That Which Does Not Kill Us

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.


37 Responses

  1. I suspect the school may be being a touch disingenuous. The school funds 14 hours out of their budget and any additional support is met by the LEA . Given that teaching assistants are paid peanuts they should be able to meet his needs. If you feel this is a school where harry will flourish- hold out for it!
    I feel like apologising to every parent who has to jump through the statementing hoop 😦

    • Ah, I know I’m being played on to a certain extent; I don’t mind playing the game. If the game ends up with a refused place, though, I really will go apeshit. I think he’s up for about 15-20 hours TA time, at a half-educated guess, plus break & lunchtime supervision.

      As soon as Harry was discovered to have SN, last Autumn, there was an instant ‘Do you REALLY want to send him HERE? We’re VERY academic! We don’t learn through play NEARLY as much as some *cough* OTHER schools!’ Not the head’s approach, to be fair: a clumsy tactic by a teacher – but we were left in no doubt that enrolling a SN child wasn’t precisely conferring a benefit!

  2. Oh holy hell. Must everything be so difficult?


  3. Oh lordy! i don’t think it was this complicated when my mum had to enrol me in school. She was advised to send me the the blind school in Edinburgh but decided against it. Once I got past about year 2 or 3 I only needed a TA for about an hour a day if stuff was written on the blackboard.
    Many hugs and I hope you get it all sorted.

  4. Whilst I am hoping for ‘All’s well that ends well’, if it doesn’t can you threaten the LEA that you will be applying for funds to set up your own academy as per the educational options now in place? Admittedly I’m not entirely sure how these work but I do remember reading something about them in the UK press online.

    Failing that I would be looking at Home Education until you do find an acceptable place for Harry.

  5. Wow. And he’s not even 4 yet, right? Who’d have thought you’d have to fight this fight already?

    Oh well, here’s to the next 14 to 20 years of fighting the system! (Are you tired yet?)

  6. Well, my sympathy for your local school is, oh, how to say… nonexistent? Much as yours is, I expect. This whole shebang is Not Your Fucking Problem (inasmuch as *somebody who is not you* has a legal responsibility to educate your child!) except, of course, to the extent that you will be required to cause these people some severe heartburn until they pull their heads out of their nether regions. Bah, humbug to them all.

    • I didn’t mean to present the school as the villain here; small schools do have a tight budget and Harry’s arrival will genuinely create a funding hole for them. Even if he comes with funding, they also do not have the staff they think he might need, and will have to advertise, quickly, if the SEN is issued – which will mean work for the governors and teachers through their summer holidays.

      I feel reasonably sorry for the LA, too, because they only have So Much funding to play with, and there are helluva lot of children who have a special need.

      We are in the midst of Austerity, people. We must Suffer.

  7. Holy hell. If you want some insider info my mum has worked as a teaching assistant, special needs assistant since my brother was in primary (he’s now 37), and she may be able to throw in a few ideas/options. I don’t know, and I’m sure, judging by what you have written that you are pretty much all over it like a rash, but the offer is there if you need it. Harry is a bright child who deserves the best education in the right school of your choosing, regardless of how inconvenient it may be to other people and the forms they have to fill in and the money they have to find. Keep fighting honey. xxx mail me if you want to hook up with mum.x

  8. As another insider (though admitedly with secondary education) make sure you fight tooth and nail for that statement. Without that statement the provision the school with provide will be paltry in comparison (school action plus is a bit like trying to use a chocolate teapot to put out a fire).

    I really hope Harry gets a good TA, the good ones are fantastic and do so much to help the kids they work with. The bad ones can actually make some kids worse as they don’t let the actual child do anything….

  9. The thing that really fries my bacon about all this, is that if young Master Harry, who is, after all, pretty bright, gets the extra help he needs NOW, he’ll very probably have ‘caught up’ with his peers by the end of primary school, and will be able to manage his own residual issues himself, having been given the tools to do so. So it’s not even robbing Peter to pay Paul. A SEN now, with funding, would be A Stitch in Time Saves Nine, or Penny-Wise Is Pound-Foolish. Dealing with SEN kids when they’re eleven is CONSIDERABLY more expensive. And more difficult. And has less satisfactory outcomes. Might be worth asking your LA how much extra they’d rather spend on the lad when he’s 13 – nothing at all, because he caught up, or tens of thousands of pounds, because he didn’t get the help he needed when he was four?


