Me, Wolfgang and Ludwig

I wonder what would have happened to Mozart or Beethoven if they didn’t actually write any music. Their heads would have melted…

So I need a plan…

Any business student will tell you there are driving forces for me to become an author and restraining forces keeping me as I am. To overcome this strange barrier I need to strengthen the driving forces and weaken the restraining forces. Then, if the theory is correct (and it seems logical), writing will come.

Some driving forces push, some pull.

The pull is that I really do believe writing could bring me so much that I seem to need. I would have an independent identity and not be so defined by being an experienced and authoritative specialist careers adviser (not a bad thing to be but not enough for the bully, who will always ridicule any achievement). It would bring me the respect of myself. My children could be proud of me. I could be introduced as Terry Miles, the author, not “my slightly flaky Dad”…

It might also bring me some money and the ability to live and work virtually anywhere in the world. It might bring me peace. It might bring me a decent car. I have to sell what I have written to legitimise it through the market place after all. Maybe I’ll buy a Porsche Cayenne and some sunglasses…So much for the pull.

Today – this day now – there are no brutal driving forces evident. But even when there were they didn’t have any desired effect. I didn’t write anything but a painful, self-obsessed and occasional diary when I was depressed and falling into deep debt in a wrong relationship, living in a tiny – thrice mortgaged – flat in Lewisham or before when I was unemployed in Derbyshire.

The push must be something different. Today – this day now – there are loving driving forces evident…and they seem to be more effective…My wife believes I am a writer and I do not want to disappoint her.

But there is something deeper and probably darker. I want to be understood. I want to be valued for being all the person I can be and all the person I have been. I want my children to have something to remember me by and to learn from my mistakes. This might be the photographic negative of how to achieve success. Just make the opposite decisions the ones I made and you should end up somewhere very different. Or somewhere as wonderful as where I have landed much more quickly and much less painfully. Because where I am now is pretty damn good thank-you: Typing opposite my wife as fresh air wafts through our home with the sound of fountains in the background and the sleeping dog and cat at our feet. Oh, and there is a blackbird singing in the garden…

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Before you head out into the jungle…

Aide Memoire for Linda

Hi Linda

I am writing this as a reminder for you of our meeting on Monday.

I am a professional careers adviser. I have certain listening and counselling skills that I use in the course of my work. I use those skills to get a better understanding of the young persons I am working with. Without that understanding I would just be giving out unhelpful, off-the-peg standard advice to every one.

An interview is a conversation with a purpose. Interviews with me are about your future career. A person’s career is not just what they do for a living it is also about how they want to live. So often my interviews are about a lot more than how many GCSEs you need to be an IT engineer or a teacher etc.

At the same time I have to remain aware of my professional boundaries. I am not a therapist or a health professional. I have to take care not to suggest activities or to give advice that cuts across or complicates what might be a carefully designed recovery programme.

In our discussion today I decided to talk a just little about my own experience in an effort to reassure you that people do make progress – even if it can take more time than they’d like – and that sometimes the experience can be valuable and enable them to offer some support and understanding to other people who might be going through an illness or a very difficult time.

Everybody has a different experience, different circumstances and different strengths but going on the evidence of our discussion I believe you will continue along the path to your own individual wellness and unique achievements.

We did not go into the detail of what happened to you or around you over the years from when you were a small child but we did agree that whatever bad things happened were an intrusion – a trespassing – on the life a child and young person should expect and which people might expect for them.

The experience a child or young person has is their only experience. As young humans they are particularly vulnerable to unfortunate events, negative interventions, upsetting emotions and decisions. I am confident that – with the appropriate help – you are dealing with those issues with the advantages that your intelligence and self-awareness bring.

The fact is you are where you are now and it is now you always have to work from. We discussed the varied aspects of your life now: family, school, friendships, anxiety, medication, artistic activities, your enjoyment of music, song, writing, ballet, trees and the countryside.

I talked about you being a writer right now; not simply as someone with an ambition to write. I suggested you carry a private little “commonplace” notebook to record ideas, thoughts, situations, bits of conversation that you can use later in longer pieces of your work when you are ready. Keep your notebooks safe. They are your own personal archive that you can revisit later. Sometimes you will see how much your writing has developed and how far you have come.

You told me about your creative sides; the things you really enjoy. These are particularly important and I hope you continue with the writing, the ballet, the art, the music and the singing in whatever context is safe, supportive and affirming for you. The work you produce is unique to you and of great value. I suggested that you might like to find a writing group or an art group where you can meet other talented people and share your work in progress.

I talked about the YHA and how it might provide a way for you and selected friends to get out of the pressure of the city and into the countryside in safety. Their website is here. https://www.yha.org.uk

And then we talked about what to do about school and next year etc. You generally feel OK in school and think that your attendance has been improving slightly. I think it is important that you continue with the improvements in attendance.

Your school provides a place of stability and belonging in your life. You should use it and build upon it. However you feel about it on particular days, it provides you with opportunities to learn and also a source of identity and engagement with society.

At the moment you are a Post-16 student with teachers, acquaintances and friends.

Without school in your life you might well be more than a little adrift. Losing school without having planned a next step into college or employment would be very unfortunate and leave you vulnerable to isolation, negativity and serious ill-health.

I know you have an Annual Review at some point soon. I will speak to school and ask them to do what they can to offer you a further year here from September.

Whatever is decided I will be back in school in May and would like to meet you again then to find out what happened, how you are doing and to help you make more plans for your future success.

In the meantime I’m sending you some information

about careers in writing, dance and acting.

My contact details are attached

Airport Fiction

The Observer in the Champagne Lounge

He had 93 minutes to wait.

Larry wouldn’t wait anywhere for that long unless he was in casualty or in a departure lounge. This time it was the latter. Keeping his inflight case on wheels with strap of his laptop bag wrapped securely around the handle, he’s wandered through Dixons and Boots and the fashion and perfumery outlets weren’t for him at the age of 64. He had all the gadgets he needed and having stocked up on valerian and ibuprofen he’d eventually found himself tempted by the Champagne Bar. It would be a day of contrasts: on the ground and then up to 28,000 feet, Stanstead to Limoges, a smoked salmon bagel and champagne to a Ryan Air seat.

