Recently there have been many articles in the media regarding home education reforms, calls for less exclusions and budgets to promote a zero tolerance attitude to bad behaviour in schools.  There have also been articles concerning the millions being spent to fight against parents seeking EHCP’s, increases in FII accusations, Illegal S47’s and abuses of S20’s.  Given the apparent contradictions and ongoing difficulties I thought I would share some of my views and concerns below.

One reason home education has been on the increase is not necessarily one of choice.  There has been an increase in parents, removing their children from schools because of concerns for the children’s mental health and overall well being.  Schools are in some respects encouraging parents, often illegally, to home educate, continuing illegal exclusions internally and externally as well as off rolling whilst  children’s education, health and care needs continue to be negated with punitive punishments being used without careful monitoring.

There are broadly two forms of home education, firstly where the local authority is still deemed responsible for that education and must provide at-home support.  Unfortunately from experience this support can be at best difficult to access and often inadequate, or worse just not available at all.

Then there is elective home education, whereby a parent chooses to privately fund home education by preference or they see no other option as a result of the failings within the educational system.

The proposed changes to home education are highly concerning for so many reasons.  Home education is currently a potential avenue of escape for vulnerable children who have been failed within the education system.

The reforms could potentially put parents, in a position where they have no choice but keep their child in an educational provision that’s already failing them. 

The fear of ending up on a child protection plan due to assumed (or presumed) safeguarding risks will increase with the proposed changes.

It will become easier for local authorities to accuse (and bully) parents without having all the necessary supportive evidence.

This may result local authorities placing a child back into an inadequate school that has  potentially already triggered trauma and stress.

There have been recent articles where the children’s commissioner has stated that some exclusions are unfair, with a call to reduce the overall number.  Some exclusions could be prevented as many result from behaviours deemed unacceptable, but often are reflective of unmet diagnostic needs and a child not coping.  

Exclusions are often used as a convenient escape route by schools rather than addressing the underlying problems.Possibly many would disagree but in reality a positive of a child who has been excluded is that they are no longer within an educational provision that is not meeting his or hers needs and in many cases is actually causing more problems. 

When excluded, a child can no longer be subjected to punitive punishments  by isolation, restraint, seclusion or by using so called Isolation/focus Rooms.  By changing the name from Isolation to a Consequence Room it will not change their purpose and will still have an adverse effect on a vulnerable child’s psyche.  One just has to reflect on the recent articles of children self harming and attempting suicide to understand the effects of these rooms.

Let us consider the joint push by education and health authorities for positive behaviour support.  The recent announcement of copious amounts of money to be rolled out for a zero tolerance behaviour policies in regards to what’s considered to be bad behaviour within schools in England.

To begin with ABA/PBS are interchangeable terms that have no empirical data or research to confirm there effectiveness.  More and more individuals are speaking of the trauma children experience and literature tells us it is to make parents less reliable on professionals. 

Parents who have done their own research and who choose to say they do not wish modification behavioural management technique to be used on  their child are demonised and deemed the problem because they refuse to accept it. Thereby placing governmental guidelines above parental wishes which is unethical and breaches other laws.

I appreciate this is often a hot topic for some and I speak here from my own personal experiences, there are arguments for and against and will hopefully continue to be debated.  However what I would like to do is suggest looking at the picture as a whole. 

We know researchers are voicing their concerns continually on the lack of empirical data and the research linking use of behavioural management like this to PTSD.

Potentially this leaves children experiencing these behavioural modification techniques two choices; to mask or to crash?  For children who crash, currently they have two potential escape routes; home education or exclusion.  The current suggested reforms will reduce this.

Let us consider the flip side.  Parents seeking EHCP’s are often refused assessments or have pathways (for both assessments and interventions) blocked with illegal blanket policies.  Currently some assessments are not routinely commissioned, such as for SPD and Speech and Language, despite the knowledge that they  co-exist with other spectrum conditions. 

These omissions can impact on a child’s overall development, including the ability to access and develop socially and theory of mind.  Many children, labelled High Functioning are not given a speech and language assessment so go undetected and another instance of needs not being met, and damage perpetuated by functionality  labels due to perceptions of what the term means.

Since the implementation of EHCP’s, there has been a steady increase in the number of parents at a greater risk of FII accusations.  Despite what the NHS states these parents are not offered genetic testing. You would have to have genetic tests available that can categorically identify the diagnosis listed on the Chancer’s tick list that  targets parents identified as meeting certain diagnostic criteria such ASD ASC, Heds etc. Currently no genetic tests are available that do so.

