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Interview with Ellen Power – Part 4: How to create an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN

This is the fourth installment of a week-long interview with Ellen Power, mum to two children with Special Educational Needs and author of the new how-to book Guerrilla Mum: Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle (August 2010, Jessica Kingsley Publishers), which describes how she worked with – and in some cases challenged – the authorities to get the right education for her children.

Today, Ellen shares some recommendations towards creating an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN.

When you look at it on paper it is difficult to see why the current system for meeting the needs of children with SEN is so prone to failure. On paper it seems to work, but in practice there are some big weaknesses that lead to its failure.

The first thing to do is to have one body providing the funding to meet SEN at a local level and one body tasked with the identification of special educational needs. In Britain under current SEN legislation, this has been one organisation – the Local Authority (LA). There is a conflict of interest because the same body that identifies SEN and then makes recommendations for provision in statements is the same one that pays for that provision. If you worked for the LA department that is responsible for statements and things got a bit tight, would you just not restrict the number of statements? Tweak the provision in statements a bit? It’s easy to see the temptation. So the first thing to do is to separate these functions. That said, I really like ‘the statement’ – it has been our children’s shield and stands between them and failure. Nobody can argue with it, their legal rights are clear for all to see.

Once children are identified as having SEN, we must remove current disincentives to schools to have children statemented. In my opinion the biggest of these is devolved funding, where only children receiving a high amount of support hours in their statements are funded separately by the LA. Children who have a smaller number of hours of support in their statements must be funded by their school from the devolved SEN budget. This means the school has a statement (or statements) to finance before it can do anything for children with SEN who do not have statements. I go into this in more detail in my book.

Furthermore, schools are currently very good at the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. They are set up to get large groups of children to meet government targets for league tables. Not everyone can benefit from this approach. We must adopt a much more individualised approach to education so that each child can have their individual needs met. This must become a priority, and schools must be able to see a benefit in making this a priority target. However the new government changes the current education system, it should be putting its efforts into making certain that this individualised approach can happen for every chid. Those with special educational needs are the most in need of this approach, so there must be special protections written into any new legislation to safeguard their interests and to promote equality. We can afford it. The thing we can’t afford is the cost to society of large numbers of children who have failed at school and are putting pressure on our benefits system, have entered the criminal justice system and who may need to access mental health provision.

Tomorrow: In the final post of the series, Ellen shares her Top 5 Back to School Tips for parents of children with Special Educational Needs.
Yesterday: Ellen shares her take on the new academies and free schools legislation in the UK.

Ellen Power has a BA Honours Degree in French and History. After graduation she worked as a police officer then in commerce before having her first child in the mid 1990′s. Since then she and her husband have been tireless campaigners for their children’s rights to access the curriculum at school and to meet their potential in life. She has contributed to the National Austistic Society magazine ‘Communication’, discussing the issue of homeschooling children on the Autistic Spectrum. She lives with her husband and two young sons.

Visit Ellen’s new Guerrilla Mum blog!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.


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