Ah, Annual Reviews. Tra-la. The yearly revision of one’s child’s Statement of Special Educational Needs. Whoopee-doo.
The three ‘legs’ of an SSEN are the same as for any plan: principles (that children with extra needs should get extra support); strategy (definition of what needs are eligible and what support is required to meet them); and tactics (how the support to meet needs should be provided). In education, leg 1, principles, is solidly enshrined in legislation and statutory guidance. Legs 2 and 3 are the ones constructed out of devilish detail that provide the subject matter for near-endless argument between parents and public bodies, with the occasional bit of case-law as an island of reliable solidity in the shifting sands of negotiation.
Grenouille has a very good Statement. Acknowledgement once again to the wonderful IPSEA charity who were so helpful to us in getting it right. I did most of the leg-work, but they provided trained-volunteer and qualified-lawyer support, which kept me going when the going got hellish rough. Having a trained person to assure me that it wasn’t I, but the LA, who was way off-beam, and a proper barrister to bolster my barrack-room skills when I had a pre-Tribunal crisis of confidence, was beyond price.
Statements are portable. If you have to move, the new Education (Local) Authority may, if it chooses, review the Statement; but until it does, it has to continue to provide education and support in accordance with the existing document. However, although the content of a Statement was prescribed by statute and regulation, the format was only outlined; how authorities chose to write needs and provision into the required sections was up to the Authority. When we moved to Authority #3, their senior Special Educational Needs officer was clearly baffled by the very wordy format of Grenouille’s original Statement and suggested rewriting it in their concise, tabulated layout. However, when it came down to it, the rewriting seemed to involve preserving most of the boilerplate text and minimising the individualised stuff that it had taken me 22 months to get included, so I demurred.
The next big push from LA#3 came at the time of Grenouille’s Transition Review for the move to secondary school. Transition Reviews are done earlier in the year than routine ones. The senior SEN officer rocked up for the Transition Review, and we had a long and (I thought) positive meeting, at which it was (I thought) agreed that it wasn’t worth extensively rewriting the Statement given the then-imminence of Education Health and Care Plans, but that there would need to be some support-enhancing changes made in view of the extra demands that would be placed on G by the move to secondary school.
Version one of the proposed revised Statement contained nothing at all about support at secondary school and cut Grenouille’s existing support hours with immediate effect. It turned out that because the primary school had – erroneously – been providing the support hours from within their existing budget rather than making a special claim for them, the Education Authority had assumed that Grenouille didn’t need and wasn’t using said hours, despite the Statement setting out in exhaustive detail why and where they were required. Needs, schmeeds.
All power to the school: the SENCO went into overdrive and wrote a smouldering screed to the SENA unit, with the upshot that Grenouille’s secondary-school support hours were increased to full-time. Result.
Over the summer holidays, I still had to tackle the issue of transport (score 1 to Team G). Then it took the whole first term to get Grenouille’s therapies up and running, as the LA didn’t bother to note that they were Part 3 (educational) not Part 5 (non-educational) provision. Once again, an IPSEA recommendation – to threaten judicial review – did the trick (score 2 to Team G) but while I didn’t have to spend any money, the process was a long way from free of costs to me. And, of course, it cost Grenouille five months of therapy.
So you can probably see why Annual Reviews are not my Favourite Thing. This year, the SEN officer didn’t bother to come – Grenouille is not due to transition to an EHCP yet, so it was left to the school.
For those of you who haven’t done them personally, Annual Reviews involve asking all the interested parties – child, parents, school, therapists and Authority – for any contributions they would like to make. These can be written reports or oral submissions at the Review meeting. Grenouille used to get a sheet of A4 on which to write or draw ‘What I think is working well for me’ and ‘What I would like to change’, but this year, a PowerPoint was emailed home for completion, with slides headed:
Grenouille’s Personal Profile
What I Like Best About Myself
Important People In My Life
I Like To…
It’s Important To Me Now To…
To Stay Healthy and Safe, I …
What I Do If I Feel… (happy/sad/angry/frustrated/poorly/other)
before coming to
What’s Working For Me
What I’d Like To Change
What I’d Like To Do When I’m Older.
Grenouille discussed this with me and completed it over the course of a week or so. The ‘What I’d like to do when I’m older’ section contained three items: ‘Be a <chosen profession>. Do <two chosen hobbies>. Live in my own house and have a service dog’. G presented the PowerPoint at the meeting, but most of the questions about it were put to me.
Over the years, this has become a source of annoyance to me, (medical settings are especially bad for it), so I did my usual and referred the questions on to G: “Can you remember what we talked about when…?” “What did you say to me when I asked you…?” “What did you want me to do about…?” Never mind being self-directed, Grenouille is an absolute whizz at organising other people or at least, those who are prepared to listen (G has learned not to try to organise Eldest, who has a well-honed selective deafness routine). One of the other people at the meeting said, in tones of great surprise, “I’ve never heard before of someone having such detailed advance discussions of the Annual Review with their child like this,” a statement which I found quite as astonishing as they apparently found us.
I wouldn’t dream of telling Eldest what to think, although I’m happy to listen as he works out and puts meat on the bones of his ideas, and to explain where and why I agree or disagree with him. So why, why would I be any different with Grenouille?
When G was tiny, of course I felt responsible for all three legs of the Statement. I was pushing for the principle that Grenouille, even a non-verbal Grenouille, was entitled to the same educational chances as any other child, which meant working out what support was needed, and, as it turned out, advocating and monitoring to ensure the support was suitably provided. But G’s a teenager, not a toddler, now, and has internalised the principle that a normal, fulfilling life is everybody’s right. With a little scaffolding and structure, G is getting pretty good at strategy, too. Tactics will come, although I expect some sort of support will always be necessary to get the details right.
Perhaps the person in the review was right to be surprised, though. Statementing is supposed to be a collaborative venture between Authority, family, healthcare and school. Instead, it often feels more like a competition, a tug-of-war over provision, or a sort of bean-bag race between family and State to get resources chucked into the child’s or the Authority’s pot.
Next year, Grenouille will ‘be transitioned’ onto an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan). I am dreading it. I know in my bones that the LA won’t want to do a complete job. I have already been told that the practice is to ‘port’ Statement provisions into the EHCP, which will be fine by me for the E bit, but Grenouille needs the H and C parts, which don’t appear in Statements, to be done properly. The Plan will last Grenouille into the second half of the 2020’s, so I am not prepared to let something half-baked come out of the process.
So for next year’s Review Race, I am getting in training. Now that Grenouille is back at school, I’m about to start a Foundation course in current SEN law, and am hoping it will give me – and G – a good headstart when the starting-gun fires on the race to the EHCP. It will be against the clock, a sort of supermarket-sweep trolley-race. We have 20 weeks of ‘transition window’ in which to amass and fix in position as much as we possibly can of what Grenouille needs.
Wish us luck!