The champagne seems like a sensible idea, even at 10am.

The Champagne Bar sat like a small bright island of glass and mirrors, of tasteful wood and expensive bottles in the middle of a swirl of faces with cases. Passengers experiencing varying levels of anxiety and displaying varying degrees of pretended nonchalance or perhaps genuine levels of boredom, clutching mobiles, passports and tickets, duty-free shopping, their children or elderly relations stood or sat watching the electronic departure boards or walked with their varying gaits the coffee shops, cafes and toilets before straightening to one extent or another and finding renewed purpose in hurrying to their numbered gate and another barrier around another corner.

Larry sat on a stool and ordered his indulgence from a slim, tidy waiter sporting a slim and tidy black beard. Larry liked the way the waiter called him “Sir” and didn’t ask him if he was “all right” as an alternative to “can I help you”. Larry noticed that the waiter brought the flute of champagne immediately whilst passing the food order on to an older woman in a headscarf who worked behind a decorated glass barrier towards the rear.

Breaking the habit of maybe forty years, Larry sipped his drink and looked quickly at his fellow customers. There were two: the amateur pilot and the woman who ran a small company at opposite ends of the bar. Observing them in turn without the minor embarrassment of turning to stare was difficult initially but the amateur pilot had a departure board behind him and she had the route to the gates behind her.

The amateur pilot identified himself as such by wearing a black bomber jacket with a small round flying club badge in white and red on the left breast. He had white earbuds in, with a white lead that ran to an inside pocket. He didn’t stare at his phone like the woman at the other end of the bar. He was a white man aged around 50 and the strained white cotton around the buttonholes of his open-necked shirt betrayed the weight of his middle-aged disappointment. He still had his own hair but it was looking increasingly like a wig, being a wavy dull brown with a little grey and brushed back over his large round head. His skin was tired. He stared blankly ahead without any enthusiasm in his life or for his life. He rarely met anyone else who could talk light aircraft , even at the airport but he thought the badge impressed. Larry realised the pilot was drinking black coffee at the Champagne bar. Larry guessed he’d been there for some time and was about to leave, a more wide-awake drunk than he would otherwise have been.

The slim white business woman was probably about 45. She gave the impression of being a serious person travelling with all efficiency and without drawing any attention to herself. She was not tall. She presented quietly. She wore dark brown jeans and a light brown woollen top. Larry guessed that she would speak more loudly than her clothes and that her staff would probably listen. She also had a small coffee before her which she sipped whilst responding to messages on her iPhone and writing in a small notebook which rested on the counter.

Larry was careful not to be caught watching her. He knew women found unwanted attention dull or irritating. And these days he was always polite and appropriate as well very happily married. He was genuinely an innocent observer.

She was very busy.

And then she stopped, checked the departure board behind the pilot and joined him in staring without focus at the swirling humanity behind Larry, the older, academic-looking man with a beard, wearing black jeans, black v-neck sweater and a brown tweed sports jacket, eating a smoked salmon bagel and sipping at a flute of champagne whilst he read the Observer news section. He was, after all, an observer and he was beginning to be comfortable with the invisibility his age gave him.

Idly, between sips, Larry found her quietly interesting and wondered what kind of company she ran, whether she had a teenage son or daughter or two with their issues, aged parents with care issues and a tiresome, golfing husband doing whatever he was doing whilst she was away. She was here at the champagne bar at the airport holding the company and her family together. All lines of care, responsibility, ambition, initiative, detail, stress and frustration ran through that phone. He wondered if she had passion for anything anymore or whether she had learnt to be distrustful of the passion that had brought her so many burdens. She might have been thankful that the free wifi was so bad. Fewer people could get to her. He stare was also blank and disappointed.

Larry realised that he wasn’t reading his newspaper but also watching the departure board without a trace of animation. The woman put her notebook in her neutral brown leather bag and ordered another coffee. It arrived swiftly and then she called the waiter back. She ordered a double shot of cognac. Her eyes met Larry’s as she did so. She’s caught his observation and assumed his judgement. Her micro-expressions flipped at lightning speed from immobile through fear of exposure as an alcohol dependent, guilt at her order, shame at her stress and then a rebellious petit-fuckyou…”I’m having a drink, mind your own fucking business, drink your own champagne at 10.30 in the morning”.

Larry knew they were both members of the same club.

Looking away with studied unhurriedness Larry went back to his untidy newspaper, this time occupying himself fully by weeding out the sports section and the glossy magazine with its fall-out adverts and putting them into a nearby bin before returning to his seat to read the News Review section.

The small businesswoman had gone and the amateur pilot had flown.

The waiter asked if he’d like another drink. He ordered a double espresso. There was still an hour to go and he had a departure board to watch.

TM

Well this is interesting…

I followed a link from a Quartzy post and ended up in my WordPress Reader and somehow within my Reflective Practice dashboard with the big “Write” button that I couldn’t help but press. So, in the unlikely event that you are reading this, Hi!

I’m 66 and living in France now but still dipping my toes into the SEN school world for a week or so once a term. The government these days has much bigger concerns and the drive to privatise every professional service – like careers guidance – has degenerated into provision by cheaper lower quality or single menu item substitutes wherever possible. Thus the X-Ray unit is a place you travel to that just does X-Rays – no hospital attached – and “probably-good-enough-but-the-clients-won’t-know-the-difference” careers advice is provided by a variety of under-qualified charlatans and interested parties with careers information databases and 30 minutes to change your life without guidance skills that challenge the assumptions you came into the room with or open up new possibilities (followed by 15 minutes of recording their intervention and ticking boxes to serve The Auditor, who should be a character in a DC Comic).

You get your X-Ray done. You go. You get your information about work with animals and the address of a local college. You go.

So things seem to be pretty quiet. Further change – even correction – unlikely. With government and opposition parties obsessed with various disasters and the inevitable oncoming mega-disaster that is Brexit, very few MPs are likely to be interested in the remote possibility of enhancing their own career prospects by improving the career prospects of young people. Teachers do that.

