Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Flu Jabs do not give you flu !

In my Facebook feed this morning was a link to this “News” story :Piers Morgan receives flu vaccine injection from Dr. Oz, then gets sick

The article relates that celebrity UK journalist Piers Morgan, appeared in US television having a flu jab, live, in an apparent attempt to convince the public of the safety and efficacy of flu vaccines; but that after the jab, he then came down with influenza – and concludes :

Millions of Americans now know that flu shots can make them sick, thanks to Piers Morgan

The author adds : It is difficult not to chuckle at the whole ridiculous charade. What was meant to further pull the wool over the eyes of gullible Americans literally blew up in the face of those that perpetrated it, as millions of Americans have now had their eyes opened to the fact that flu shots are dangerous and can, indeed, cause flu-like symptoms and other health damage.

Well excuse me if I don’t chuckle – excuse me if I go away and weep in despair at the sheer bloody ignorance of people who frankly don’t know shit from shinola.

When you get a flu jab you’ll get a leaflet tel you what it can do, and what it can’t do.

Typically a flu jab helps prevent infection from around three different strains of flu. It won’t prevent you from catching it – but it will dramatically reduce the chances. In the unlikely event that you do catch one of those strains of flu it’s likely that the effects will be less severe than if you were not vaccinated.

If you catch a strain not covered by the vaccination – of which there are many  – you will not be covered at all – and stand more or less the same chance of catching flu as you did before – however the strains in the vaccination represent the ones most likely to be caught at that time, and the ones most likely to cause a severe illness.

You can not contract flu from the vaccination – it’s not a live virus – this can not happen.

You can suffer from side effects from the virus – the most likely is a mild fever in the hours following the jab. From personally experience I can say that your arm’s a bit stiff for a day or two as well.

You could suffer an allergic reaction to the jab – the likelihood is tiny – far less than the likelihood of catching flu.

You could just conceivably contract Guillain-Barré syndrome – however the risk of this happening is no greater – and probably lower than the risk of contracting the same condition via catching flu – as a calculated risk it makes sense to vaccinate.

This information is well researched – it’s out there in Doctors’ surgeries, clinics, Health department websites – it’s very easy to find – It’s been researched properly and scientifically.

So what does Piers Morgan’s flu jab and subsequent illness show us ?

Well it shows he has a flu jab. It shows he lost his voice 11 days later.

And that’s it basically. It doesn’t show that he had flu, it doesn’t show that it was caused by the virus, it doesn’t show that the virus was ineffective.

All of the information we have from this report is absolutely consistent with the information that is routinely given out to people taking the vaccination

It would be as sensible to say :

Piers Morgan drank a cup of coffee on January 11th, and on January 23rd complained of losing his voice


Millions of Americans now know that coffee can make them sick thanks to Piers Morgan

And of course people will say – well how can you trust all that research and Government information ?

Right – Well maybe I’m a sucker for authority but I’d sooner trust the global research community and the US & UK Governments than “The NaturalNews Network”  which  “is owned and operated by Truth Publishing International, Ltd., a Taiwan corporation. It is not recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit in the United States, but it operates without a profit incentive, and its key writer, Mike Adams, receives absolutely no payment for his time, articles or books other than reimbursement for items purchased in order to conduct product reviews.”

There are two sad aspects to this story, the first is that there will be people who will read this article and as a result will not be vaccinated against flu, and will die this year – because they catch flu.

The other is that yet again it becomes more difficult to argue coherently and sensibly about any subject, when large numbers of people around the world are either incapable of, or unwilling to critically analyse news information, to tell the difference between fact and opinion, and to carry out even the most cursory checks on the accuracy of information that they pass on. These are skills that are taught in primary schools – why can’t intelligent adults apply the skills they have been educated in ?

Most articles that come my way via Facebook are generally misleading or in some cases entirely untrue  – it’s seems sad that we’ve developed our technology to the extent that we can now use it to go back to the ignorance of the dark ages

What 'S' is it traditionally quite easy to tell from Shinola ? - well for most people anyway !