Local authorities claim there is no increase in these allegations whilst also claiming they hold no data on those that have been accused.   Solicitors and advocates have noted that when a parent seeks an EHCP or raises concerns regarding a school not meeting educational needs it acts like a reflex trigger for FII accusations from professionals, even from those who do not have expertise or responsibilities in that field.

How many within the general public or SEN environment would realise that if a concern is raised it can impact, even prevent an EHCP or tribunal from going forward?

Some say that it is a cynical (cost reduction) yet effective way to deter parents from pushing or fighting for their child’s needs because of the risks posed if they do so.   This can effectively block access to future support for a child or establishing their needs.  Bad practises, breaches in family and SEN law, illegal S47’s and abuse of Section 20 doesn’t really encourage parents to seek support for their children when it’s such a precarious tight rope to walk. 

There are many loopholes and potential traps for professionals to hide behind when a parent tries to obtain an EHCP or have one implemented.  There is also a huge emotional; physical; mental and  financial burden on families trying to do so.  Increasing risk of family breakdown.

This is also not forgetting the impact on the child’s development and well being whilst this goes on; it can take years to sort out.  It is well known that the process can be overwhelming and contribute to further escalating behaviours in a child.

It is unjust to hold children accountable for their behaviours, when in reality they are doing the best they can in complex situations where they are continually under pressure to meet expectations they simply may not be able to.  This can be compounded by the behavioural techniques that intimidate a child, where they have the fear of isolation and restraint if they don’t toe the line.  Self esteem can be crushed by a system that is not fit for purpose.

From personal experience I have been confronted with staff within various professional sectors including special educational  educational provisions  who do not have the appropriate knowledge base to recognise or understand disabilities.

It concerns me that children are being placed in ever more precarious and stressful situations, where parents’ options are being reduced with regards to safeguarding their children from harm.  The children are at risk within provisions where interventions can be used that are not based in sound good autism theory, with no empirical evidence to substantiate their effectiveness.

Where isolation, seclusion and restraint are part of this methodology and where parents can be accused and bullied if they raise concerns. Local Authorities tell us they cannot investigate parental concerns because the schools are independent or an academy. Implying no accountability.

It is also concerning that the general public are misled and therefore they cannot understand the tightrope parents walk in attempts to get their child’s needs met. 

They cannot in reality understand that children’s behaviours are a result of systematic failings within the professional sectors.  Nor appreciate the lack of accountability or that home education for many children is a safeguard, it’s often not a choice but done out of necessity.  Children are ultimately the ones harmed.

What children and families need are realistic budgets assigned to local authorities, the NHS, social care, education and EHCP’s carried out that accurately reflect children’s needs.

We need assessments commissioned to identify Sensory Processing Disorder and Speech and Language difficulties, etc. There needs to be more rigorous research and review into autism theory, to develop more accurate diagnostic tools and to ensure any intervention implemented does not cause further harm to a child. 

We do not prescribe medical drugs to our children without the necessary research, trials, monitoring of side effects so why do we allow it in regards to behavioural management in both children and adults with spectrum conditions.

There needs to be accountability and power of investigation to protect children within educational provisions.  This should include for abuse of power when parents seek support, tightening of loop holes that protect professionals who maybe breaching family and SEN laws.   Accountability when codes of practises are breached and when false accusations are levied at parents.

We also need a balanced approach in regards to home education. 

The proposals, being put forward, are without accurate data to substantiate claims being levied against home educating families. 

They also place children in a more vulnerable position, mask or crash.

In the worse case scenarios, we are already seeing children self harming and taking their own lives.  Where CAHMS are not fit for purpose, a lot of young people are ending up in ATU’s or similar establishments.  There needs to be an acceptance by everyone concerned that the current system does not address needs or provide support in a fair way, it is failing children and their families. 

Making children and families scapegoats will not resolve the issue.  Creating ever more obstacles to block potential avenues of relief will place more children at risk and increase the likelihood of ATU’s being needed.

Sadly and ironically in the future potentially more and more children will be diagnosed with personality disorders because trauma is one criterion for said diagnosis, and often one reason girls and women are currently misdiagnosed.

Yet currently it is the education system that is causing the trauma through not meeting a child’s needs, and resorting to harmful punishments rather than understanding the child’s needs nor implementing supportive strategies or providing equipment that would enable a child to cope more effectively in the environment where they are placed.

The systematic failings across all sectors need addressing urgently to stem the negative impact on children’s well being. Redirecting blame or distracting the public form the actual reality will never solve the problem.

News Educational reforms the dichotomy – an article by Georgina Robertson