The changes that will come – are bound to come – will arrive in sneaky increments that don’t rock the budget, challenge government ideology or disturb the status quo of contracts and ownership too much or make much difference at all to the experience of young people when they are faced with life choices. And so we plod on. Those of us that can do our best, doing our best with professional expertise and experience and reasonably modern careers information resources.

Person-Centred Challenging Careers Guidance is out there. Just probably not near you.

OK so that’s my accidental rant for today. Now lets all go back to deleting emails and unsubscribing to things.

Retired but still kicking…

You will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on here for a long time now. My last post was in 2012. Life became just too hectic to make this blog a real priority.

These have been turbulent times. Connexions across most of the country was shut down and almost all the very qualified and experienced careers advisers and employment assistants and support staff were made redundant. Clearly they weren’t redundant because the need for careers guidance has not gone away and neither have young people.

Some colleagues scrambled for favours from the schools they were working in and continued their profession as self-employed providers of increasingly less-independent careers advice. Others moved into other areas – projects helping unemployed adults into work, short-term youth support contracts, teaching yoga, working for charities. Some have not worked since.

My SEN team of 3.5 people was fortunate in that our borough recognised that it had a duty to vulnerable young people and we were transferred to the direct employment of the council’s Special Needs Assessment Section: a sort of high end admin section composed of special needs case managers and assistants led my a continuously stressed and exasperated – not to say exhausted – management in the invidious position of meeting the needs of pupils with disabilities whilst trying to stay within the budget and not setting expensive precedents whilst switching from the writing and delivery of Statements of SEN to the new child-centred Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) under the Children and Families Act.

My team provided independent, informed and impartial advice to young people and their parents about their careers and how to find their routes through the SEN maze to get their needs understood and met, get the best educational opportunities for them, get the right support from education, health and social services and to find their unique rewarding and successful way forward. These routes were sometimes not expensive as well as being logical and evidence-based. Even then they brought us into frequent conflict with the department into which we had been deposited, especially when a quick decision was required and even more so when the solution was expensive.

EHCPs might be child-centred but there is little evidence that Education Departments delivering them is. They try – sometimes with limited financial resources and other capacities – but are doomed to fail without a massive allocation of government resources that goes directly against government ideology.

I retired in August but I still follow events and may well have more to say (only now not fearing for my job…) So if you’ve been watching this space from time to time please continue to do so. I hope it will be illuminating and helpful. I hope I have the time.

 

Leaving school starts at Year 9…

Start early. Be prepared!

I have sat in many annual reviews where parents have been in tears at the thought that their son or daughter will have to leave school one day. Sometimes they have fought their way through tribunals and courts to get a place in the school and now here I am beginning to discuss their leaving…

But the future is unavoidable.

The first thing – and probably the most difficult thing – to do is start looking as early as possible. Transition planning should start in Year 9. You will need time to come to terms with the fact that your child will leave school between the end of Year 11 and the end of Year 14: time to think about the future you want for them and for yourself, time to travel around and see what is available, time to find – and sometimes chase – the professionals that should be there to help you and time to see your child grow. Time to deal with the stress.

Live in the real world

Try to remember that although you will have the clearest possible understanding of your child’s needs, we have to live in the real world and – for the most part – make choices from what actually exists there. Neither you nor I can conjure facilities from nothing; at least not quickly and easily. The seemingly impossible might take some of the time you gave yourself by starting your search early.

Hygiene Lists and Wish Lists

Sit down and think about what you are really seeking for your child. Think about how you will choose. It’s very easy to find yourself in a confused state; constantly weighing the attractions of one option against another unless you have some clear criteria for making a selection. What is really important for your child and for you? What must a placement provide that is not negotiable? At a basic level you will want it to be physically and emotionally safe. Bullying should not be tolerated and anti-bullying policies must be active. Young people must be recognised as unique individuals and supported as such. The atmosphere should be cheerful, calm and purposeful. Activities should build upon prior learning and lead to recognised accreditation. Staff should be properly qualified and experienced in meeting the needs of young people with disabilities or difficulties. Communication with home should be good. Your child might absolutely need to follow a particular vocational route or route to enhanced independence. They might need particular therapies or medical and/or psychiatric interventions. The placement must be run for the students, not for the staff. Support staff from the local community should be intelligent, committed and engaged; working well with teachers or lecturers. Make a list of your absolutely basic, non-negotiable selection criteria. Think of them as basic hygiene in a restaurant: If the place doesn’t meet the standards on your Hygiene List, leave and don’t go there again. There’s a rat in the kitchen…

Ofsted reports can also be of immense help in alerting families to the challenges faced by particular schools and colleges and the experiences of learning and being cared for there. Often school and college managers have made changes since Inspectors visits but it is as well to go explore post-16 options with the knowledge their reports provide (even if they are not 100% reliable or up-to-date). They can be found at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk

Hygiene Ticked Off? Now Consider the Menu

In the course of writing down your basic criteria you will almost certainly find yourself listing things that – like the sauce, ambiance, decor etc. in a restaurant you can only appreciate if the place is clean – you’d prefer but could maybe do without if really pressed by circumstance or lack of funds. These might, for example, include a location in an urban or countryside countryside community, a day or residential placement, being part of a large or small establishment, being close or distant from home. These should go on a second list: a wish-list. You might or might not get them all but you could tolerate their absence knowing your child would still have a worthwhile experience because all your non-negotiable criteria will be met.

Take a special private moment to consider any irrational prejudices about class or ethnicity you might have and try to set them aside. Besides being unacceptable, destructive and limiting, funding organisations will not be influenced by them.

You should pause here to consider your basic assumptions. It is easy, for example, to assume that you are seeking another post-16 school place or college placement for your child to move on to and that might indeed be appropriate but question whether continuing with full-time education is the best way of meeting this young person’s needs. College placements can last up to three years. How much will their academic, independence or vocational skills have improved over that time? What will they be able to do then that they can’t do now? What would a school or college place bring them? Could they find those things elsewhere? Are they just fed up with learning from a teacher? These are serious questions. Ask yourself, ask your social worker, specialist careers adviser or Connexions Personal Adviser what else is available.

Post-16 Education: Where should you – must you – look?

