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Lord Adonis update..

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Eddie Mair | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2007

...we are approaching his office to ask if he would like to respond to the comments on the blog. Also, in case you didn't hear the interview - or would like to hear it again - here it is.


  1. At 10:53 AM on 10 May 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    Please, please push for it, do. I'm sure You and Yours could do a phone in on it, but as the listener profile wouldn't be appropriate, I'd nominate PM for this particular one. Can PM do phone ins? I know Eddie Mair can do them, and extremely well.

    Are you doing Any Answers this week, Eddie?

  2. At 11:19 AM on 10 May 2007, Perky wrote:

    It's clear this is a devasting problem for a large number of people. I have no personal experience of statementing, but a child in my son's class was statemented on starting school after an enormous fight by his parents - a lawyer and a doctor. His Mum told me that she couldn't see how they would have got the result they needed if they hadn't known how to deal with the system - and that she felt incredibly angry on behalf of those parents who didn't have the knowledge, the money or the self-confidence to fight the LEA.

    I have come up against my LEA when I appealed to get my son into his school, and found their communications and their representative to be stubborn, unhelpful and occasionally downright rude.

    It clearly needs addressing as soon as possible.

  3. At 11:47 AM on 10 May 2007, jonnie wrote:

    How strange he went over to the other side of the room at 20" in ??

    Or were you not listening in Stereo

    PS: FM RDS Radiotext is now giving us the correct e-mail for PM Thanks Marc.

  4. At 11:48 AM on 10 May 2007, Deepthought (John W) wrote:


    I have a feeling that there was a similar outcry the last time that Lord Adonis appeared on PM. It may well have been pre-blog, but perhaps a quick check back might be of interest?

  5. At 12:00 PM on 10 May 2007, Eileen Doubt wrote:

    Perky, I sympathise. From knowledge.

    I sit as an independent panel member on school appeals panels.

    Too many times I have heard or seen evidence of LEA staff ignoring messages, failing to return calls, failing to send documents such as maps showing alternative schools, 'losing' inconvenient paperwork... perfectly transparent, and not in a good way.

    I've also known a school with an unusually large intake one year, put all 30-odd surplus applicants through the Appeal process, with all the stress that involves for the children and their families.

    The panel took its job seriously and only upheld a very few appeals, usually on the most extreme H&S grounds. (The panel has to balance the alleged prejudice to the pupil of having to attend another school, against the alleged prejudice to the school of admitting another pupil.)

    It was a horrible, horrible job and took a whole extra day just to get through the decision making. I'm self-employed so that unbudgeted extra day hurt financially as well as mentally.

    Later I heard that the school then went and let in an additional dozen children, from those that the panel had turned down. Evidently it did have more capacity but was making the panel do its dirty work by turning away most of the applicants.

    How cynical is that?

    I nearly resigned when I found out. I am not paid to sit on these panels, which are invariably time consuming and emotionally draining. Making volunteers feel used is not a smart thing to do. And what about the families who went through all that angst?

    In the end I didn't resign. That would help nobody, and make it even harder for parents to engage with the process.

    But it's made me think.


  6. At 12:03 PM on 10 May 2007, Rachel wrote:

    Thanks, Eddie, for posting the link to the interview, as I missed it first time round. I have read the comments on your SEN blog and the level of anger and despair is distressing. I don't think a phone-in is the righ way to proceed with this, as the level of debate tends to be poor in such things (even when hosted by someone with your talents ). The beauty of the blog is that it gives people a chance to compose their experiences into something with much more power and insight than a nervous ten second phone-in comment can achieve. The right place for this debate is here, on the blog. And, if I were you Eddie, I'd challenge Adonis to read the comments and respond directly, here.

  7. At 12:14 PM on 10 May 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Peter Webb - you're famous! In case you haven't seen the latest new thread from Eddie.....

    "Peter Webb. Can you help?

    Eddie Mair 10 May 07, 11:53 AM

    Yvonne who did our report last night on children with special educational needs would URGENTLY like to hear from Peter Webb, who posted this comment

    "No 34: At 06:21 PM on 09 May 2007,

    Peter Webb wrote: I worked for an LEA for five years, presenting cases on behalf of the LEA to the Tribunal. In my experience it is true that LEAs have conflicting and irreconcilable roles in being both assessors and funders for children with special needs, and in some instances providers too. The danger is not so much that just one public body is responsible (although organisational separation would be preferable) but the main problem lies with the LEA staff who have to operate the procedures leading to assessment, funding and provision. It is impossible for them to behave impartially and they will invariably pursue the cheaper option, which is not always the most appropriate educational solution. My manager had responsibilty both for financial management of special educatiional needs provision, and for the LEA's statutory duty regarding assessment, and she was incapable of taking decisions on the basis of the individual child's needs."

    As part of our follow up, could Mr Webb pleas email us: pm@bbc.co.uk. Thanks."

    Peter, I hope you're reading this and are able to respond!


  8. At 01:18 PM on 10 May 2007, Yvonne Murray wrote:

    Hello Eileen Doubt and Peter Webb,

    We are doing a follow up to our SEN item on the PM programme today and I would be interested in talking to you about your experiences. Could you both contact us by email on pm@bbc.co.uk?


  9. At 01:47 PM on 10 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Not a Phone-in, but an invited audience, including the aggrieved and the aggrievers. Eddie would make an excellent chairman.

  10. At 04:33 PM on 10 May 2007, Jade Bolton-Power wrote:

    I would love Lord Adonis to come back and listen to what parents think.

    With the parents I have spoken to we want.
    1. Training for all staff that teach a special needs child, at the moment that is not compulsory, including knowing the SEN code of practice and restraint
    2. LEA not to have all of the power, at the moment they Assess, Provide, Fund and Monitor. These 4 areas need to be handed to separate, accountable authorities, thus removing the conflict of interest at LEA's by having independant panels assessing the needs of SN children.
    3. And more support, at the end of the day I am a mother of an 8 year old son with Autism, and I have had hundreds of emails from parents asking for my help and advice.

    Surely this means that there is a huge problem.

    The government seems to forget that the Parents of Special Needs children have a vote.

  11. At 05:33 PM on 10 May 2007, Joe Bailey wrote:

    I was a committee member of the Manchester Adult Dyslexia Group.
    I am fifty-seven years old. In 1999 a dyslexia statement at Coleg Harlech in Wales.
    There have long been rumours that most of the stalemated children who attend university in Britain are middle class and from independent schools. The universities don’t garner statist’s on this subject. They do on disabled students.
    I am working class so people such as may self have benefited from the progress made by middle class people in this area.
    There were rumours in the past that the worst councils to approve dyslexia statements were Labour Councils.
    It is not politically correct to talk about class. This is political sleight of hand not just anti Marxist a result of the complexities of identify politics. Talking about white boys and black boys without a class analysis is facile. What class are the boys in prison with dyslexia and allied conditions see the British Dyslexia Report on prisons.

    Click here: http://www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk/pdffiles/Hidden Disabilities Prison.pdf

    How many middle class boys with dyslexia are in prison?
    It is not just about money it is how the money is spent. A lot of people mean well put trying to foister courses and training on persons with disabilities have been well covered in the past. It in the self interest of service providers to give people material require training without asking If the disabled person wants this material or the training . This also confud the situation with academics and others looking for funding.

  12. At 05:56 PM on 10 May 2007, bronwen wrote:

    I apologise for the delay in adding to the discussion on SEN statementing/tribunals but I strongly wish to add my thoughts. I was incensed at Lord Adonis's comments yesterday - they were ill informed and arrogant. I have worked in a non maintained special school which provides education and care for children and young people with complex physical disabilities for 28 years. I am also the mother of a son who has Aspergers Syndrome. I have had to watch as families go through torture to try to get their child's statement to ensure that they have the right resources and educational placement. Their health suffers, the young person suffers and often there is family breakdown. To say that the process is free may be correct in monetary terms but only if the parents are not concerned about the outcome! In reality there is no chance unless they are prepared for a long and arduous battle and unless these parents get evidence to support their case e.g. EP reports, legal advice and representation. And yet, Local Authorities turn up with barristers to support their case. The evidence of this is all around us if Lord Adonis would only look or ask. The use of statistics by him regarding the number of tribunals are testament to the tactics of local authorities and not, as he suggests, to the contentment of families who have not managed to fight their way to that stage! We currently have 45 young people in our school and very few of them are here without a fight of some sort.Even the most articulate and determined parents face a mountain to get their child a placement in which they will thrive. Even then they are not always successful. Any employee of a local authority will unofficially say that the motive is the budget, not the child's best interest. They use the latest government dictates as their excuse e.g. inclusion. The reality is that the inclusion policy has achieved the opposite in most cases. How can Local authorities have 'targets' for the reduction of statements when they are supposed to be based on need?
    In my own family I wasn't even given the option for my son - I was told that at the age of 16 (after many difficult years) that he would be too old to benefit from EP advice or anything else! I too had to support an extremely depressed son who also made an attempt on his life due to being in a school that had no experience in dealing with, or indeed any intention of helping a child with, Aspergers.
    This attitude towards statementing takes a very shortsighted view - the long term additional costs to Health and Social Services must be much much higher than dealing with this in the first instance.
    There is no doubt that there is a conflict of interest and the government should put this right as a matter of priority. May be we should also ask Lord Adonis his views on the refusal of local authorities to fund Voice Output Communication Aids even though they have a legal duty to do so? We have one authority who is currently refusing to fund three of their children thus leaving them without the means to communicate!

