This week our Son's school is trying to force us into agreeing to a reduced timetable with the threat of exclusion if we don't agree. I am having to carefully craft a letter in response to this, but this is the letter I wish I could send them.

To our Son's School

We decided to place our Son in your school as we wanted to do the best we could for our Son, and thought he would benefit from all that you are able to offer as a school.

Before he started, we didn't suspect that he had Autism or that he would struggle so much within the classroom. He had never given us any cause for concern at home or at nursery, and we thought we were doing what was best for our Son.

When you reported that he was often causing trouble, we struggled to understand why he was behaving this way and were dismayed by the number of incidents reported. He was not like this at home.

You told us that many of the boys had trouble settling in and that we should wait and see. So we didn't do anything. We were dependent on you to understand what the issue might be

Before we knew it, you were calling in the Pupil Referral Unit who specialises in helping children with behavioural issues. You never suggested the possibility of anything else, and never called anyone in to get him assessed to try to understand why he was behaving the way he was.

You never advised us to get our Son assessed. We had to figure this out for ourselves when we started to think that there might be more to it than just a boy struggling to settle in. We have now reached out to every professional we can think of to find some answers, but this is going to take time.

A lack of advice meant a delay in getting a diagnosis and support from the right people
Then you told us that he would not be able to continue at the school without addressing these issues. When we said that we had seen a psychiatrist who said that there were indications of Autism, and we were trying to get a formal diagnosis, your first reaction was that Autism was too complex and difficult for your SENCO to get involved in.

There was no appetite for training your staff on how to deal with Autism and ADHD related behaviour. There was nothing you could do to provide any support in the classroom. There was nothing you could do to provide any supervision, or a quieter space, at lunchtimes when most of the behavioural incidents tended to occur.

You only mentioned the possibility of an EHCP as a last resort and told us it was up to us to apply. You never explained what the statutory assessment was or how to approach this in order to ensure we have the best chance of getting what is needed for our Son. Once again we had to find out the answers for ourselves, and have done everything possible in submitting our request for a needs assessment.

It would have been nice if you had tried to work with us to identify options about what could be done to prevent the behaviour from occurring. Together we might have been able to come up with a solution that worked for everyone.

Instead, you took the defensive stance that we had three days to come up with a plan to collect our Son on days that you felt his behaviour was too challenging for you to manage. In addition, you felt that the 2 hours it took us to commute back from London was too long - so we had to find someone close by who could do it in less time.

You frequently tell us that you are "being nice" by not considering exclusion, unlike other schools. You are not being nice. To me, this is a veiled threat!

From the start you focused on Exclusion rather than trying to help us find support

We appreciate the fiddle toy, the wobble cushion, the catch me cards, the 5 times he has been rewarded with a story when he has got 5 cards, and the tent in the classroom to provide a space for reflection in the classroom. For these, we are extremely grateful. Unfortunately, they don't go far enough to ensure our Son has access to all aspects of school life - both in class and at lunchtimes.

You have said NO to all of the following which could help avoid many of the incidents occurring
  • A visual timetable 
  • Providing opportunities, such as nurture groups, for positive socialisation 
  • Training your staff on autism and managing autism in the classroom 
  • Providing any support in the classroom 
  • Providing supervision or a quieter space at lunchtimes 
  • Escorting my Son rather than have him walk in line with the other boys when walking to lessons, such as music, which is known to be a trigger for my son 

We have all seen the impact that this is having on our Son, and the people around him.

The number of incidents are increasing, he is now referring to himself as bad and naughty, refuses to do in work in class, and talks about his greatest difficulty at school as having to run faster than the other boys who run away from him when he wants to play.

Whilst we realise that these measures all take some extra effort up front, it is likely that the effort you need to spend dealing with refusals to co-operate, incidents at lunchtime or in class and meltdowns in the classroom would decrease. This will also mean less stress for your staff and the other boys.

A lack of making reasonable adjustments has resulted in the escalating issues. Your failure to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that my Son is able to access all aspects of school life is a likely breach of the Equality Act 2010, and the SEND Code of Practice.

You repeatedly comment on the impact on your staff and how upset they are getting. This could be reduced if you provided them with training on working with Autism in the classroom, and through the provision of some additional support for them from your existing resources, such as your SENCO team.

Your comment that "my Son is an intelligent boy who is able to more than capable of verbalising what has happened" when he has been sent to the office for time-out after incidents on the playground show how little understanding you have of Autism or the challenges he faces.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
--- National Autistic Societ

My Son is not being naughty, he is struggling due to a disability and needs help

We are unable to support a move to a reduced timetable as we work full-time and can't afford additional childcare to cover these hours over and above the school fees, weekly therapy sessions, private assessments and existing after school care costs that we are already paying for.

Your emails and letters trying to force us into considering a reduced timetable or face the possibility of exclusion are putting us under tremendous pressure as a family at a time when we should be focusing on identifying our Son's specific challenges and how to address them.

While you have a legal right to formally exclude a child, this should be done only as a last resort and when you have tried all possible reasonable adjustments. I realise you are not a mainstream school, but I want to highlight that in a mainstream school this is not legal.

