Tag Archives: special needs jungle

SPECIAL FREE SCHOOLS – ARE THEY WORTH IT?

30 Jun

I recently attended the “New Schools Forum” to gain some information about the setting up of Special Free Schools and to write what I had learnt into a report for the blog “Special Needs Jungle

Below you can find out just what I learnt from the forum!

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Is it worth the hassle (a 100+ page bid and one hell of a load of work) that comes with starting a Special Free School!

Well, there are many factors needing careful consideration as well as a number of different circumstances each need applying to. For example, Is the School already up and running, therefore requiring just “Free School” Status? This could apply to any school (independent & non-maintained) this excludes that of state schools who can instead apply to become Academies.
Maybe you are considering starting up a Special Free School from scratch. It may only exisit on paper or an idea in your head. Maybe its because there is a gap in SEN provision that needs filling, therefore an idea of a Special Free school makes sense.

So, as not to confuse anybody (as we all know these things can be mind boggling) I’ll therefore take this one step at a time and will try to be as clear as possible.

Firstly, What is a Special Free School?

A Special Free School is one that is funded by the Government yet run independently. So, you may ask how these are any different from independent schools? Independent schools are not reliant on the government for funding, instead these schools are funded by a combination of tuition fees, gifts, fundraising or in some cases income investments (for profit organisations). Non-maintained schools are normally ran by Not for profit charities approved by the secretary of state to take children with statements of SEN.

SO, What must a Special Free School Provide & how must it be run?

Provide education for children assessed as needing statements of SEN between the ages of 5-19 years of age.

Provide education to a minimum of 5 children

Only teach children with SEN or those being assessed as having SEN

Have Regard to the SEN Code of practice

Provide a curriculum that is one tailored to an individuals needs

Ran by an acedemy trust (Charitable trust/not for profit)

Admissions to Special Free Schools will continue to be made via the LEA who retain responsibility for assessing a childs SEN

Important factors…

Applications must only be made by those schools that are new (meaning ones not already funded by the state as already mentioned above)!

So… Who can set up a Special Free School?

Well, I should really rephrase the above question to, “Who can apply to set up a Special Free School?” Because the answer is just about anybody can, but this doesn’t mean to say your application will be approved!

This isn’t just a case of knowing that their is a gap in SEN provision (though it helps) groups of parents, charity groups ect… will struggle unless they have a member of their group who has strong knowledge of the education system (basically how to run a school on a senior level)! Head teachers and board of governors make a good starting block. From what I have heard, many parent groups have formed wanting to start Special Free Schools but due to their lack of knowledge on the running of a school (including costs) they have therefore fell at the first hurdle. This isn’t just a case of coming together, forming a group and filling in an application… No, it’s a lot more long winded than that.

Parents/groups/charity groups looking to apply to open Special Free Schools need to do there homework and should realise this isn’t the only option (setting up fully independent schools may be a better, if not slightly easier process). If wanting to apply to set up a Special Free School, groups should appoint a director(s) and as mentioned, preferably someone who has some inside senior knowledge on the running of a school and importantly the likely cost that come with it.

Writing the bid is also a far from easy task, this normally exceeds a 100 pages and no stone should be left unturned! Only then is there a chance you will make it to the “Interview Stage” The Governement has set up the New Schools Network which is there to help groups throughout the process and should really be your first port of call.
Understandably, given the state of the SEN system at present (the fact that there just isn’t enough special schools in most areas and the gaps in provision is huge) many groups, especially those consisting of parents of children diagnosed with SEN, will be looking into Special Free Schools. However, I feel that when looking more closely, they may well discover things are much more complicated then identifying the need for a school, finding a site and opening one! I’m not stating that people assume its easy, just it seems much harder than I first thought, plus it may not be all its cracked up to be (just read on to see where I’m going with this)!

So, what about that of already set up independent schools? Is it beneficial for those groups of applicants? It sounds so considering these will continue to be ran independently yet receive state funding to do so! What’s the catch? Of course like everything there is one!

Firstly I should start by stating that special schools that are already setup and established will not be provided with the “Start up funding” However, it should be noted that there are some exceptions, these being special circumstances such as expanding there pupil capacity but there is still no guarantees.

The next big factor is that of admissions. Once Special Free School status is granted to those independent schools, the LEA will have the right to make them take children with varying needs, ones the school claims not to cater for. Therefore this technically means that independent schools that for example only provide education for children on the autism spectrum, will maybe be made to take children with other needs, social emotional, more complexed SEN or varying disabilities. Actually for me this is a massive issue, one that would make me consider such a change much more carefully if I was making such a decision about an independent school.

My son is in an independent special school just for children with autism and aspergers. Its a school who teach in small groups and have quite high pupil to teacher ratios. I would honestly worry if it was to convert to that of Special Free School status. I’m not being selfish, I just feel that by admitting children outside this status of SEN may result in all children not having their needs met, not mentioning the school becoming over capacitated.
I also slightly worry that dependent on how many independent schools within my postcode convert to Special Free School Status, the local LEA may try to move my child in order to save money (his at an independent out of borough school).

