Thursday, 4 February 2010

What was said on the day?

Not a lot
The future of SEN – IV.

Michael Gove MP, the likely next Secretary of State, was clearly the focus of the show. All remarks seem to be made to him. He made clear at the very outset the importance of this subject to the Conservative Party and, by extension, to the next Government of the United Kingdom:

Our Leader, David Cameron, considers that the families of children who have special needs are one of our highest priorities.

He did not have much else to say, and this for a reason, he explained:

Politicians are like walkie-talkies. They have two modes, to transmit and to receive. Today I am here to receive.

Thus far into the deliberations of the Commission – and so close to the forthcoming General Election – this offers an intriguing slant on the present situation.

Michael Gove is not just a politician. He is also a journalist. He did try to draw the meeting's attention to that fundamental dichotomy within the grand category 'SEN', the need to 'distinguish between children who have problems about behaviour rather than things that you an do nothing about'. Not terribly well put but one knows what he means. Whether or not many in the audience did, nobody rose to his challenge.

As for inclusion, he would like to see 'the best of both worlds', but did not suggest that he yet has found principles for how this might be achieved, nor did one emerge from the floor where this again seemed a generally lesser concern.

What does the Commission favour?

There seems nothing of note new since its Second Report. No mention was made of all the details that are promised for the Third.

The Commissions seems to favour encouraging parents' taking the lead in setting up new schools in the voluntary or private sectors. The potentially socially divisiveness of this did not emerge. Nor did the more directly personal implications of foisting upon often already overburdened families the Herculean task of setting up a new school from scratch.

The Commission enthuses excitedly over separating assessment from provision: 'Statements would be by independent people governed by a number of objective criteria.' The Commission does not like tribunals and adversarial proceedings, though 'there would of course be an opportunity at the end of this if it all goes wrong to go to a tribunal, or something like a tribunal, with opportunities for mediation along the way.' This and the 'objective criteria' and the 'profiles' that these will contribute to, desperately need a seminar (or two, or three!) devoted to them. Monday was not, however, the forum for this. No doubt we shall hear much more about this proposal. At an appropriate time Conductive World might look at the awkward questions that lie beneath this particular stone,

In default of discussion

How can something so wonderfully exciting and humane sound so dull? Probably when it is reduced to the murmurings of a crowd of individuals testifying to their own individual causes, without coming together around some big idea or ideas that that might sweep the whole along towards some common resolution. Without even common concepts, or even word, one is left with a host of other people's problems, strongly felt and for the most part legitimate concerns. but mostly by definition of little interest to anyone else – little tails than cannot individually wag the dog. Further, it has to be remembered, there are potentially conflicting agendas in this crowd.. For example, a headteacher described his idea of freedom under a new order: the freedom of schools from local-authority control. A laudable goal in its own right, no doubt, but not the freedom that many, perhaps most parents would prioritise.

Again and again there emerged the repeated refrain: 'funding, funding, funding' – or, as David Gove summarised it from his viewpoint: 'costs'. Raising one's eyes to the bigger economic situation it is hard to see how any policy that does not significantly cut costs has any long-term chance of being implemented. There was no indication among those who spoke that this is a factor in people's consideration. Having mentioned the dreaded word 'costs', Mr Gove kept his council. Another seminar required here too, I guess...

There were no good words from anyone for local authorities, their officials, and cynical 'inclusion' policies. Mr Gove, though, saw a problem:

In complex cases a lot of agencies might have to be involved – but how do you ensure that they don't spend all their time filling out forms? It is essential to minimise the level of bureaucracy. We need a single gateway, early in life so that all the child's needs are considered together.

Really, does nobody question the relevance or feasibility of prescriptive determination of a child's 'needs'?

Climate change

If the Conservatives win power in a few months' time, as seems likely, an interesting spectator sport will be to watch all this stuff hit the fan of the established order of special education needs in the United Kingdom, all this no doubt in the over-arching context of public-sector redundancies and budget cuts.

And what will Conductive Education in the UK do then, poor thing?

Tomorrow, though, a couple of dilemmas for the Conservative Party.

Previous items on this topic

The future of SEN – I:

The future of SEN – II:

The future of SEN – III.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of quick thoughts before bed:

    1. If a Conservative government should be intent upon extending the Academy schools system to new providers such as voluntary and private organisations, then it is both reasonable and just that this same policy should be inclusive of special schools, maintained and non-maintained. An assurance is needed. Balchin 2 says something similar then draws back.
    2. "Parents" per se will not set up schools. They might (like us at Paces) form charitable organisations which will then seek to register new Academy Special Schools (I do not like the Balchin2 term 'Special Academy Schools). Such organisations are likely to require the involvement of an existing organisation with a track record; such an organisation might well seek to collaborate with others to create a a single national Academy special school. In this way, for example, Paces could work with other CE centres not yet schools, to do so. Equally, we could find a 'Swedish' private sector partner. (thus the argument about the burden on parents is something of a chimera).

    3. Funding. Funding Funding. True -cuts in public services might well destroy any such initiative. That aside, the high level policy problem, I'm told, is the fear of runaway costs (see also Balchin2): not the hoary old LEA complaint that 'private' schools are milking the system as a cash cow, but that the new assessors will feel less inhibited in making recommendations as to schooling. Balchin2 addresses this in part, but a proper proposal from CE to establish an Academy Special School will need to better answer this fear.

    In my view this is an opportunity for CE in the UK like never before. Am I a lone voice in thinking this? If anyone reading this cares to, just contact me. I'll be happy to meet and talk.