Harsh Reality Check: A Statement of SEN will lapse when your child leaves the school system voluntarily at any age after Year 11 or at the end of the academic year in which they turn 19. A change to a school placement – or even the continuation of a school placement in some areas – requires an amendment of the Statement and this might need to go to your local SEN Panel. All the usual Code of Practice procedures apply. It is thus very important to carry out such visits before the Year 11 Annual Review so that the Review Meeting can consider, advise and recommend the outcome you want to the Local Authority.

If your child attends a school outside your home borough or county – particularly if he or she has a weekly or termly boarding placement – you may find someone from your Local Authority turning up at the Year 11 annual review (maybe for the first time) to urge you to consider a placement in a school or college in your home community or area. Strangely, such a placement will turn out to be less expensive for the local authority. One can understand why they will ask the question and why they might insist you visit home area schools and FE colleges – sometimes it might really be better for the pupil to learn how to use home area facilities – but do not commit yourself to any change unless it meets your child’s needs. If they have been taught by a specialist teacher for the deaf alongside other deaf children in a small class, for example, are they ready to cope in a large FE classroom with an ordinary lecturer, a sign language interpreter and a note-taker who is almost certainly unqualified in the subject being taught?

It is very easy for parents – particularly those for whom English is not their first language – to nod away their rights when someone from the Local Authority turns up and says “Of course, if she is achieving as well as these predicted grades say she will not need the support in the 6th form…” and thereby assent to the withdrawal of the support that enabled their child to engage and achieve in the first place.

Further Education is funded by the Education Funding Agency from whom budgets and decisions about eligibility for funding are now delegated to Local Authorities, who for the most part have set up panels to consider individual requests and assessments for specialist FE placements.

Often these delegated specialist FE placement budgets amount to a great deal less than what was actually spent on such placements in previous years; effectively a hidden cut pressing down on the disabled student’s right to FE – on the compassion and flexibility of local decision-makers, at the same time demanding innovation, imagination and flexibility from all concerned (including students and their parents).

If you are thinking of pursuing a place in a residential special school 6th form or residential college you will need to make a very strong educational case and to have explored local day provision seriously and with as open a mind as possible.

With immense pressure on budgets, Local Authorities are extremely unlikely to agree a specialist placement, let alone a residential one, unless they are completely satisfied that there is no local or mainstream alternative. And, increasingly, they are working hard with local schools and colleges to resource, develop and open up local alternatives to residential specialist provision. Their view is that they have a duty to get you from A to B; they have no duty to provide a Rolls Royce unless every other vehicle is proved to be absolutely inappropriate or dangerous…

What might you find out there?

So – living in the real world, having started early and now armed with your child’s Statement, your “hygiene” list and your wish list as well as knowing why you are looking, and how harsh budget restrictions or cuts might apply – what might you find out there?

Local mainstream school 6th Forms. These are not just for young people who’ve been educated in a mainstream school to Year 11. Even if you didn’t choose a mainstream school at secondary transfer, look again now. Things won’t have stood still for the last five years. 6th form classes are usually smaller and pupils often don’t have to be in school all day every day. 6th formers often have their own learning suite or block, that has a calmer, more focussed atmosphere. 6th formers rarely wear uniform. Many Academies set a high standard for entry: sometimes four B grades at GCSE but local authority maintained schools, where teaching standards and facilities can be just as high often ask for less. Be warned though, the non-A level offer might be quite restricted. Even if you are very clear that another year at school is required to allow your child to mature, think very hard before condemning them to a year studying level one construction or child care because it happens to be available when they have no interest in the subject at all.

Special school 6th forms. If your child has been educated in a special school that has a 6th form it is likely that she or he will be offered a place in that 6th form unless there is some very clear reason – very volatile or dangerous behaviour, for example – why the school may not wish to offer an education beyond the statutory minimum school-leaving age.

You do, of course, have the right to consider other schools but if your child has been reasonably happy and has made reasonable progress and has had their needs met there to year 11 it is unlikely that the Local Authority will agree to a change unless your child has been learning at an out-county or boarding school when they will want you to reconsider their own local offer in schools and colleges (see above). This can be very stressful for parents. They may have fought to get their child into the school in the first place and may now face the prospect of having to fight all over again to keep them there.

Independent special school 6th forms. Many local authorities do not have many (or any) maintained special schools. Of those that do exist, some do not have 6th Forms. Not all independent special schools have 6th forms. If they do and you feel that one or two might meet your child’s needs post-16 go along and visit. Your child’s present school may recommend schools on the basis of where former pupils have gone. However don’t be swayed by desperation, fashion or the positive outcomes for someone else’s child. No matter what level of ability and disability, every child is unique and this one is yours. Take the Statement, your Hygiene and Wish lists with you. Check the school against your criteria. Do not commit to an assessment at the school until the Local Authority SEN Panel has agreed to send the school your child’s papers to consider. It is thus particularly important to carry out these visits before the Year 11 Annual Review (before the Year 10 review if possible). Try to get the Year 11 Annual Review arranged early in the autumn term though. Sometimes these schools have few places available and the processes of seeking the Local Authority’s agreement to amend a Statement to name an expensive post-16 option can take time, even if they agree that it is appropriate.

Local Further Education (FE) Colleges. Local colleges have an enormous range of courses for an enormous range of students. Think of them as mainline railway stations like Victoria or Manchester Piccadilly. People of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders, abilities etc. embarking upon their personal journeys to hundreds of destinations; all starting with their particular train and their fellow-travellers to that one destination. If you are going to college you might have to go in the same door and move down the same corridors with hundreds of very different people but you are only going to one room, to one course, to one destination with your fellow students who have joined the course on the basis of their choice and their ability. Colleges can look large, lively and even a little intimidating from the outside but get past security and inside the walls and different possibilities can open up. There are some excellent lecturers, committed support staff, a range of support mechanisms, equipment and enabling facilities. Students can be met at the door and accompanied to classes, be supported or supervised in unstructured times, get access to therapies, note-takers, dyslexia support, counselling, interpreters etc.

You can search for details of local FE colleges at http://www.ucasprogress.com although in my experience you should not confine yourself to this but look at you local college’s website or , better, contact their course advisers by phone for the most up-to-date position.

