Teaser Tuesday-Requirements for Being a “Parent” as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA)

The Comprehensive Guide to Special Education Law by George A. Giuliani is a detailed yet accessible introduction to federal law as it applies to the rights of children with special needs. Written in a user-friendly question and answer format, the book covers all of the key areas of special education law including parental rights of participation, the legal right to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and related services, and the complex issues of discipline and dispute resolutions.

Who is a “parent” as defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA)?

Perhaps the most important element afforded under IDEIA is the right to parental participation at almost all stages of the special education process. To increase the odds that each child has a parent in the special education process, IDEIA does define the term “parent” but does so in a broad way. Under IDEIA, a “parent” means:

  1. A biological (natural) or adoptive parent of a child
  2. A foster parent, unless State law, regulations, or contractual obligations with a State or local entity prohibit a foster parent from acting as a parent
  3. A guardian generally authorized to act as the child’s parent, or authorized to make educational decisions for the child (but not the State if the child is a ward of the State)
  4. An individual acting in the place of a biological or adoptive parent (including a grandparent, stepparent, or other relative) with whom the child lives, or an individual who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare, or
  5. A surrogate parent who has been appointed in accordance with 34 C.F.R. 300.519.

Download the Requirements for Being a “Parent” extract here.

Dr. George Giuliani works at Hofstra University, Long Island, where he is an Associate Professor at the School of Education, Health and Human Services and former Director of the graduate school program in Special Education. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at Hofstra University’s School of Law where he teaches the course, Special Education Law. Dr. Giuliani is the Executive Director of The National Association of Special Education Teachers, Executive Director of the American Academy of Special Education Professors, and President of the National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education. He has written many books on special education and he is a consultant for school districts and early childhood agencies. He resides in Melville, New York.

Which of Your Child’s Services are You Willing to Give Up?

Reprinted permission granted from The Autism Notebook Magazine

JKP author Vaughn Lauer, PhD shares expert insight on dealing with your IEP and securing services for your child.


Silly question? Perhaps.  Reflect on your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) along with the services that are in that IEP. Now, ask yourself which of those you would be willing to give up. Seriously, what kind of a question is that, right? You’re not willing to give up anything.  Okay, which would you give up for something else?  Farfetched questions? Not so much if you enter an IEP meeting thinking IEPs should be negotiated. For example, if you have ever thought of something similar to “If I don’t get adapted PE, I will go for more hours of speech therapy.” you are thinking in terms of negotiating away some of your child’s services. Why would you be willing to do that to your child? Look at how an IEP meeting might proceed.

Assuming Best Case Scenarios

Let’s assume that the IEP team—including you, of course—has agreed to your child’s present levels of academic and functional performance based on a review of all available and current information. The team has also identified and agreed that each of your child’s needs are to be addressed in the IEP. So where is the twist? It’s coming.

Assume that the goals are then written with near perfection.  That is, the team identified those behaviors (e.g., social or academic, motoric, etc.) to be affected through implementation of the IEP.  The goals included clearly stated conditions under which the behaviors are to be observed (e.g., when given a fifth grade text of 225 words, within 13 minutes, etc.). Lastly, the goals were stated in easy to understand measurable terms (e.g., with no more than 2 word errors, 70% of requests, with 80% accuracy, etc.). So what’s the big deal? Almost there.

The next steps are to determine the services to be provided, the time and frequency of each, and where they are to be delivered.  Thinking about your child’s present (and past) needs and rate of progress, you conclude your child requires more speech and language services than in the past. Staff, however, feel it is not necessary. You insist that services be increased, but staff say it isn’t possible to do.  You, nevertheless, counter that there has been limited progress made over the course of the year in the area of language development. A review of the data support your position and staff offers additional time, but, state a need to reduce the time of adapted PE.  You think, “I got the extra SLP time!” and accept the counter offer.

Realization Sets In

An hour after the meeting ends you realize—yes, here it is—you gave away a service previously determined to be necessary to meet one of your child’s goals.  You had negotiated away one of your child’s needs.  In case you’re thinking this does not happen, it does.  But, this can be circumvented, by throwing out the idea that IEP meetings are built on the premise that you and the school are meeting to negotiate the development of the IEP and services your child requires.

What Should Be Done?

