So the big day arrived and of course, it was raining. Tania and I headed into London, to the Department for Education, to meet the Education Minister in charge of the SEN reforms, Ed Timpson.
Unfortunately, there was 'the wrong kind of ice' on the conductor rail and so I sat at Waterloo for half an hour while Tania updated, "At Wimbledon and moving", "Now at Clapham", all the time watching the clock.
Eventually we arrived, and the lovely Jon arrived to escort us up to Mr T's office. While we waited for the Minister to finish another meeting, Jon introduced us to some mums who blog about their own special needs children and who'd come along via Tots100 - one all the way from South Wales and another from up in Manchester. Hats off to them for making the effort!
We received a very warm welcome from Mr T, who didn't look at all daunted by the prospect of meeting several passionate SEN mums. Then again, perhaps he missed his vocation in life and an Oscar could have been his for the taking if he had chosen a different career route.
The mums gathered had children with varying difficulties and were at different stages of the process of trying to secure support, but the main thrust was of the outrage and distress parents felt when they were forced to fight for what their disabled children needed.
The Minster asked us to share with him one thing we would change or we considered an issue.
The one thing that was very noticeable was the amount of nodding heads from all of us as each person relayed their concerns or suggestions - it was very clear that as parents, we all know our children and we've all had similar experiences and issues. The solutions we suggested were all similar too.
I felt a genuine sadness that the bad bits - the bits you think only happen to you or in your area - were happening to many others across the whole of the country
Parents often feel they are not an integral part of any decisions made about their child - often they are talked at, rather than talked to. The whole process can become, and often is, adversarial, with parents feeling that it is often just a case of the LA showing us who is in charge. As parents we want to engage and play a role in our child's life but legislation alone won't make this happen.
Aside from Tania & myself who, as you know, are involved in our own areas developing plans for SEN reform as part of the pathfinder, one mum was taking part with her family in the trials themselves (and we're looking forward to hearing more about it from her soon) while others were less knowledgeable about the stage the reforms are at. I suspect that may soon change!
It was telling that most had felt a lack of support and signposting but there were several mums who could point to excellent help they had had and we think this could be developed into "Beacons of Good Practice" that the government could highlight as examples to other areas who may not be doing so well. What a great incentive, to have your service win such an accolade!
Tania & I raised our concerns about the massive task of culture change needed to drive forward the Children and Families Bill and to ensure it meets the outcomes it was initially designed to produce, but more positively, we also tried to offer some solutions to that and will be sharing our ideas and contacts.
Key working (and a named key worker) were the one thing we all agreed with. Parents want to have the confidence that practitioners within different agencies (and sometimes practitioners within the same team) will actually speak to each other. As that doesn't happen at present and there are not clear signs that it will be happening anytime in the near future, there was also the recognition that parents need someone who is just there to help them (independent advocates), someone who knows the system and the resources available, someone who can be your guide through the local offer.
Another point your intrepid SNJ advocates raised was the huge potential for "nurture groups" to create a backbone of support for vulnerable and troubled children within schools. Children sometimes present with what appears to be an SEN, but this can be exacerbated by unmet emotional or social needs.
When given the right support through this type of group, can then integrate back into universal services. Tania talked about the great work that child psychologist, Charlie Mead, has done with the use of nurture groups in a previous post - Special Needs Jungle in the Telegraph - what I really think and we hope that Charlie will be able to share his experience with Mr Timpson, who was extremely interested in the concept. If commitment and funding for nurture groups can be mandated or at least added to the Code of Practice, this could be a real way to help families and children succeed.
Generally, the meeting was very positive. Mr T did appear to listen to what we were saying and he was very keen to stress that the Code of Practice was an "indicative" draft, which will be informed by the findings from the pathfinders and SEND pathfinder partners.
However, as parents who don't often get to bend the ear of "The Man That Can", this was our chance to indicate to Mr T and his trusty team that the indicative draft is at present rougher than Desperate Dan's chin.
We will be working with other parents and practitioners to try to influence plugging the gaps and, in fact, Tania is attending a Code of Practice workshop next week.
We were given the contact details for the Minister's team and asked to let him know of anything that was working well and were all told to "keep blogging".
We can promise him, and everyone else, that we most certainly will.
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