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25 Oct 2013

Half Term Treats

Half term – Hooray! With luck we can get in a few extra sessions with the tutor, sign up for a revision class, practise reading aloud/piano/ballet/backflips/the twelvetimestable/French verbs and learn The Periodic Table. Then there’s drama camp/football camp /gym camp / maths camp/sailing camp and camp camp.

Or we can lie around, chat, watch TV together, maybe play a game or three, chat some more, cook a meal together, listen to music together, play another game, build a den, learn how to knit/solder/play chess/wire a plug/make candles/bake a banana cake – together.

Or not.

24 Oct 2013

Just Not Good Enough

I have been dealing recently with two Advice Service clients. Both, as it happens, are parents of sixteen-year-old boys; both boys are autistic.


The first boy – we’ll call him Nicholas – is an able mathematician. He has been educated at private schools all his life. His parents were able to afford to have him assessed speedily as soon as problems emerged when he was very young. He was seen by an educational psychologist who made various recommendations and this has been reviewed and updated on a regular basis since. Nicholas has had individual classroom and small group support plus one-to-one help when needed. He has a Statement of Special Educational Needs which entitles him to more time and various aids in his GCSEs.

A delightful boy

We are now looking for a small, nurturing school for Nicholas, with an appropriate range of A levels and vocational courses for him combined with the support he needs to help him manage his social relationships and difficulties which can be quite severe. The independent schools I have spoken to are warm and welcoming. They can, they tell me, meet his needs and would be pleased to have him. “He sounds a delightful boy,” I am assured. And, in fact, he is. I have every confidence that Nicholas will be well taught at one of these schools and he will, eventually, gain the place at university his abilities merit.


Oliver – not his real name – is probably brighter than Nicholas. He was able to count to 100 at two and knew his tables by four. He was building technical Lego at five.

Reading was slow, conversation much slower. This was probably due to his having undetected ‘glue ear’ for three years which greatly delayed his development in various ways.

His mother knew from when he was around eighteen months that Oliver wasn’t quite ‘right’. The nursery he attended found him unresponsive and hard to handle and it was worse at primary school. By the time he was six, his behaviour at school was becoming increasingly bizarre. He was on School Action Plus but this did not result in extra help. His teacher said she couldn’t control him; he was inattentive, noisy and wouldn’t concentrate.

Whose responsibility?

He was referred to an Educational Psychologist who identified numerous learning difficulties, said he should have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SSEN), recommended Speech Therapy and various other interventions. The SSEN never materialised despite Oliver’s mother querying and requesting it over the next four years until Oliver moved schools. The various therapies and aids never arrived. His school records, assessments and all were lost between his primary and secondary schools. No-one took responsibility for Oliver’s learning and his inattentiveness, behaviour and aggressiveness worsened. His mother became seriously depressed and had to give up her job. The family’s finances – never robust – became strained.

Outstandingly able

The secondary school assessed Oliver and found him ‘outstandingly able’ in several areas. They also said he was autistic or maybe had ADHD. Still no SSEN emerged from this diagnosis. So no additional support was found for Oliver. Without this support, his school felt they couldn’t meet his needs and he moved schools again two years later. Once again, all his school records were lost in the transfer.

Oliver began to fight boys who teased him at his new school. Despite the school’s assuring her that Oliver had an Individual Education Plan, there was no evidence of it and Oliver’s subject teachers knew nothing about it. Instead, his mother received almost daily complaints about Oliver’s bad behaviour, lack of concentration and ‘serious underachieving’. He was in detention several times a week.

Too expensive?

Oliver is now threatened with exclusion. His school tells his mother that this is a great pity as Oliver is so able and could do well if he would settle down and behave.

Oliver’s mother has sought advice from various agencies and has now come to us.

We are doing all we can to help her. But we wonder why Oliver’s educational experience has been so very different from Nicholas’s. And we cannot help but fear that the lack of care and expenditure on Oliver during his schooldays will prove a very expensive drain on social services and, possibly even the criminal justice system, for the rest of his life.

16 Oct 2013

SEN and SENsitivity

We expected our new SEN Service to strike a chord with parents but we did not expect quite the collective sigh of relief that has been cooling our phone lines this week.