What should be implemented is called the structured collaborative IEP process. This process poses six key questions to the team that will facilitate collaboration through group problem solving and lead to the development of the IEP>

The questions are:

  • What do we know? Where are we?
  • Where do we want to go? What is it we want to accomplish?
  • How will we get there? What do we need to get there?
  • How will we know that we are getting there?
  • How do we know when we have arrived?
  • How do we keep what we have?

By following the structure put in place by the IEP document itself, a plan can be devised that includes all that a child’s needs require. For example, the Present Levels of Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) should be written in such a way that the challenges and strengths of the child are clearly documented. Goals are then developed in line with those documented needs and subsequently, services given that will allow those goals to become a reality. Accommodations and supplementary aids no longer become such a challenge to obtain when the needs that support them are documented in the PLAAFP.

The practice of negotiating is unnecessary, as the evidence from which to base the decision (i.e., what services are to be provided, answering the question: How will we get there?) has already been established and agreed upon when the full IEP team identified your child’s needs (Answering the question What do we know?) and wrote goals (Answering the question: Where do we want to go?) addressing those needs.

What happens if the school insists on reducing services as a part of a “bargain?”

If you have an IEP that truly describes your child’s needs, and goals written to target those needs, you have become an advocate’s dream. Why? Because you have the documentation to support the services required, based on available data and measurable goals (How will we know we are getting there? and How do we know even we have arrived?) that require certain services in order to be fully implemented (How do we keep what we have?). The decision made by any third party reviewer would be to hold the school responsible for the provision of all services needed by your child. Exactly as it should be.

Reprint from The Autism Notebook Magazine, “Back to School” Aug/Sept 2013 issue. Link: http://virtualpublications.soloprinting.com/publication/?i=172140, www.AutismNotebook.com

Vaughn Lauer, PhD, is an educator with years of experience in the field of special education. He is the author of the forthcoming book,  When the School Says No…How to Get the Yes!: Securing Special Education Services for Your Child published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Developing essential skills for mediating across dispute contexts and cultures – An Interview with Tony Whatling

Tony Whatling is the author of the new book, Mediation Skills and Strategies: A Practical Guide.  With over 25 years’ experience of mediation practice, he has published widely on the subject of mediation and is a professional practice consultant to a number of mediation services. He has designed and delivered training to over 1,000 Muslim mediators in the UK, Pakistan, India, USA, Canada, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Portugal, Syria and Afghanistan.

In this interview, Tony shares his experiences of mediating within different contexts and cultures, and explains why there is the need for a comprehensive guide to the skills and strategies in mediation.

You have worked in the field of mediation for over 20 years – what led you to become a mediator?

From the late 1960’s, I had a professional background in social sciences, social work practice, management and education, always with a part-time involvement in family therapy practice, throughout those different roles. As a tutor and head of a university department of social work education, I had always believed that, to maintain credibility, academics should not be detached from practice, so looked for a part-time role locally.

At that time family mediation was beginning to evolve in the UK, and in 1984 a mediation service opened in the city and offered the first ever national training in family mediation. I was subsequently appointed and within two years became one of a small team of trainers to deliver training across the UK in the not-for-profit sector. I left the university some 18 years ago to become a self-employed trainer, and expanded my experience so as to also offer training in community/neighbour, health care complaints, victim/offender and workplace mediation contexts.

Why was it important to write a book about mediation skills?

Despite the substantial growth in literature related to mediation, conciliation, conflict management and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), it is surprising that a book which offers a straightforward, comprehensive handbook of mediator skills and strategies has not so far been written. Whilst referring to some skills, books with titles referring to ‘mediation skills’ more commonly cover theories about conflict, legal issues, and how to manage the mediation process and its stages, rather than the essential core skills and strategies used by practitioners. My decision to write the book was also heavily influenced by constant requests to do so from the very many people I have trained over the past two decades.

Can you give us some examples of skills that mediators routinely employ? Mediation is practised in many different kinds of settings – are these skills employed universally?

The good news for trainee mediators is that the key skills that mediators use are effectively the same as those used by councillors, therapists, managers, and HR staff – indeed anyone involved in what can be termed ‘people-working’ professions. They are essentially also what most people have developed as good quality interpersonal communication skills for everyday life: for example, active listening with understanding, paraphrasing, summarising, clarifying, empathising and using a range of different forms of questioning. The key difference is that mediators are using such skills for different outcome objectives than, say, a therapist, namely in helping disputants negotiate agreements and mutually acceptable settlements. Again, the good news is that these skills are entirely appropriate across all dispute resolution contexts. The procedural steps employed by a mediator will differ depending on the conflict at hand – for example, a spousal dispute versus a commercial or workplace dispute – but the skills are universal.