  13. At 06:12 PM on 10 May 2007, ann ovens wrote:

    I work at a primary school which has more than a handful of kids who are functioning across all areas of the curriculum at two or 3 years below their peer group, and yet are deemed by the LEA to be not so far behind as to need statementing. SEN provision is nothing short of a scandal. Children are being failed and no amount of empty platitudes from Lord Adonis will convince me otherwise.

  14. At 06:14 PM on 10 May 2007, Mike F-W wrote:

    I offer advice to some of those many thousands of families who home educate their children many of whom do so because of special needs.

    I can assure Lord Adonis that families who turn to me are far from happy with LEA provision. most who consider home education do so not only because their child's education is far from adequate but also because of the way their child's health, both mental and sometimes physical has declined as a direct consequence of their treatment in school.

    many children never receive an assessment of any kind and few of those who do find provision even remotely adequate.

    Finding a specialist teacher with a good and specific understanding of your child's specialist needs in the school your child attends is rare.

    SEN children are routinely let down by the system.

    Mike F-W
    Home Education UK.

  15. At 06:14 PM on 10 May 2007, Colin Jones wrote:

    As a father of 4 I am lucky that all my kids are healthy and do well at school. However my second daughter has slight dyslexia and has been assessed by the SEN co-ordinator at her primary school.
    Although there are areas of concern there is little point starting through the process as she is not doing badly enough but her progress has not been as good as we would have hoped and I think her reading is a large part of this.

    I'm sure there is a another group of children that could do with some extra support in some areas but the current restrictions mean that they are never really dealt with.

  16. At 06:30 PM on 10 May 2007, Eileen Doubt wrote:

    Yvonne - I have emailed you. Difficult to say anything on the record, till I check where I stand legally. And the person I need to speak to was herslef in Appeals all day.

    Well done finding Peter Webb in time to record an interview though. He was a welcome addition to the update.


  17. At 06:48 PM on 10 May 2007, Michael Bentley wrote:

    It is, of course, totally outrageous of Lord Adonis to suggest that the Tribunal system is free, and his use of statistics is also very misleading, since I assume his 1-in-400 does not include cases where the LEA backs down the day before the Tribunal hearing, after the parents have already had to spend thousands on lawyers (I know one couple to whom this happened twice - it cost them £6,000 each time).

    But it's not just at LEA level that there is a conflict of interest. Under the new devolved funding arrangements, we now find that our previously-supportive school have changed their approach to Statement Reviews and will not recommend additional support (agreed by all the specialists in the case to be necessary) for fear that it will have to come out of the school's own budget. The situation is not made any easier by the total lack of reliable information about the new funding system.

    But at least we don't have to worry about Tribunals any more, since the new funding system no longer has an appeals process at all - what a good way of keeping Lord Adonis's statistics where he wants them!

  18. At 06:55 PM on 10 May 2007, L Brighouse wrote:

    I have 2 boys; one with dyslexia and dyscalculia, and another with autism.

    My autistic son is 13 and now on long term sick from school due to chronic anxiety and sensory integration problems. Finally, after years of stress, heart ache, and hundreds of letters and phone calls, my LEA has finally agreed to carry out a statuory assessment. The reason they refused before was because 'he was of average inteligence'.

    IRONICALLY, my dyslexic son aged 10, who is way below average and working 3 or 4 years behind his year group, was turned down last year for statutory assessment because his special needs weren't sufficient to fit the criteria.

    To say our SEN system is working well and that most parents are happy with it is nothing short of a big fat lie. Show me the parents that are happy with it. Even the lucky few who get the provision their children need have only achieved that at a huge cost to their health and well being. My whole family has fallen apart at different times due to the stress which is placed upon us when we are told our children are not 'bad enough' for any extra help.

    I have still yet to find out if my LEA will actually issue a statement after they've carried out the assessment on my autistic son. Even if they do issue a statement there will be further delays and battles trying to get the provision qualified and quantified to a level that will make the statement worth while.

    Negotiating with the LEA is a full time job for many parents of children with SEN. How can Lord Adonis say the tribunal process costs parents nothing, what about the hidden costs?

    I must stop here as I could go on for ages, but this is a national scandal because the whole thing comes down to a battle of words, while meanwhile there are children who are being failed abysmally by the education system.

  19. At 07:06 PM on 10 May 2007, Beverley Smith wrote:

    I have a child on the Autistic Spectrum and he was failing in mainstream school.

    To go to tribunal to get a statement and the correct educational environment, took my savings and a hefty loan to pay off. I was lucky, not everyone is in that posistion.

    To fight for your child is an emotional and mental struggle with the LEA. There are many families who are not happy with the education provision for their child but because the task is to great or they might not understand the system they give up.

  20. At 07:09 PM on 10 May 2007, Una Alexis wrote:

    I am the mother of a boy aged nearly 7 yrs, and he has been out of school for over 5 months now due to severe anxiety and depression with the mainstream school he was attending at the time. Our GP has asked the LEA to provide home tuition for my son and to this day he has recieved ZERO home tuition. He was failed miserbaly in school and still is now, even though he cant attend school due to his ASD difficulties. I am in the process of appealing the decision to not assess my son for a statement, to me this beggers belief.

    My son has been special needs registered and had an IEP from the very young age of 3 yrs 9 months due to his striking lack of empathy and violence among many other things that had staff worried.

    So now nearly 4 years later he has no education, i was told by an LEA worker that a child with a broken limb would get more hours of home tuition than my son, i wouldnt mind if he was getting any in the first place.

    Lord Adonis has a lot interest here in what he has said and i do have to say that from my experience & knowledge (getting online support, meeting parents in my situation and running an online forum myself) he couldnt be more further from the truth in regards to the educational system for our special needs children.

  21. At 07:17 PM on 10 May 2007, S Booth wrote:

    Schools/LA's are coping so well with SEN's that more parents are being pushed into home education because of the lack of appropriate support/help. Getting an educational statement is a nightmare and each year you have to fight to keep/get the proper help for your child. Many children are failed because of having a parent who, for whatever reason, is unable to fight for their childs rights. Add to that the closing of special schools and it equals local authority failing SEN children.

  22. At 07:25 PM on 10 May 2007, Sally Davies wrote:

    I am the headteacher of a thriving special school and have witnessed for many years the stress and anxiety that is created by the Statementing process on children and their families. I would like to invite Lord Adonis to visit my school to hear from pupils and families about their experiences - this way he might come to realise that high levels of "satisfaction" with the system is not the reality.

  23. At 07:28 PM on 10 May 2007, Jill Davies wrote:

    Nearly threw my radio through the window when I heard Lord Adonis. Does he honestly believe that there is no conflict of interest in the statementing system?! For well over a year we attempted to go through the assessment and statementing process for my autistic daughter. We watched our LEA twist and turn to come up with more and more ingenious reasons why they should not provide for her needs. We were driven to despair - it was like trying to kick a ball between moving goalposts - first her problems were "too severe" to warrant assessment, later on her needs were not severe or complex enough to warrant a statement. Whilst she sat at home, they strung out the process for well over a year until she turned 16, conveniently beyond compulsory school age, whereupon they washed their hands of her, offering no further help, advice or support.

    LEA's will do anything to avoid the statutory obligation to fork out money for a particular child. Many of them are devising policies which are designed to reduce statements by delegating funds directly to schools and telling parents that statements are no longer necessary to get their child's needs met. Deterred from seeking a statement, parents are completely reliant on the school's goodwill, expertise and resources - all of which may be inadequate. They have no way of ensuring their child's needs are properly assessed, funded and reviewed regularly, and they have no right of appeal if they are not happy with what their child is getting at school.

    LEA's string out the statementing process by routinely turning down requests for assessments only to grant them just before a tribunal hearing. If parents actually manage to stick with the process and get the coveted statement, they often find it is so vaguely worded as to be unenforceable - again allowing LEA's to sidestep their obligations.

    The SEN system is a farce, and will remain so as long as LEA's, in defiance of the law, continue to value financial sleight of hand over the needs of individual children.

  24. At 08:14 PM on 10 May 2007, Sally Smith wrote:

    I am just coming through an epic fight with my LEA with regards my son's SSEN.

