The open secret that teaching staff can decide that the conclusions of an ‘expert’ about a child’s specific difficulties are wrong, without following any agreed process, became well publicised over the last week. So what ‘should’ we expect from the professionals that we entrust our children to every day?
Examples of the types of secenarios where a teacher decides the expert is wrong include:
- NHS diagnoses (in our case multi-agency diagnosis of Asperger’s and the OT’s diagnosis of visual motor integration difficulties and sensory processing difficulties…..)
- Private assessments. In our case it was a comprehensive detailed learning assessment clearly carried out with a very high degree of integrity. The ‘no win’ situations with regard to privately funded assessments include:
- When the LA / School / Health Body won’t / can’t arrange (fund) an assessment and so the family pays for one.
- When there are excessively long waits for assessment so parents pay for a one.
- When comprehensive assessments are required and only basic screening offered by the school or local authority, so parents pay for one.
- With regard to private reports parents are at times treated with suspicion and the report discounted because it is was privately commissioned. It feels like a no win situation for these children and their families.
- When brighter children are “not far enough behind” or those who mask / blend in / have developed exhausting coping mechanisms so that their difficulties are less visible to staff who can’t see what they are not trained to notice……
Frequently families are put into scenarios like these and are keen to understand or to help their child. Often these children are talking about their difficulties and distress continuously and no one is listening, aside from their parent who just want to help.
When there is disagreement over a diagnosis, conclusions or recommendations regarding a child, can we expect to experience professional behaviour, and can teachers expect that the demands placed on them are reasonable?
Professional behaviour – is it reasonable to expect the following?
- That the person questioning the report should behave in an open and transparent way with regard to their concerns?
- That the professional clearly articulates the specific reasons / their own specific observations or assessments which give rise to their disagreement?
- That there is a published and agreed process to be followed in the case of a disagreement? For example:
- Parents are informed and given clearly articulated reasons for the disagreement.
- The expert who carried out the assessment (or a representative of the team that carried it out) is contacted so that they can talk through their observations, assessments and conclusions.
- In the rare case that there is no consensus reached that there is a locally agreed policy to follow.
- that if the above process takes more than 4 weeks, then the recomendations made in the initial report should be implemented in the interim.
- Is it reasonable to expect that someone with the title ‘professinal’ acts with a high degree of accountability with regards to allegations of unsafe practice? That expectations of professionals with regard to this should be clear? That if they believe that someone is effectively ‘selling diagnoses to meet some presumed demand by parents’ then they MUST follow a whistle blowing procedure? That simply making potentially slanderous comments to each other and creating potentially libellous records is unacceptable?
Shouldn’t expectations should be made of teaching staff be reasonable?
- That they can’t be knowledgeable in everything , that there is ‘stuff’ they don’t know? And that that is OK, because there are experts out there who do know?
- Is it reasonable to expect them to have access to the experts without excessive gateeeping and hurdles to jump over set by their own senior colleagues or those from outside the school?
- That teachers should be supported when they are expected to implemented large scale change to their systems, time, admin etc?
- That the public should remember that teachers are human too. I don’t think they entered teaching to make life difficult for families and to cause harm to children. I do think that some work within a pretty toxic culture though.
- That it is not reasonable to expect teachers to be au fait with every new piece of research, the ins and outs of policy documents, but it is reasonable to expect them to listen to those who are – even if they happen to be a parent?
Adopting a model and expectations, such as these, would, I believe, lead to other improvements:
- better quality discussions about children between professionals would lead to improved learning by all parties;
- if it is the case that diagnoses are being offered up by those with poor integrity or practice, they would need to improve or may be less inclined to practice at all, if there is a system for professional challenge;
- the quality of reports may improve, become more consistent and aligned to the needs of teachers – who are after all expected to implement the findings.
I don’t believe that it is OK in any circumstances to simply decide that another professional is wrong and to conclude, therefore, that their recommendations can be dismissed without following a published and agreed procedure. Yet it happens frequently it seems. For us, in each case, the experts have been proven right over time. The teachers were wrong and thoroughly unprofessional to discount them out of hand. Peter was denied the support he needed and the consequences of this were devastating.
With the title ‘professional’ comes responsibility. I feel that the expectations laid out here are may be reasonable to have of someone who wishes to describe themselves as a ‘professional’.
Please click here to see a linky blog hop that bring peoples’ posts together: on SEN & labels, difficulties with getting diagnosed, pushy parents, private assessments, and other challenges in getting SEN support for children in schools.