You make the distinction in the book between skills and strategies – tell us about this.

Typical dictionary definitions describe a skill as ‘the ability to do something well’ or ‘expertise or dexterity’, whereas a strategy is commonly defined as ‘a plan designed to achieve a particular long-term aim’.

Professionals firstly need to practice and develop specific core mediation skills in order to be able to apply them with a particular outcome in mind.

It is hard to conceive of any skill being used by a mediator that will not have some degree of either minor or major strategic effect. For example, the mediator will use the skill of active listening so that they fully understand the client, but also to demonstrate an interest in them as a person. In this scenario, the client hopefully perceives the mediator as both skilful and interested in them as a person. This in turn will also help towards developing trust in the mediator, and indeed the mediation process itself as a method of resolving the dispute. I give many more examples in the book of these core mediation skills and how they are applied strategically towards helping the parties involved to move through the mediation process. Purposefulness and intentionality therefore are the hallmarks of skilled practice.

You run skills training throughout the UK, but also around the world. Are there differences in the way that mediation is practised within different countries and cultures?

There are significant differences in the way that mediation is practised within different countries and cultures, and the most significant differences relate to the Western versus non-Western cultural context. Generally speaking, in Western, individualist cultures, conflict is regarded as an inevitable fact of everyday life and, in many cases, even as a necessary indicator of a need for improvement – for example, in unsatisfactory work-place relationships or with consumer products. Consequently, mediation has come to be regarded as a way to get things out into the open and on the table so as to solve problems and negotiate mutually acceptable settlements and agreements, usually with the help of impartial, trained mediators who are not normally known to the parties in dispute.

By contrast, in many non-Western, communitarian cultures, conflict is generally regarded as abhorrent, a threat to community cohesion and a matter of individual, family and community failings, and is therefore something to avoid, suppress or smooth over. Mediation in this context tends to be conducted by known and respected senior members of the community. Conflict management and negotiations are typically much less direct, take longer and may involve many more members of the extended family and community stake holders – usually with a strong emphasis on reconciliation and a ‘bandaging of the wounds’. Where such internal processes are unsuccessful, arbitration is historically more commonplace and again is provided by respected community and faith elders. Settlements determined by such processes tend to accepted by all concerned, regardless of who wins or loses, as an indication of the historical respect for the authority of the arbitrator.

What has been the most challenging piece of work that you have done which involved drawing upon all of your skills as a mediator?

Two particular examples stand out as the most challenging. The first was a family mediation involving a divorcing couple where the wife was terminally ill, with possibly weeks or at best a few months to live. She expressed very considerable anger with the surgeons, who had at initially thought that surgery had been successful – only to discover later that her illness had spread extensively. She was also still very angry with her husband who had left her for another woman prior to her diagnosis. We achieved little other than some plans for the next few weeks, as we had to end the meeting when her emotional and physical condition deteriorated to the point where she could no longer communicate effectively. I still believe that it was right to respect her wish to mediate. At an intellectual level it made sense, and yet emotionally – given the catastrophic losses that this woman faced: marriage, children and life itself – how could anyone be expected to cope with negotiating arrangements for a time when they are no longer here?

The other situation involved a couple in Syria and matters of family honour. Two members of the wife’s family had not only defrauded her husband of a substantial amount of money through business dealings, but had maligned his character within the close-knit local community. It would not be appropriate to give details, but after some eight years the matter had gone from bad to worse, despite many attempts at mediation and reconciliation. Given the family connections and long running emotional stress, the dispute now threatened the husband’s long-standing marriage, as well as his career as a very successful business man and academic. My female Muslim co-worker and I worked with the husband and wife for several hours, through intense heat and inadequate air-conditioning, on the day we were due to leave Syria after delivering a training programme. By the end, we felt that we had gone some way to helping to reconcile the marriage and the couple both expressed sincere gratitude, in particular for the fact that we had been the first people not to tell the husband to ‘forgive and forget’ or to get on with his life for the sake of his family, his children and community cohesion. We also helped to begin to formulate a plan in which a mutually trusted relative from the wife’s family might be sufficiently trusted on both sides, to convey an apology from her father to her husband – an option that would potentially enable both families to save face. The husband was fully prepared to write off the substantial financial loss, but had become obsessed – to the point of potentially serious mental and physical ill heath – with the damage done to his reputation as an honourable man. This situation brought home to me vividly just how very serious matters of shame and honour are in certain non-Western, communitarian cultures. When at one stage I asked the husband what he would do if an apology was not forthcoming, he thought long and hard before saying, ‘Then I will have only one remaining option, which is to kill them.’ He looked and sounded very serious.