    May I firstly make the point that, although my LEA fought me all the way from Tribunal to the High Court, I did not have to pay a penny. Tribunal it is not just for the rich Middle Class as was commented on in PM on Wednesday 9th. One can fight for justice even on Legal Aid. I used the support of an IPSEA rep for the Tribunal and was represented in High court by David Wolfe - my Barrister through Legal Aid.
    The problem is that the LEA's use tactics of intimidation, manipulation and down right lies to stop parents standing up for their children's rights.
    My son (who has ASD) is now 18; he has been severely let down by the Education system for all his school career. I have had to fight every step of the way - and it is utterly exhausting and demoralising for me and my family.
    LEA's rely on parents not knowing anything about their rights or SEN law. Having said that, I knew nothing except the fact that my son needed help and I knew there were people and schools that could give him the support he needed.

    It is blatently obvious that to LEA's 'every child does' NOT 'matter'.

    My LEA have spent thousands of pounds to fight me over the past 12 months - they have employed the best London Barristers to support them. With that money my son could have been funded long ago and it wouldn't have cost them as much!

    Something urgently needs to be done about SEN. It is a common problem that if you want proper support and provision for a child with SEN you have to fight - it is not right!
    Our children need help, yet as parents we face nothing but conflict - isn't life difficult enough?

  25. At 08:21 PM on 10 May 2007, Susan J wrote:

    I was left absolutely speechless by Lord Adonis's comments - surely he can't be talking about the same system we've all been through? He hid behind technicalities and clearly hadn't dug very deep in to the reality.

    The process that we went through was relatively straightforward. Our 7-year-old son has a complex diagnosis, but his assessment and statement were by no means a given. Being from an analytical profession, and with the help of a good SENCo, I was able to press the right buttons with the LEA, but the amount of time and stress the whole process took was just not funny.

    The quality of the support our son has received has been varied, and there have been times when we have felt that he has been just plain misunderstood and disadvantaged because of it. We feel that he needs at least another unit's worth of help but have been told on several occasions that his needs do not warrant it, and that we should wait for further problems to occur then call an early annual review. It seems that proactivity is dirty word.

    It has long concerned me that people who are not particularly articulate or with no inside track on the way the system works are severely disadvantaged, and that emotion is something that has to be choked back at what is a very stressful time. I know a number of families for whom the process has been complete hell, emotionally and financially.

    If Lord Adonis thinks that unhappy parents are unrepresentative, he should try talking to a few.

  26. At 09:26 PM on 10 May 2007, Simon Villette wrote:

    I have worked for a local authority for over twenty years drafting statements and latterly being responsible for the whole system. In that time I have had direct or partial dealings with over 10,000 cases.

    The current debate makes me weep. I and my colleagues genuinely do our best to consider every case on the evidence. We agree to issue around 450 new statements each year in a LA with a school population of about 100,000. Only a small number end up with any sort of discussion about problems with parents let alone contests at tribunals. But the small number of parents who are determined to get their own way whether justified or not cause endless misery among my colleagues, absence through stress and ill health.

    The image is painted of stony faced bureaucrats who are determined to frustrate the just requests of parents of children with complex and life threatening special needs. The truth is that the vast majority of statements are for children with special needs that were identified at birth or during the first few years of life. In my LA that is about 250 children. There is absolutely no argument about those.

    About 100 children are identified with a mixture of difficulties that seriously impede their learning during the first few years of schooling. These children are not a problem to us. We have good schools, reasonably generous funding and so long as we can maintain good communications with parents there are no problems.

    The difficulties arise with the children who schools find difficult to adjust to. ASD/Aspergers, dyslexia, dysphasia and several other genuine syndromes which pose challenges to teachers.

    The children are charecterised by their cteachers as having a problem and the schools set the parents up to believe that a statement is the answer. Approximately 400 mainstream schools in my LA current hold over £30million in unspent reserves but still they claim to parents that it is only by getting a statement that their child will get the resources they need.

    My job and that of my colleagues is to oversee the allocation of resources. We do not have to work to any quotas or budget limits but common sense says that there has to be a limit to what the public purse spends on children's education. Last year we issued 50 more statements than the previous year. They will cost £3million to implement over the children's lifetime in school. It will add £1.50 to the community tax of every household in this area. I have no problem in doing that so long as the public is happy to pay.

    When the statementing system came in, in my LA there were 1600 children with statements. There are now more than double that. Is the public happy to keep on doubling expenditure every twenty years?

    Then we come to the question of tribunals and lawyers. In my LA we have a very small number of tribunal hearings. We generally sort out our differences through discussion and a bit of give and take from both parties. That seems like a sensible way of dealing with it. But we now encounter parents who are not prepared to give any ground or concede any deviation from their own pre-decided acceptable outcome. One of those cost my LA £150k per annum for a residential school placement for which there was no objective evidence just the bullying and intimidatory manner of the parent. I have to admit in the face of the unpleasantness I cracked and gave in. I apologise to the community tax payers generally - I let you down there. But in the end even LA bureaucrats are human.

    We have to find a better way. The conflict model inherent in the original 1981 Education Act and unchanged in the 1996 Act is not a sensible way of sorting out these issues. I am sorry but statements cannot optimise the educational opportunities of every middle class child with a syndrome. They cannot deal with the grief of a parent who has a child who will fulfill only limited potential. Statements cannot replace the discussions between professionals and parents about the pain and dilemmas of handicap, loss of opportunity and the shame of parenting the less than perfect.

    I and my colleagues face those challenges every day. I am sorry if it appears we hide behind the need to balance the budget - but that is a reality. We also try to hide our distress at not being able to work miracles and dispel the impact of a child's special needs has on their parents. At the same time we try to roll with the insults, abusive telephone calls and the constant threat of "I'll get my lawyer onto this."

    In the end we are only human - vulnerable, fearful, sensitive and believe it or not we are deeply concerned with the welfare of children. Otherwise I can tell you with certainty we would not do such a thankless job as to try and manage the statementing system.

    If any parent would like to discuss issues relating to their own child and difficulties they have encountered I would be happy to help them in a personal capacity. Please contact me at my personal email address villette3 at hot mail dot com - I would be pleased to hear from anyone and try and help anyone if I can.

  27. At 09:45 PM on 10 May 2007, Dominic Byrne wrote:

    There is undoubtedly a conflict of interest. I am the father of a six year old girl who is profoundly deaf. Thankfully, in the area where we lived when she was a baby, the LEA took an enlightened view of her special needs, responded to our request for a statementing process and proceeded to specify well the kind of provision that would help her in her early years. Part of our message to them was the importance of responding to her needs in the early years of auditory and linguistic development.

    We then moved to Nottinghamshire where the LEA was obliged to follow the provision set out in the statement. However, we then met a family with a young boy who is a year younger than our daughter and who is also profoundly deaf. There is no significant difference between this other family's son and our daughter yet the LEA up here did all they could to resist even carrying out a statementing process for the other child. The parents had an enormously difficult struggle to challenge them to even agree to a statement.

    The LEA finally releented but, when they prepared the assessment, concluded that the boy did not merit any special provision even though the same LEA is providing special provision for our daughter who is in exactly the same circumstances. It is not even a postcode lottery - we live in adjacent villages! It is simply the LEA trying to resist taking any real look at individual needs and avoiding any additional expenditure.

    The statementing process has the merit of starting with the individual circumstances and needs of the child and deciding what is appropriate. This is in direct conflict with the LEA's desire to have a more blanket approach and avoid additional spending.

  28. At 10:15 PM on 10 May 2007, Morna Lawson wrote:

    Andrew Adonis believes that SEN provision is reasonable. Does he believe that reasonable provision for children with special needs is adequate in view of the government's expressed desire for excellence in education? As the parent of a child with Down's syndrome I find that comment patronising, infuriating and dread-inducing as I think of the fight ahead to give my daughter a fair crack at the whip.

  29. At 11:05 PM on 10 May 2007, s.gray wrote:

    How wrong Lord Adonis is about his facts. I have a 10 yr old Autistic son who had been to 3 schools by the age of 7. I removed him to home ed, twice, as he could not cope he experienced bullying from pupils and staff, my son was emotionally and psychologically at the end. Yes he was statemented in his last year of school, but LEAs do not provide any real assisstance with this process.They appear to have a fixed agenda to provide as little as as possible the bottom line being MONEY- BUDGET. It is so easy to be brushed off, being a parent is a full time job without the help of an advocate how are we to know what our children's rights are? The LEA in my experience, behave as though our children don't have any and are expert at convincing us. Even with a statement the process of getting a diagnosis and having the statement amended is very far from, straightforward. A 2 year waiting list for assessment in the south west, then the LEA comes up with every excuse not to include this diagnosis, clearly breaching the SEN guidelines and regulations again to NOT provide a suitable education and denying us our right to appeal AND avoid reaching into the pocket of our very wealthy goverment and great nation Tony Blair spoke of today. Where is our health care when our chilren need it? Where is the suitable education to meet our children's needs? Who does find the whole process of accessing the appropriate education for our children easily, accessible?
    Perhaps it would be of assistance to Lord Adonis' understanding of this issue to consult with the charities which provide us with the knowledge and unending support before he states statisics. Health Care and Education are not freely available to all in this very wealthy nation.