So… with the bad points out of the way, is there any good ones! The only ones I can actually think of is that of the reduction in tribunal cases. It’s quite simple really… Independent special schools convert to Special free school then the number of parents bringing cases to the SEN tribunal will fall. LEA’s will be much more willing to now send a child to the school as it wont be charging the independent fees it once did. This would also mean that more children would possibly be educated within their borough. For me, neither outweigh the issue of admissions (this for me just creates worry).

Whoever you are, if a Special free school is something you are seriously considering their are important issues to consider. One of the biggest is that of the pending Green paper. I ask you, with SEN provision still up in the air, is now the right time to be making such huge decisions? The Green Paper will mean a complete SEN overhaul. This includes the scraping of the SEN Statement with the “Education, Health and social care plan” taking its place. Other factors include everything from the way a child with SEN is assessed, the funding a school will receive and the possibility of a personal budget. We don’t even know what the new education heath and social care plan will even look like and if the social care part will hold any legal and statutory duty whatsoever.

Can’t this government do one thing at a time, it makes no sense to me to open Special Free schools when the way such children are provided for remains so unclear.

OK… So heres the nitty gritty on the issue of Special Free School funding
Now, there is no set capital (not that anybodies letting on) this is therefore allocated on a project for project basis. The secretary of state must take into account the estimated or “potential” costs of each individual groups bid. As already stated there is no start up funding for existing schools, only new schools (special circumstances will be given consideration)!

Do your homework, this is a government funded scheme which will mean that they want to see low costs and good value for money!
Remember, the government is still consulting on long term funding for special schools. As it stands the interim funding arrangements put in place is to receive base funding level funding of 10k per place (note there may be additional funding from some LEAs dependent on an individual’s needs (SEN statement)! Well, lets be honest, 10k isn’t much, especially for a child with complex needs who requires a number of provisions put in place like SALT and OT given on a high level.

Lastly, special free schools like other free schools should receive a bog standard grant to compensate for services that state maintained schools recive from the LA.

If considering a Special Free School, remember these only cater for children aged 5-19. This is regardless of the pending education, health and social care plan which covers children aged 0-25! This therefore gives a clear indication that before the age of 5 and after the age of 19, it may well only be the social care side which applys (here’s hoping that has some type of statutory duty attached or otherwise what’s actually different)?

So, there you have it! I hope I didn’t confuse you!

Thanks to Tania (special needs jungle) for asking me to attend the New Schools Network forum which enabled me to write this report
Please visit the New Schools Network for detailed information and advice on Special Free Schools and Free Schools

Special Educational Needs-Getting Started With Statements

31 Oct


 I remember all to well what its like to come up against the system when you haven’t even got the slightest clue what the words “Statement” and “SEN” mean.

 I had to wise up fast, and I did! I learnt everything that needed to be learnt, because I knew I needed to for my child to get where he is now.

 Once I had wised up, I stated advising parents on their tribunal rights on a voluntary basis which is extremely rewarding. Yes, it was hard to learn education law as it applies to special educational needs but its given me great satisfaction.

 This is why I was keen to read the new parent to parent hand book,

 “Special Educational Needs, Getting Started with Statements” By, ‘Tania Tirraoro’ a mother to two autistic boys from Farnham Surrey.

 Tania’s aim is to help other parents navigate their way through the educational needs jungle.

 I’ve been a follower of Tania’s for the past 2-3 years, as like myself she writes her own blog and started around the same time as myself back in 2008. Some of you may all ready know of Tania’s work from her site “Special educational needs jungle” which I have always found to be a valuably resource for parents whom have children that are not only on the autism spectrum, but those of children with special educational needs (SEN) .

 Tania’s book is availably as an Ebook as well as a published paperback.

 THE MAIN STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

What’s particularly difficult when trying to explain the statementing process to another in way of written content, is the need to keep it simple (well, as simple as it can be when advising on a complex process such as SEN). Its my opinion that Tania has done this extremely well! She has broken up the procedure into sections and remained on topic within each area. I feel that many books and sites that are explaining the statementing procedure tend to wonder off course, making the reader quite confused.

 The forward within the book is by Maria Hutching’s SEN Campaigner and former parliamentary candidate who hand bagged Tony Blair during the 2005 election over the closure of special schools.

 Maria states how she only wished she had a book like this one when fighting for her own children’s education.

 This is followed by an introduction and then a description on what “Statementing” actually is. Parents who are new to the statementing process, should read this chapter in order to fully understand the book further. Tania has done a great job explaining what a statement is and why your child may require one! Readers are then introduced to some resources such as the ‘SEN Code of practice’ and the Education act, before reading a detailed chapter headed “Getting Prepared”

 The book then explains the who procedure in detail from start to finish, supplying real example from successful applications with the injection of relevant quotes from the ‘SEN Code Of Practice’ (Cop)

 Tania really does cover every step in great detail and is sure to warn parents that they shouldn’t expect an easy ride. Regardless of this fact, Tania is always sure to follow up on a positive, the book is extremely motivating, empowering parents to go with their instincts and not give up. The fact that the writer has been through the process and came out the other-side having got what her boys need to succeed in education, is truly uplifting and inspiring for the reader. I feel the use of material from successful applications was also extremely beneficial as well as uplifting and helpful. There was some great common examples were a case seemed a little doomed, yet succeeded. This shows parents that although the LEA do have these big fancy solicitors, that sadly most cant afford, they can still do it, on their own.