I like to believe that he was sufficiently intelligent and aware of the legal consequences of such actions enough to not carry out that threat, and yet I was left in no doubt of the intensity of his emotions and beliefs. Whilst in many respects he had outwardly become very Westernised, his cultural values regarding family honour were still deeply embedded in his psyche. As someone brought up in a Western culture, I can potentially understand and indeed empathise with his wish to avoid dishonour and shame, and yet, personally upsetting as it might be, the actions I might resort to are incomparable across our different cultural worlds.

To return to your original question, such disputes inevitably test a mediator’s skills to the limit. They are also a powerful reminder of what I refer to in some detail in the book, namely that they should never be applied outside of a framework of appropriate professional values, attitudes and cultural sensitivity and awareness. Skills, strategies and professional practice can never be value-free.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Mediation Matters: Tony Whatling on Training Muslim Mediators in Afghanistan

A personal perspective from Tony Whatling, mediation consultant and trainer, and author of Mediation Skills and Strategies: A Practical Guide.

Kabul revisited

The flight from Dubai to Afghanistan had taken us over the breathtaking panorama of the majestic snow-capped peaks and deep dark valleys of the Central Highland mountain range, which cover over 160,000 square miles.

It was late October 2010 and as we touched down at Kabul airport I reflected on my last training visit in 2004 and wondered what changes had taken place over that time. The excitement of my return to this wonderful country had been overshadowed by the news that, on that same morning, on the outskirts of Kabul a suicide bomber had taken the lives of thirteen NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and eight civilians.

Within three weeks of that dreadful event, many more innocent citizens – men, women and children – were slaughtered by more bombs as they celebrated the joy and excitement of the festival Eid Mubarak, in central Kabul.

Compared to 2004, it was sad to see that Kabul had become a city under siege. Every building of any importance was now hidden from sight and fortified with 20-foot high concrete walls, topped with razor wire. Getting into the hotel from the road took around 10-20 minutes every day as each steel barrier, followed by massive steel gates, allowed only one car at a time to pass through and be examined. They checked underneath the car, the boot and the engine bay. Once out of the car, bags were searched and checked by sniffer dogs before being put through airport-style scanners. All hotel uniformed guards carried machine guns at the ready with – rather concerningly – twitching fingers. Only main roads were surfaced, but all were inches deep in dust. There were many more cars than last time and driving was all based on a ‘he who dares, wins’ game of bluff and counter-bluff, with a terrifying lack of regard for the risks involved or for the lives of pedestrians attempting to cross the road.

It was all a stark reminder that, whether the disputes were between warring spouses, angry neighbours, work colleagues or nations, such conflicts would never be resolved by violence. Referring to a much-respected retired general, Britain’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan wrote: ‘Like most Afghans, he knew that the only answer was reconciliation between all the parties to the conflict. There had to be a new political settlement in which the Taliban, and the tribes and views they represented, were included, not excluded. Trying to defeat the Taliban by military force would never produce lasting peace.’*

Mediation for the people by the people

Over the past ten years, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of delivering a total of twenty programmes of family and community mediation training in eleven different countries, including Pakistan, India, Syria, Kenya, Portugal, the USA, UK, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, and Afghanistan.

The training programmes are arranged by one particular Muslim group, which has faith communities in some 23 different countries worldwide. Most of those communities have now established dispute resolution teams, staffed by volunteer-trained mediators who are available to deal with disputes referred from within their particular local faith community group.

And so it was that I was returning to Kabul to train the latest group of carefully selected, newly appointed volunteer mediators from various districts in Afghanistan where this particular faith group has long-established communities.

Photo: Tony Whatling with trainees in Kabul.

Tony Whatling with trainees in Kabul.

