With more and more children being diagnosed with increasing numbers of educational and behavioural conditions, the need for a ‘statement’ is ever-important. But it is a daunting, often laborious process and one no parent ever imagines they will have to go through. So, how does the system work? What can you expect? Claire Bates’ guide will help you through the vital process step-by-step – and might even keep a smile on your face!
When the paediatrician turns to you in the special care baby unit, a practiced expression on his face, and tells you your baby has irreversible brain damage, in the sea of emotion, pain, hurt, disappointment and fear that floods your mind, you don’t also imagine a fight.
A fight for medical referrals, a fight for nursery places, a fight for therapy, a fight for respite, a fight against prejudice. But there is. And it is a tiresome, lonely, thankless, often fruitless fight. My son was starved of oxygen at birth and sustained almost total brain damage. He will never walk, talk, sit unaided, see a bird in a tree or taste chocolate.
His life is already one long fight, but his Mummy has a almost daily one too. Now, I’m a tough ole thing, but I’ve cried so many tears of frustration over forms, bureaucracy, forms, computers saying ‘no,’ forms, health authorities with no cash for referrals and those with cash having no-one to refer to, county councils with call centres promising a human will call me “within three working days” only to find a human doesn’t, and well…more forms.
Applying for a statement of special educational needs was no different. Eighteen months after first embarking on the process and with me meeting every deadline asked of me, my son still doesn’t have what has commonly become known as a “statement” – the legal document which will form the framework for every one of his school years until he is 16.
He has been at school for two terms and should have his completed statement, ensuring all his needs are met. So just what is it all about? A “statement of special education needs” describes all of the help a child must receive during schooling as a result of any identified problems they have.
It does not only apply to children with very obvious and complex conditions such as cerebral palsy and Down’s Syndrome, but also to children with some ‘learning disabilities’. This can include difficulties with reading, writing, and number work. It also applies to:
* emotional and behavioural problems ie difficulties in making friends, relating to adults or behaving properly within school rules,
* sensory or physical needs such as deafness or sight problems which make learning tough
* communication problems – challenges with expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying,
* medical or health conditions.
Your Local Education Authority will usually make a statement if they decide that all the special help your child needs cannot be provided from within the school’s existing resources. If you think your child is falling behind or is different in some way to their peers at their pre-school or nursery, chat to the group leaders. It is best to begin the statementing process at least a year before school proper begins.
Pre-school leaders are generally now so well trained to spot these things that they may have already discussed it with you, but Mummies do know best. If your gut instinct is that there is something not quite right about your child, push for an assessment. In my experience, there has been no stigma attached to the assessment stage – many children go through it now, even if not all of them end up with a statement of special educational needs. It is very commonplace in mainstream schools – and it is surprising how many other parents have been through it when you start to chat.
The assessment will involve anyone who has dealings with your child writing a report on their view of their progress. This can be the pre-school teacher, a physiotherapist, a doctor and, most importantly yourself. Do read all the reports, and DO challenge them if you don’t think they accurately represent your child. You generally have only 15 days to receive, read and respond to each stage, so tempting as it is, don’t put it to the bottom of the admin pile with the gas bill!
The statement itself is split into six parts. The first gives general information about your child, ie their name, age and address. The second describes all of your child’s special educational needs as well as their strengths. It is here the reports from all those involved with your child sit. The third describes the special help the LEA thinks your child should get, what the long term aims are and how his or her progress will be recorded and monitored. Read this carefully! We all know that county councils don’t have unlimited resources and perhaps I’m being a cynic, but they do need to keep one hand on the purse strings, and may well miss out something you perhaps think is vital. We must be realistic as parents but we must also push. The fourth part tells you which school your child will go to in order to get the help they receive. Remember, although it is not always spelled out clearly, you do have a right to express a preference. Part five includes any “non-educational needs”. This has been a tricky section for us. Our son requires a good deal of physio and occupational therapy as part of his school week and in the county we applied in, there seemed to be a bit of a tussle over whether the health authority or the council would fund this. The statement included the absolute bare minimum, we believe, because it had an eye on its balance sheet but we refused to endorse the statement on the advice of others, and it is being rewritten. Do not be afraid to return the statement. We felt there was a certain amount of pressure on us to accept it in order that the council could meet its required deadlines but they failed to take into account that I’m the nicest person in the world until it comes to the welfare of my boys! Part six outlines any help provided by other agencies such as health and social services in order to meet the “non-educational needs”.
It’s not a particularly stimulating or interesting process and it can be hard to hear things about your child that other people see and you, through your Mummy’s glasses, may not have noticed, but it is so important. You shouldn’t have to, but you end up acting as the go-between. You need to make sure everyone is meeting their deadlines for reports and are talking to each other. I believe this shouldn’t be the Mummy’s or Daddy’s job, but effectively it is, so be prepared for it. I’ve had to call some people with other people’s phone numbers and ask them to ring each other rather than keep calling me – infuriating but essential to keep everything moving. When you, your pre-school or the school asks the LEA to carry out an assessment the authority has six weeks to decide whether to do so. Mark this in your calendar and keep on top of it. The whole thing should take around 26 weeks to complete – not the 18 months we are now up to!
A statement is a legal document and it is important to get it right for your child, but also for you. If you move house, you take it with you to a new school and a new education authority and it is the only point of reference they have. When the final statement is written, make sure it is right and make any comments you have on the form provided, within the time frames. If after everything is final, you still have issues and your named officer has not resolved them to your satisfaction, you have the right of appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (details in the factbox). Above all, keep smiling. I’m not being flippant. I’ve lost control a couple of times on the telephone to a “call centre operative” who has no clue about me, my child or the process, so I’m hardly one to be dishing out advice.
But think of me exploding when you’re along this road and smile. Seeing your child happy in the right school, learning and achieving makes all of it worth it. Believe me.