    And with you on the well-meaning breezy people chirping ‘he’s fine! He’ll grow out of it!’ Why should he have to miss so much learning and socialising while he grows out of it? Argh. And it’s all very well saying he will ‘grow out of it’ and catch up. People say this to us about my youngest sister (severe dyslexia, Aspergers) because she’s now doing well at college, living in a flat with her friends, sociable, popular, yada yada yada – see? they say, she’s fine! What were you all so worried about? Well, numbnuts, she’s fine BECAUSE her mother fought like a tiger to get her statemented and to get her funding and to get her into a school that specialised in dyslexia rather than letting the LA dump her in a holding pen for the intellectually as well as educationally impaired (oh, hey, it had an apprentice scheme for shelf-stackers at the local Sainsbuggers. It was a GOOD holding pen). And my mother wishes, still, that she’d fought harder when Diva was three or four and clearly ‘off’ compared to other kids, rather than let herself be fobbed off with ‘she’ll grow out of it’ until Diva was eleven and so almighty fucking miserable at school she came home and cried every. Single. Fucking. Day.

    So I think you rock, and I have got a cheerleading squad of two here (picture H in a short frilly skirt and bunches. Oh, go on, it’ll cheer you up immensely).

    • Oh God, I just have and it was terrific! Poor H, I feel like I’ve slightly abused him now!

      The Headteacher said just what you have when I bleated about Harry being So Much Improved since the SEN was drafted: BECAUSE he’s had support. He’s had specialist, tiny-teaching-ratio nursery education, combined with careful exposure to mainstream speaking peers. He’s had speech therapy. They’ve worked hard on his sensory and attention issues. He sees the orthotist every 2 months. She doesn’t want to see him sliding backwards, and she is naturally worried that 1 teacher to 15 three year olds is going to provide Nothing Like the kind of support he has thrived with.

      Harry, btw, really cannot tell the difference between b and d, and draws all his letters backwards…

      • He draws all of his letters! He’s 3! Sorry, I hate to be the pollyanna but it just slips out. I hope he continues to get all of the support he needs as he is clearly capable of outsmarting us all.

    • Well that cheered me up anyway!
      Agreed, if only they would look at it that way. We know Harry’s bright, that much is patently obvious. I really hope they can give him the support he needs.

  10. What a buggery f*ck of a mess. The one thing that jumped out of me as I was reading was “thank the lord that Harry has a mum like A”. I’m sure that the vast majority don’t have parents as well versed and sheer bloody minded to make ‘them’ sort it out to your satisfaction. For that I’m grateful.

  11. I have no doubt at all that you will prevail, even if it means biting big lumps out of LA representatives until they hand over all the money they have in the building and beg you to leave. But what IS shocking is the amount of fighting you have to go through just because you had the temerity to have a child that requires just a bit of special treatment. Bastard system.

    Don’t let the time pressure get to you. If the school is right, then it’s right and as long as you get him in, then even if he doesn’t start until next September, that’s OK. I live in the Netherlands and here going to school at 4 is entirely optional. It’s not until after they turn 5 that they have to go. An option I partially exercised with my own special snowflake, to take his prematurity into account and on the premise that actually he would be better off being grouped with slightly younger kids at least for the first couple of years, what with being tiny etc.

    So hang on and be as difficult as you possibly can!

    • Actually, John thinks Harry’s prematurity is still an issue (it is) and that he isn’t ready for writing-reading School yet (I’m not sure), and would very happily hold him back a year. Like you, we don’t HAVE to enter him until he’s 5 – but then he would have missed a whole year of playing alongside his peers.

      If it’s all seeming like too much for him, we can send him in part-time until he finds his feet. Assuming we can strong-arm him in at all.

      • Missing the playing is bad – but missing the reading/writing/sitting still/paying attention…..maybe not so bad?