For many of the 50 or so trainees, the learning challenges they faced were compounded by the physical discomfort of some 3-4 days walking, apart from the occasional luxury of a donkey ride to get to the training venue in Kabul. Much of their route – for example, from the northern mountainous Hindu Kush regions of Badakhshan – consists of little more than rough tracks. Some told of how the path had become closed behind them by ice and snow. Their safe return to loved ones and businesses was, as they put it with a resigned shrug of the shoulders, ‘now in the hands of Allah’.

For these people, who had lived through centuries of peaceful conflict resolution faith teachings combined with a tradition of voluntary service to their community, the personal risks involved were far outweighed by an awareness of the urgent need to connect faith traditions with contemporary dispute resolution practice.

New learning inevitably generates complex and challenging questions

One of the great pleasures of training such groups is the strong level of commitment, attention, and the high value which they attribute to any form of education and training. As a result, their acquisition of knowledge and skills tends to be much accelerated in comparison to their Western counterparts. This is all the more surprising since every sentence has to be translated, in this instance into Farsi.

Sadly, male trainees still outnumber women – one consequence of which is that men have to assume the role of women in role-play. This is always a source of great amusement within a group. In what other circumstances would you find a high-ranking officer from the department of counter-terrorism, a former mayor, a serving army general, judges and farmers, sitting cross-legged on the floor, acting out the role of a distressed divorcing wife?

The influence of the trainer in empowering trainees to stretch their boundaries never ceases to amaze me. To their credit, during the role-play debrief, these men frequently comment about the eye-opening insights they gained from this gender shift experience.

Here in Afghanistan, the training and learning challenges are complex, as participants struggle to make sense not only of the knowledge and skills they are gaining, but of the application of these to their non-Western culture and faith traditions.

It is very apparent that they are convinced by, excited about and wanting to apply these new ideas and practices. Yet at the same time there is an inevitable uncertainty and insecurity about the extent to which such practices will be acceptable within their more remote regional communities.

Evidence of this internal struggle becomes clear from the nature of the questions from – and often heated debates between – members of the group. Constant requests for help and advice are made about how to deal with the anticipated resistance to such ‘new ways’ being imported from the West.

This has been a common experience and preoccupation in the training of other groups for example in India, Pakistan, East Africa, Syria and, more recently with a group from Iran, where long-standing cultural traditions of dispute resolution are far more akin to arbitration.

In the more remote regions of these countries, disputes are traditionally referred to wise community leaders and/or groups of respected elders, who have the absolute authority to hear the case and determine the settlement. Regardless of the opinions of the winners or losers of this informal justice system, the judgement will be accepted and respected by all concerned. Consequently, introducing contemporary and non-authoritarian dispute resolution, by party empowerment and negotiation, challenges the authority of the tradition and risks a lack of respect for the authority, and therefore the status of mediators, regardless of Western contemporary beliefs in its efficacy.

Any response to such challenging questions must demonstrate a good level of understanding on the part of the trainer, together with all due respect for cultural and sub-cultural differences and traditions.

Whilst the questions may relate to the anticipated resistance in potential mediation clients, the underlying or ‘meta’ questions are also a reminder that the trainee, too, is a product of that same cultural environment.

The response of a trainer to the trainee’s uncertainty and doubts can be seen as a mirror image that reflects the doubts and uncertainties that clients may well bring to them as mediators. Trainers and mediators alike, on perceiving such doubts, must have the professional maturity to be able to steer into such confusion. Instead of trying to avoid it, they should share responsibility for their part in such uncertainty, rather than regarding it as the client’s problem. In other words, expressed or perceived doubts from trainees or clients should be encouraged, heard, understood and respected as normal at times of uncertainty and disequilibrium.

Is mediation an ‘idea whose time has come’ for Afghanistan?

Having referred earlier to the wise words of the former British Ambassador, I woke today to the news that, on the occasion of President Karzai’s meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister in London, it was announced that talks had now officially started between mediators and representatives of the Taliban.

My work in Afghanistan is related to one small Muslim faith community that is located within many larger and more complex historical faith, cultural and political systems. The work is a very minor contribution compared to the wider picture in this war-torn country. Nevertheless, there seems little doubt now that mediation and negotiated peace settlements are the only viable alternative, as for example we have witnessed in countries like South Africa. In such entrenched conflicts, we are dealing with highly complex and long-standing disputes involving deeply held values and principles.