What ‘S’ is it traditionally quite easy to tell from Shinola ? – well for most people anyway !

January 30, 2013 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to bonkers ?

A little over a week ago I was present to hear Conservative MP & Shadow Minister for Schools Nick Gibb address an invited audience – largely made up of Head teachers, Chairs of Governors, and others with an involvement in schools, at Glaziers Hall, in London, courtesty of solicitors Winckworth Sherwood Winckworth Sherwood – Tories aim to boost ‘prestige and esteem’ of teaching

He presented a short outline of future plans for “Schools under the Conservatives”.

His talk focussed on structure and standards, with some of the key points arising being:

  • the introduction of new “not-for-profit” providers who will establish schools using the academy model; plans are already under way under the New Schools Network;
  • the extension of academy status to other schools who wish to obtain it;
  • planning laws are to be altered to facilitate the establishment of new schools;
  • school heads are to be given more freedom, with powers being devolved to them; the right to appeal against exclusions to the local independent appeal panel is to be abolished;
  • there will be no “voucher” system and there are no plans to curtail the admissions  current code;
  • BSF schemes which have reached financial close will be guaranteed but there could be no guarantee for other schemes given the current national budget situation.

(abstract e-mailed to me by Winckworth Sherwood)

Now I’m no Tory – and it’s perhaps to be expected that I wasn’t overly  impressed, but having mulled this over for a while, I started to come round to thinking that what was lacking from these proposals was not so much content, as a little bit of enthusiasm. There is actually plenty in there to make voters sit up and think – if only it was presented more enticingly.

It’s not about chucking out the progress that Labour has made; and it does promise a fairly radical expansion of the academies scheme – which although many on the left oppose, is seen by a large number of voters as a positive development.

It also puts paid to the voucher system – thus demonstrating that there’s no lurch to the right, and that if independent providers want to educate pupils from the state sector then they’ll need to run state schools – again a fair bit of “progressive” thinking- especially considering that this is the Conservative Party

Whether you like those ideas or not, there should be plenty there to sell to the electorate.

I do think the abandonment of BSF would be a disaster – and feel that this could possibly be challenged in law – but to be fair, I’m not exactly part of the Tories’ core vote strategy – and this policy is in line with their plans for radical spending cuts sooner rather than later. No matter how I disagree with them, there’s clearly a consistency with their wider aims there.

Of course since then there have been all kinds of hiccups for the Conservatives – criticism of the campaign, narrowing poll leads, the furore over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status etc.

I was nevertheless shocked to read Michael Gove’s proposals for education on the Times website today Gove unveils Tory plan for return to ‘traditional’ school lessons – Times Online – coming a mere 10 days after I’d heard Nick Gibb spell out a very different picture.

Now Michael Gove – Shadow Secretary of State for Children – says they’re going to :

  • Instruct children to learn poetry by heart , in a return to a “traditionalist” education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, and modern foreign languages.
  • Rewrite the national curriculum to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science
  • Teach History “in order” – as a narrative
  • Put more emphasis on the classics in English classes

Mr Gove says that Teachers entering the profession “don’t love abstract thinking skills”, but that “what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love

He goes on “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,”

Mr Gove asserts that “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England”

I don’t know how he knows this – certainly it’s not what I want as a parent, not that anyone’s ever asked me.

It does all rather remind me though of another chapter in Conservative education. A period between 1992 and 1994 in which the then Education Secretary John Patten wrote to all teachers in state schools extolling the virtues of formal “traditional” teaching – sitting in rows, as researched by one Neville Bennett in his work ” Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress blissfully unaware that most if not all qualified teachers had studied Bennett’s work – and also knew of his later work in which he cast doubt over his original findings.

