Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Home thoughts from abroad

"A nineteen-fifties upbringing" 1959
That's me on the right as always, on the way to Sunday School
wearing my favourite dress, gloves and hat!

I have been very grateful to Norman Perrin and Andrew Sutton for keeping me up to date on many of the developments in the conductive world and special education in the UK. I have not worked in a special school in England since 1989, when I left the country to study in Budapest. It is with gratitude that I have read over the last few years, in clearly summarised postings, about many of the changes and developments that take place, and of the hurdles ahead.

I have been following with interest from afar the recent countdown for the SEN Green Paper that appeared here at the predicted time this morning:


While I was waiting for the full version to be published I was reading some of the items that were already there to be read, including a summarized version of the proposed reforms, last Autumn’s consultation papers and the results. But now the whole paper is available to be read and downloaded.

I do not profess to be up to date on either the Government papers and reports from the UK or those in Germany. Perhaps I can give a more personal view of how I as a conductor experience things here that I spot and think about when reading about Britain’s “new” proposals for special education and care for children with disabilities.
Single assessments

Perhaps there will be indications of what to watch out for in the future of these developments perhaps not. I have not read the Green Paper in great detail yet. I just whizzed through on a tiny netbook screen but some sentences popped out at me. This was the first:

"The plans would be drawn up after a single assessment, rather than the numerous checks children now undergo" .

And my first thought was “ Oh how very dangerous”.

Why was this my reaction?

I wondered about this too because I remember only too well as a special-school classroom- teacher and art therapist, in England, in 1988, having to write a very long report on a child that was needed before the “statementing” meeting took place. The procedure took many weeks and involved the gathering of many such reports from each person who came into contact with the child. I have no idea now whether one of these reports was by the parents.

Why my gut instinct was that one assessment is dangerous is because one of my recent experiences here in Germany made me think that the gathering of many reports must be better that what happened in that case.

A lot also depends on how many people are present, and who is responsible for making that one assessment decision, on whether the child is going to be asked for a oneoff performance for the assessor(s) or whether assessments will be written after several months' working with a child.
I fear that a one-off assessment will still result in a long-fought battle by the parents when they do not agree with what has been decided. I have experienced the involvement of lawyers in two cases recently after clients have been assessed by one person.

In one case, with a carer, a parent and myself as conductor present, someone who was representing the health insurers, who provide the money and the list of care available, has single handed with the help of her trusted computer programme, run through a list with yes or no answers, added up the points acquired as a result of this “assessment” and decided on the level of care needed and the amount of money available to provide for this.

In this case the assessment claims that client has improved so much in the space of a year that the level of care needed has changed from level three, the highest available, to level one, the lowest! I wonder whether the same assessment form was in use the last time, or a different computer programme in action!

In another case a decision made after one assessment is being contested, lawyers are now involved in both these cases, because the decision on the level of ability made by a stranger in just thirty minutes has prevented a rise from level on in care available to level two. The physical abilities of this client have over the past five years definitely deteriorated, although social-psychological development is improving. This means the client is communicating needs better and, perhaps because of this new skill, appears more able physically. Luckily there is an insurance policy available in this case that provides the family with the means to fight the decision.

I wonder whose money the assessors think that they are saving.

This is what I read in the Green Paper this morning:

“We want to make the system less stressful for families and less costly to run by promoting mediation before appeals,“.

Let’s hope they succeed.

Something else from today’s Green Paper: Conflict of interest

Whose best interests have the assessors in mind? Could it be that when there are many then there is a better chance that it could be the child and family who come out on top, when there is only one assessment could it not be that there is more chance for there to be a conflict of interest than there is already.

The Green Paper said on this:

“Conflict of interest”

It is envisaged that instead of a child undergoing many separate assessments on separate days, everyone involved would meet together at the same time

There have also been complaints that the organisation carrying out the assessment, the local authority, is the one who pays for the support it sets out."

Everyone meeting on one day! Who will make the final decision? Do not most of the assessors work for the state anyway? Now does this prevent conflict of interest?

There is more: “Personal budget”

I have written about that here on my blog before and its use in Germany. Now we have it mentioned in the report today:

“We want to give parents more control by offering every family with a single plan the right to a personal budget by 2014, making a wider range of short breaks available in all areas, and ensuring more choice by allowing parents to name in their child’s plan, a preference for any state-funded school. By encouraging the setting up of special Free Schools we will make it less likely that existing special schools will close and create the opportunity for voluntary organisations and parents groups to establish new schools.”

Some parents have chosen to use the personal budget system here in Germany to provide for the needs of their children. CE can be included in this if it can be shown to be something necessary for the preparation and continuation of inclusion in mainstream school. It is sometimes covered until some other way of funding can be found!!

This is the same personal budget that refuses to allow clients in my CE stroke group to use the allowance to pay for a conductive course because it is not on the list of what such money can be used for. It seems that you can buy your own provisions but you can only buy what the providers of the money say it can be spent on. The amount of money is set by assessing what was needed in the past few years and what it can be spent on decided similarly. What has been needed and paid for in the past. If it is not on the list the personal budget cannot be used for it!
The personal budget did not do for CE establishments in Germany what was hoped for, the client’s hands are still very much tied.

Perhaps with the personal budget instances will occur when one charity who is providing some care or education hears that a parent is also approaching another and they then fear they will lose their funding because the child will also attend a different centre. Whose interest is uppermost here?

Just one more thing after my quick whizz through the Paper

“Parents of children with statements of SEN will be able to express a preference for any state-funded school – including special schools, Academies and Free Schools – and have their preference met unless it would not meet the needs of the child, be incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or be an inefficient use of resources”.

As far as I remember this is not any different to how it was in my day in the UK.

Have parents not always been invited to say what it is that they wish for their children? Was it not the case also then as stated here that this is not always possible when such provision is not available in their area, the costs of transport to the area where it is available is too high or it is not available full stop!

I hope to have the Green Paper in my hands as hard copy by the weekend. I am sure that as I read more I will find more to comment on probably something about how often I have read that the parents will be involved more. I fear that this may mean more responsibility for care put on to the already strained resources of families.

Notes

Green Paper -
http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/Green-Paper-SEN.pdf

Andrew Sutton -

Norman Perrin -

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