When compared to disputes over substantive issues such as regional boundaries, electoral systems, or numbers of weapons, negotiated settlements will never be achieved by one side changing its position or values. Whilst we may all change and adapt our values as we go through life, we tend not to do that when in dispute. That is a time to stand up for them at all costs, regardless of risk to life and limb. The only way to achieve a resolution to such values disputes is when each side eventually comes to recognise the right of the other side to exist as fellow human beings – albeit having entirely different cultural and faith traditions, values and beliefs. Once that position is established, the respective factions can come together to negotiate practical measures by which they can learn to live side-by-side, regardless of their value differences – as is now happening with the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

Such major international conflicts will not be concluded easily or swiftly, just because peace agreements are signed. In the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland we may be facing decades of transition and yet, it would seem that once the tipping point is reached, despite attempts by minority groups to disrupt the accord, it is unlikely to revert to former states of all-out warfare.

Despite the marked differences between the advances of one minority Muslim group that I have had the privilege of working with, compared to the enormity of conflict in Afghanistan as a whole, the good news is that the skills and techniques that mediators bring are precisely the same.

Obviously very different procedural steps are needed when we compare spousal disputes with workplace, or commercial contexts with complex multinational conflicts. Nevertheless, the skills and processes of mediation are universal. So too are the essential principals that underpin the practice, such as voluntary participation, demonstrable impartiality as to outcome, joint party empowerment, confidentiality and fairness etc. – all of which are explored in more detail in the forthcoming book, Mediation Skills and Strategies.

Political leaders, community elected representatives and diplomats will inevitably take centre stage in such negotiations. Nevertheless we can only hope that they have the wisdom to ensure that highly-skilled, trained and respected mediators are ’embedded’ at every stage of the process. They must be regarded as integral to the process throughout. Their values, skills and strategies are substantially different from the key stakeholders – and should be respected as such.

My personal view, from experience over the past decade, is that, in terms of cultural credibility, such mediators should ideally be recruited from within the Afghan community and culture rather than imported from the West. It is likely that training will need to be imported initially but it must to be seen to be culturally sensitive to substantial differences between Western Individualist and non-Western Communitarian cultural attitudes to conflict and dispute resolution.

Tony Whatling
January 2012

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

*Sherard Cowper-Coles, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (Harper Press 2011), 352pp.

Video: Michael Mandelstam, author of ‘How We Treat the Sick: Neglect and Abuse in our Health Services’

In this video series, Michael Mandelstam talks about his new book, How We Treat the Sick, which shows beyond question that neglectful care is a systemic blight, rather than mere local blemish, within the UK’s health services.

In the book, Mandelstam analyses the causes and factors involved, reveals the widespread denial and lack of accountability on the part of those responsible – and spells out the political, moral, professional and legal implications of this failure to care for the most vulnerable of patients with humanity and compassion. Most important, he points to the main obstacles to a solution – and to how they can be removed and change be accomplished.

Part 1: The “substantial seam of bad” in the UK health service


Part 2: The Mid Staffordshire Inquiry


Part 3: Finding a Solution to Poor and Neglectful Care

Part 4: Focusing on Practice, not Politics

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

‘Guerrilla Mum’ on Making Each Half-Term Count for Students with SEN

by Ellen Power, author of Guerrilla Mum: Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle.

It is already half term, and the end of the school year seems to be a long way off, as we plunge into a series of cold wet days. However, in terms of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and statements of SEN the school year is approximately one sixth over. This is time we can never get back, and children with SEN need each half term to really count.

What am I getting at? To put it bluntly any help or support indicated in your children’s statements, and at any IEP or statement review that might have taken place at the beginning of term should now be in place.

I say this as a parent who had to ‘nag’ teachers to put in place the things they had promised they would do, and who waited in vain for equipment agreed under the terms of a statement to be provided. These are common experiences. It is easy to feel like a ‘nag’ when you know you have asked a teacher three times why something that has been agreed upon is not happening, and you both know that the reasons given for this inaction are wearing a bit thin. It may not be their fault, but remember why you are doing this. It’s your child’s future that is at stake and if you don’t keep on top of things nobody else will.

The reality is that in the current financial climate, all schools have been really worried about cuts and have been trying to make everything stretch further. I have heard of children being given extra teaching in ever larger groups because not so many TAs have returned to school this year. Children with statements calling for them to have individual TA support in class are ‘buddied up’ so they can be sent to lessons with one TA between more than one child, rather than the individual TA support that their statements call for. This may work fine for some children, but not for others. For example, if your child needs a TA to take notes, or to act as a scribe for them, how can they effectively do this as well as meeting the needs of another child? It can’t be done. Although we all want to be reasonable and to understand the straitened circumstances in which schools have to work this year, we must also keep in mind the bottom line: we have all negotiated so hard for our children’s IEPs and/or statements to make the provision they make and we should accept nothing less from them.

