Friday, 28 May 2010

Statements & Annual Reviews

I don't know about any other parents, but the prospect of each annual review meeting at my daughter's schools used to fill me with dread. It is quite intimidating to be faced with a room full of professionals with the sole intention of discussing your child's future. It's just a job to them, but it is a huge responsibility for the parent and the thought of things going awry was always in my mind.

However, having worked as an LSA with three children with Down's and a fourth coming up, I have seen the annual review from the other side as well. We do have the child's best interests at heart, honestly!

You will probably be faced with the Head Teacher, your child's teacher, the school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), the LSA/LSAs, a speech therapist, an educational psychologist, an occupational therapist and any other professional that has a vested interest. Generally, as your child gets older, the amount of professionals thins out and it is usually only the ones with relevance that show up. Reports are submitted by all professionals beforehand and you will be given copies of these to read before attending the meeting.

Parents are given the opportunity to submit a written contribution as well, and it is well worth doing this. You can write what you are happy with over the past year's schooling, what you are unhappy with and what you would like to see happen for the coming year. Bear in mind that generally, the parents have the last word on their child's education. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the meeting and the resulting statement, you are entitled to appeal and even go as far as tribunal. This happened recently when a child's statement came under 'Down's Syndrome' and 'global delay' (which means all development is delayed) rather than a 'speech' statement which was what was needed in order for this child to receive the extra speech therapy he desperately needed. Under a 'global delay' label, the child would not receive the same funding he would receive for a 'speech' label. The parents went to appeal and then on to start tribunal proceedings at which point the LEA (Local Education Authority) backed down and changed the statement criteria.

At the review meeting it will be decided where your child will be over the coming year - this may be as simple as the next class up or may involve a change of school. You will learn who will be your child's teacher and LSA, and what provisions will be put in place for the coming year. Anything which is included in the first part of the statement MUST be implemented by the school and LEA. Anything which is in the second part is a recommendation only. Ensure that all important provisions are in the first part of the statement.

If your child has Down's Syndrome, speech therapy will always be a bone of contention - not from the school but from the LEA. Another tricky one is the amount of hours of help your child receives at school - always push for as many hours as you can, because the LEA will try and wriggle out of paying for these. Back when my daughter was in mainstream school, Down's Syndrome came under the heading of 'low incidence' which meant there were only a few children with this condition in mainstream schools and therefore they received full funding from the LEA - this means a one-to-one LSA all day every day.

Then over the years, more children with Down's went to mainstream schools and the government realised that they were paying more than they wanted to, so Down's was changed to 'high incidence' - which means the child is still entitled to the same amount of allocated hours help, but that the actual school has to pay for it. Naturally, not all schools are willing or able to pay another full-time wage out of their budget, so the help is split between existing members of staff - classroom assistants, teachers etc. This is not always satisfactory for the child concerned.

After the annual review meeting, you will receive a draft copy of the statement for the coming year to approve and sign. If there is anything you need to query at this point, do so. The final draft will then go off to the LEA and you will receive your copy after a few weeks.

The main thing I have learned as a parent about these meetings is that you should never be too scared to put forward your opinion - it is YOUR child's future that is under discussion. I wish I had known it was possible to contest the meagre amount of speech therapy my daughter received via the LEA - her schools did the best they could but with only a twice yearly visit from a speech therapist allocated to her, more could and should have been done by the LEA.

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