A student with special educational needs can access academic or vocational courses alongside other students or join courses specifically designed for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. These offer routes to further study or employment or aim to encourage independence, basic living skills, awareness of the community and its facilities, self-care etc. and usually build upon the courses students have followed at school (including ASDAN etc.). School students often have one day a week link courses to local colleges so that they can become familiar with the environment.

Because the Statement of Special Educational Needs lapses when the student leaves the school system (something that will change with the introduction of personal Education, Health and Care Plans), access to local FE courses does not depend upon a decision by any Local Authority SEN Panel. The Local Authority does have a duty however to provide a Learning Disability Assessment (sometimes called a Section 139a) that informs Further Education Colleges of a student’s support and learning needs and which must recommend a course. This cannot be sent to the FE college without the student’s signed permission and it is good practice for it to be prepared after consultation with the school, parents and supporting professionals to ensure accuracy. The document is usually drawn up by an officer from Connexions or its successor body.

Some courses fill up very quickly and colleges usually like to have applications in by the end of January but it is well worthwhile checking the position later on. Getting the advice of teachers and professionals at the annual review is generally helpful but as there is no need for an amended statement, there is no need to wait for the annual review for visits, assessments and offers of places.

To get a flavour of your local college see their websites and go along to Open Days. Don’t forget to take your lists…

Independent Specialist Providers (ISPs)

Specialist advice is particularly helpful when approaching this sector. Your adviser will often have visited the colleges or have students who have passed through them. It is very important indeed that you listen to the advice and keep them in touch with your progress. The Local Authority has the duty to provide the Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) and it is usually the professional adviser from Connexions or it’s successor team that do this work. The LDA requires your signature before it can be shared so it is very important to review it carefully when you have that opportunity. Make sure it covers all areas of your child’s needs that will have to be met if funding decision-makers are to get a realistic picture and a placement is to work.

Your professional adviser should explain the funding process and – very importantly – give you some idea of whether funding will be available as well as the local process and timescale for accessing it. It can be a very complex area with some tough criteria to meet and a strong presumption that local provision should be – or be made – appropriate. Budgets are under very severe pressure; with allocations to local authorities sometimes cut severely and some very harsh decisions being faced as a result. You can waste a good deal of time and money travelling to unsuitable or inappropriate colleges. They can also discuss the involvement of the appropriate social services team, which you will need to have on board if transport and any exceptional care funding is required.

Advisers can vary in their expertise and experience and – as a result of budget and management pressure – perhaps in the degree of their impartiality. It is very unlikely that you will feel the need to employ the services of a private independent consultant but these are available if required.

Independent Specialist Providers (ISPs) are spread across the country. They generally offer a three year, immersive, 24-hour learning and care curriculum on a 38 week termly boarding basis. They usually have very considerable experience and expertise in work with the young people with whom they specialise. They vary a great deal: generally by size and by the focus of their specialism. Some are quite large with quite a broad range of students and a wide variety of courses. Others may be very small indeed, with perhaps 20 students, all having very specific complex needs or disabilities. There is almost certainly a specialist college out there that can meet the needs of any student to one extent or another and provide a safe and positive experience. They often provide an emotional and practical route to enhanced independence and a more adult relationship with parents.

Information about Independent Specialist Providers can be found at http://www.natspec.org.uk , the website of the National Association of Specialist Colleges. This provides a very useful directory and very useful (but not infallible) college finder, which will search for colleges on the basis of their expertise with different conditions or combinations of conditions.
Once again, use your Hygiene List and Wish Lists. They are particularly important when considering residential provision. Sometimes the student experience of teaching or care is different to that which the college managers and marketing staff would wish. In residential placements students spend a great deal more time with care staff (who may not be well-paid) than with any individual teacher. As with any college, all the staff need to be fit and active people: properly trained, engaged with the students and treating their students with respect. Communication with home needs to be good, visits welcomed and complaints procedures more than defence mechanisms.

Sometimes ISPs have link arrangements with local FE colleges in their area and students spend a day or more being supported to access the much broader range of courses there. Be clear about who provides that support and in what circumstances.

If, after consulting your professional adviser you visit an ISP and it meets your criteria you can apply and your child will be invited for an assessment, usually over two days. If the college can meet their needs and provide an appropriate course they will write to make a formal offer of a place subject to funding being agreed. If you are happy with this, write back to accept it.

Forward a copy of your acceptance letter to your Local Authority professional adviser from Connexions or it’s successor team. They will use it as part of the funding process and add it to the ISP’s assessment and funding paperwork when it is received. They will combine this paperwork with the Learning Disability Assessment and take it through the decision making process – usually a funding panel. These meet regularly throughout the year. There are mechanisms for appeal but hopefully, if everyone has done their homework and preparation, you’ll get a positive outcome.

Finally…

My advice, then, is to start planning transition from school at Year 9. Recognise that it is likely to be a long and sometimes stressful process. Give yourself time and seek advice. Draw up and use your “Hygiene” list and your Wish List. Be clear about what is acceptable and what you’d looking for. Keep in touch with your adviser and social worker if you have one (if you haven’t got a social worker, consider getting one. They can be vital in the initial transition and subsequently in seeking appropriate living arrangements and care options). Be prepared for setbacks and dead ends in your search. In amongst all this eat well, keep well and stay resilient and determined. The outcome of the right post-16 placements can be astonishing, with young people more independent and ready for steps into whatever the adult world has to offer them. They can make us very proud.

What future for school leavers with special educational needs?

Out in the wilderness without a map, compass or guide.

We are all fleshy bags of personality, physicality, abilities, preferences, talents, joys and pains. We are all people. Each of us has a career, a pathway through life that we might make or have made for us, consciously or not. It might be a school career, a college career, a care career, an occupational career, a leisure career, a health career, a sports career…

There are as many pathways to the future as there are people. Generalisations and assumptions are very dangerous. What makes sense for one person will make nonsense for another. It’s why a professional careers adviser will ask so many open questions and listen so hard to the answers. There is no typical young person; certainly no typical young person with special educational needs. It’s why my job is so fascinating…

Although each pathway is unique, the map might sometimes lead us through the same places, processes and bottlenecks; the same challenges and conflicts; similar experiences, stages and institutions. Some areas of a map might be incomplete, unexplored or unfamiliar; there may well be quicksand and dragons out there; your satnav might be unreliable and the landscape may be changing but it’s not sensible to begin the adventure without one. And best not go alone.

