Friday, December 11, 2009

CSF bill: Equality Impact Assessment. "Just a paper exercise"?

This post couldn't have been written without the invaluable help of three other home educating mothers: Elaine Kirk, Carole Rutherford and Ruth Gray. I'd like to express my gratitude to all three.

Ever since the publication of the bill, Elaine has been sending me information about its probable effects on children with special educational needs. One of the many things she's pointed me at is a link to the Equality Impact Assessment [opens pdf] of the bill, which begins its 3-page section on EHE (chapter 19) at page 73.

I must say I wholeheartedly agree with Elaine, and with Carole Rutherford at AIM, who has also been involved with our discussions, that this Equality Impact Assessment bears no relation to the actual impact of clause 26 on many home educated children with special needs.

It breezily asserts that:

An adverse impact is unlikely, and on the contrary the policy has the clear potential to have a positive impact by reducing and removing barriers and inequalities that currently exist.

An adverse impact is unlikely?? Carole describes the likely impact on a typical child with autism (if there is such a thing!) as follows:

An autistic child follows a script in their head and has clear expectations of what to expect from people, places and activities. For the vast majority of autistic children their home is the one place where they feel comfortable and safe. It is not only the environment that they are used to, home tends to meet all of their complex sensory needs because parents make not only reasonable adjustments but also unreasonable adjustments to ensure that their children do feel comfortable and safe. Not only is the home of an autistic child the only place that they feel safe they also have clear expectations as to who lives in that home with them and who visits them.

Principle 7 of this DCSF workbook on equality impact assessments [opens Word.doc] says:

Policy development should involve widespread consultation and involvement

People affected by a policy or programme should be consulted and involved in the design of new policies, and the review of existing ones. Such consultation should be both direct and through representative organisations, and should be based on principles of transparency and accountability.

- and yet AIM was not consulted on the development of the CSF bill's EQUIA. AIM has made the DCSF aware that they are far from happy with the home education part of Equalities Impact Assessment and their reasons why. They are currently awaiting a response from the DCSF and have now also written to Graham Stewart as Chair of the APPG and Liz Blackman MP who is chair of the All Party Group for Autism outlining their concerns about the EQUIA.

The workbook contains a table of questions for which quantitative and qualitative evidence is required when current policies are being reviewed, which includes the following:

Is due account made of the specific needs and experiences of disabled people? Or is a 'one size fits all' approach adopted?

Ruth Gray, home educating mother of twins with Asperger's, describes their 'specific needs and experiences' in relation to home visits as follows:

Even a trained person would be pushed to assess an ASD child. All ASD children present differently. There is no one size fits all, so no yardstick for "where they should be at". Also ASD kids are masters at giving an answer they think the person wants to hear, to get them off their backs.

B would say he wants to go to school to avoid a confrontation and would appear very sincere. He is very literal. He would not understand if the person was leading him or putting words in his mouth. He uses the ‘wrong’ words to describe his emotions. For example, if B says he is bored he means he is unhappy or stressed. B would clam up or say “I don't mind,” to everything. B also doesn’t talk that well if under stress (he was non verbal until he was 4.5 and on a SALT waiting list until he was 9 so his speech is not great under pressure.)

If B was asked questions about his home education, he would refuse to answer (or say “I don't know,”) because he would only talk about whatever he was obsessing over at the time of interrogation (not what he’d learned months before) or if it is specifically interesting to him for a reason at the time - not if he is asked about it. The assessor would get the idea he knows nothing from that, so we’d get a School Attendance Order straight away.

B says he can't read because he can't read everything. He can read Harry Potter but to him that isn't good enough, so his answer to “Can you read?” would be “No.” B rarely shows me what he can do, so no way would he show a stranger, no matter how well trained they were. B would cry if pushed and D would shout. Do you see where this would lead? It is scary.