        Here they have the system that the child can start as soon as they turn 4 (don’t have to wait for set intake times). If the child starts in the Autumn term, they will usually “move up” to group 2 the following autumn. That is when the reading/writing starts. Children who join around Christmas time are assessed individually, while children who come later automatically spend another year in group 1 with the lego/blocks/play teaching. My son fell into the individually assessed group and they have decided that he he should remain in group 1 next year. But the nice thing is that the group 1 and 2s are in the same classroom, so if his teachers feel he needs stretching a bit, they can include him in some group 2 tasks.

        Like John, the fact that he is premature has always been a big thing for me, and I’m always slightly paranoid about starting things too soon. Also I suspect that my little cherub WILL have some yet-to-be classified issues: his gnat-like attention span and inability to sit still are still apparently within normal 4 year old parameters, but my mommy-radar is beeping….

        What would be the “pre-school’ options for Harry, if you did decide to hold off on proper school for a year? Could you get him a year of pretty much pure socialisation with lego, but no actual lesson-y stuff?

        However this is not to say that you should hold back with the LA/school harrassment. Because he will start school sometime and all the ducks need to be lined up. Beat them into submission, get them to agree to funding (signed in their blood) and an assured place, THEN you can consider the when it all starts date!

        • Interesting for me as around here I think all the children start kindergarten at 5. 4 does seem a bit young. But I can see that you also want to keep him with his peer group.

          As for the larger picture I have no good advice… but it does seem like the ultimate in insult/injury (hmm, you didn’t get that one in!) that parents of children with extra educational needs have to spend so much time and energy battling for the services their children need. Rob Rummel-Hudson (Schuyler’s Monster) has written about this quite a bit and it never stops to be heartbreaking and frustrating even from afar. And that’s without those austerity measures (though perhaps we’ll soon have more of our own; we probably should…). I know that you are wily and a fighter and will do whatever you need to do. I just wish you didn’t have to.

          The silver lining (another worn aphorism for you there), I suppose, is that the internets are a fabulous help for those trying to negotiate the system. I am avidly reading the comments at Julie’s too, just to learn.

  12. Hmmm. Not impressed by the school either. Just because something is difficult and expensive and they operate in an area where they don’t have that many issues doesn’t mean they should get away with not doing it. They can’t possibly expect to keep their school SEN statement free on the grounds of budget, even if that is true. I am quite shocked, and I’m in the business too. I recommend leaning on them to lean on the LEA too, or at least find something leeway in their budget. If it is an affluent area, they (the school and the LEA) will have more money floating around than somewhere not so affluent because, although they might have less in the SEN pot, they’ll have more elsewhere as they don’t have to find money to upgrade the playground equipment from their own budget but can rely more on the Parent Groups to stump up (sort of thing) anyway. So not sure that their argument is really that good to be honest. Swings and roundabouts (what a pun) and all that.

    Of course, you are, though, but you sound guilty about it. This makes me cross (with the school). No guilt! Only righteous indignation!

    Of course, the LEA’s shortsightedness is also extremely irritating.

    Sorry you have to go through this.

    You know we can all go down there and picket if need be. Harry’d look great on a placard.

  13. WHY is everything such a battle?

    You will prevail. But what of the kids whose mother is not as mighty? It should not come down to the stuff a parent is made of, it seems to me.

    And, I am irritated on your behalf that people dismiss your concerns (confirmed by medical professionals) about Harry’s issues, just because THEY can’t see them. It’s fecking patronising. And if all goes as it should, and Harry has a smooth ride through school, it’ll be BECAUSE of the early invention he is getting now, and in primary. A fact they’ll never appreciate because, see? He’s fiiiiiine.

    Stitch in time, just like May says.

  14. I have not read all the comments and I may be speaking out of turn but…

    Nothing frightens an LA as much as the threat of legal action, it may be a bit premature (pardon the pun) to think of something like this but I know from professional experience what keeps the wheels turning quickly and possibly more sympathetically can be a solicitor writing letters!

