Review of the Conference – Towards a Positive Future – 14th October 2011 by ‘Special Needs Mum’ Tania Tirraoro and orginally published on her site ‘Special Needs Jungle’Posted in Events, Towards a Positive Future Conference on 10/20/2011 12:26 am by Janet
The event was held at the Mary Hare School for hearing impaired children near Newbury. The school does inspirational work in providing an education for its pupils, helping each through individually designed hearing equipment. As a non-maintained state school, the school’s head, Tony Shaw, said they are ‘not considered to be part of inclusion’ and have had their funding cut by central government. This, despite the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, himself having a sister with a hearing impairment.
The school has had to diversify to survive, establishing an ear mould lab that services the NHS. Despite this, Mr Shaw says they never forget what they’re there for. He said, “At the core are the children we have the passion of serving.” It’s a sad fact that, in the politics and cost-cutting of government both local and national, this message is too often overlooked.
Another speaker was Kevin Geeson, CEO of Dyslexia Action, who talked about the opportunities and risks of the Green Paper. He highlighted concerns about the assessment of hidden disabilities such as dyslexia in that it may not be picked up early enough and the question of who will control the personal budgets given to children to provide for their SEN. Mr Geeson said the Green paper brought an opportunity to provide the proper skills and support for teachers to include all children in the curriculum. He said, “Good teaching for children with hidden disabilities is good teaching for all.”
Education solicitor, Inez Brown of Anthony Collins solicitors, set out the legal framework and funding of special needs and pointed out the problem with parents appealing against SEN decisions for children at the new Academies because the Academies do not fall within the Education Act. She also pointed out that the Green paper removes speech and language and occupational therapy out of educational provision – something every parent of a statemented child should be aware of. This means that the local authority cannot be challenged about these things at a Tribunal.
The conference also heard from internationally acclaimed academic, Professor Heather Van Der Lely who has developed an early-identification test for dyslexia called GAPS. The professor pointed out that seven per cent of children have a specific language impairment – seven times the incidence of autism. She is trying to bring about the widespread use of GAPS which, she says, is quick, efficient and highly accurate. The crucial issue is, of course, that there are not enough Speech and Language Therapists to help all those that the test could identify.
Former Head Teacher, Charlie Mead is a consultant Child and Educational Psychologist, advising schools, the NAS and health and prison services about working effectively with young people with complex needs. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of helping children with special needs and makes the analogy of how the system is like an egg timer – with all the resources at the top not being able to filter down to those who need them at the bottom – ie, children. He spoke of how he had introduced nurture groups to a school in Birmingham where children with special needs were taught, mainly in the same classroom without the need to move around the school and given the help they needed, and how this had greatly improved their outcomes and allowed them to participate and be included within the mainstream of education. This is a fascinating idea that, with a some effort and will, could be adopted by every school in the country. It deserves greater public attention than it so far seems to have had.
One form of ‘hidden disability’ is that of acquired brain injury – that is, an injury not present at birth that occurs by illness or accident during childhood. Often these injuries present in a similar manner to developmental disorders. Every year it is estimated that at least 50,000 children and young people acquire a brain injury. Often, it is not until some time after the injury that a connection is made between a behavioural or learning deficit in the young person and the injury or illness that previously occurred. Research shows that 50% of those in custody have some kind of ABI. Louise Wilkinson, Training Manager of the Child Brain Injury Trust spoke at the conference of the issues faces by people with ABI. Her charity has been working to educate teachers on how to deal with such children. The charity is holding a conference in 2012 on the issue.
Finally, conflict resolution & NLP coach, Ian Ross and Lynne Kerry of Vievolve held a session about how to approach and deal with conflict and negotiations. They explained how to negotiate on ‘interests’ rather than ‘positions’ and how to maintain your cool when involved in a difficult discussion. One of the pieces of advice was to put yourself in your ‘opponent’s’ shoes and think what they are thinking. The company offers NLP coaching to businesses and individuals and has a number of courses at its South Oxfordshire venue coming up.
The site for the conference, where a DVD of the presentations will soon be available to purchase can be found here: http://www.wordswell.co.uk/conference/. Another event is being scheduled for next April.
All in all there was great concern over what the future for special needs might bring. It is clear that the green paper is far from perfect and that changes will need to be made. But it is heartening that there are plenty of people who are concerned with SEN that do not forget that the child is at the heart of everything. It is impossible to ignore the fact that money is always an issue, especially in these times, but our priority must surely be with the most vulnerable and childrenwith special needs are undeniably that.