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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Parents hail special needs report
Parents of children with special educational needs have welcomed a report by MPs criticising the current provision in England.

Like many, Sam Hall has spent years and thousands of pounds in legal fees, fighting with her local education authority to get what she regards as the best education for her two sons, who have autism.

She said it had been an enormous struggle.

Mother Sam Hall
To know that your child is going into school and they may not be properly supported is really scary for any parent
Sam Hall
"To know that your child is going into school and they may not be properly supported is really scary for any parent," she said.

"And it's difficult moving from one authority to the next because there simply isn't any coherence.

"What you get in one place isn't necessarily what you get in another."

'Fight'

The Commons education select committee said numerous witnesses had described to it "a postcode lottery" or "lottery of provision".

Similarly it had received "large numbers of memoranda from parents whose lives had been taken over by the statementing process and who had had to 'fight' to achieve a better outcome for their child - and were still fighting."

The committee highlighted a conflict of interest in the way local authorities are the bodies which determine who gets help - which they then have to provide and pay for.

I just hope that the government takes it on board and does something about it sooner rather than later
Deborah Packenham
Deborah Packenham, whose son also has autism, can identify with that.

She said she had had to struggle to get her local authority to pay for the expensive provision she had identified as being the most suitable for him.

"He has now just gone into a mainstream setting and is getting bullied and is very unhappy," she said.

"He is not really progressing. He is unhappy, he comes home from school and is very miserable, so he has a tantrum."

He also had dyspraxia - which affected his motor co-ordination - so could read quite fluently but not write.

He had the help of a learning support assistant, but she had not been trained in autism.

"I think it's good news, the report," Ms Packenham said.

"I just hope that the government takes it on board and does something about it sooner rather than later."

Confrontation

Virginia Beardshaw says her life could be "a special needs soap opera".

Her daughter, born very prematurely, is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and autism.

"If you met her you would think what a nice person she was - but her labels are terrible," her mother said.

Virginia Beardshaw [ Photo: I Can ]
Our parents go demented. They think they finally are going to get what they need and then they don't get it
Virginia Beardshaw
Chief executive, I Can
Then her younger son has significant speech and language impairment, a totally different disorder - "proof that lightning does strike twice".

"I guess in terms of getting what you need for your children I have gone every step of the way with buying expensive independent reports and slapping down evidence to get a statement," she said.

She said the funding of special educational needs (SEN) inevitably created confrontation.

Most was devolved to schools, but the generality of schools did not have the necessary range of expertise.

"So parents are forced outside the mainstream in most instances, or will experience their children being left out, being bullied, having low self-esteem and the behaviour problems that go with that."

They look around for specialist provision, which tends to be expensive.

"Then because of the way the money works that means going head to head with the local authority, who are cash-strapped, and every outside-the-borough placement diminishes an already limited budget."

Ms Beardshaw is chief executive of the charity I Can, which seeks to help the huge numbers of children with communication difficulties.

She said a twist in the saga for such children was that the specialist help came via the National Health Service - whereas the formal statements of need were binding only within education.

"So even if you get a statement, you think: 'Oh, great, we will get the help', but no because it's not binding on the NHS.

"Our parents go demented. They think they finally are going to get what they need and then they don't get it."

Ms Beardshaw strongly supports the idea of having national standards for SEN provision.

Lack of training

As a special educational needs co-ordinator (Senco) Eirwen Grenfell-Essam knows about the problems caused by a lack of funding, in her case in a junior school in Essex.

It's very heart-rending to have to discuss the things your children can't do over and over again
Eirwen Grenfell-Essam
There, 170 of the 250 pupils were on the special needs register, she said.

But most did not get the help they should because priority had to go to those with statements of need - the more severe cases.

All the teachers were SEN teachers "because they have to be".

But there was almost no SEN element in most basic teacher training courses, she said.

From her own family experience and her work chairing Network 81, an organisation for parents, Ms Grenfell-Essam knows how emotionally draining battling the system can be.

"It's very heart-rending to have to discuss the things your children can't do over and over again, not celebrating the things they can do," she said.

"Parents are fighting a bureaucratic nightmare - especially those who themselves have some form of learning difficulty."




SEE ALSO
Special needs education 'not fit'
06 Jul 06 |  Education
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