How do we ascertain that our children are still receiving the help to which they are entitled? If they are able to tell us, we can ask our children what happens in their lessons at school. I know we all ask our children ‘what happened at school today?‘ but it is worth gently probing to ask what TA was with them in a particular lesson and who else they were working with. It’s not an interrogation; it’s a useful starting point to make sure they are receiving the help they need.

Get out the statement and/or IEP and check them to remind you about what should be happening. Does your child share a TA when an individual TA is called for? Are they still having speech therapy? Did they have their extra maths session? Has lunch and break time TA support been set up? Talk to your child’s teacher and ask how your child is doing and if they have made progress. How has this progress been measured? Look at their school work to see what marks they are getting and to see if their work is improving.

If when you look inside your child’s school books you see blank pages, or work that is consistently incorrect or unfinished, then things are not going as they ought, and you need to review what the school is doing with your child’s teacher and Special Educational Needs Coordinator. Remember, your child’s statement is only as good as the provision in it, and then only if that provision is delivered.

I am sad to say that unfortunately it is likely to be those children whose needs are being met under the graduated response, who are on School Action or School Action Plus, who will be most likely to be let down by the cuts. It is much more difficult to ensure that this help continues to be given within the parameters of the Graduated Response. Schools are required by law to implement the provision in a statement but those on the Graduated Response do not yet have this protection.

Please remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: ‘don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters’. When you make an enquiry about anything to do with your child’s schooling, do so in writing. It is always handy to keep the reply in case you need to forward it on up the ‘chain of command’ to get things done. So many parents of children with SEN are just grateful to get any provision for their child that they feel embarrassed about pushing school staff for answers, especially when we know that schools budgets may be reduced. However, whatever the economic state of the nation, try to remember this: our children get extra help because it is necessary to allow them to access the curriculum in the same way as other pupils. It is our job to make sure this happens.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Want to hear more from ‘Guerrilla Mum’?
Tune in to hear Ellen Power on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour programme on November 5th between 10 AM and 10.45 AM (GMT)!

And check out her interview series on the JKP Blog!
Part 1: My Transformation from mild mannered parent to…GUERRILLA MUM!
Part 2: Picking your battles in the fight to have your child’s special educational needs met
Part 3: Where does SEN fit into the academies and free schools models?
Part 4: How to create an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN
Part 5: My Top 5 Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Children with SEN

‘Life After High School’ launches at the Yellin Center for Student Success, NYC

Christina Cacioppo Bertsch and Susan Yellin

On Tuesday, the Yellin Center for Student Success hosted a book launch for JKP authors Susan Yellin and Christina Cacioppo Bertsch to celebrate the release of their outstanding new book, Life after High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families.

The event, which took place at the Yellin Center’s lovely New York City office, was very well attended by professional colleagues and family members alike.

Susan and Christina signed dozens of newly-minted copies of Life After High School, which has already received glowing reviews in both Library Journal (starred review) and ForeWord Magazine.

Benjamin and Susan Yellin

The highlight of the evening was the surprise arrival of Susan’s son, Benjamin, who has complex learning and medical issues and whom Susan calls the inspiration behind Life after High School.

Susan Yellin is an attorney and head of the Advocacy and Transition team at the Yellin Center for Student Success, which provides educational evaluations and support for students of all ages. She is also founder of The Center for Learning Differences, a New York-based nonprofit organization that runs an annual Life After High School program for students with disabilities.

Christina Cacioppo Bertsch is the former Director of Disability Services for Fordham University in New York and the founder of CCB Educational Consulting Corp. where she helps to identify supportive college settings and assists students with standardized test and post-secondary accommodations, applications, interview preparation, and self-advocacy training.

Interview with Ellen Power – Part 5: My Top 5 Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Children with SEN

This is the final 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 her Top 5 Back to School Tips for parents of children with SEN.