And to think, the rest of us have been worried about the effects on our non-SEN children of clause 26, if it becomes law! (Well, I have at least, as you can see from the comments at that link.) Parenting a child with very special needs is a completely different kettle of fish. At least the rest of us home educating parents have some time and space in which to think and write and campaign for ourselves while our children are happily occupied with things, however limited that may be. But when I read more about what Carole Rutherford has to say:

Autistic Children tend very much to live by what I call scripted performance. By that I mean that they pretty much compartmentalise not only people, but also places and activities, in fact their lives. Everything has to have a beginning, middle and end. Change the format and you have a massive problems on your hands. I once wrote an article for a paper called ‘Ground Hog Day Everyday’ and that pretty much sums up life with autism.

- I realise that some children must need constant input, reassurance and interaction from their parents and that these families really need to be spoken out for, because they don't have much chance to do so for themselves.

The official definition of the term 'impact assessment' is:

The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.

So let's look in detail at the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of the development proposals already set out and presented to parliament in clause 26 of the CSF bill for children with disabilities and special education needs. (Bear in mind this should have been done already - it's precisely what the EQUIA is supposed to be for.) To quote from Dani's excellent leaflet:

Unregistered home educated children would be ordered to attend school

Local authorities would not be allowed to consider whether the education of unregistered children is suitable for their needs. The only consideration would be whether the child was ‘registered’ or not.

So there will be children on the autistic spectrum who have been removed from the schools that didn't cater for their needs - after great trauma in many cases, I suspect - who are now being well looked after at home by their devoted parents and given the best possible focused educational provision, but if they're not registered, then according to section 26 of the CSF bill, like children without SENs, they will have to be returned to school. Such an unwelcome and sudden lifestyle change would be very difficult for any child to cope with, but for a child on the autistic spectrum for whom, remembering Carole's words, their home is the one place where they feel comfortable and safe, the impact will be disastrous. And yet there is no mention of this in the Equality Impact Assessment whatsoever!

Back to Dani's leaflet:

Parents would be required to supply an advance plan for their children’s education every year in order to remain on the ‘register’

Local authorities would be given the power to decide whether the education provided is suitable, and whether it measures up to the plan.

Here's what Ruth Gray has to say about this:

The 12 month plan is laughable. I can't give a 12 hour plan. I am not even going to try. The boys learn on the hoof and as an example: I took them to a museum in Edinburgh (Dynamic Earth) expecting them to learn about.. well, the earth. But no, B spent weeks after getting home learning how the photography and filming of the various areas of the museum was done. The astronomy, geology etc. of it was lost on him. So if I had put on the 12 month plan "going to Dynamic Earth to learn about geology" we would have failed. However, they were still learning.

Dani's leaflet again:

Local authorities would have to reassess home educated children and parents every year

If home educated children, or their parents, do not give consent for a child to be interviewed alone, the local authorities would not have the right to insist. But they would have the right to remove that child’s name from the ‘register’ as a punishment for this refusal to cooperate. Loving parents would be forced to override their children’s wishes in order to protect their freedom to be educated outside the school system.

But from what Ruth and Carole have said above, we know full well what the likely impact of this would be on autistic children. Certainly not "reducing and removing barriers and inequalities that currently exist". Why is it that I can have a few conversations with two mothers of autistic children over a period of a couple of weeks, and come up with a more realistic impact assessment than people whose job it's supposed to be to consult with such parents and hence to properly assess the impact of their policies?

Here's how bad the impact can be. Carole pulls no punches - quite rightly. We need to know this kind of thing:

M was diagnosed with cyclical vomiting syndrome when he was only 5 years old and that is one of the reasons that we took him out of school because school was quite literally making him sick, and I do mean sick. When M has one of those attacks he can vomit 60 times an hour and we have ended up in A&E because of this. Now Graham Badman knows this, because I told him why home visits for autistic kids were not a good idea and Barry Sheerman knows this, because I told the Select Committee the same thing. M is not unique. His vomiting syndrome might be extreme and other autistic kids might not suffer the same syndrome, although it is not as rare as you might think, but other kids will react in other ways. Some will self harm. That might only be picking at their flesh but if the stress loads increases then so will the picking. This issue is actually massive and I am so sorry to have gone on for so long but even so I have only scratched the surface.

