Wednesday 15 June 2016

Autism is here to stay; where are the appropriate schools?

At last, the 'news' which we've been waiting for has come through. Most, if not all, of the Local Authorities (LA) who had been previously using the scandal-stricken law firm Baker Small have now released statements stating that they are terminating contracts and not using them for any future business.

If you've missed the news of late, you can read my last post Why Baker Small (BS) should be out of business tomorrow. One man, who should have known better, got carried away with his gloating tweets about cases involving parents of children with special needs. He obviously didn't realise what a strong community of SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) parents we are...

I mean, cute cat and all, but you can hardly say any of this was a laughing matter....

There's a great article in the Guardian in which it is suggested that any work which BS has lost representing LAs will be replaced with them representing parents.

I had to stop and read that part again. Seriously? A lawyer, who has openly shown his contempt for parents, now wanting to increase his work by representing those very parents? Even if his offer was to work for free, who in their right mind would want to work with him, knowing how little regard he has for the rights, moral and otherwise, of others? Can a leopard change its spots?

Here's the man himself talking on a radio show he phoned into.

LBC Radio Show chat with Mark Small

Contrived, much? What it does show, is that he has great knowledge in this area of SEND - shame he didn't use it for the good cause. It is all too true, as he says, that 'there is an absence of good quality autism provision'.

This is only the start of wider discussions to make the system fairer though. Maybe we should be a little bit thankful to Baker Small for making this whole issue so public. This system which leads to families of children with additional needs having to go to Tribunal, and face both emotional and financial breakdowns to secure appropriate provision, obviously needs a major shake-up. This is where the hard work begins to ensure that happens.

It's vital now that we go back to the start, to look at what the true needs in each county are, in order to ensure that there is appropriate educational provision for every child. Our county currently pays for around 259 children to be educated in schools outside of this county - a shockingly high number, which begs the question that if a school elsewhere can work with these children, why can't the schools we have in county? What makes those out-of-county schools different/better? Are they smaller, do they have autism bases attached, are they specialist autism schools? What needs are they catering for which aren't met here? I am pretty sure that if I thought our girl could face the travel, I'd be going to Tribunal to fight for her to attend the amazing Limpsfield Grange school. It's not an option for us however. Why can't that type of establishment be offered in our county?

It doesn't seem like rocket science to me; we all understand that there is a finite amount of money and resources but maybe there should be an admission that the money is not currently being spent in the right places. The money saved from this contract not being carried forward should not simply be transferred to another solicitor's firm to carry on dragging families through Tribunal. It should be redirected to making sure that there are appropriate establishments for all, including those children who cannot cope in mainstream.

Most people accept that big changes will not happen overnight, but there do need to be clear plans in place to make sure that EVERY child is catered for and that there is no discrimination. Watch this space.

As a sideline, the last few days have clearly shown that parents do have power when they unite for a common cause, and that social media can be a great benefit for those who use it in a good way. Take note, BS.