Inclusion Now 55

Education, Health and Care Plans

Coventry based disabled young person’s collective, the RIP:STARS, report back on giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee.

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Coventry based RIP:STARS disabled young persons collective

A generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is failing to receive the support it deserves, say the Education Committee in its report on SEND. We know that – we feel it – we see it happening in our schools and colleges and we researched it. We are the RIP:STARS, a group of disabled young researchers aged 16 – 23 based in Coventry. We were funded by DRILL/Big Lottery to undertake disabled young people-led research into quality and rights in Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

In December 2018 we published our research findings, based on interviews and discussion groups with disabled young people, parents and professionals from across the country. Since then, we have been travelling the country disseminating our research, and our person-centred, rights and quality framework for SEND practice to nearly 1000 professionals. We haven’t yet met anyone that doesn’t agree that change is needed in how we view disabled children and young people and how we support them, especially if we are to achieve inclusion. The report and framework for practice can be downloaded for free from the RIP:STARS website

Back in early 2019, we received a call from the Education Select Committee inviting us to present our research evidence as part of their SEND Inquiry. We jumped at the chance as we thought this might be a way to really achieve change.

We know that our experiences of the education system have been poor, we have experienced many moves in education, not received the support we should have and have felt excluded, isolated, voice-less, powerless, angry, and sad. We know that we can’t ever get that time again – but if we can change just one child’s experience then we will.

So on March 19th 2019, we went to Parliament. We spoke about our rights, as human beings, to an inclusive education that meets our needs and supports us to achieve a full life, now and in our futures. We felt welcomed and listened to by the MPs, we enjoyed our day at Parliament and came away hopeful that maybe – just maybe – somehow we might have made a difference.

On October 23rd 2019, the Commons Education Select Committee published their report:
Education Committee Report: Education, Care and Health Plans

It was long but we ploughed through it, looking at every recommendation. We were proud that our voices, our research evidence was in there – we had been heard and so it appeared had the other two groups of young people who had presented that day. Ok, so they didn’t go so far as to acknowledge our rights arguments, but there we were in black and white:

“There should be someone there to ensure that this child and children like this get what they deserve and what is needed for them to have the best future, and are not tossed aside and forgotten about in the system.” Jordan, RIP:STARS

We agreed with the report that there needs to be a change in the culture of schools and colleges to meet the needs of disabled young people, and also recognise their rights to involvement in decisions about their lives – to stop viewing the EHCP as just another paper document, but see it as a stepping stone for the young person’s life. This way disabled young people will get what they deserve. We feel that professionals need to adopt person centred practice and put the young person at the centre of their plan or support, it should be the young person’s plan with the professional’s advice not the professionals plan.

We were pleased to see that the report recognised the hundreds of thousands of children and young people without an EHCP but who also need SEN support. We argued that if people do not require an EHCP then they should be told why and still be given the support needed in order for them to succeed in life, otherwise we feel that professionals are setting disabled young people up to fail.

We were excited to see that they had listened to us, and we are sure many others, who said there had been too much emphasis on the young person’s educational achievements and not what they would like to get out of their lives. We argued that there needs to be more support for disabled young people to achieve their dreams and ambitions, and professionals need to take more time to discuss these instead of looking at their achievements from an educational perspective.

Our own experiences of SENCOs has been hit or miss, so we agreed with the recommendation that all schools should have a properly trained SENCO to support students. We feel that it is fairly obvious to have this in every school, because students need and deserve to have a member of staff who is especially trained to support those with SEND. Schools should have a designated professional for disabled young people to speak to should they have any concerns regarding their EHCP or school in general.

We could go on… the report was over 100 pages long with 38 conclusions and recommendations. Robert Halfon MP stated:

“We need to end this major social injustice, one which affects children and their families, particularly those who are not as well equipped to navigate this bureaucratic maze. Of course, extra funding for SEND announced in the spending round is welcome but the truth is that more cash will fail to make a difference to children with special education needs unless there is a radical change of approach throughout the system. The DfE cannot continue with a piecemeal and reactive approach to supporting children with SEND. Rather than making do with sticking plasters, what is needed is a transformation, a more strategic oversight and fundamental change to ensure a generation of children is no longer let down.”

We learned about parliamentary process and that the government has 60 days to make a response to the report. We understood that this was delayed by the General Election in December. We understand that the government has called for a further review of SEND and set up a SEND System Leadership Board, we understand that they have released some money for children who need high levels of support. But we also understand that this is a cop-out, kicking the issues into the long-grass, call it what you want. Many of the recommendations of this Inquiry, and many, many other reviews and reports have stated what needs to change and how. We as the generation who have been failed still feel failed as we note on the SEND Inquiry website – ‘Awaiting Government Response’ some five months later. Please do not fail those who are coming now behind us.

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Eva, Heidi, Vandana, Ben, Jordan, Tom