Faceplant at the First Hurdle

It was a sunny afternoon and I was pushing SP on the swings in the park. My phone rang. “Hello, this is ****, EHCP Coordinator from the Council.” Ah, marvellous! I’d been trying to get hold of **** for more than a week after she’d left me a voicemail message after 4pm on a Friday requesting a callback, knowing that she’d be unavailable for the next 11 days. (Ah, but I forget that SEN parents aren’t meant to have lives and jobs and are meant to be available for the merest hint of communication from the other side at all times.) The six-week deadline for a response about a decision to assess for a plan had already been and gone by 3 weeks, so the extra 11-day wait wasn’t the best way to start. We’d stumbled out of the blocks.

As it happens, a delay was the best part of the process.

****: “So, as you remember from our previous conversations…err…no*….so you remember, you requested an assessment for SP.”

*We’d had no previous conversation. It seemed **** was the one who had needed memory prompts.

Me: “Yes.”

****: “We’ve decided not to assess him.”

Me: “Whaaat?!”

****: “We’ve decided that as SP is due to change school setting there’s insufficient evidence that he won’t be able to cope in mainstream school. The school will have to prove that they can’t meet his needs. It’s their duty to meet them. If they can’t then we’ll reconsider assessment.”

Even requesting an assessment is no easy task. The nursery SENCO and I completed pages and pages of detailed information about SP’s needs and areas of difficulty. We attached every report going, those from his autism assessment to more than a year’s worth of IEPs showing that he wasn’t meeting even individually-tailored targets. How is that insufficient evidence?

****: “But that was at the nursery. With a rigorous transition the school will be prepared for his needs.”

Me: “But it’s the start of the summer holidays. It’s too late for any more transition and the school have already said that they don’t feel they can meet his needs in the long term.”

****: “Well, they have to. They’re breaking the law otherwise.”

But the point of assessing SP for a Plan was so that the school would know how to meet his needs. The level of support to be provided would be in black-and-white. Everyone would know where they stood. And SP could hit the ground running at school. If you’re already in a disadvantaged position you don’t want to start on a back foot. That was the whole point of our timing! And now it was being held against us! 

The following paperwork that confirmed ****’s decision stated that SP has profound and long-term needs. Although off-the-scale academically, SP’s social skills and personal development are around the same level as an 18-month/2-year-old. Would you expect a toddler to suck up a full mainstream school day  every week day during term time without additional support??! 

I was getting nowhere with **** on the phone though and I felt unprepared. A Local Authority advisor had looked at the application before it was sent off. It was a shoe-in. Literally, the last words I’d had from the nursery SENCO was “Don’t worry – there’s no way SP won’t get a plan. Everything will be fine.”

Never mind not getting a Plan; we weren’t even getting an assessment for a Plan!

Me: “How long should I wait if I feel the school aren’t meeting SP’s needs and I want to apply again?”

****: “We’d recommend two IEP cycles, so that the school has a chance to rectify things if they aren’t right from the off.”

So that’s 1) a wait for an initial IEP to be written (which, let’s face it, won’t be done straight away). Then 2) we wait for a bumpy transition and a look at how things can be improved. And then 3) when SP has decided school is awful because everyone’s making it up as they go along and everything keeps changing and there’s no regular, reliable support, when the teacher’s at breaking point and the other kids in the class are being affected by SP’s behaviour, then – then! – we can start the process again?!?!?!!!! Even if he then gets accepted as needing a Plan without going to Tribunal or haggling over the details of the draft (all of which, let’s face it, are going to happen if the tales I’ve heard of a responsibility-shirking Local Authority are to be believed) then that’s the first year of SP’s life at school written off. 

The 2014 Children & Families Act states that all children have the right to be enabled to reach the same educational milestones as their peers. How is delaying support for children whose attainment is already delayed helping achieve that?!

I feel deflated yet livid. How can people who’ve a) not met my child and b) not seen the environment he’ll be going into decide that he’s not entitled to his legal rights because they need to see that a suck-it-and-see approach needs to fail first? We can appeal and we will. Jeffrey Julmis is my inspiration. We’ve face planted at the first hurdle, but we’re going to get up and finish this goddam race, even though it’d be easier just limp off the track, defeated.

But at least Julmis wasn’t told he had a set time to complete the course…and then found that someone had built a brick wall in front of the finishing line. Mind you, like Julmis, a wrong move could disqualify us.

We have two months in which to appeal. Two months that includes most of the six weeks summer holidays. A summer holidays when we can’t see SP in his school setting to complete assessments, when we can’t get hold of professionals who can help and can’t even get a reply from the school acknowledging that they’ll put in a referral that I’ll need to strengthen our case. (The Council didn’t even think the school might want to know that SP’s assessment request has been turned down and only thought to cc the nursey into their decision letter.) I’m sure helping find evidence to boost an appeal will be the last thing SP’s new teacher will need as soon as the term starts too, what with having settle 30 newbie 4-year-olds into their first days at school and all!!!

I’m going to keep hurdling, however. Even with a Local Authority that want to keep all of the gold medals. Watch out, County Council – I’m coming after you!!!



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