  30. At 11:22 PM on 10 May 2007, Anne Fox wrote:

    Fifteen years ago my relative fought tooth and nail to firstly have her severely disabled child statemented and then into an appropriate school. This took over four years. She now has the same problem with the LEA trying to keep him in the place he is happy in and even though the school would be pleased to keep him for a further three years

  31. At 11:58 PM on 10 May 2007, Tanya Livesey wrote:

    My husband and I are both lawyers. Nonetheless we have had to make substantial personal sacrifices to ensure that our son who has complex needs including Aspergers receive the education that he deserves. The system is flawed. Going to tribunal is not free. It is about time that LEAs were made to pay costs orders. Just look at the stats on the Sendist website. It is immoral that parents have to fight for an education for their child in the twenty first century. We may be able to fight but so many more are not able to do so. Every child Matters? Perhaps on;y if you fit into certain criteria.

  32. At 12:58 AM on 11 May 2007, Linda Downie wrote:

    My heart sinks when I think that someone of such political authority as Lord Adonnis can defend a system that serves no one and where sharp practice by public officials is overlooked and common place. Where decent people are villified and treated like common criminals because they endevour to ask for their childs right to education.Where education for Autistic Spectrum Disorder has theraputic value in its own right and most authorative papers written on conditions like ASD state unequivicably that early intervention works . To this end statements should be child centred not resource led. When the Sheareman report states the SEN system is 'not fit for purpose' To fudge the issue by saying we have no realistic alternative is a deplorable admission of failure. As for it being free... I have three ASD children of primary school age. The LEA ran their three statements into the same time frame then tryed to reduce provision. They removed without consoltation the Autism outreach service a vital life line for my children and those like them. We did not qualify for legual aid, anyone who knows what it takes to go to tribunal against a hostile LEA will know what we were forced to take on. Thankfully we did get help from the NAS which enabled us to win all three cases but then there are issues of enforcement. Our LEA like many others would rather waste money on fighting indefencable reductions in provision at costly tribunals than provide services. All the way along there are abuses and no meaningful accountability. Meanwhile the children get older and their childhood has been a battleground... so they can have a better quality of life. I despair when I think what our children must make of it. How they are relentlously judged and expected to conform to a system that is constantly failing them and those who love them. The 'well we know it is broke but why bother fixing it' defence used by Lord Adonnis is as aborant as it is moraly bankrupt. What he said vindicates bad practice does it not? 'The measure of a civilisation is the quality of its mercy' Where is there mercy for ASD children?
    I am heartened by the voices I am hearing on this blog. Profesional people feeling as brutalised by the implimentation of a system officialy described as 'not fit for purpose'. I would argue that the legislation is essentialy good but it has no teeth. 'Guidance' which is the bulk of the 'Code of Practice' relys on 'good will' There is precious little goodwill! Much more of this Guidance needs to be Statutory.

  33. At 03:19 AM on 11 May 2007, B. Harvey wrote:

    How can lord Adonis make these claims?? What has happened to all the evidence submitted by parents to the various government enquiries and initiatives? What has happened to Baroness Warnock's conclusions about the failed policy of inclusion in mainstream education for children with SEN?

    My son is nearly 18 and Autistic. It took me three attempts and 10 years to get him a Statement, and I only succeeded when he finally had a severe breakdown due to his struggle to cope in maionstream, was seriously self-harming, suicidal and had endangered the lives of his younger siblings. I was fortunate to be able to fight for and get a placement at a residential special school for him. I cannot describe the stress and anxiety that we suffered as a family during this period, to the extent that I started to lose my hair. I am still suffering from stress and am on anti-depressants 3 years later.

    With regard to the whole Statementing process, it is quite clear that LEAs operate a policy whereby they make things so difficult that at each stage they hope a certain number of parents will give up in despair. It is only the parents who manage to battle on, not listening to the out-right lies they are told, who finally get the support that their children need and deserve.

    The other appalling situation we face as parents is the fact that once our children are 18 there is suddenly no support for them . My son always had one and often two consultants from the age of 5, one from the specialist team that diagnosed him and one from CAMHS. Yet now, because of his age, he is deemed no longer 'eligible' for such medical input. Why? His diagnosis hasn't changed, but we have been told that adult services will not accept him unless he has 'severe mental health problems'!! So suddenly we have no medical backup or support.

    Our experiences are by no means unique...both myself and my husband work in special education, and encounter similar stories every day

    The whole situation in this country with regard to children and young adults with special needs is an utter disgrace. Lord Adonis et al should hang their heads in shame at what they are doing to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

    Every Child Matters?? Of course, just so long as they don't cost any money!!

  34. At 10:28 AM on 11 May 2007, Perky wrote:

    Simon (26) Thanks for your comments here. It's so very interesting to hear things from the other side of the argument - it would be useful to hear from others who are involved with things from the LEA side. I know we heard from Peter yesterday, but it seems to me that attitudes and outcomes differ vastly from one LEA to another, which must only add to the difficulties faced on both sides.

  35. At 10:47 AM on 11 May 2007, Sally Smith wrote:

    Further to the comments by 'B. Harvey' (33), I am in a very similar situation with my son who is 18; once he turned 18 all phsychologist support and family help by CAMHs is withdrawn and there is nothing to go on to. I have been told that unless my son becomes seriously depressed or self-harming again then he will be refered to a Phyciatrist for drug therapy! - there are no adult specialists for ASD as it is seen as a childhood complaint.
    This situation is what caused me to fight tooth and nail for the reinstatement of his SSEN, at a specialist school, when the LEA allowed it to lapse last summer telling me that because he was over compulsary school age he is no longer their responsibility; as I was later to discover it is utter nonsence as he can remain their responsibility until the end of the school year that he turns 19!
    I have been through hell with the LEA's treatment of my son over the last 13 years. They have even used evidence where previous schools have failed him ( through lack of proper training and knowledge of ASD) against my son saying it was all his fault! One stricking case was where my son was subject to psychological abuse from a headteacher who later went on to emezzel the independant school where my son was placed.
    I never dreamt that any one, let alone a government body, in such a possition of authority and with a duty of care towards our vulnerable and needy young people, could be so cruel and abusive and, moreso, work against the interests of the children in it's care.

    As I have said previously I dont even believe it just a case of protecting funds either, because the ammount of money the LEA has thrown after fighting me through Appeal Reviews, Tribunal and on to the High Court with the best Barristers on their side.

    I am exhausted and broken by years of fighting - who is going to fight this dreadful system to spare future parents going through this heartahe? Is it hardly surprising that teenage suicide rates are so high, that parents take their own lives, or that Young Offenders Institutes are full of youngsters let down by the system?
    Not everyone has the strength or the knowledge to fight - who will stand up for them? It is not easy to get help either, I was given alot of bad / wrong advice in the early days by organsisations such as the NAS. Fortunately I found excellent helped by David Ruebain (specialist in Education Law).

    What is Radio 4 going to do with all this information?

    It's good to have somewhere to sound off and R4 get a good heated debate out of it, BUT someone needs to take this on to change the system - for the sake of vulnerable children it cant go on like this!

  36. At 10:55 AM on 11 May 2007, David Smith wrote:

    Lord Adonis has stated that he sees no 'conflict' in LEA's acting as providers (by issue of statements) and purchasers (through provision for meeting the needs identified in statements) of disability services and allowing them to do so with few controls other than self-monitoring. I see some inherent flaws and inconsistencies in Lord Adonis' appraisal of the situation!
    The problems faced by parents in this process are complex, but a few are excellently highlighted by several statements made by an LEA officer in an earlier comment defending Lord Adonis:

    But the small number of parents who are determined to get their own way whether justified or not cause endless misery among my colleagues, absence through stress and ill health...

    About 100 children are identified with a mixture of difficulties that seriously impede their learning during the first few years of schooling. These children are not a problem to us....

    The difficulties arise with the children who schools find difficult to adjust to. ASD/Aspergers, dyslexia, dysphasia and several other genuine syndromes which pose challenges to teachers...

    The children are characterised by their teachers as having a problem and the schools set the parents up to believe that a statement is the answer...

    The above statements typify the view taken by LEA officers of evidence presented to them in support of applications for statements:
    We see evidence from parent's 'whether justified or not' dismissed out of hand and cited as the cause for distress and misery inflicted on the LEA officers who have to respond to it.
    Evidence from educators who are dealing first hand with the children is similarly dismissed, with teachers/schools that do try to help children seen as instigators of problems for the LEA officer by pushing parents along the statementing path [In fact the opposite is more usually the case - schools are often reluctant to support parents seeking statements because it means funds they receive are 'ring-fenced' for specific pupils, but I digress...].
    Additionally, we are told in no uncertain terms that specific named groups of disabled people are viewed as 'problems', while other groups are not!
    So after discounting the evidence of teacher's and parents, we are left with the input from professional medical advisers. On the surface, that sounds very reasonable, until you consider that most of those professionals will either be working with or directly employed/funded by...The LEA! And even if they are not - providing evidence for a statement will often mean they are forced to commit their own heavily oversubscribed services from directions arising from any statement that might be issued.
    More recently, LEA's have taken to disregarding evidence arising from independent consultations, precisely on the grounds that they are independent.