It seems that parents are desperate for – well, for just what we can offer them – five highly experienced, expert advisors – all of them parents themselves – who know just what it takes to get a child with difficulties – big or small – into the right school.

A child’s potential

Many schools these days have admirable support for children with special educational needs. SENCOs are on the ball, hard-working and assiduous in ensuring that their colleagues understand the individual needs and learning styles of individual pupils. But, as all too many families know, it is not this way everywhere. Far too many schools pay lip service to ‘Learning support’, keep lists and do little. Far too many local authorities do everything to block anxious parents’ access to the help and support to which their children are entitled. Far too many children with, perhaps, less obvious needs than those of a, now commonplace, bright dyslexic child, get the rapid assessment, diagnosis and recognition that they must have if they – like everyone else – are to fulfil their potential.

We understand

So – we have launched our SEN Service. Our advisors offer knowledge, experience and expertise to individual families. Perhaps, more importantly, they will listen, they will understand and they will be on your side. Already, we have parent after parent saying what a relief it is to talk to someone who knows what it’s like.

We can help with practical matters – who to talk to about what, when and with what preparation. And we can tell you about schools you may never have heard of. And we will understand what it feels like to stop banging your head against a wall.

Call us: 0203 286 6824. Email us: See the website:

to check out just what we offer you.

You are not alone.

Your child – nothing matters more

09 Oct 2013

Making SENSH of it all

The Good Schools Guide Edcuational Consultants is advising more and more families with one or more children who have a Special Educational Need. There are multiple agencies, charities and support groups out there but, for whatever reason, parents are coming to us in the hope that we can help them negotiate the complex and tricky terrain that their children’s education seems to be.

And, in most cases, we can. We have a team of five wonderfully knowledgeable, dedicated and compassionate advisors – all with professional and/or personal experience of negotiating this territory. They draw on the rest of the Advice Service team and work closely with parents to find the best possible schools and outcomes for the children. See SEN Service.

The latest initiative is SENSH – a SEN Surgery Helpline which will be launched on October 24th and will run every Thursday morning. This is on top of our regular call service – anyone can call us at any time and we will find an advisor to help within 24 hours or sooner if possible.

SENSH allows parents to book a call with an SEN specialist advisor in advance. This enables the advisor to research any factual information before the call. Parents can explain what is it they need help with – factual information, guidance, a sounding board, navigation through complex forms or procedures, legal or LEA negotiations etc – and the advisor will give them signposts, advice, whatever is needed. See SENSH.

We hope parents will find this a useful addition to the services we offer.

06 Oct 2013

Subject Matters

Ofsted reports that 6 out of 10 schools provide inadequate teaching of RE. The reasons for this are many – much is down to the constantly changing priorities of successive ministers for education and the insistence on core subjects – which exclude RE. There is also the confusion about what exactly RE is – or should be – these days. Long gone are Bible studies; attempts to explicate the principal tenets of world religions have become subsumed into something straddling philosophy, citizenship and PSHE. It is hardly surprising that teachers – especially primary school teachers who have minimal training in this area – are not sure what this subject is for, nor what to do with it.

Nonetheless, like it or not, a grasp of religions, their beliefs, practices and adherents is important. Equally important is the understanding that millions live contentedly and at peace with their neighbours while adhering to no formal religion. We live in a country which accommodates all the great and many less well-known religions and we live in a world in which faith drives the activities, cultures and politics of billions of people. We all need to be given some understanding of this.

If we neglect RE in schools, we leave it to parents, the “faith schools” and the religious communities to provide the only input on the role of faith in the world. This has dangerous implications as many children are likely to receive instruction from only one point of view. This can increase separation, lack of understanding, intolerance and fear.

In recent years, RE has provided a forum for pupils to engage in “philosophy and ethics” – in the broadest sense – to consider moral questions which affect them and their lives and, above all, they have been encouraged via these lessons, to think and to question. This has to be healthy and good for society as a whole.

Whether or not one has a religious faith, we stand to become ever more divided if properly devised, fair and open education on matters religious – knowledge not indoctrination – is not provided in our schools. Whether this is delivered as “RE”, as part of PSHE or as anything else is unimportant. But it must be there.


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