Last Thursday I was sitting, talking to a woman at the drop-in centre I facilitate for parents with children with SENs. Her son, aged 14 and currently out of school, was playing with duplo on the floor nearby. He hasn’t been labelled as a school refuser, but hasn’t been in school this term, and previously he was refusing to co-operate with teachers or absconding from the school site. He has diagnoses of Aspergers and Dyslexia and currently has a reading age of 6 according to the psychological assessment done recently as part of his statutory assessment of SEN.
I first met this woman, I’ll call her Pam, a couple of months ago. She arrived at the drop-in very concerned about her son and adamant that he was not going to go to the school she understood the local authority were going to recommend for him. She knew he was being assessed for a statement, but she had very little understanding of the process, or what actions she could take to help him get an appropriate placement. Over the weeks, we have seen Pam become less angry and defensive and more prepared to listen to suggestions as to how she can build a case for placement at a school she thinks would be appropriate for her son. She has visited a number of schools and seen the range of options – and also found a school which her son would be happy to attend.
On Thursday, Pam arrived at the drop-in with the proposed statement. It could have been better written, but she had spoken to the SENCO at her son’s school and they had agreed it was probably OK. She had also spoken to the two schools, she did not want her son to attend, but she felt the local authority would be recommending. One had been very clear that it was not a good idea to admit a new pupil to an established group of students with special needs in the middle of Year 9. The other was clear that they could not offer the boy anything more than his current school had been able to. Both schools agreed to email the local authority saying they would not be an appropriate placement. She had also obtained a letter from her son’s psychiatrist to say that he needed to be in a specialist setting with staff who understood his conditions and his needs.
I suggested to Pam that she phone the local authority to check if they had received the emails. They said they had had no communication, but there was a panel meeting that afternoon when the boy’s placement would be discussed.
There was little else we could practically do, but Pam agreed to email me on Friday when she heard the results of the panel meeting. We also agreed that it would be appropriate for her to ask for a meeting to discuss school placement, if the local authority were still adamant about which school the boy should attend. It was while talking about the possible meeting, that Pam showed her concern. “I’m only a parent. They are all officials and I don’t know how to talk to them.” Pam had articulated the very reason why the drop-in had been set up. As another parent, and as somebody who has been through the whole SEN process, I understand how she feels and how much she needs support, and how much she feels wrong decisions are being made for her son. I want to step in and accompany her to meetings and tell the local authority how ridiculous they are being. At the same time, I want to enable and equip her to make her own case to the officials and realise that she can do it and that she is far more than “only a parent”, but a woman who can use newly developing skills to present her son’s needs.
In the end, I assisted her to write a letter – she is perfectly capable of writing letters, but needed the right turn of phrase to address the officials. At least she is using email now – when I asked her to email something to me a couple of weeks ago, she looked terrified. On Friday, Pam emailed me to say the local authority are still wanting to send her son to the school she regards as totally inappropriate. She had asked for a meeting and was waiting to hear when that might be.Next Thursday, I will see her again and we will talk about her preparation for the meeting and who she might take with her, either to help her to present her case or simply to take notes and support her. How much more than “only a parent” Pam is having to be as she learns knew skills and sets about supporting her son to get the education he needs and deserves.