    It will be suggested, I'm sure, that the comments made by one LEA officer are not representative. I, and many, many other parents would beg to differ. Across Britain we have seen LEA's increasingly brought to task by the judicial system, with recommendations being made about the need for clarity and continuity. Those battles are the tip of a much larger ice-berg, representing only those parents with the greatest resources, support and determination, and those cases where the LEA have failed to correctly assess the threat of the evidence against them before hand - A last minute reprieve for the parent/child, but a lost statistic in terms of wider empowerment.

  37. At 12:05 PM on 11 May 2007, Margaret Collins wrote:

    Re Simon Villette's comments in post 26: "I am sorry but statements cannot optimise the educational opportunities of every middle class child with a syndrome.”

    This is a gross misrepresentation of what is going on. My son had many many seizures in the first year of life and it was blindingly obvious that he was in serious trouble developmentally and had extreme special education needs. His diagnosis - West Syndrome - is a devastating one. Those who survive the fits are typically described in the medical literature as "severely mentally retarded", often with IQs of under 20; many also have cerebral palsy. (A few lucky survivors are fine, but, believe me, it was obvious my son wasn't one of these.) At 22 months of age we took him to BIBIC, who provide assessments of young children with disabilities (free in certain circumstances) and they asked us if we had considered Lovaas (I'd never heard of this) and recommended he went to Special Needs Nursery as soon as possible. Our LEA doesn't have any nurseries, let alone a Special Needs one. However, they did have Special Schools, which could take children from age 2, but a Statement was needed before the child could be admitted (LEA policy). I made a parental request to the LEA for Assessment for a Statement, submitting medical reports and the BIBIC report. The LEA turned the request down. I am sure Mr Villette knows that the Education Act 1996 says that in the case of a parental request for an assessment of a child’s SEN when the child is under 2 the LEA must carry out an assessment unless they are satisfied that the child does not have SEN. The LEA did no evidence gathering of their own, although the literature they sent me indicated that they would. They turned us down flat, breaking the law. I appealed to Tribunal.

    I have heard of many children who are refused Statutory Assessment because they, apparently, don’t meet the LEA’s own threshold criteria. Children, who a few years ago, would have got a Statement without difficulty.

    Mr Villette asks whether we want funding to double every few years to meet SEN. I assume he thinks this is a rhetorical question. The numbers of children with disabilities and with SEN are increasing all the time, Mr Villette, and the budget needs to be increased.

    Then there is the problem of what actually goes on in the "bog standard" LEA special school: untrained staff, rock bottom expectations.....

  38. At 01:20 PM on 11 May 2007, B. harvey wrote:

    Simon Villette has a senior position in an LEA, overseeing the statementing process.

    In post 26 he writes such comments as:

    'Statements cannot replace...the shame of parenting the less than perfect.'

    'I am sorry but statements cannot optimise the educational opportunities of every middle class child with a syndrome.'

    Is it any wonder that parents of children with disabilities have no trust in their LEAs when one of the senior professionals employed to help us can express his views in such a way??

  39. At 01:41 PM on 11 May 2007, Sue Gerrard wrote:

    I read Simon Villette's comment (26) with concern. It seems we have a very unpleasant 'us & them' situation developing here.

    When my daughter (non-SEN) started school, I encountered a number of parents with SEN children. They (the parents) were like a breed apart - spoke a different language, had different priorities, and a disconcerting adversarial glint in their eye. At the time I would probably have agreed with Simon about 'middle-class parents' etc. However... as a parent, I have a legal obligation to provide my children with an 'efficient' education, which I take to mean ensuring they have the knowledge and skills they will need in order to grow into healthy, well-adjusted, independent adults. In view of the rhetoric surrounding the government's children's policies (Every Child Matters) I assumed, not unreasonably, that when my son ('significant developmental delays') started school, I could confidently delegate the 'academic' part of his education to the local state school. When this turned out not to be the case because his teachers didn't understand the reasons for his learning difficulties (no appropriate training) and the specialist professionals - who could have supported and trained the teachers - were as scarce as a bus service in a rural area, I was, again not unreasonably I feel, a bit miffed to put it mildly.

    Parents are given the distinct impression by government that they can expect publicly funded schools to provide an education for their children appropriate to the child's age and ability. This is frequently not the case (about 20% of the time, in fact), because the current curriculum-centred education system gives little scope for even experienced teaching staff to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of every child. All these angry, self-centred middle-class parents are doing, is trying to obtain for their children a service which they have been led to believe is the right of every child. Parents did not design the education system, and are rarely consulted about it. It is not our fault that the system is unworkable and failing our children, since we delegate that job to government and are now calling the government to task because the system isn't working. What the LEA appear to be doing is minimising expenditure regardless of the consequences for children; I've seen little indication of local government representatives standing up to central government on this. Where are the local councillors campaigning on behalf of 20% of our children?

  40. At 03:14 PM on 11 May 2007, a somerville wrote:

    My autistic son did well at mainstream school from age five to thirteen with a great deal of support from family and the input of some inspiring teachers. At thirteen he had a complete breakdown and we chose to home educate rather than pursue a specialist placement knowing the huge toll it would take on our other siblings and our desire to keep our son in the loving environment in which he thrived.

    My son is a wonderful and talented child and I am more than happy to take responsibility for his continuing education which will doubtless last longer than that of his brothers and sisters.

    At home he is learning safely, securely and maintaining his close family ties.

    I realise that we are very much in the minority in that we have the time and the money to do this -we may be saving the local authority a good deal of money but receive no financial assistance. We are regularly checked by our local authority to ensure that we are providing an education suitable to his age aptitude and ability.

    However, I feel deeply for all those for whom, in the light of the government's proposals to tighten the regulations regarding home education, will not have this option and for those who do not have the time or finance available to consider this option.

    For those whose children are very disruptive there is no respite whatsoever. By denying access to approprite education whole families are blighted.

  41. At 04:13 PM on 11 May 2007, Helen Owen wrote:

    Lord Adonis should attend Tribunal as an observer just to see how easy it is for a parent!

    He forgets the remit of the Panel is to look at the 'evidence' presented to them and unless parents have expert evidence, they are on a hiding to nothing. It is not easy, nor a parent friendly process and if you think the LEA is difficult to deal with during statementing, you should see how they behave in a Tribunal. Entering in to the Tribunal arena without adequate evidence and support is like going into the lions den. You get eaten alive!

    I have my house up for sale because I do not have the money to fund an impending Tribunal as it has been eaten away with funding my son's placement at an independent school. I can not go into Tribunal without expert evidence - I have already had one experience of Tribunal!

    At the end of the day, I could live in a cardboard box and it is my choice to appoint experts to help me in Tribunal - but I haven't a hope in hell without them.

    I lost my business, my marriage broke up and now in my 50's I face an uncertain future - all down to the struggle I have faced in getting my son's needs met.

    Am I happy with the state of affairs for SEN in this country - I think not.

  42. At 07:10 PM on 11 May 2007, J Davies wrote:

    Simon Villete wrote:

    "I am sorry but statements cannot optimise the educational opportunities of every middle class child with a syndrome. They cannot deal with the grief of a parent who has a child who will fulfill only limited potential. Statements cannot replace the discussions between professionals and parents about the pain and dilemmas of handicap, loss of opportunity and the shame of parenting the less than perfect".

    This is deeply insulting, patronising and offensive and typical of the ignorance displayed by the LEA officials I have encountered, both as a parent and supporter of other parents. It's clear Mr Villette has read and absorbed nothing of the experiences documented here: this is not surprising as in my experience, LEA officials are adept at ignoring evidence that is plain to everyone else.

    Mr Villette, I don't think you and your colleagues will get many votes of sympathy for the stress and misery you are all apparently under. So go home and have a glass of wine and forget about your day. Take a holiday. Change jobs. Try not to think too hard about the parents who, unlike yourselves, can't ever walk away from the relentless pressure.

    The stress for parents comes not so much from dealing with a child's "handicap" (I didn't think anyone still used that word nowadays) but from the frustration of merely trying to ensure that their child is in a safe and supportive and appropriately stimulating school environment. That's what any parent demands for their child - why should parents of children with additional needs settle for less?

  43. At 07:33 PM on 11 May 2007, s Partridge wrote:

    In response to Simon Villette, I have no shame that my beautiful autistic son is less than perfect; just an overwhelming urge to ensure that the education he recieves is the right one for him; and if that means fighting every step of the way because I am told no, no, no....then I will...but not because I want my own way, because there is no one else who will fight for my son's education, the system sets parents up for a constant battle, not the other way around.