The career pathways for young people with special educational needs are – in theory – the same as those for any young person. All the options are open, you will be told. There are barriers to achievement that need to be removed or overcome but the mechanisms to do this are in place. You just need the information, advice and ongoing guidance. You can consider your professionally qualified and experienced careers adviser your personal tracker and guide…but first you have to find one…

The Disruption of Careers Information, Advice and Guidance Services

We are in a very peculiar period.

Until 2010 careers advice was delivered through Connexions, a service provided by privatised careers companies working under contract to local authorities to diverse and demanding targets. The service had been underfunded and was of varying quality. In the private sector managers sometimes built their own careers by meeting tick-box targets and coming in under budget rather than necessarily enabling their highly qualified and experienced staff to open up young people’s motivation and potential. Often young people said Connexions was great. Sometimes they said it was “rubbish”. Something had to change. Connexions was capable of reform and redirection. There was still a valuable baby in the bathwater but something had to change.

Then there was an election…and the bath was tipped over.

On the basis that the experience was “patchy”, one of the very first things the Coalition Government did was cut the funding to Connexions. This resulted in the redundancy of almost all the professionally qualified careers advisers that worked with young people in schools, colleges and the labour market, including their managers. The publicly available national Connexions online careers information database was closed down. The networks of professional information gathering and exchange, training and support disappeared almost overnight.

The government then went further; removing the duty to provide careers guidance from local authorities and passing that duty to schools, without providing any funding to provide it. As a result we now have a splintered, varyingly qualified private sector careers guidance marketplace dominated by those former – remember “patchy”? – private sector providers along with a fair share of charlatans, simplistic life-coaches and productivity gurus. (Beware!).

Careers England (what the BBC refers to as the careers “trade organisation”) reports that 83% of mainstream schools had reduced careers guidance from the level provided by Connexions.

Where schools – mostly mainstream schools – have bought in private sector careers companies or individuals their contracts often specifically exclude work with pupils with Statements of SEN because they often have no staff with relevant expertise and experience. This is apparently acceptable, even when we have the Equality Act…

The government’s new National Careers Service provides a website and telephone call centre service for people over 18 with the possibility of three face to face interviews for those who qualify, where the service is available at all. Here’a the link https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk You decide whether it is any use to young people with SEN or their parents…

Making the best of the shambles for young people with special educational needs:

Local authorities continue to have responsibilities to help and encourage (e.g. through targeted youth support for gang members etc.) vulnerable young people and those who are not in education, employment or training (the infamous NEETS).

Local authorities also retain the duty to provide a representative (usually one of the very few remaining specialist SEN Connexions advisers under a variety of different job titles) to attend the Year 9 (and where possible subsequent) annual reviews for young people with SEN – where they can contribute to Transition Planning – and to provide Learning Difficulty Assessments to send to colleges of further education for young people whose Statements are about to lapse as they leave the school sector.

Luckily, many local authority managers also recognise the nonsense of their specialist staff contributing to meaningful Transition plans without providing ongoing professional, impartial, careers information, advice and guidance to young people with SEN and their parents and are committed to continuing to provide that service. So some of us go on meeting the young people and their parents – and working with schools, social services, colleges, educational psychologists, parent partnership services and other professionals – to help each individual young person find their way through the wilderness with its panels, assessments, funding bunkers and crises.

One of the risks of writing this article is that some politician will notice and sack us all…

Its time to get political:

The national Home/Host Agreements – under which pupils in residential or out-county schools were served by the Connexions service local to their school – has collapsed. Local authority staff will only work with their own residents. Some authorities have a policy of not allowing staff to travel to schools outside their area for reviews and where they do allow this appointments often clash and apologies have to be sent. It should be recognised that often too few staff were retained from Connexions for local authorities to meet their responsibilities.

Not all local authorities are enlightened. Some have forbidden their staff to give careers advice, information and guidance and have demanded that they restrict themselves to a diet of filling in forms and “turnupism” (making sure the authority is not challenged for not turning up at reviews). Moreover, some local authorities are exerting considerable managerial pressure to compromise the professional impartiality and independence of Connexions advisers; pressing them to distort their advice by recommending less expensive solutions e.g. favouring less than adequately supported local college courses against independent specialist colleges.

A challenge remains with regard to mainstream schools. The former Specialist SEN Connexions advisers retained by the local authorities – sometimes one or two people per authority – previously worked mainly in local authority special schools. The advisers that worked in mainstream schools have all gone in the redundancies. Parents of young people with SEN in mainstream schools might like to ask who is providing the services above for their children now.

Only 40% of the cuts to local authorities have gone through. 60% remain. The Prime Minister warns of tough decisions. It cannot be long before a Minister makes a speech questioning why the public purse is paying fees of £60,000 per annum to educate young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities on three year post-19 courses in residential specialist colleges when they have no prospect of making any economic contribution to Aspiration Britain. And so the rolling back of opportunity for young people with SEN begins – with what sounds like a common-sense, logical argument in very difficult times

In the course of the next year or so Sarah Tether’s white paper on the Reform of Provision for Children and Young People With Special Needs will pass through parliament into law. A new Code of Practice will follow. Pupils have the professional careers information advice and guidance that remains – in spite of the government – largely as a result of the last Code of Practice. Its place in the new one is as yet uncertain…

As always, to help your child most effectively you may have to consider legal action at times. IN THE NEAR FUTURE YOU WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY HAVE TO GET POLITICALLY INVOLVED. JOIN SOMETHING. SPEAK UP.