    I even happen to know of a firm that are pretty scary should you need. Obviously it is swings and roundabouts to involving heavy handed tactics but it might be an option. Good luck!

  15. Oh for goodness sake, this drives me insane. Considering the hoops you had to jump through to get good provision just a few years ago (my friends went through this before the recession) the fact that it’s gotten worse is just ridiculous. I hope it works out in the best way for Harry in the end. I can’t imagine how frustrating this is for you right now.

  16. Totally agree with May’s comment… and having observed my Alex’s improvements over 9 months of preschool for special needs, she’s spot on.

    I feel your pain, bu do keep fighting for what you know is right for Harry and the rest of the school people will have to figure out how to provide him what they are legally obligated to… at least I hope.

  17. Does it ever get easier? Just reading this post exhausted me. If this was a documentary it’d be intercut with lionesses protecting their cubs. And so you should.

    One thing you didn’t mention though, and one thing that will stand harry in good stead for the rest of his life, is that as well as fighting for his school places and funding, you will be there every step of the way. Helping him develop and catch up where need be. I guarantee, by the time Harry is six you’ll be a practically qualified pysio & speech therapist.

    You are a champion amongst women.

  18. I am sorry to hear about all this after all you have been through.

    My sister and brother inlaw endured a long and repeated battles with the LA when trying to get their son’s educational needs met. The only thing that ever made a difference was having expert legal advice and representation.

    My nephew is much more disabled ( and therefore expensive) than Harry, so hopefully you won’t need it but I can let you have the name of the solicitor they saw if you’d like.

  19. As a secondary teacher – I’d really push for the Statement, it sets out what must be done, rather than waffly recommendations that can be ignored. However the budgets, the budgets, the budgets!

    Have you contacted SOS!SEN – or had a look at their website. It may give you more information/ammunition that you can use.

    Good luck!

  20. Whatever you decide you simply *must* be the squeaky-wheel. I taught for 15 years and it’s always *those* mothers who got what was in their kids best interests. Media?

  21. A friend of mine, scrutinising her child’s medical record, reading upside down (as one does) asked what the ‘HPV’ acronym meant. It stood for hyper-vigilant parent – a label we now both wear with pride. I welcome you, Anne to join the (not always) merry band.

  22. Incidence = how common it is – so if it’s not very common, I’m assuming the school isn’t expected to provide for it.

  23. HFF i am so impressed by the way you are fighting for the right thing for him. However, given he was supposed to be born when Pob was, and that she isn’t starting school for another year, are you sure it’s definitely the right thing to do to start him in school now, apropos John’s point? Couldn’t he stay at his lovely low ratio nursery and benefit from that for another year? I am not very convinced by your local school, tbh, seems they are so not keen that even a TA may not be enough to counteract them.

    Sorry I know perhaps I should just do supportive but I think you value independent thought??

    • I feel an (unsolicited) need to echo Thalia’s sentiment, and I also wonder if the supportive nursery and the benefit of having more time with his loving, ever attentive and gifted mum over the next year might actually continue to give him a boost academically in ways that an early year of traditional schooling will not. I’m in the “education business,” and there are plenty of ed researchers in the US who are worried about the long-term impact of the kind of precocious, premature literacy skills that Harry demonstrates (it seems a lot of these kids tend to get bored at around grade 3 and stop performing well in school). Given Harry’s actual prematurity, his literacy skills are extraordinary! (Yes, of course, there are many literacy researchers who are focused on results-based Head Start programs and other preschools). I point this out only to highlight how special Harry is.

    THAT was it!

    • The proverb, I mean.

      • I am so glad you said that, actually. It was bothering me, and it wasn’t even my tip-of-the-tongue!

        Interestingly, some of your proverbs were quite foreign to me. The butter/parsnips one in particular; it makes sense and I’d possibly heard it before, but I’ve never heard it used in conversation in my neck of the woods. (That latter may be an American colloquialism in turn?)

  25. I have never heard of this one! An oldie but goodie, no doubt.

  26. […] *boomingly* Well, it can only get worse! Still, one thing drives out another, and perhaps the failure or success of the current cycle will manage to distract me from the fact […]

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