  44. At 09:07 PM on 11 May 2007, leanne wrote:

    I have a non-verbal autistic son, i love him dearly and just about cope with the day to day struggles that his autism brings - However i am finding it increasingly difficult to fight and battle with the system that is essentially there to help him.
    After not seeing an NHS speech therapist for 1 year because of cuts to our local PCT and a useless LEA - that actually admitted they had been acting illegally because they could not provide speech therapists to children that had SaLT specified within part 3 of their statements ( 300 children in our area needed speech therapy, 183 of whom had statements!, i have now been told my son only needs 1/2 a days therapy every half term! HE CAN NOT TALK!!!!!! this is absolute rubbish, but because the LEA and PCT work together to provide SaLT they can only take into account the advice of the NHS speech therapist - we all know these decisions are money based and not based on what your child NEEDS! I have now had to resort to paying for a private therapist and i'm now heading down the tribuneral route.
    I have been in contact with Lord Adnonis about this very subject - he doesn't want to know.

  45. At 09:37 PM on 11 May 2007, lisa lawley wrote:

    Simon Villette, you have my sympathies, how hard it must be to go to work and face difficult decisions and deal with your emotions as a human being. Now imagine feeling like that all the time, and having to keep fighting every step of the way to get scraps for your child as well as having to deal with your child and their difficulties every single day in the face of predjudice and discrimination. THATS what its like for us.

    The parent becomes middle man between the school and the LEA. Its not the parents fault the local authorities devolve the funding straight to the schools and none of it can be claimed back when the school under spends.

    Parents stop listening to LEA's because, frankly, why the hell should we have to keep bartering to have our child's needs met? Why should we give up OUR time to have pointless meetings and to be looked at like we are something that must be squashed and are spat at with absolute venom!! NO THANKS!

    The SEN system is terrible in this country. In my opinion Lord Adonis must be on another planet because he is not seeing what many people are. LEA's and schools BREAK THE LAW. NOT one person or body is accountable. The secretary of state won't intervene in local matters, our "fair" tribunal system is a joke, as the tribunal does not have the power to punish the local authorities when they blatently break the law.

    FACT a parent stands little chance at tribunal unless they have paid privately for specialist reports from top experts, and have hired a solicitor, whom incidently, are few and far between if you cannot afford to pay £1000's as most of them wont accept legal aid.

    Sort it out Lord Adonis, stop being an ostritch and see what we see, reality. All you need to do is make school's and LEA's accountable for their actions when they fail or break the law.

  46. At 10:49 PM on 11 May 2007, Paul wrote:

    Simon Vilette has missed the points that anyone familiar with LAs , or indeed public service bureaucracies are fully aware of.

    There are vast numbers of overpaid non-entities who do nothing ; simply push paper about, organise meetings etc etc. These entities mushroom, and are almost never "cut" when money runs short (as it does, because they are inept managers) ; they pass funding problems straight to those who work with the actual children, at the sharp end.

    This nonsense can also be seen at work in the Police, NHS etc etc. ; it is characterised by continual screams of poverty, overmanning, very few people doing the actual "work" of the entity, massive waste and unnecessary expenditure.

    I could have some sympathy for the Villettes of the world as funding is indeed limited. It is not possible to give everyone anything they want.

    However in my experience over a wide range of LEAs it is *always* the case that it is dished out to suit the needs of the bureaucracy, almost always allied not to the needs of the children (except in the most serious forms of SEN) but to the "strength" of the parents.

    Bluntly, it is dished out to those who make the most effective fuss, while those less "aggressive" parents are frequently ignored, palmed off with what are basically lies.

    I have seen hundreds of thousands wasted on inappropriate placements for children simply because the parents were very vocal and prepared to fight and make things difficult.

    One would think that if money was in short supply, the LEAs would look at the pupils they have, allocate money roughly proportional to need (with a contingency fund for pupils moving into the area).

    But they don't ; it's dished out on a whim to shut people up, keep the press off their backs, or cover up mistakes. Once it has been allocated/spent, the monitoring is pathetic.

    No amount of money is too large to protect an incompetent public sector bureaucrat.

  47. At 11:10 PM on 11 May 2007, L Brighouse wrote:

    Re- Simon Villette.

    I think enough people have responded to post 26 to sum up the general thoughts on what Simon Villette had to say. I would just like to point out one other thing.

    He offers help to parents and provides an email address for such help; I find that part of his post more outrageous than anything else he had to say! He implies that having a disabled child is something that some parents may be 'ashamed' of, does this mean that he himself thinks that it is something they SHOULD be ashamed of? and if so why would any parent of a disabled child want to ask for his help? I know I wouldn't.

    What's more, if I had personal dealings with a LEA officer in charge of SEN who displayed this sort of prejudicial train of thought I'd be writing to the Dfes to REPORT them and requesting (or demanding) that he or she was removed from the case.

    One question; Do LEA's employ people with this attitude already insitu, or do they send them on courses?

  48. At 12:21 AM on 12 May 2007, Carole Rutherford wrote:

    I decided that battling my LA would waste my time and energy and so devoted that time and energy to my son. My 5 year old autistic son was not even considered for a statement. These people truly believe that they are doing everything that they can for our children and a wonderful job to boot. I was one of the many parents, who because of the lack of provision for her son, chose to home educate. Five years on our son is thriving academically and emotionally. He is enjoying and achieving and will not remember his childhood as a painful experience. Maybe Lord Adonis should come and see for himself what a difference the right provision for a child with SEN can make. How can 'Every Child - really - Matter' when children are being forced to sit in schools without statements and support. I run a support group for parents and believe me educational provision is always their BIGGEST issue.

  49. At 01:43 AM on 12 May 2007, Peter Webb wrote:

    I sincerely hope that this debate will lead to some constructive moves to improve the system for meeting children's special educational needs. It would be a travesty if the recording of so much experience, anecdotal though it is bound to be, simply turned out to be so much hot air.

    All of the experiences shared above, and in other threads, show how far the system is failing. There are so many reasons for this that it would need a book to explore them. Money; the politics of inclusion; professional arrogance; bureaucratic inflexibility and insensitivity; conflicting priorities within education, and more widely within local authorities; ideology and political correctness; lack of accountability; lack of care; those disadvantaged by the system are relatively small in number in electoral terms; inappropriate attitudes.

    However this is the "Lord Adonis Update" blog and what he said was that there was no conflict in LEAs being both assessors and funders (and possibly providers) of special needs education. My attention has been caught by two entries in particular. Mr Vilette (26) has been somewhat unfairly villified for having the courage to put his view. I have no reason to suppose that he does not carry out his job to the best of his ability, but what he says reveals the mindset required of LEA staff in order to do what they do. He wrote:

    "About 100 children are identified with a mixture of difficulties that seriously impede their learning during the first few years of schooling. These children are not a problem to us. We have good schools, reasonably generous funding and so long as we can maintain good communications with parents there are no problems...The difficulties arise with the children who schools find difficult to adjust to."

    He goes on to state explicitly that "My job and that of my colleagues is to oversee the allocation of resources."

    Two issues: first, LEAs invariably see the delivery of education in terms of fitting students into institutions, rather than shaping services around individual children in order to meet their needs appropriately. It is the children who have to change. Secondly, he is quite clear about the purpose of his job which is to oversee the allocation of resources, not (primarily) to ensure that appropriate education programmes are delivered to individuals.

    Whatever process is in place, we do need to ensure that our public servants have, as their over-riding motivation and purpose, what is in the best interests of the child.

    And then I reached Sally Smith's entry (35). She describes herself as being "exhausted and broken by years of fighting" for her son's best interests. It cannot be right that we, as a society, require nothing more of our public servants than to "oversee the allocation of resources", and then leave the responsibility for obtaining - nay, fighting for - an appropriate education to hard-pressed parents. This seems to me to be an abuse of power.

    Every LEA has a statutory duty to provide appropriate education to every child. What are our public services for, if not to provide appropriate services? Surely not simply to oversee the allocation of resources.

  50. At 07:02 AM on 12 May 2007, Sue Gerrard wrote:

    Following the debate on attitudes of government, LEAs, schools etc. I wanted to make a comment about bureaucracy. By deliberately setting up systems in public services which rely on written procedures for regulation, the present government have severely eroded the professionalism on which the civil service, education and the NHS have relied for generations. There seems to be a widespread perception in both national and local government that if a procedure is in place to deal with a problem, the problem has been dealt with. Professionals, whether doctors, nurses, teachers or government employees are no longer in a position to use their judgement (or common sense) to bypass a regulation which is not acting in the best interests of their patient, pupil or constituent, for fear of prosecution or dismissal. I recently suggested to someone in charge of children's services at my LEA that they make direct feedback from parents a priority - I think she was quite surprised at the cynicism of other parents present at the meeting regarding the way schools and health trusts reported their performance.

