Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Wait Is Over

It's finally here. I've been dreading and looking forward to the day in equal measure for months.

Bee's statement arrived yesterday morning.

I heard the big thud on the doormat when the postman arrived and I just knew what it was. We were not expecting any parcels and the only thing that would make that kind of noise is a great big envelope full of a great big report.

It's been about a year since this process was set in motion and each month that's passed has been a worry. What type of school is right? What if we can't choose? What if she's not happy? What if she doesn't cope? Will she get bullied? The worries just go on and on and on. Based on the copies of reports we've seen from Bee's medical professionals I'd convinced myself that the council would recommend the local special needs school. Which would be the worst possible outcome as we've decided we'd like her to go to a mainstream school with designated provision for SN children. For the last few weeks other parents at nursery have been talking about the statements starting to come through and I've been dreading that thud on the doormat. Would we get what we wanted? What if we didn't? Would it be right to fight it?

As I picked up the A4-sized brown envelope I noticed the Warrington Borough Council stamp and knew what it was. I deliberated whether to open it. Bee and I were getting ready for a day out with Uncle Stu and I knew I wouldn't have the time to really digest it before we had to leave. But knowing the council's recommendation of school was just a thin envelope away I couldn't leave it unopened and skip off out for the day.

I ripped it open, a little daunted by the thickness of the papers within, hoping that I wouldn't have to scan for too long before I found their recommendation. Thankfully I found it at the bottom of the opening letter, very convenient. As my eyes took in the words my heart sank: "I can indicate that the Local Authority currently recommends that the appropriate provision to meet your child's special educational needs will be at Green Lane Special Needs School."


So what now? I read on and discovered that this is a draft statement. They've included a form for us to fill in where we can "make representation regarding the information contained in the proposed statement" or complain, to put it in layman's terms. It also includes a box where we can specify the school we prefer, which we've already done in the report we sent for the draft statement to begin with but they didn't seem to take much notice then. Not a good sign. I sent Foz a text message to let him know and finished getting ready for our day out. The rest of the statement would have to wait.

We had a lovely day out with Bee's Uncle Stu, which I'll do a separate post on over the next few days. The sun shone down gloriously for what seemed like the first time this year. We ate good food, looked at beautiful homewares and plants and Bee spent a ton of time on the park.

Back at home the statement beckoned and I sat down to read it through properly. I was surprised to find that the statement itself was only a small handful of pages. To be honest it was smaller than the *ahem* large report I'd sent towards it. The bulk of the envelope was copied reports from Bee's medical professionals they'd used to write it. Which was useful as it allowed me some insight into the process they'd gone through to decide Bee's educational fate. These people who make this decision will never meet Bee. They will never know my daughter as I do. They won't even know her as her therapists and medical professionals do. A panel of people will read reams and reams of paper about what she can and can't do and they'll make a decision based on those pages. Even if there's a challenge to the decision and possibly even a tribunal, they still will never meet her. Only us, if it goes that far. The whole process seems a little crazy to me, the people who ultimately make the decision are no better than strangers.

As I read the statement, listing what Bee could and couldn't do and what the school should provide, it occurred to me that I didn't disagree with anything in it. Everything they've said about Bee is right. But the conclusion they've come to is clearly very different to ours. I moved on from the statement to the reams of reports that the panel had used. Most I'd seen before as we're automatically copied in on reports anyway, the one we hadn't was the educational psychologist's final report. As I blogged about back in May 2012 ( the educational psychologist has always been very accurate about Bee's abilities, even if it's hard to hear sometimes and I trust her judgement. This final report was very similar to the draft ones we'd seen through the previous 12 months but it was still tough to read. The content of the report, with the words "severe needs" all over the place had us both questioning our decision to go for mainstream with designated provision. Were we wrong?

Foz and I have both read through all the documents sent with Bee's statement and spent last night discussing them at length. Do we agree with the reports? Are we pushing for a mainstream school because we don't recognise the severity of Bee's needs? Are we pushing for mainstream because we preferred the school rather than because it's more suitable? Are we being unfair on Bee and pushing her too hard by pushing for mainstream? Are we being unfair on Bee and not giving her an opportunity by agreeing with the council's choice? We agonised over it. Really agonised. Never have we faced a choice that we've struggled so much with. And we only have 15 days to lodge our complaint, should we choose to make one.

After a long discussion and not a little soul-searching we came to the same conclusion: we're going to push for a mainstream school with designated provision. It may seem a little like we're completely ignoring the health professionals (who surely know best) but we feel in our hearts that we're doing the right thing by giving Bee a chance to shine in an environment more challenging for her. With a designated provision (DP school) Bee will be a small class of approximately 8 children, with 2 or 3 members of staff. There will be progress reviews every 6 months that assess how well she is coping and the minute she isn't the staff or ourselves can request that Bee move to a school more suited to her needs. Of course this in itself is a worry, Bee doesn't like change, but we feel it's worth taking the chance. In a DP school Bee will be surrounded by children at almost every level of ability and will have ample opportunity to model learning, play and behaviour. A huge part of our decision is something that not a single one of the health professionals touched on in their reports and so something the council will not have taken into account: Bee thrives when with children either older or developmentally further than she is. If you put Bee with a group of children like her she won't interact, talk to them, play with them. But with children who can 'lead' the interactions she happily moves away from us and copies their behaviour. Opportunities for her to do this is really important to us.

So what next? The council seem to be coming at their decision from a different angle to us, which of course is unsurprising as they don't know or care about our daughter in the slightest. So now our job is going to be challenging their decision. We've a form to fill in where we can "make representation" about disagreement with their choice, which I think means explain why we disagree. We can also name the specific school we would like. we have already done this so I'm not hugely hopeful that the council will listen. If they don't agree with us they will go ahead and produce the final statement, at which point if we decide to persue it we'll have to go to a meeting/tribunal to make our case. The thought of that is a little daunting but we're prepared to fight for our girl and what we believe is right for her.



Rachel said...

We are going through the statement process but for preschool at the moment so understand what is involved. It is often so hard reading the professionals reports as it really drives things home sometimes . But I do believe that as parent we still know our children better than anyone else does. We see them in all kinds of scenarios that the professionals don't.

Washing you the best of luck with your appeal. Remaining focused and strong in your beliefs for Bee is so important. I think as parents we are stronger than we sometimes realise xx

Unknown said...

I´m´sure that´s the right decision. You 2 are the ones who know her best, and you know how much she can achieve. I love to read your blog.

Unknown said...

You know how much she can achieve. Keep on giving her a chance.