My boys go back to school next week. I can’t believe how quickly the holidays have passed by! In addition to all of the usual preparation, next week I will be performing some extra tasks to make sure that the school year gets off to as smooth a start as possible. Here are my Top 5 Back-to-School Guerrilla Tips:

  1. Prepare your child for the start of the new term! Implement a new (early) bedtime at least a week before school starts.Talk through new processes, where to meet after school, which bus to catch, etc – even if routines have stayed the same, go over things again. Be very specific, discussing what time to be there, where to stand, which is the bus number, etc. Talk about moving up a year, and their new teacher if applicable. If your child is very young, use stories to open up discussion. This can be particularly beneficial in aiding communication between parent and child if the child has worries or anxieties. Update contact details with school so that the school can ALWAYS contact you, the child’s other parent or other appropriate person.

  3. Communicate well! Decide that this year communication between school and home will be better than ever. Try to agree with your child’s class teacher or form teacher how this will work. Does the school provide parents with specific email addresses for teachers? Will you use a home/school diary? Put parents’ evenings/consultations/curriculum evenings/whole school meetings in your diary so you don’t miss them. Could you offer to help in class, on school trips, or in the school library? These are opportunities to be at school when your child is there. You will learn a lot about how they are doing just by being there.

  5. Meet the teacher! Attend general parents’ evenings/curriculum evenings, etc at the beginning of term by all means but it is essential that you make an individual appointment with the child’s new class teacher or form teacher early in the term. Use the meeting to outline your child’s unique needs and difficulties and your concerns. If you already know the teacher this can be an opportunity to give updates. Be polite, be specific. Provide copies of relevant reports (never the originals). If the teacher is new, give them a written brief history of your child, including strengths, difficulties, and behaviour strategies used at home, your child’s areas of interest and any other relevant information.

  7. IEP Review! If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a statement, look back on these with their end of term report. Have the targets been reached? Are any new targets becoming apparent? Be ready to advocate for your child in the IEP review/meeting with their teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). Request that an IEP meeting is set to happen early in the term, so that targets can be agreed and provision can be arranged early on so as to give the child the optimum chance of making progress.

  9. Watch out for cuts! The Local Authority (LA) will have been told to expect huge reductions in their funding, and they will be looking to make savings. Make certain that the provision you are expecting to see in your child’s statement/IEP is exactly what is actually there. This is particularly important if you have recently received an updated or final statement, for example, following an annual review. If you do see a reduction in provision, challenge it. If you do not challenge these things immediately, it will become increasingly difficult to have provision reinstated. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable, but we have found out about this the hard way!

Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters.



We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview series with Ellen Power! For more practical advice about navigating through the Special Educational Needs jungle, check our Ellen’s new book, Guerrilla Mum, and keep checking the JKP blog for more posts on special education titles and issues.

Yesterday: Ellen’s recommendations towards an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN.

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.

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.

Interview with Ellen Power – Part 3: Where does SEN fit into the academies and free schools models?

This is the third 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 her take on the new academies and free schools legislation in the UK.

The new academies and free schools legislation was rushed through Parliament using legislation set up to expedite anti-terror measures. The almost complete absence of consultation was wrong. I feel parents of children with SEN should have been offered information about this process and what the implications might be for children with SEN who go to academies. I have certainly received no information, but would be interested to hear of any parents who have. I have had email correspondence with our children’s school and government on this issue, and I have to say that they are all very vague about how SEN will be managed in academies and free schools. It is almost like they haven’t really thought about it and this really worries me. Why rush this far-reaching legislation through like this, and then announce a Green Paper on SEN in the autumn? Are children with SEN not really included in this? They really have put the cart before the horse!

The government’s free schools policy has been criticised for being set up in haste, based on little research, and with the potential to create a two tier education system in which middle class children will benefit and poor children will be left out. They are not with us yet, it is hoped that the first will open in September 2011. I will be interested to see how the Green Paper for SEN suggests children with SEN be provided for within free schools and academies and indeed all of our schools. What will be the model for the future?

Of course I want to be open to new ideas and processes and I would like to see if there are benefits to academies and free schools. It is vital that we have a well considered and thought-out education system for all of our children, not just those with SEN. The academies and free schools legislation was rushed through with such speed that quite literally nobody – government included – can have had any real opportunity to think about it or to really understand all of its implications. I have to question the motives of a government that would do this, and it makes me very fearful for the future of provision for SEN in our schools.

Tomorrow: Ellen’s recommendations towards an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN.
Yesterday: Ellen on how she picks her battles in fighting to get the right education for her sons.

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.