    As Peter Webb points out, why should obtaining appropriate support for children be left to parents? The whole point of having a state-funded education system or health service is to relieve ordinary citizens of the burden of having to do this, and to make available to everyone the expertise of professionals. Like many other parents, I am now an expert on autism. I will quite likely be an expert on speech and language and chronic fatigue syndrome before I'm done. As it happens, I have the educational qualifications to be able to get on top of these fields but that's an extraordinarily inefficient way of expecting parents to approach their children's problems. And of course, many parents, because of ability or income needs, couldn't possibly do this. I'd far rather live in a society where professional help was less regulated but available to my children, than one where there was a rule for everything and public sector employees thought that if they kept the rules they were doing their job properly.

  51. At 07:09 AM on 12 May 2007, Richard Mead wrote:

    My 7 year old grand daughter has serve learning difficulties, outwardly she appears no different to any other children of her age, but within she is very complex child that needs constant attention.

    I have read a number of the comments in this blog, but one word sticks out in my mind, the word 'torture' for that is exactly what my daughter and son-in-law have been treated to by the authorities concerned.

    Every single thing they have attempted to do involving the authorities; hospitals, doctors, local Health and Educational professionals has been and still is an absolute battle, really more like a war.In the majority of the cases total bureacracy gone mad, with self fulfilling empires.

    Parents who find themselves in this awful position can expect very little and no immediate real help, when dealing with the authorities who seem to know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing, whilst acting as judge and jury.

    I have witnessed at first hand these battles, and had it not been for my daughter and son-in-laws absolute determination to do their very best for their child, they would have been beaten by the vast majority of those concerned long ago.

    If Lord Adonis wants to really know what these battles involve and show that he cares, then he should look closely at the bureacracy involved, my family can show him want it really means to have special needs!.

  52. At 09:24 AM on 12 May 2007, Andy Sloss wrote:

    There is one statistic that i would like to hear from Lord Adonis.
    Before going to Tribunal, both times we were offered 'compromises' by the LEA. Every single one was below the legal minimum education provision. Only an in-depth knowledge of education and disability law stopped us from accepting these offers.
    So my question is: of all the cases where Tribunals are avoided at the last minute, how many parents accept illegal provision for their child?

  53. At 02:03 PM on 12 May 2007, Claire Wood wrote:

    My son was diagnosed with PDA in January this year and we ahve been trying to get him statemented. I involved my local councillor who represented the LEA only to find him a Governor on the school board and not at all neutral, next i contacted my M.P but when i spoke the school's head i was told that they wouldn't get any extra funding or staff for my son so there wouldn't be any point applying. He is already on Schools Action + and this is not enough.

    I can certainly understand why some parents do not take further action as they are unaware of what they can do and any help available is hard to find.

    I am willing to go over the schools head but this involves writing a report about my son about his behaviour since birth which will be huge and time consuming, with little or no hope that this will be successful.

    Labour has been detrimental to our education system and they are failing our children.

  54. At 06:58 PM on 12 May 2007, Sally Smith wrote:

    In response to Claire - 53. I too had a similar problem with my MP and Local Councellor in trying to enlist their support to get my Autistic son appropriate education. They were so easily fobbed off by the LEA that they were no use at all! - especially when many of them are school governers, as you say with a conflict of interest.
    In fact the LEA, in my current battle, have managed to 'nobble' any one who dared to offer me help; my son's Connexions advisor (who has been in her post for many years) was put on probation because the LEA made so many complaints about the way she dared to support me.
    Same with my son's Psychologist who was tearing her hair out trying to get the LEA to acknowledge that my son needed proper educational support to even stand the remotest chance of moving on to any degree of adult independance; she had so many complaints filed against her from the LEA that it was a deciding factor in her subsequent emmigration. New directives for CAMH's were then put in place whereby they are no longer allowed to support any child / parent in finding suitable educational provision. My son was dropped like a hot potato by all multi-agency approaches because
    of the LEA's ability to get rid of anyone who dare speak out on this case.

    I have felt more like I am dealing with the Mafia!!

    I am not a bully parent, determined to get her own way regardless, as Mr Villette (26) implied.
    I am determined that my son gets the help he so desperately needs. If I hadn't of fought for his needs the the LEA would have been happy for him to either remain in a mainstream school where he was so distressed that he was trying any/all means to kill himself; or they then wanted him to finish his schooling in a PRU where pupils basically learn from other pupils to steal cars, beat people up and set fire to school buildings!! Yet I was labled a 'trouble making parent' for withdrawing him from these establishments.

    What is the problem here? As I have said it can't be just protecting puplic funds because the LEA have spent many thousands of pounds getting top Barristers to represent them in Tribunal and, having lost that one, they took the Tribunal to the High Court - for which my Barrister had to deffend both I and SENDIST!

    The thing is, giving our children the proper educational support they need at this crucial stage in life is in the end going to save the Tax Payer a lot of money; if they end up more self confident and able to affectively manage their disability to go on into employment as adults.
    If I do not win the case for my son to go back into full-time education at a specialist school then he will remain on Incapacity Benefit with no help available to help him access any form of employment (I am told he is too clever to receive the help on offer as it's aimed at adults with Learning difficulties!!). What happens to him then when anything happens to me?
    We have GOT TO invest in these young people now before it's too late, turning a blind eye, hoping they will go away, or that it will all work out in the end WILL NOT DO.
    Someone has got to fight on our behalf to change the system, it cannot got on - it is unjust and immoral!!!

    If it helps anyone contemplating a fight with an LEA may I suggest David Ruebain at Levenes Solictors, London;without his help i dont know where we would be now.

  55. At 08:56 AM on 13 May 2007, Margaret Collins wrote:

    Re message 24 and Legal Aid: you are very lucky if you can get Legal Aid. The financial criteria are now drawn so tightly that parents have to be on a very low income to qualify. Then there is the problem that very few Legal Aid solicitors have the approriate expertise in education law. The Legal Aid level of funding does not cover the true cost of the work in many cases: I believe that the firm who took my son's case ended up out of pocket. Legal Aid itself does not cover the cost of witnesses nor of representation at the hearing.

    I should like to see eligibility for Legal Aid for Tribunal either being based on the child's resources, or for its coverage to be extended to cover families living on incomes near the national average.

  56. At 04:25 PM on 14 May 2007, Bob Parslow wrote:

    I do wish that we had a statesman rather than a politician as a Minister. Despite the mountains of evidence that the system is not working, he still has the same ideas that he put forward in the House of Commons debate, having rejected the findings in the SEN report by the select committee chaired by Barry Sheerman. Then, every speaker, Conservative, Liberal, and Labour spoke for the report, but he chose to ignore them all.

    On PM, he chose to belittle the evidence of the parents, because there were only two of them. He chose to ignore the opinion of John Friel, probably the leading SEN barrister, just as he had previously ignored the evidence from the select committee, although they had done a really thorough job of collecting evidence. As Barry Sheerman remarked in his closing speech in the debate “The Minister’s response bears all the hallmarks of having been written before he received the report”

    If he thinks that the mothers who spoke were unrepresentative, he need only read this blog. He will probably choose to ignore it, but, if he genuinely wants a representative sample, SOS!SEN, the parent helpline can provide him with hundreds of similar cases!

    His clever answer: “There is no charge to go to SENDIST”, is technically correct. There is no fee, and in the early days, the parent’s views would have had weight. Unfortunately, naïve parents were no match for experienced LEA officers, with technical and legal advice, who knew how to play the system, and the parents lost.

    Now, the SENDIST chair will ask for supporting evidence. So, you need experts, who have examined your child and also a representative who knows the law and the SEN Code of Practice to have any chance of winning. All this costs a great deal of money. Legal Aid is based on the parent’s earnings, and is anyway well short of the amount required.

    Lord Adonis must know that a parent has to pay heavily to get satisfactory provision for their child at SENDIST!

  57. At 05:54 PM on 14 May 2007, Lawrence wrote:

    Further to Mr Blair's comments today, which have painted a very simple picture that his bright new Academies and its Independent Trust State Schools will resolve all the problems within the SEN field once they come into play.

    What Mr Blair did not say was that he was very concerned that the current LEA's and the current State Schools are not complying with the law. That law being the Education Act 1996.

    Whilst Mr Blair (and indeed Mr Brown should he become PM) may believe these marvellous academic institutions may deliver an improvement in SEN support for individual children, the system will still be reliant upon specific money to support the specific needs of an individual as appropriate to his/her age. These needs will change as that individual grows. The mechanisims for delievering that support to the individual will still require assessment and will still require a level of monitoring and will still require a system to ensure that the delivery is appropriate and robust. At the moment the Code of Practice requires teachers, head teachers and other agencies to provide early identification. It is this specific set of actions that the LEA manifestly prevent coming to the fore.

    It is the second step that the LEA then prevents the parents from seeking assessment and it is all for the purpose of reducing budget expenditure.

