Last year my eldest son started secondary school and whilst he has barely had time to find his feet, with the turn of the New Year, it has suddenly become time to look at the proposed statement of special educational needs which will support my younger son as he makes that same transition in September.
Both of my boys are deaf and have had statements in place since they began their school lives to enable them to access a Hearing Resource Base, which was attached to a mainstream school, for the majority of their primary years. Their annual reviews and discussions around levels of need have become a resident part of our lives.
While the meeting of my sons needs to help them attain to the best of their potential in educational, social and emotional terms is always a very current concern there is something very different about picking up a fairly weighty document, leafing through it, absorbing all the salient points and checking that this pile of paper will be a strong enough safety net to catch your child if something within their support fails them.
We are in an educational climate where there is growing evidence, as was so ably pointed out by NDCS recently, where deaf children are not attaining and achieving as they could if there was adequate support in place to fulfil their individual potential. It is also a regrettable reality that the people who put together these proposed documents often have very little detailed knowledge about the needs specific to being a deaf child.
To be clear, I am not a ‘pushy parent’ in my aspirations for my children. Primarily, I want them to be happy. Yet I also want them to be able to fulfil their own individual potential. So sitting down to review my son’s proposed statement I knew it was down to me to try and ensure the wording was tight enough and included all of their needs.
I had been lucky enough to attend an NDCS Secondary weekend with my eldest son last year where in speaking to and picking the brains of their educational speakers I gained lots of useful information and tips. Yet despite this and having successfully gone through the process with my eldest my heart sank as I flipped through page after page of my younger son’s statement knowing there were glaring omissions, loose terminology and amendments I would need to document and challenge to get the most for my son.
For my son I needed to request that the final statement specifies that while deaf awareness training is to be given to all staff within his school, those who have direct contact with my son also have additional training. I have heard on a forum of a child, from a different area, whose school did not receive the deaf awareness training as it had not been specified as necessary.
I also had to request inclusion of sign language practice sessions with a deaf adult and that he have opportunities to meet up with his deaf peers (he will be in Mainstream secondary where he will have only his brother as a deaf peer in the school). On the advice I had previously received I knew the frequency of this also needed to be specified in numbers of days.
I also mentioned the need for management programmes which encourage independent use of all his equipment (hearing aids, cochlear implants and fm systems), development of social relationships and pastoral care. In the proposal there was no mention of equipment he needed for his fine motor difficulties and an absence of resources that would need to be provided to help him in this area. This was because the report relating to this area and his Deaf CAMHS report relating to his social and emotional needs were both not included and therefore had not fully influenced the objectives and resources sections.
It can be difficult as a parent to challenge an official document or to chance being seen as a nuisance as you question what has been advised for your child but there are times when it is necessary. A friend of mine has also just looked over her child’s proposed statement. On receiving it she passed it to the school’s SENCO (special educational needs co-ordinator) who deemed it ‘fine’. However knowing this was an important document to ensure her son’s support was accurate and sufficient she consulted her copies of her son’s reports, other parents and NDCS education support staff.
The result of the extra consultation she has done has resulted in a list of 22 queries on the statement which had been proposed and which the school SENCO deemed adequate for his needs.
Whilst we are very lucky in our area to have a Sensory Service which is committed to meeting the individual needs of our children they are also working under pressure. We are within a climate of cost cutting and reduction of services. Who knows what the next few years will bring in terms of effect on service and I for one will feel happier having a legal safety net to fall back on.
So for all the other parents out there who are lucky enough to have the back up of a statement don’t be daunted as you look at it. Let loose any inhibitions and indulge in childhood dreams of being a teacher – get the red pen out and take the document apart. Ask for support and guidance then question, query and amend. Where the words ‘access to’ and ‘regular’ crop up, ask for specific frequency in hours and days.
A word of warning though – don’t forget to be realistic! While you want your child to be supported well it has to be directed and focussed to the right areas. In asking for additional support you don’t want this to be excessive or overwhelming so that your child comes to rely on it and doesn’t learn to progress past it. Too much can inhibit progress just as easily as too little. It is a balance that must be found for each child individually as they are each so different and what one family has in place for their child is not necessarily right for yours.
It can be a hard, gruelling process to detail your child’s difficulties and the level of support they need to best access their education but it can make a significant difference if you can ensure their statement portrays an accurate picture for those who will be educating them.
As a parent you have the right to use your instincts and knowledge of your child to provide input in this process. Take that opportunity!
Tamsin Coates trained and worked as a Speech and Language Therapist for over 10 years. Her training came in useful when she had two sons who are profoundly deaf. She now juggles being a mum to three lively children, writing (buy her book Meanwhile I Keep Dancing here) running the Wirral Deaf Children’s Society (with her friend Lisa) and raising awareness regarding deaf issues wherever she can.
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