Alice, by virtue of her deafness, has a special educational need. That is that if she is to be educated in the mainstream – our choice, hope and current arrangement for her – she has needs which set her apart from her peers. Some of these needs need no further action, or at least not actions that the school need to concern themselves with, some of them are vital to her achieving to the level of her innate ability. Alice is a bright young thing and we will do whatever we can to bring this out in her.
The first and most important element of support comes from home. The second at school. whether your child is educated in the maintained sector (State School) or privately, their entitlements and needs remain the same. We chose to educate Alice privately for two reasons: The first was irrespective of her deafness, the second the simple factor of class size. Either way, the support she needs remains the same and the Local Authority needs to first recognise and secondly provide for these needs for as long as Alice is in full-time education. In an ideal world, these needs will diminish to the point she will need no further assistance and it is this we strive for.
These needs are met through a ‘Statement of Special Educational Needs’ or ‘Statement’ for short. This is a legally binding document that is designed to firstly acknowledge Alice’s problems and limitations, secondly to ascertain what additional needs this means Alice has and thirdly to demonstrate how these additional needs will be met. In practice, to achieve this aim is a bureaucratic nightmare and, without wishing to appear unduly negative, one that will have you tearing your hair out.
Before setting out on applying for your childs statement, it is wise you familiarise yourself with the ‘Code of Practice.‘ It is a cure for insomnia, but it will help you to inform yourself of your rights and those of your child.
In all of our trials in getting as far as we have with Alice’s statement, and we’re not there yet, no matter how many times people tried to explain the process to us, it never seemed to make sense. The one question, which we were only recently asked, that made it all start to fit together was “What are you trying to achieve for your child? What do you want a statement to provide for you?”. When we started out on this journey, we quickly found ourselves ‘in a process’. “You need to get a statement for Alice” we were told – and thus we started the process to get one provided. The truth is, no two children are the same, deaf or not. It may be that a statement is not the best way to provide for your child’s needs. It may be that they need no additional support or, indeed, that you do not wish for the State to provide it (regardless of your rights). This, I think, is the most important question to answer for yourself. ‘Getting a Statement’ is something that is constantly referred to as a given, but it was only when we started having problems getting Alice’s that we actually stopped to ask ourselves what we wanted and why she needed one.
Your Local Authority has a number of options available to provide funding for additional needs / support. Funding can be provided through the Early Years Action or Early Years Action plus schemes, which are discretionary funding arrangements which, although reviewed more frequently than a statement would be, may well be able to provide for your child’s needs if they are limited to additional, in-classroom support. That said, there is no obligation for the LA to continue this support whilst it is needed – It is, after all, discretionary. A statement is a legally binding document that guarantees the recognised provision whilst the statement still exists. Early Years Schemes.
If a statement is what you want, need or are advised to pursue, then prepare yourself for a long and winding road. Before a statement is prepared, your child will need to be assessed for their needs and to ascertain if a Statement is needed as opposed to any other form of support. To be assessed is, as we found out, difficult enough to arrange. Alice was refused twice for her assessment on the grounds that she was too young to accurately assess her needs. This, as we later found out, is not an uncommon fob-off. As the Code of Practice and plenty of case-law besides recognises, assessment is best done early. We also discovered that Alice attending a private school was working against her (note: If an independent school is named in your child’s statement, you have the right to argue that the LA should provision for the fees as well as the additional support – thus LAs normally run for the hills if they find out you want your child educated privately). It was only when we pointed out that we didn’t want them to pay the school fees that they changed their minds and assessed her immediately. Throughout this period, the LA had acknowledged Alice’s need for classroom support and had begun to provide funding for her, through Early Years Action Plus, to have a part-time TA/LSA in the classroom with her.
Once an assessment has been arranged, your child will be visited, or will have to visit, a number of ‘specialists’. I use this term loosely as we spent most of our time explaining to them about Alice’s problems rather than them asking educated questions. Do not assume they are specialists in children with a hearing disability – some may never have even met a deaf child. Your child will need to have a medical assessment (by a Doctor) , an assessment by an Educational Psychologist and usually an SLT assessment. Once these are all gathered together, a panel will be convened at the LA and a decision will be taken on whether to award the statement or not.
This is where the first question I mentioned above becomes so vital – What are you trying to achieve for your child? When Alice was refused her assessment the second time we went into meltdown. We phoned lawyers (very expensive and usually unnecessary), help groups, AV, The NDCS and many more to seek their help. As Alice already had her TA, they all asked “What else are you looking for”. This rather stumped us – she had her TA, was progressing nicely with her speech and language and had settled well into her mainstream School. It was only then that we started to view the whole package of Alice’s needs and how they would / should be provided for.
The School is central to this process. If your child’s School has experience of integrating a deaf child and is engaged in the process of helping them, you are very lucky. Alice’s School whilst it has experience of SEN, had no real experience of a deaf/CI child. That said, the help and support they have provided has been phenomenal and is an example to all. Not only are they fully engaged in the process, but the support they have provided has been second to none. Bear in mind, as a private School, they do not have the same obligation to help Alice that a State School would.
Central to this support is Alice’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). This sets out a list of Alice’s goals and how the School will meet them. In this respect, at least, it is no different to what any child without SEN would expect, but it provides an essential list of how we monitor Alice’s progress and, on review (every 6 months) allows us to spot where the problems and pitfalls are. This document is central to her statement and its provisions.
More to follow…..