    I heard nothing in Mr Blair's statement that the government will be addressing the intimidation and fear that the teaching staff and Head Teachers and Governors experience from the LEAs.

    I heard nothing in his statement that gave me confidence that the enforcement of the Education Act by either the DFES, the High Court and the Judges or the Local Government Ombudsman, all of whom are profoundly inept in their duty to protect the disabled children of this country who have been suffering by deliberate actions of local government officials.

    It is a national disgrace that such bad practice, such inhumane dealings, have been allowed to persist for so many years without competent scrutiny and such lack of acountability and consequence to the law. I hope comments on this blog will be used as a basis for some positive action to improve the life outcomes for the SEN children of this country who are so sadly neglected as the many entries on this blog shows.

  58. At 10:41 AM on 15 May 2007, Claire Downey wrote:

    MR Vilette has missed the point, which is sad given he worked in SEN budgets for so long. Appart from the obvious that more and more children have SEN (and we hear precious little from health why this is happening) while SEN budgets are not even keeping up with inflation. There have been numerous challenges to his entry which are valid.

    His main point was about value for money for tax payers. Yet the Government and LEAs invest tiny amounts in the most effective teaching models which yield bettter results in the long run, particularly when they are given very early in a child's development. There is evidence from the US and the UK (Uni of Southhampton) that ABA is an effective teaching method for children on the autistic spectrum, however most SEN budgets go on TEACCH/Eclectic based models in both special and mainstream provision. There is no evidence that TEACCH works, it is just what Special Schools are used to doing.

    Equally Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy delivered early can be hugely beneficial in the long run, but try getting decent SLT and OT in part 3 of a statement without a Tribunal....it doesn't work.

    In the long run is where LEA officers fall down, thier interest is year on year short term budgets. Kids who are helped using more constructive teaching methods are far more likely to need less support in the long run, therefore costing the taxpayer a lot less.

    But this would require joined up thinking in government, both centrally and locally, VALUE FOR MONEY goes beyond the number of statements within any LA MR Vilette, way way beyond.

  59. At 10:53 AM on 15 May 2007, Pat Smith wrote:

    Re post 26, Simon Villette.

    Maybe it is because parents do not actually come face to face with people like yourself?
    We meet the guard dogs, or gatekeepers on funds.

    I'm sorry but parents are already only too aware of economic realities and that priorities have to be set.

    We would just like a little honesty in the way Government and LEAs etc deal with us, and assess our children's needs.

    We meet with dishonesty in the system itself and how it is presented, (they hook you into giving them credibility by acknowledging one or two minor or glaringly obvious facts, then say everything in the garden is lovely they are doing all they can, blah blah blah) and with dishonesty re how our children are actually assessed and written about.

    Autism for instance is denied out of all existance because as an invisible disability, it can be, by the unscrupulous, when dealing with parents new to such a thing. It ends up being blamed on the parent - a real and devastating disability, once the LEA has twisted it all suddenly becomes bad-parenting.

    Autism or Aspergers and other hidden disabilities are reduced to nothing by LEAs. They are hard to describe. Without a diagnosis parents do not have comparisons, the terms and language to be able to describe the condition.

    I and many others parents are burned out, cynical, dismayed, disgusted, & angry at the continuing abuse of the Queens' English (the lies that are told to us with our own language) abuse of our integrity as parents, and institutionalised mental abuse of our children.

    At the NAS BME conference recently it became clear that things are even worse for black and ethnic minority families - they face "double discrimination".

  60. At 11:03 AM on 15 May 2007, Pat Smith wrote:

    I have found over the years that the good conscientious people that one meets on one's "journey" often resign.

    The good people (teachers, heads, psychiatrists) will admit to you off the record about how bad things are, but they are themselves afraid.

    There is an awful of a lot of real fear about speaking out in this system.

    I feel sad that so many years of a parent / carer's life are wasted in being fearful, constantly having to be in battle mode, feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone and merely existing in a kind of half life.

    The pretentious and misleading word "academy" by contrast just makes me laugh. What a joke.

  61. At 08:40 PM on 15 May 2007, Susan J wrote:

    A system that generates the automatic adversarial stance that this one does has got to be wrong. Pressures on parents are great enough, and when the stress of bringing up a child with special needs is added, they are huge. Throw into the mix the battle we have to get the right educational provision for our children, it's no wonder that people crack. It would be wonderful if the views expressed inthis blog could open up a wider debate that could lead to some positive change, but in the light of someof the attitudes I've come across in the last four years, i'm really not holding my breath.

  62. At 08:43 PM on 15 May 2007, Sally Smith wrote:

    I have just received news that I have won my battle against my LEA - hopefully this will be my last as my son is 18 and I have been battling for 13 years now! This final battle, over the last 12 months, has been the most vile to date; I have been accused, intimidated, bullied, and any other professional who has dared to support me has been 'nobbled' and silenced with their jobs put in jepody if they carried on encouraging me at all. And all of this behaviour has come from the Head of Special needs at the LEA; even my IPSEA rep at Tribunal said he has never met such a veminous, bullying person.
    Yet even though I won Tribunal, and 2 Reviews of SENDIST's decision to allow me a Tribunal in the first place, the LEA took me to the High Court to get the Tribunal's decision overturned.
    Many thousands of pounds later on their part (for they even employed top Barristers for Tribunal!) they have lost; they are scared to death that I may encourage other parents to stand up for their children's rights - especially in Post 16 provision, because they especially want Post 16 parents to think that they haven't got any rights with regards the Statement of SEN.

    One would think we were dealing with the Mafia here instead of people who are supposed to have our children's best interests at heart.

    In answer to comment 55; yes you are correct Legal Aid did not pay for representation at Tribunal, I had an IPSEA rep for that, but it did pay for all written documents to the Tribunal and a Barrister in High Court. I realise I was very fortunate in getting Legal Aid, and without it, and without the strong influence of David Ruebain (who I discovered via R4 'You & Yours on SEN) my son would not have this final opportunity of education in a specialist School for Asperger's that he can now receive. I agree Legal Aid does need to be opened up in the interests of justice.

    I fully sympathise with all comments posted by pat Smith on all the Blogs on SEN - especially number 60 above; many professionals that have supported my son (especially lately) have quickly been either put on probation or nobbled in other ways; his Psychologist said she couldn't hack bully taktics anymore so she emigrated - a great loss. My son needed his Psychologist to help him visit potential schools due to his extreme anxiety, but because of LEA complaints about the help his Psychologist gave him new directives have been put in place in CAMHS here so as no other Psychologist can actively support a child/parent in finding suitable education provision.

    I am not a bully parent demanding her own way regardless, as Mr Villette appears to imply. My son needs help, no one else is going to help him are they?

    If I hadn't of won this last case my son would have remained at home 24/7 claiming long-term Incapacity Benefit, unable to face the outside world because of lack of proper educational provision.

    Now my son is 18 he is out of the remit of children's services; there is nothing for him to be passed on to in Adult Services - I am told that ASD is seen as a childhood problem and so there are no specific services available for Adult ASD; my son would have to become severly depressed or self harming again to gain help from a Pyschiatist.

    Please PM with all the comments on this Website help us change the system so as future parents / children will not have to endure this nightmare; I fear we are just shouting into the wind again.

  63. At 08:11 AM on 16 May 2007, Paula wrote:

    I would like to agree with the comments of Sally Smith post 62, having endured 8 years at the hands of the LEA. The multiple Tribunals, the High Court actions, all the assessments and reports we have had to pay for mean nothing to the LEA except the determination they show to remove any funding.

    I further agree that it is incumbent upon PM and the BBC to exercise their journalistic perrogative. It is obvious there is significant public interest and appropriate cause for them to investigate and support the needs of the SEN children. I urge PM having opened Pandora's Box to not let it quietly slip away.

  64. At 05:29 PM on 16 May 2007, Michael Hazelton wrote:

    I heartily concur with the comments of Matthew Parris on PM.
    The is indeed an awful sense in which so many emotional displays in public have a phoneyness attached to them. Much better, indeed, if politicians and others speaking in public would keep their expressions of solidarity for the grieving to a private forum.

  65. At 12:21 PM on 31 May 2007, Tom Husband wrote:

    PLEASE PLEASE arrange for a programme in which parents, LEAs and the Government can have a debate about how the SEN system is most heavily criticised by the intended beneficiaries of the system - the children and their parents!! We have set up a petition: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/FitForPurposeSEN/ and would be very interested in participating in a calm and reasoned debate with the Government and LEAs about how the SEN system fails and why it must be changed.

  66. At 01:11 PM on 15 Dec 2007, Steven Milligan wrote:

    When the less than satisfactory pay increases for public sector workers come through and Mr Villette is moaning, perhaps he would be wise to understand the "economics" of the situation. When he thinks this is grossly unfair maybe he should question his comments!

    If he has time to write such long posts he obvioulsy is not busy enough.

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