Please don't apologise, Carole. We need to know, so we can know exactly what we're protesting about, beyond our own personal situations.

AIM and NAS (the National Autistic Society) tried to put these points across to both Graham Badman and the Select Committee, but to no avail. Carole says:

Graham Badman added the NAS to his expert group and, given their vast knowledge wrapped around autism, we wonder if he actually heard what was said to him. Which is pretty much what they are all doing: listening but not hearing. Ignorance is not bliss when your kids are going to be on the cutting edge of all of these changes.

Somebody, in the process of all of these discussions made the comment that "Impact assessments are just a paper exercise." This might provide some insight into the reason it seems to have been scribbled out as a last-minute sort of afterthought. A cursory process: "Ah, we'll just say this.."

The DCSF workbook on equality impact assessments [opens Word.doc] poses two basic questions, in its 'Introduction and overview', firstly:

  • Could this policy, or does this policy, have a negative impact on one or more of the dimensions of equality? If so, how can we change or modify it, or minimise its impact, or justify it?

It could and it does. It cannot be justified. And secondly:

  • Could this policy, or does this policy, have the potential to have a positive impact on equality, by reducing and removing inequalities and barriers that already exist? If so, how can we maximise this potential?

I can't see how it could possibly have such a potential, and nor can Carole Rutherford, Elaine Kirk or Ruth Gray. We'd all be interested in discovering whether anyone reading here thinks it could.

I contend that the Equality Impact Assessment, like the main document (further analysed this week here and here), as a paper exercise, is not worth the paper it's written on.

I'll finish with a final quote from Ruth, which I think sums up this clause for all home educating families:

It's a farce, because they do not know my children (and because of all above) and so have no idea if they are reaching their full potential. Only I know that. It is not their responsibility to know that. It is mine. Unless they want to take responsibility for education off us it is not their remit to decide. What possible use is an assessment or interview unless that is the intended outcome? Do they really want that?


Blogger Elaine said...

Brilliantly put Gill Thank you.

1:05 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took my son out of school at 7 because he was self-harming from stress and saying he wanted to die rather than go to school. He has Asperger's syndrome and the school absolutely and completely failed him. He has been happily HE for seven years now. There is no way on this earth I am going to allow representatives of the system that failed my son tell us what we should be doing or interrogate my son. My daughter has similar issues, though no diagnosis. Her method of coping with the stress of school was to slip out and go for a walk around the estate until she had calmed down enough to go back. She was five years old and the school never even noticed she had gone. Even now at age twelve, academic work still brings up the bad memories of confusion and humiliation and causes distress. I did not remove my children from the violence that is institutional schoolin to have it force it's way through my front door. Balls and Badman think again.

2:05 pm, December 11, 2009  
Blogger Lou said...

Excellent post - thanks Gill and thanks to Elaine, Carole and Ruth who speak for so many of us. My son has Aspergers and was self harming at primary school. After an exclusion, a tribunal and wasted energy trying to get the 'basic' support he needed to get through the day intact, we are now home learning and would never go back and make him suffer that again.

Now he doesn't only survive the day but he is thriving again. It's taken a while to recover and no ill thought out Govt interventions are going to change that for us. We are lucky in that we live in Scotland at the moment, but we are watching this bill closely...

Like most parents who have seen the benefits that home learning can bring, I will never let them make him go back to school. I applaud the incredible effort and achievememts that many parents are making on behalf of all of us now to fight this bill.

2:33 pm, December 11, 2009  
Blogger OneVoice said...

