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  • Writer's picture1marthasmith

Read Read Read

(photo credit and thanks to Dan Gold via Unsplash)

I've been good. I exploded privately but then sought advice from a teacher and have filtered my irritation through an ally who can quite dispassionately fix the problem. This was unfamiliar territory. It worked.

Both my children have Education, Health and Care Plans. These plans were brought in after the Children and Families Act of 2014 and the idea was to have have one all-inclusive document for families that explained the additional needs of their children in terms of education, health and social care so that practitioners were all working from and adding to the same source. They were to link everybody together and make them speak to each other for the benefit of children and young people and their families. Parents would not have to regurgitate their child's entire history every time they met a teacher or practitioner - it would all be there for people to see. They contain goals, called 'outcomes' and the steps that are needed to get there, so that everyone working with the child can be aware and pitch in. They are supposed to be reviewed annually. So far, so good.

Any family who has one will tell you that they are incredibly difficult to obtain. Local authorities in this country have a sordid history of putting unlawful barriers in the way of applications as the provision listed within costs them money. Parents have to gain a decent understanding of the law and applications to the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) Tribunal for those whose children have been turned down for an assessment take months but over 90% are ruled in favour of parents. As someone who had to take my local authority to tribunal on behalf of one child I can tell you that the process is horrendous and, although they found in my favour, the cost to my mental health was immense. Thank goodness for the utterly wonderful charity IPSEA whose free information guided me through. Paying for legal representation would have been impossible.

So you might think that having one of these EHCPs somehow unlocks doors. In the right hands, yes, absolutely, they do. But you have to get people to read it. Just let that sink in for a moment. Practitioners don't always read them. Not even their section. And there is little more crushing than turning up to see a healthcare professional to whom you have emailed the document in advance, only to discover that they haven't read it and don't feel they need to contribute to it.

My son goes to a great mainstream school. The teachers are terrific with him and tell me that they love having him in their classes. His enthusiasm for learning is one of his greatest assets. But after his first half term it became clear that his teachers had not read his EHCP and, in desperation, I sent it out in a group email to every single one of them telling them to read it as it would make his, and their, lives easier. It didn't go down well but it was necessary. It was a very effective way to make myself notorious. Again.

Shortly afterwards his EHCP was distilled into half a page of bullet points so that each teacher has a brief guide as to what works and what doesn't and the vital 'do not do this or he will bolt from the classroom and run home'. All the kids with additional needs at his school have these brief guides and it is good practice. So when this term's report came through with more than two third of his teachers stating that he was over-reliant on his learning assistant for taking notes, I felt absolutely crushed. And then furious. Because in his EHCP and on his notes for each teacher is the fact that he has a severe delay in processing large chunks of text or purely verbal information. So if he is watching a video and needs to take notes, he simply cannot do it. Or pull out the key points from a large piece of text; forget it. Being told to take his own notes if he is without support pushes his stress levels through the roof and he panics and absorbs nothing from the lesson at all, later stressing at home that he has learned nothing, cannot learn that subject, will fail all his exams etc etc. So it is essential that he is left to watch the video and try to absorb it while someone else writes down the important points. It isn't that he is lazy, he simply doesn't have the bit that helps him do these tasks. This is part of his autism and suggesting that he is over-reliant on his teaching assistant to do something for him that he cannot do due to disability is no different to suggesting that someone who needs to use a wheelchair for mobility is 'over-reliant' on it. His teaching assistant is not there for company, they are there to ensure that he can access the education provided in the classroom. This task is essential.

For once I did not take matters into my own hands. The SENDCo (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator) at his school is brilliant and has taught him. I phoned her to ask firstly for advice and secondly to stop me sending out a slew of shirty emails. She read through his report and told me to leave it with her, thanking me for coming to her first. She absolutely understood it and shared my frustration. An email was sent to every member of staff that teaches him highlighting that this is part of his disability and, hopefully, it should be the last I hear of it. I will have an infinitely happier boy.

Parents whose children have SEND can never truly switch off - we always need to keep an eye on everyone that our children encounter as the stakes are so high. It takes so much more to get our kids through school in one piece. You learn, as you go along, who gets it and who doesn't and the fact that the SENDCos in both schools absolutely understand my kids and 'get it' is something that I am thankful for every day. I do not have to start from scratch with every email; they go out of their way to keep in touch with my children and cast and unobtrusive eye over their progress. I have also learned that the best way to find out if a teacher or practitioner has read an EHCP is to smilingly ask them face to face whether they need clarification on any of the points or outcomes in the document. The speed that the colour drains from their face will tell you all you need to know ...

So my advice to teachers - read the document. And it takes seconds to periodically cast your eye over the few bullet points you have been given as a guide. It might not make much sense when you first teach a child but once they have been in your class for a few weeks, read it again. It will keep you and the children you teach on track. And allow parents like me simply to feel grateful that you get it.

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