Asking parents to collect their children early or putting them on part-time hours is against the law and fails to address the underlying need for schools to make reasonable adjustments to include children with autism.
--- Ambitious About Autism

Taking my Son out of school will not help to reduce the likely number of incidents which happen when he is at school as it does nothing to address the underlying reasons for these incidents. In fact, it just teaches my Son that if he behaves in a negative way he will get to go home. I know my Son, and it won't take him long to work this out.

Informal or Permanent Exclusion Does not help my Son in any way

We are not asking you to employ additional staff to provide our Son with one-to-one support, this is what we are applying for the EHC plan for. We are asking you to think about how you can use the resources available to you, such as your SENCO team, to provide some additional support as an interim measure whilst we try to find our Son the help he needs in the long term.

We are asking you for the time to allow the assessments to be completed, and the support put in place, rather than force us into a rushed decision which could be detrimental to him in the long run. We wish you could be supportive in the short term until we can get our Son the help he needs

As parents, we are doing everything we can to get help for our Son, but this is a long process and takes time. We are actively trying to push things forward so that things can change for everyone. We do not relish the impact that this is having on your staff and the other boys in the school but there is only so much that we can do.

My Son will not remain at your school as you are obviously not the best place for him, but I will not be rushed into making a rash decision to move him until I know where is the best place for him to be.

My Son is not going to be the last boy that you come across with these types of difficulties.

I wish that you and your staff were better prepared for dealing with this situation so that the possible need for assessments and additional support could be identified early before things reach a crisis point, and that you could help and support the child and their family through a very difficult time rather than adding to the pressure of the situation.

Have you had to deal with temporary or permanent exclusion? If so, were you able to get support in challenging the exclusion and getting the school to change their stance?

informal exclusion from school: sent home when he should be getting support instead of punishment

I am numb.

I have spent all my energy in the past 6 weeks trying to hold it together and following every possible route to try get help for my Son before he gets excluded from school. I failed.

Today he was sent home from school because of his behaviour.

This comes off the back of a particularly difficult time when we are at a stand-off with the school. Yesterday the school told us they want to start him on a reduced timetable which means we would either need to change to working part-time or pay someone to look after him.

As working parents we can't support a reduced time-table, and our Son needs more support at school not more time at home

We refused as we don't think it is the best thing for my son, who is only going to view time off school as a treat. Also as working parents, this is not something that we have the ability to support - even if we wanted to.

We need support - if only I knew where we could get it

I can't blame the teacher as I believe she has tried.

I can't force the school (an independent) as their obligation stops at reasonable measures which is hard to quantify as they will say they think they are doing what is reasonable, there is nothing to stop them from asking my Son to leave the school.

I can't rush the Local Authority as they have a long process to follow to obtain an EHCP and there is no fast track for critical situations.

I know that the school have tried some things - fiddle toys, wobble cushions, a tent in the classroom and catch me cards to try encourage positive behaviour. But they have told us that they can’t provide him with any personal support in the classroom or at lunchtimes which is what he needs more than anything else.

I am appreciative of the measures that school has put in place, however I am baffled by the attitude of their SENCO department who won’t get involved as they believe my Son’s difficulties are too complex for them. Is this not the function of a SENCO?

Feeling judged for not agreeing to a reduced time-table

My heart aches for my Son and I feel for his teacher who doesn't seem to have the training or the support to deal with what is obviously an increasingly difficult situation for her. They are both suffering and I have not been able to help either of them.

On top of that I feel like I am being judged because I don't want to be forced into giving up work. I already feel guilty about not getting help sooner, how he behaves towards the other children at school, and the impact this is having on his teacher – I just don't know how much more I can take.

Trapped with no easy way out. And just as we seemed to be starting to make some progress. 
SOS SEN - helping with Special educational needs

Our thanks go out to the volunteers at SOS!SEN.

A week ago we travelled to Molesey and spent the day with another mum also in the process of requesting an EHC needs assessment and two SOS!SEN volunteers (mums with kids on the spectrum) on a workshop which focused on Requesting an EHC needs assessment and appealing refusal to assess. This was the personal view that we have been looking for!

Being able to talk to another parent in the same boat as us, and gain insights from parents who understand what is required, have been through the process of getting a statement and have helped many other parents at all stages of the process.  

A tiring but worthwhile day for any parent looking for information on the EHC.

