While slumped in the dazed calm that generally follows a particularly satisfying desk head-thunk, I was sure there was a nice little proverb about the benefits of having a second aggravation, ludicrously, distract you from the stress of a first – but my punished, dessicated braincells couldn’t remember what it was. Judicious googling turned up lots of quippy little bon-mots that, although they weren’t the phrase my brain is still reaching for (and will probably remember at 4am one morning next month) I felt our current situation in re: Harry’s education had a close affinity with several of them.
If anything can go wrong, it will
We have hit problems, I think, with Harry’s school entry in September. In a nutshell, he has an educational need, and because the entire first world is flat stony-broke, funding that need is… highly problematic.
Fine words butter no parsnips
Harry’s speech is improving daily – hourly, I sometimes think. He still, however, has a very significant communication difficulty.
Distance lends enchantment to the view
Harry doesn’t look, at first glance, like a kid with special needs, once you get past the speech issues. I am sick to the back fucking teeth, in fact – having suffered nearly 4 years of it, mainly from family and not-quite friends – with breezy, well-meant, kind-hearted, badly-informed, infuriating assurances that ‘he’s absolutely fine, he acts just like ours did, we can’t see anything wrong with him!’
Yes. I know you can’t see. There’s… how can I put this? There’s a reason for that.
Comparisons are odious
The simple fact is, recognised in his draft SEN, that Harry requires adult support for more everyday tasks than is usual for a child his age, partly because of his behavioural, sensory and attention issues, and partly because of his hypermobility and poor co-ordination. And yes, we hope and expect he’ll grow out of most of it.
Getting blood from a stone
We are currently on (Draft) Statement of Special Educational Need (Revised), and we will find out in the next few weeks if a formal SEN is going to be issued by our Local Authority, who are, anecdotally, becoming Draconian. We are expecting it will be given, mainly because all the assessment work took place back when Harry was really struggling to put two recognisable words together and I was told it was pretty much a certainty, but everyone is telling me that SENs from our LA have the rarity status of rocking horse poo this year.
The law is an ass
Entirely fulfilling the educational provision specified within formally issued SENs is a legal requirement. Naturally, this costs money. The Local Authority are very conscious that with every SEN they issue, they are fundamentally potentially issuing debits from the education funds controlled by… the Local Authority. You will find many online discussions concerning needs-based statements of SEN provision giving way to funding-driven statements – or even no statement at all. Such is the current budgetary state of our education system.
Rob Peter to pay Paul, and cut your coat to suit your (unvarying) cloth
Funding for all SENs is delegated to a school’s budget through the SEN funding formula, whatever that is. Essentially: the bigger the school, and the poorer the local community, the bigger the budget. Our local, chosen village school is tiny, with only 100 pupils, situated in a very affluent area. Their special needs budget is not large, and the school’s governing body (our community neighbours, fellow parents, and teaching staff) must make it stretch across all their SEN- or Early Years Action Plus- (the next level down from SEN) supported children as best they can. A child like Harry arriving among them, with a significant need, would present them – is already presenting them – with a serious funding scare. If Harry needs break-time supervision, as well as a dedicated teaching assistant for part of his day – as it appears from his draft SEN that he does – then that is many thousands of salary pounds that the school has not budgeted for – and, as the Headteacher has told me frankly, that they do not have. The SEN funding formula does not fluctuate to take account of individual children.
Like it or lump it
Now, strictly speaking, it should be no concern of blithe, happy parents whether the school can afford to educate the child or not; their lucky chosen school has a legal duty to fulfill the SEN provision, and that should be that. The funding war discussion is between the school and the LA.
From the sublime to the ridiculous is only one step
However, if the school is totally unable to comply with the legal SEN provision, then it is my understanding – possibly because, in our case, Harry is not yet enrolled – that they are then entitled and obliged to refuse to admit him. The Headteacher, who has been generous to us with her time and interest, assures us this is not a course she wants to take; nevertheless, it is a distinct possibility. Our next-nearest village primaries in the same school cluster are all, I think, in the same budgetary position. We would be faced with trying to find a bigger, poorer (worse!) school in one of our local towns, who have that mythical beast: spare budget capacity.
Time and tide wait for no man
If this issue is not resolved in the next 4 weeks, then we will be trying to make contact with shut-for-summer schools, and work with an empty admissions department to find our child a place. A tough gig, and as I won’t start him at a school I don’t like, I very much doubt that Harry would start a school in September at all.
Half a loaf is better than no bread
If Harry is not issued with a statement, then he will instead receive Early Years Action Plus support. This is identical documentation and phraseology to a formal SEN, but without the legal grunt behind it, and the school are only obliged to fulfil as much of it as they can manage. Given that Harry’s draft SEN is out-of-date and perhaps a little heavy-handed in consequence, it has occurred to me to wonder if, in fact, his not being issued with a SEN… might be a good thing? Harry would place just as much strain on the reception teacher, God help her, who would still be trying to meet his needs regardless, but he would, at least, be unstoppably IN the school of our choice, and receiving as much of their Special Needs budget as they could spare. But Harry’s needs are complex and expensive, so that takes us back to robbing Peter: the children of our local friends. Undeniably a very bad thing indeed; they have their needs, too.
Don’t meet troubles half-way
There is a possibility that none of this may happen as we fear. There is a differentiation in SENs that parents are not supposed to involve or concern themselves with: high and low incidence. ‘High incidence’ SENs are given when specific learning difficulty or moderate learning difficulty is determined to be the principal need. All of the funding for high incidence SENs have to be met from the school’s SN budget. Tough tits, etc.
A drowning man will clutch at a straw
Our LA’s online reference file for Special Needs and Inclusion states ‘Currently, for pupils with ‘low incidence’ and behaviour SENs, schools receive a cash grant attached to the SEN, leaving the school free to determine the nature of the interventions required to achieve the objectives specified in the SEN. Since 2002, ‘low incidence’ has included those statements where the principal need is determined as being EBSD, ASD, speech and language difficulty and some physical or sensory impairment or severe learning difficulty.’
Handsome is as handsome does
And then there is a little footnote saying ‘The LA is committed to reviewing the definition of ‘low incidence’ so that ‘low incidence’ refers to the severity of the difficulty rather than the category of the need and thereby to enable cash grants to be attached only to statements where the resource needs are so high that delegation by formula would not be appropriate.’
It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease
So, it all comes down to whether Harry is a Low or High incidence kid (Incidence of WHAT, for heaven’s sake?) and, if low incidence, whether he is issued with a fat cheque to cover his extra educational costs. We have no idea – but no-one seems hopeful. The ball is currently in the school’s court, and they are loudly pleading their abject poverty to the LA. We await the LA’s response.
‘What can I do to influence this?’ I enquired of Harry’s – hopefully – future Headteacher.
‘Keep pestering them!’
The female of the species is more deadly than the male
Well, that I can do. I have no problem with coming across to our LA as one of *those* mothers, because… well. There’s no blinking it. I am one of *those* mothers.
Speak softly and carry a big stick
But I shouldn’t have to worry like this. The school shouldn’t have to worry.
If it all goes bad, and there’s no money and no school and no-one wants Harry because he Costs Too Much Money To Educate, then I will be arriving in a series of offices like an extremely ill fucking wind indeed, and I will be blowing absolutely no good to anyone whatsoever.