Thank you for taking an interest in those of us who are home educating our SEN children. All children are different and unqiue some of our children are also disabled and those disablities do impact on their lives. Many of these children have left the system because their needs were not only not being met but their emotional well-being was suffering.They have enough to contend with without now having people coming into their homes to make their life even more difficult.

2:57 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need as many MP's as possible to see this. They are going to force parents into hiding with these draconian measures.

3:02 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm another parent of a child with spectrum characteristics. For us, too, the proposed licensing regime is simply impossible. Parents of this sort of child simply cannot plan ahead on an adult-led agenda, because our children are massively traumatised by it. Think terrible 2s, with massive meltdowns when overwhelmed or too far off script or beyond the child's expectations, and then project that forwards in the child's life until some unspecified but much older age. We improvise every minute of every day to negotiate with our children about food, clothes, activities, social interactions, trying to help our children stay calm and safe. If my child decides, out of the blue, that he wants to learn about dinosaurs for six months, I have to go with that, and I cannot commit him to a course of educational action to be judged in 12 months time by someone who doesn't know him. He's learning all the time, just not on anyone else's agenda.

And such children are highly unlikely to be able to co-operate in conversing with past or future with family members and close friends, let alone a complete stranger. My child first mentioned a memory of something in the past at the age of 5. Verbally and conceptually accessing past and future continues to be a challenge. Abstract conversation is rare and precious. My child simply cannot productively be interviewed by a stranger.

Badman, Balls and the DSCF have no idea of the damage they are lining up to do to our children.

3:44 pm, December 11, 2009  
Blogger Kelly said...

Thank you so, so much for writing this, Gill, and thank you to all that contributed. This is incredibly valuable, not just for the U.K., but for the world.

5:03 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter will not allow a home visit as he wishs to support children with special needs/disablities he has wrote and told Mr Badamn and Ed Balls this.Peter will not back down over this and will never allow a home visit he will tell a court this if they dare attempt anything.We fully support all children with special needs/disablities and we will do everything we can to stop the DCSF LA.s.All of you must just say no!

5:16 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for high lighting some of the problems faced by parents of children on the autistic spectrum. i also have a five year old son with aspergers syndrome, who absolutely would not cope with these enforced interviews. we intend to refuse all admittance to our safe home environment but in the event that it is totally impossible to fight any more ( i can not see me giving up at all though) i will have secret surveillance cameras installed so i can watch from another room, the minute my son gets distressed, or looks like he is being coerced in anyway i will cease the interview and call the police. my son has rights, the right to not be distressed in his own home is one of them, and i will make sure the footage is seen worldwide. to show everyone how wrong this is!!!

8:50 pm, December 11, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

Anon said-

'' i will have secret surveillance cameras installed so i can watch from another room, the minute my son gets distressed, or looks like he is being coerced in anyway i will cease the interview and call the police.''
England. 21st Century. Families planning how to handle strangers coming into their homes , taking their children into a separate room and interviewing them for 4hrs.
And why?
Because they care enough to act in what they believe to be the best interests of their child.
No crime suspected, no neglect suspected .
Just because they don't use state schools.

Oh I hear a whisper that the L.A. staff are only to be given basic training , no educational expertise, no special needs experience or training in different conditions..

10:48 pm, December 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'There is no way on this earth I am going to allow representatives of the system that failed my son tell us what we should be doing or interrogate my son. My daughter has similar issues, though no diagnosis'.

Anon's comment December 11 2:05

This is how I feel. The schools/LA had time enough to deal with severe bullying (eldest was the target) and they did nothing. NOW they decide they want to make sure she's OK? Rescue her from me? Put her back in a place where she would be in danger again? When she is just recovering?


I didn't give birth to have some no-trained, no-brained monkey from the dark side 'assess' my kids.


10:53 am, December 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gill, I'm desperately trying to find the section in the bill where it talks about assessing children who are de-registering. Please can you point me to it if you know where it is?

