent, inclusive, accepting education system, social care delivered according to need and the correct and timely intervention from the health service.  We don’t want anymore than this, why should we be made to feel that this is more than we deserve?

There are lots of areas of good practice in this area – particularly in the NE – but I think the professionals really have to look at us, the parents, yes those demanding, greedy, rule bending, mouthy elephants in the room who are often the only people who are standing up for their families and in particular for those children who have additional needs.  These reforms need and deserve more than the lip service they are getting in various professional quarters.








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