Idiot Fatigue

And then along came Gove with yet another wheeze: the return of a two-tier examination system. This time with New! Added Academic Rigour (who can oppose academic rigour?) so demanding that only children taught in the tiny classes that can’t be found outside the Independent and Public School System can possibly be guaranteed to Pass the new O Level. Well worth the fees then…

Watch out for the word “Pass”. The word “Pass” is bandied about freely by the ignorant and probably by the Russell Group of Universities for the Posh who seem unable to appreciate the value of examinations as a method of recognising the achievement of every child as opposed to an efficient method of swiftly and reliably separating the fee-paying sheep and their imitators in the remaining Grammar Schools from the rest of the kids that us Goats produce.

It is becoming clear that Gove’s Radical Agenda is leading (backwards) to deliver the reinvention of the Grammar School that the backwoods Tories crave but which the rest of the electorate won’t accept just yet. Backwards because this time the new two-tier O Levels and CSEs would be introduced first, with surely the appropriate two-tier school system to follow quickly.

Watch, when the present, increasingly chaotic and change-afflicted school system “fails” to deliver social mobility via “academic rigour” the cry will go out across the land for the return of the 11 plus and the opening of Grammar Schools (maybe called Something Else Academies”) purposely designed to bring back renewed social mobility to those mutant working class goats whose unaccountably large brains and energy are so necessary for the spicing and replenishment of the upper echelons of Trade, Industry and The Armed Forces. They’ll never quite be Officers Mess class but they’ll be there and who could really argue with that?

I could. You will read plenty of articles from journalists and politicians who will reject Gove’s big idea because they went through the experience of rejection, being dumped into a secondary modern and being labelled thick. And never realIy stopped being angry, no matter how much they have achieved since.

I can’t do that. I passed the 11+.

Elsewhere on this little website I’ll tell you soon how. And all about the appallingly petty, cruel, homophobic, violent, sadistic and elitist Rugby School-aping Mitcham Grammar School for Boys that took six months to utterly destroy my innocent belief in human nature and in myself before depositing me 6 years later onto the labour market with four poor GCSEs that didn’t include Maths. I didn’t see much social mobility on the way, unless you count the boys who joined us from Western Road secondary modern in the 6th form because they’d achieved better O Levels than many of us…

Anything I achieved I achieved in spite of Mtcham Grammar School not because of it.

This time not only hadn’t the Liberal Democrats not been consulted – why consult your poodle? – but it seems neither had the Boss whose job you’d like one day soon. I suspect that as time creeps by and more of Mr Gove The Thinker reveals more of his Great Thoughts the right of the Tory party (who despise Cameron even more than they despise Clegg even more than they despise Milliband…) will become even more enthusiastic that this Radical Thinker be given the top job.

These things will work themselves out slowly, until they go fast. The rest of us can only hope that our children’s and grand children’s education doesn’t join the NHS in collapsing under the weight of Idiot Fatigue.

And then I switch on the news this morning to learn that Cameron is seeking to reassert himself among the right of his party by…ending housing benefit for the Under-25s. For the young the 1950’s are already back: very little chance of a job, no chance of saving the deposit for a home, rents sky-high, no worthwhile face to face careers advice, no ladder out of the poverty that Ian Duncan-Smith is busy redefining, and now any hope of social mobility being denied precisely in the name of social mobility. Conscription next…

Idiots: aren’t you tired of them?!?

The Write Time

I turned 60 last August. Heading for 61. People my age are turning up dead in the media. They always have but now perhaps I notice more often. I have fewer teeth and more expensive dentures. My lapses of memory are more frustrating and worrying. My hair is either greying fast or gone. Sometimes small injuries don’t heal as quickly. Bruises stay longer. It sometimes takes a lot of energy to cross to the sunny side of the street. Sometimes the woman I love takes me by the elbow and guides me there.

I still feel desire: to nurture the vessels of my genes (life’s purpose), to love, to be loved, to communicate, to make love, to lessen my pain and the pain of others, to live. To write. But sometimes I can feel time shortening. Just sometimes.

I can remember being a very small baby and the idea of a day, a week being a long time. A year was an age; the time until my next birthday. And a year is actually the same length now. The same number of days, hours, minutes. Time not to be wasted worrying about being old or to be wasted worrying at all, even if the ongoing struggle to control the mind that is doing the worrying can be a worry…

At the same time a second, a minute, hour or day are a lifetime for some. They might be all that is left of my lifetime. I can either be senselessly worried senseless about dying or I can get on with living as much as possible. This in turn means becoming well and fitter and staying productive, maybe more productive than ever before. There are projects in all directions.

Just as a day is as long as it was when I was a child, so life has always been as precarious. I can’t deny I’m heading for 61 and that deterioration is evident but I can’t deny either that it’s amazing to have existed as the pinnacle of evolution – a self-aware and conscious human –  at all. It’s amazing to have survived this long and to have lived in a country not plagued by war, disease, famine or – er – plague in that lifetime.

All this means I have opportunities even if in the best scenario of another 40 years plus the deteriorations of ageing will take increasing effect. Heading towards 61 I have a window that, although not as wide as it was at 21, can be exploited with the knowledge, understanding and empathy that those 61 years of awareness bring. I just need the energy.

I have noticed that the expectations of age are something that other people – especially young people – seem to put on one. For some reason I have a Senior Citizen’s Railcard and I get my medication free. There are many negatives to slowly increasing frailty but there is also the increased authority. It might be that I have somethings to say and some people who might listen. So I had better tell them. Soon.

Once I found it hard to begin to write and sometimes couldn’t find anything to write about unless I was seeking relief from my own unhappiness (unhappiness is another frustrating waste of time…). Sometimes I was afraid to write because there was only one thing to write about really, And writing about it would blow my life even further apart. These days there are almost too many things to tell you; too many stories and lessons. And nothing to stop me.

Still sometimes I am just guiltily tired and want to sleep at times when I should be in or out and about doing, doing, doing. Is that allowed? But increasingly now, once my mind is focussed on writing, the ideas and concepts to be explored come in to my head as suddenly and unexpectedly as birds flying over the fence and into my garden. I might be focussed on photographing this flower when suddenly there is a robin or blue-tit or blackbird or jay hopping about on the lawn or hanging from the bird-feeder. I need to photograph them too but not only are they beautiful distractions, they are gone by the time I have time to turn and refocus my camera. Sometimes there are squirrels…

I am breaking one of Hemmingway’s rules of writing: when it begins to flow and the ideas come quickly, stop. Then the idea you stop with will still be there and getting going will be easier next time. Writing this time has – oops there was a magpie! – taught me that it might be important to keep a notebook and pencil beside the keyboard to catch and hold the tits and sparrows that appear from the undergrowth. The tits and sparrows are what I might be writing and blogging about next time or the time after that.