1:07 am, December 14, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Sally, I've just read through schedule 1 again and I'm not seeing any reference to that. It seems to me that the intention is for children deregistering from school (and applying for registration as home educators) should be treated in the same way as previously home educated children applying to be added to the home education register.

If registration is denied, because of one of the plethora of possible reasons listed (or just because the LA feels like it) the school place is left open and the child stays on the school register.

Children on neither register will be treated as truants, with their parents fined/imprisoned accordingly.

Merry Christmas :-( xx

7:45 am, December 14, 2009  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Thank you for this Gill. My local autism outreach worker (a service for schools, but we had agreed to let her come when looking for a school for M - the service is renowned for being very user-friendly) came to assess my son. He's an intelligent, friendly, polite kid most of the time, who is happy to chat away to his wonderful speech therapist, for example, because she speaks slowly and clearly and wants to hear what he has to say about things he is interested in.

Anyway this woman had a list of 'breaking the ice' questions on her computer for my boy.

'What's your favourite tv show?' "Ummmm. That's a really hard question to answer. I can't make decisions like that.'

'OK. What sort of music do you like?' "I said, I can't make those sort of decisions. I can't decide.'

'OK, what about this one? What's your favourite animal?' (M now beginning to get distressed). 'I TOLD you, I can't answer questions like that. I'm interested in animals but I can't decide if I have a favourite one.'

She went on through the list until M shouted "I can't answer questions like this! This is stupid!" and stomped off upstairs.

She said "I think that tells us all we need to know".

Now this was someone trained to deal with autistic children, working for a well-thought-of support organisation. I can't even begin to imagine how our snotty EWO would tackle the issue of monitoring if it she was tasked with doing so.

9:26 am, December 14, 2009  
Blogger Tom Paine said...

We rue the day we were persuaded, by decent well meaning people, to get a statement for our daughter, and I would strongly advise against having one. A SEN statement is very much the model of the Badman Review proposals - targets, annual review etc. .

This submission to the Select Committee touches on some of these concerns too.

Interestingly, since then, the LA have agreed to all of the changes sought to the final statement and have withdrawn all mention of the National Curriculum, group or whole class settings, naming a type of school, and recognises that "an efficient and suitable education" is being provided within a home education setting. (Although the amended final statement has yet to received.)

Thanks for the sanity.

11:46 am, December 14, 2009  
Blogger Tom Paine said...

Sorry the link didn't go through when I posted it. This is the tinyurl to the select committee submission.

11:54 am, December 14, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

Just adding these thoughts.
They seem to think that every SEN child will have a statement and their unique needs taken into consideration when LA's are deciding who can/cannot be granted 12 months permission to home ed subject to them meeting LA defined educational/safeguarding criteria.
They seem to think that every medically disabled child will have their needs met in a state school of the LA's choosing should the LA decree that Home Ed is not a permissible option for them.

Many SEN children do not have a diagnosis let alone a statement, and, many SEN children do not wish to have a diagnosis ,,. These children are having their needs met by parents who are able to adapt and adjust to each step of their climb into an adult world where they will be able to carve their own niche and live a fulfilling life that would probably be hindered with a DX and 'professional' (LA wallies) 'opinions' littering the databases that employers, insurers etc will no doubt be drawing on when they reach adulthood.

Many medically disabled children will be put at risk in schools that are under no legal obligation to provide medical care and very often refuse to do so , leaving children as young as 5 to 'self manage' during the school day.

Both of these situations should have been put in a impact assessment and published for feedback at every stage of the farce of the past year along with many other possible scenario's.

DCSF want to spout children's rights , they should go and examine children's rights in respect, especially, of their proposals re SEN, statements and SAO's because they all assume a child's agreement to being DX'ed and as we know the child not only has the right to refuse except in very exceptional circumstances, the child can be said to have valid argument against DX whilst still being entitled to the right to be accepted as having the SEN needs

1:56 am, December 27, 2009  

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