 This is very true as nobody knows our child better then us, the parent! I like the very honest and direct approach Tania has provide, there is no sugar coating, she doesn’t state it’s a walk in the park, which helps the parent/reader become fully prepared for what may lay ahead!

It is my belief that this is what parents need, the whole package, of what can happen, the good but also the not so good.

 Other helpful subjects Tania covered was of course the

I liked that Tania went a little deeper by covering the issue of relationships (between parents and school/sencos [special educational needs co-ordinator]) She explains why the break down of these relationships can  make it that bit more difficult when going through the process.

 One of the most impressive sections of the book for me, had to be the statementing checklist, that has made some excellent points. Like Tania states many parents feel their child’s needs are evident! This simply isn’t the case and parent needs to know this. I feel it is very common for a parent to assume that a diagnosis will automatically entitle their child to everything else. Parents are often shocked when they discover this isn’t the way in which it works.

 Tania covers everything from the writing of the application for statutory assessment; the refusal of that application; the application to appeal; the agreement to assess, the stages of the assessment and time-scales; the proposed statement; time scales; parental response and request for the school named in part 4, plus more.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS BOOK FROM ALL THE OTHERS

 I have read many books that are written by mothers of a child on the autism spectrum, however, most are personal stories that are not told in a way that offers advice and guidelines, it’s more like a life story you can relate to.

 The book,  “Special Educational Needs, Getting Started with Statements” still has that personal feel, after all it’s written by a mother of two son’s with autism who has fought the same system! Nonetheless its also a very well written resource and guideline for parents facing the same battles.

 What’s nice is the fact that Tania is providing a much needed service for fellow parents and is doing so as a parent and not a professional. This is something most parents of children with SEN prefer, advice from a parent not a professional. Sadly it gets to the stage when you feel fellow parents are the only valid source of information when you are going through such a process and battling against your very powerful Local Education Authority.

 What I found very appealing throughout the book, was Tania’s words of motivation, and having gone through the process myself, can verify that at this stressful time encouraging words are most welcome, you cling to any positiveness with both hands right till the very end.

 Tania has done very well to draw attention to some very interesting and important points, such as, “How a child’s social & emotional needs must be taken into consideration when requesting a statutory assessment” I myself hear all to often on my facebook page, many mothers stating, “They told me I can’t apply for a statement, as my son is too bright” (Ok, so it doesn’t matter that his social communication is so poor it makes them depressed, or the child can’t  cope at break-time etc., etc….) Tania very clearly wipes out these myths making the statementing criteria easy to understand.

WAS THERE ANYTHING MISSING

 I wouldn’t say that their wasn’t anything missing, however I would state that it would have been a nice touch to have added a little jargon buster (explanation of some of the terms used) Even though Tania has been excellent at keeping Jargon to a minimum, not all can be avoided, a little list would have just been nice, through not essential.

 From a parent who has embanked on such a journey, with that added pressure to secure an independent special school, who has succeed in both, I think the book is a spectacular resource that will benefit many parents and carers who are desperately trying to secure a statement of SEN for their child.

I highly recommend this book for those who have children going through the ‘Statementing Process’

If that’s you then fly over to Amazon and get yourself a copy either in the format of an Ebook or the traditional paperback

Click HERE

DO YOU WANT TO WIN A PAPERBACK COPY OF THE FABULOUS

“SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS-GETTING STARTED WITH STATEMENTS” ? 

Then enter our super comp

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS POP RIGHT OVER TO TANIA’S FACEBOOK PAGE, GIVE IT A LIKE AND TELL HER

“A BOY WITH ASPERGER’S SENT YOU TO SAY HELLO”

THEN LEAVE A COMMENT INFORMING ME YOU HAVE DONE!

(NOTE THE ABOVE IS A COMPLUSORY ACTION)

ADDITIONAL ENTRIES

(1) LIKE THE BOY WITH ASPERGER’S FACEBOOK PAGE. LEAVE ADDITIONAL COMMENT TO VALIDATE. 

(2) FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER (LINK IN SIDEBAR) LEAVE AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT TO VALIDATE.

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PLEASE LEAVE A TWITTER ID OR EMAIL ADDRESS SO PRIZE CAN BE SENT IN THE EVENT THAT YOU WIN.

Competition is for UK residents only! The competition willclose at Mid-night on the 30th November 2011

Winners will have 48hrs in which to respond, failure to do so may result in a redraw. You’re mailing address will be sent to the brands PR team who will then send our the prize for the lucky winner. All participants must have a valid email left with their comment.

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