Being 61 then – the general probability of decline suggests – might be a great time to write, an important time to write, an urgent time to write before the wisdom goes cold, before the climate gets too hot, before the sea levels rise too high, before the coral is all dead, before the cod is all gone, before the country is overcome by the angry hungry from the south, before the revolution, before the next plague, before a bee is a creature from the past, before it’s your turn to be nearly 61.

So, later, I will get on with it. In the meantime duty calls.

 

 

 

The Balcony People.

It has been a while since I blogged. Almost too much has happened. I have been to Turkey for the day – four aeroplanes, a very fast BMW, a ferry across the bay of Izmir and back home at 2am the next morning with AN IDEA. One that I am not going to tell you about.

Since then there has been a garden party where I met the new Mayor from the office next door, a new tyre, days at the office and days at home, a Grandparent’s Day at Manby Lodge School, an extraction and new dentures I can’t wear yet, sunburn and a soaking, a bank holiday, an attempt at the Jubilee Pageant and the Surrey Country Show . Life has been very, very busy and I havn’t given the blog the priority I need to. Events, events, events. Maybe I’ll call it research. At the same time I havn’t used Twitter or Facebook as often either. There have been fewer photographs taken. Perhaps I’ve been in a little downswing, what with the pain from the extraction and the renewed popularity of the Monarchy. Time now for an upswing and tonight I can feel it.

It wasn’t just me though. The major topic on the “Connexions Services Need To Unite And Fight” Facebook page during this peculiar period of hiatus seems to have been the question of whether we should allow users to post adverts to recruit other people to Multi-Level Marketing Schemes. Not exciting but the beginning of a theme that has emerged over the Jubilee weekend. A sort of “this is what we’ve come to” theme:-

  • Skilled, experienced, graduate professionals being recruited as into someone’s Downstream sales team. That’s the sales team whose members rarely make money unless they also recruit their own Downstream sales team (or mugs as we used to call them) to sell the slightly overpriced goo to their acquaintances. Sooner or later you run out of friends, work colleagues, neighbours or fellow church members. I remember someone trying to sell me Canada Life Insurance when I worked at The Biggest Shoe Shop in the World. I still had to be dead to collect. Didn’t seem sensible at 20 years old. Is this what we’ve come to?
  • The Queen waving to a parade of old boats. The weather didn’t co-operate and I’m convinced Phillip said “Bugger this” the next morning and booked himself in for a course of antibiotics to flush away when no-one was looking. A sort of Royal sickie so he didn’t have to attend a Jubilee concert three-quarters full of naff has-beens. (They know who they are but if they are offended I’ll tell them they were in the other quarter). Is this what we’ve come to.

Daughter Number One is in the History Business and wanted to see some so we went to the River. We met at the Tate Modern Cafe (where they don’t seem to use butter and put toast instead of fried bread on your Full English) with Daughter Number Two and Son Number One at 10am. We took up a great position on a slight rise upstream of the Wobbly Bridge That No Longer Wobbles. It was cold and wet and already there was no paper in the Portaloo. Son Number One was on pretty good form. We watched the artists set up their weasels (private family joke) on the bridge. Daughter Number Two didn’t really want to get any colder or wetter. My absence of teeth was hurting and I really did feel quite alarmed at the rapid build-up of Idiots behind us.

We were too early. It was already midday and it looked like it would be another 5 hours before we might see someone waving not drowning. A man should never be where a man does not belong. Maybe it was the overdose of Nurofen Plus but I felt really weird.  I made a decision to be really assertive (not aggressive) and honest and..walk back to Waterloo. The Offspring were concerned about me but off I trudged past more Idiots. More flooded off the train I boarded at Waterloo. More waited at stations I passed on the way home. These people have the Vote.

I felt I had let the Offspring down. As I entered my home Queenie was just climbing into her first boat. I’d made the right decision.

I phoned The History Daughter later to be told The Offspring had watched it on TV and that it had been a disappointment: less colour, more rain, bigger gaps between the types of craft than in the Canaletto that had inspired us to go and eat at the Tate Modern. Health and Safety and unpaid security staff.

The Balcony obviously needs a bit of scaffolding if it wouldn’t hold the rest of the family. William and Katherine were so worried they appear to have been dieting heavily for the last few weeks. For some reason that will upset those who would like to think it was time we stopped going on about the War they sent a flypast of Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster. Queenie became more animated than we’d seen her all day; smiling and pointing the machines out to the crowd. Merlin’s do make a wonderful sound. The RAF sent the Red Arrows for a quick whiz-past and we all had tea. Where are all the Eurofighters we are paying for?

My position on the monarchy might surprise you. I’m not as rabid and tasteless a republican as some of the groups I subscribe to on Facebook. If we are going to have a Monarchy we might as well have the Balcony People as anyone else. Mostly Harmless and less expensive than they used to be, I believe. My father was a Grenadier Guardsman. Some of it rubs off.

The Balcony scene was interesting. Here were Elizabeth II, Charles (who seems more generally competent and maybe likeable these days), Camilla (who seems to have been Forgiven), the aforementioned Thin White Duke and Duchess and The Boy Who Doesn’t Resemble His Father Or Grandfather But Whom We Like The Best. A good few years of monarchy to come right there then.

In these times of global terrorism I half-expect an outrage at every major public event and imagine the spooks and other people who hold up the umbrella the rest of us live under must be very busy right now. Well done whoever you are. Do keep it up!

Maybe there were so few on the balcony because they didn’t want to risk having the entire Royal Family wiped out by one Rocket Propelled Grenade launched from a hotdog stall in St James’s Park. Maybe someone is keeping their powder dry for the Olympics. Paranoia is a terrible thing.

It is what we’ve come to. Let’s go somewhere else.