During the day, we touched on:
  • Top tips for dealing with schools and the local authority
  • Understanding  points included in the SEND Code of Practice, and what this means in terms what needs to be considered by schools and local authorities (chapter 6 covers schools provisioning, and chapter 9 covers the EHC)
  • Insights on the EHC process and what to consider should you be turned down at any stage of the process
  • Personal insights into some of the challenges faced by parents of children on the spectrum

Some of the Top Tips

  • Ensure you have a PAPER TRAIL for everything discussed with school, professionals and the LA 
  • Don't just say to yourself that you don't agree with something, BE PREPARED TO CHALLENGE any points in emails/reports that you don't agree with 
  • SEPARATE SCHOOL FROM THE LA - sounds simple, but it can be easy to think about your challenge with the school and the LA as the same thing and to think that your engagement with the school can impact your request for an EHC from the LA 
  • Think about getting a INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST (EP) assessment and report, which specifically states what support your child needs - it may be costly, but it can save you a lot of time and cost at a later stage. Find an EP early, the good ones have a long waiting list 
  • Ensure you/ the school have a BASELINE OF YOUR CHILD'S CAPABILITIES, and can demonstrate the progress made in relation to this baseline and in relation to their peers which started from a similar baseline

What the day meant to us

By the end of the day I was exhausted, mentally and emotionally, and my brain hurt as I tried to process all that I had learnt and all that I needed to consider as I prepared to make our case to the LA. I have to admit that I felt somewhat raw, and slightly distressed about the potential battle ahead of us - our reality seemed a little too real.

A week later these emotions are less raw, and I am thankful of the knowledge gained as without it I don't think I would've been so focused on gathering all the evidence we have to submit to the LA as part of our needs assessment request. I now have a catalogue of evidence from various people involved in our Son's life - demonstrating where he has challenges and show how this differs when he has the right support.

In addition we have found a connection which we can call on for further help should we get a no from the LA. We are not in this alone.

Have you been given advice about applying for an EHCP? If so, were is the advice you have found most useful?

collaborative negotiation with school and EHC needs assessments

3 week since our EHC needs assessment request, 3 weeks to a decision on whether an assessment will be carried out and, if agreed, 17 weeks to getting an EHC Plan.

My head is swimming with everything that we need to consider and everything we need to do to get support from the school and get an EHC plan from our Local Authority.

I don't know how I will be able to face many of the difficulties we have heard from other parents said that they went through trying to do this.

27% of parents have waited over two years to get appropriate support  
--- NAS Parent Survey 2015 

The thought of battling with the school, the Local Authority and possibly even lawyers & the high court, if we have to go to appeal, is really daunting. I am trying to focus on what is needed now and not worry about challenges we may never face - not an easy thing to do. So, I am trying to take things one week at a time and doing what I can to make the most of our chances at each stage of the process.

So time for a little strategising!

Think like a legal eagle

Finally those hours of watching Law & Order is about to pay off. I need to get into character, think about gathering evidence, be able to reference the relevant legislation, challenge any reports/ feedback we don't agree with, be very specific, ensure any requirement for support is quantified, and lastly document EVERYTHING that happens/ is discussed.

My box file is now always close by, and I am starting to become massive SWOT who is able to quote from the Equalities Act, the Children and Families act and more recently the SEND Code of Practice (all 287 pages!!!).

Learn to Negotiate

For this, I headed to the bookshelf and re-read my copy of Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  

The book talks about Principled Negotiation, a technique which aims to decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process focused on what each side says it will/ won’t do rather than hard or soft negotiating.

I have used this to plan for my next meeting with the school, and I hope to remember these pointers during the meeting when we try to reach an agreement of adopting reasonable adjustments to support my Son. I may not get it right the first time, but in the meantime, I will be practising on my Son as I try to negotiate his daily getting ready for school in the morning. Good practice indeed!

The core principles at the heart of the book are:

  • Be hard on the problem, soft on the people 
  • Don’t bargain over positions. Focus on the interests 
  • Look for mutual gains where possible, inventing multiple options before deciding what to do 
  • Where interests conflict, insist that the result be based on some fair standards independent of the will of either side

Below is a summary of the steps discussed in the book.

Three stages of negotiation

1. Analysis - Diagnose the situation
  • Consider the people problems of biased perceptions, hostile emotions & unclear communication 
  • Identify your interests and those of others involved 
  • Identify all options which on the table 
  • Identify any criteria suggested as a basis of agreement 

2. Plan – Generate ideas and decide what to do
  • Plan how to handle the people problems 
  • Identify which of your interests are the most important 
  • Define what are some realistic objectives 
  • Generate additional ideas be considered as options 
  • Generate additional criteria for evaluating options identified 

3. Discuss – Communicating with the other party/ parties
  • Acknowledge differences in perception, feelings of frustration & anger & difficulties in communications 
  • Try to understand the interests of the other side 
  • Jointly generate options that are mutually advantageous and agree on objectives 
  • Seek agreement on objective standards for resolving opposed interests 
  • Agree first on principles 

Best alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

Identifying your Plan B, or BATNA, before heading into the negotiation indicates what you can do if you are not able to reach an agreement, and provided a measure by which you can judge any offers made. 

Negotiation Jujitsu

My favourite part of the book with tips on how to respond whether the other side won't move from their position.
  • If they push you, don’t push back. Deflect against the problem 
  • If they stand by their position, treat it as one option & objectively examine it 
  • Discuss what would hypothetically happen if their position was adopted 
  • Don’t defend your ideas, invite criticism & advice 
  • Use questions instead of statements, and then pause for a response 

What worked for you when trying to negotiate getting the right support for your child?
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