The case of the misguided SEN Officer.

The case of the misguided SEN Officer.

Cross and Ginger is back with more…..

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour.  So says Wikipedia so it must be true right?

The rules that cover SEN law are clear, and the governmental institution closest to the heart of them in their delivery, is the Local Authority.  So it is something of a conundrum when the LA repeatedly ignore the law in order to stay within budget.

Let’s think what might happen if other agencies did this:

The Police.  Murder investigations are very expensive so unless we catch the killer red handed, or there are more than 3 people murdered at the same time, the police will then call all deaths accidental.  Ok?

HMRC.  Working out everyone’s tax code individually is really expensive and we don’t have enough staff to do that, so we’re going to just put everyone in the same rate.  Ok?

Home Office.  Passports are terribly expensive to administer, and anyway the internet is so fast that you don’t have to actually be there because you can Skype, so all travel abroad is stopped.  Ok?

SEN Office.  Your child needs OT but we haven’t got enough OTs so we’ve sent his school a leaflet with some exercises the teachers might do with him.  And he needs regular breaks to a quiet space?  Here’s a pop up tent.  Ok?

No.  No not ok at all.  Yet SEN departments seem to operate in this way.  Despite very clear legislation and duty of care, they regularly flout the law until pushed to conform.

My child’s EHCP was so badly written that it wasn’t fit for purpose.  As I was about to transfer cash to our solicitor in preparation for SEND tribunal, a hot rage took over me.  Why were we having to do this?  Why couldn’t the LA just follow the law, instead of us having to pay to force them to do it?  Up until this point my husband and  have considered ourselves to be as professionals on equal footing with those we have met during this process.  However it occurred to me that to everyone else, I’m just “mum”, the nameless entity who must be taken with a pinch of salt.  Suddenly freed from the etiquette burden of professionalism, I found myself ringing the SEN Officer for our case.  I wanted to know what the bloody hell she was thinking.

So I rang and to my surprise she answered.  (This is a bit like calling The Vatican and Pope Francis answering with phone with “Hello, Frank speaking.” SEN Officers are usually rather phone phobic.)  I’ve met our SEN Officer once and spoken to her a couple of times. She’s very pleasant, and has the air of someone with Benthamite principles.  So we chatted, and she said that the real problem with my son was that his needs couldn’t be met by school, and that the LA was over budget and couldn’t afford to pay for his therapy.  “And that’s why he didn’t get the OT. It all comes down to money.”  I said that I knew we had a very strong case, that officially the LA had rejected the findings of the OT report because they said it was out of date.  The report was three weeks old so we knew they were lying.  I said that we were forced to go to tribunal in order to get the LA to organise the therapy, and she said that perhaps there was some negotiation that could be done. Maybe if we could find an NHS OT?  Or some other therapy that was cheaper?  Clearly she was up for a bit of horse-trading. 

Whilst she was chatting, she bemoaned the state of the funding situation in her department.  I am fully aware that she will have children on her caseload with much more severe needs than my son.  She said that she had a large number of children who absolutely needed Special School places, and yet the schools are full so those children are left at home.  I gently pointed out that the LA had a duty to secure a place and that might mean building a new wing or school, but she just laughed and said that was unthinkable and that she had to do as much as she could with the budget that was available.  She appeared to be unwittingly acting as judge, jury and executioner, and yet thought was being as fair and benevolent as possible.

Sadly, collusion with a broken system simply perpetuates the problem.  Whilst I recognise that as an individual there is only so much that she can do, as presumably she needs the job, unfortunately despite her good intentions, she is instrumental in creating a two tier system.  Only the children of parents with sharp elbows and deep pockets will receive the provision to which they are entitled.  These are the parents who have the headspace to fight, the money to engage lawyers, and the time and energy to see it through.  The rest, muddled by misinformation, or just exhausted by getting on with life, are left even more disadvantaged than before.  Way to go, SEN office.

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