by Ellen Power, author of Guerrilla Mum: Surviving the Special Educational Needs Jungle.

It is already half term, and the end of the school year seems to be a long way off, as we plunge into a series of cold wet days. However, in terms of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and statements of SEN the school year is approximately one sixth over. This is time we can never get back, and children with SEN need each half term to really count.

What am I getting at? To put it bluntly any help or support indicated in your children’s statements, and at any IEP or statement review that might have taken place at the beginning of term should now be in place.

I say this as a parent who had to ‘nag’ teachers to put in place the things they had promised they would do, and who waited in vain for equipment agreed under the terms of a statement to be provided. These are common experiences. It is easy to feel like a ‘nag’ when you know you have asked a teacher three times why something that has been agreed upon is not happening, and you both know that the reasons given for this inaction are wearing a bit thin. It may not be their fault, but remember why you are doing this. It’s your child’s future that is at stake and if you don’t keep on top of things nobody else will.

The reality is that in the current financial climate, all schools have been really worried about cuts and have been trying to make everything stretch further. I have heard of children being given extra teaching in ever larger groups because not so many TAs have returned to school this year. Children with statements calling for them to have individual TA support in class are ‘buddied up’ so they can be sent to lessons with one TA between more than one child, rather than the individual TA support that their statements call for. This may work fine for some children, but not for others. For example, if your child needs a TA to take notes, or to act as a scribe for them, how can they effectively do this as well as meeting the needs of another child? It can’t be done. Although we all want to be reasonable and to understand the straitened circumstances in which schools have to work this year, we must also keep in mind the bottom line: we have all negotiated so hard for our children’s IEPs and/or statements to make the provision they make and we should accept nothing less from them.

How do we ascertain that our children are still receiving the help to which they are entitled? If they are able to tell us, we can ask our children what happens in their lessons at school. I know we all ask our children ‘what happened at school today?‘ but it is worth gently probing to ask what TA was with them in a particular lesson and who else they were working with. It’s not an interrogation; it’s a useful starting point to make sure they are receiving the help they need.

Get out the statement and/or IEP and check them to remind you about what should be happening. Does your child share a TA when an individual TA is called for? Are they still having speech therapy? Did they have their extra maths session? Has lunch and break time TA support been set up? Talk to your child’s teacher and ask how your child is doing and if they have made progress. How has this progress been measured? Look at their school work to see what marks they are getting and to see if their work is improving.

If when you look inside your child’s school books you see blank pages, or work that is consistently incorrect or unfinished, then things are not going as they ought, and you need to review what the school is doing with your child’s teacher and Special Educational Needs Coordinator. Remember, your child’s statement is only as good as the provision in it, and then only if that provision is delivered.

I am sad to say that unfortunately it is likely to be those children whose needs are being met under the graduated response, who are on School Action or School Action Plus, who will be most likely to be let down by the cuts. It is much more difficult to ensure that this help continues to be given within the parameters of the Graduated Response. Schools are required by law to implement the provision in a statement but those on the Graduated Response do not yet have this protection.

Please remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: ‘don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters’. When you make an enquiry about anything to do with your child’s schooling, do so in writing. It is always handy to keep the reply in case you need to forward it on up the ‘chain of command’ to get things done. So many parents of children with SEN are just grateful to get any provision for their child that they feel embarrassed about pushing school staff for answers, especially when we know that schools budgets may be reduced. However, whatever the economic state of the nation, try to remember this: our children get extra help because it is necessary to allow them to access the curriculum in the same way as other pupils. It is our job to make sure this happens.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Want to hear more from ‘Guerrilla Mum’?
Tune in to hear Ellen Power on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour programme on November 5th between 10 AM and 10.45 AM (GMT)!

And check out her interview series on the JKP Blog!
Part 1: My Transformation from mild mannered parent to…GUERRILLA MUM!
Part 2: Picking your battles in the fight to have your child’s special educational needs met
Part 3: Where does SEN fit into the academies and free schools models?
Part 4: How to create an educational system that fully meets the needs of children with SEN
Part 5: My Top 5 Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Children with SEN

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