It was a difficult time for the Conservatives – the approach to education being part of the wider “Back to Basics” campaign. There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet to read about it –  make a start with the Wikipedia entry Back to Basics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which commences thus :

“Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993…

…  the initiative was intended to focus on issues of law and order, education and public probity (especially single mothers)  …  was widely interpreted as a moral campaign, and hence was ridiculed by political opponents”

So – when the going gets tough, it would appear that the Tories lurch to the right, and go back to the tried and tested. Except that when it was tested – it failed miserably and disastrously.

If this is Michael Gove’s honest approach to Education policy, then it is sadly misguided, and frankly more than a little stupid.

The Tories election campaign is rapidly becoming a train wreck

March 6, 2010 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you smarter than a 16 year old ?

I loved this video of Ed Balls in parliament haranguing the opposition, and couldn’t resist sharing.

Courtesy of Sky News’s Cheryl Smith and brought to my attention by the man himself @EdBallsMP via Twitter.


(If you can’t see the video could you send a comment please ? – I’ve had trouble embedding in the past)

November 19, 2009 Posted by | education, politics | , , , | Leave a comment

More support for children with Special Educational Needs

I was pleased to see this press release Ed Balls: More support for children with Special Educational Needs from the DCSF which came to me via email from my local authority.

I’ve blogged before on the way that David Cameron seems be cornering the market in the Special Education field (David Cameron’s right to flag up provision for families with disabled children.) and how the Labour party don’t seem to be providing any responses to the suggestions he makes (Still no response to David Cameron on Autism, Disability) .

Ed Balls statement is a welcome reversal of this trend.  The part that caught my attention in particular (as Head of a school for children with severe, profound and multiple disabilities) was this :

To ensure pupils had the highest quality teaching in special schools, Ed Balls announced he was commissioning Toby Salt to lead an independent review into the supply of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). He also announced that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) would be taking forward a £550,000 project to develop special schools as leaders in teaching and learning practice for children with the most complex learning difficulties, meeting a commitment in the 21st century schools system White Paper.

This is welcome news indeed. I wonder how many readers are aware of just how many “special school teachers” for children with learning difficulties have actually received any specialist training to teach children with learning difficulties prior to entering those schools ? Well to give you a clue, there have been no specialist initial teacher training courses since I graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1989. Many special school teachers have received no award bearing training after qualification either.

(That isn’t all bad news actually – mainstream teachers bring a great deal to special schools – and the shift of emphasis from specialist training of teachers for special schools,  has helped facilitate some of the achievements in promoting inclusive practice in the education of children with special educational needs. Few people teaching in the field of Special Educational Needs would consider the situation ideal however)

It’s also clear to me as well that special schools – catering for the most severe disabilities  – far from being institutions which promote segregated education, are actually the organisations best placed to provide help, advice and support to colleagues across the spectrum of educational provision, to promote the education of children with special needs in all settings.

Although David Cameron does echo the opinions of many parents in prioritising special schools over mainstream provision for children with special educational needs – he perhaps forgets that the overwhelming majority of children with special educational needs are – and should be – educated in mainstream schools. He is right to emphasise the importance of special schools though in meeting the needs of those with the most severe and complex needs – but does not I feel go far enough to recognise the key role of that special schools, and specialist teachers can play as centres of excellence, spreading good practice, and helping to ensure that the rest of the educational system is better equipped to meet all children’s needs in their own schools.

I’m hopeful that the SSAT project which Ed Balls announces in this release will be a move towards doing just that.

The two initiatives will certainly be led by people recognisable to education professionals – Toby Salt has worked extensively with the National College for School Leadership, and Professor Barry Carpenter is arguably the best known practitioner in Special Education in the UK today. He is known, liked and respected by many in the profession – including myself.

It’s perhaps worth noting that Ed Balls is in a very different position to David Cameron when it comes to making pronouncements about the future of  education. David Cameron can effectively shoot whatever pitch he likes in order to garner public support and votes.  He may or may not get a chance to implement what he says. He may or may not choose to. Whether he’ll have the funding to do so is also a matter of some conjecture as well.

Mr Balls on the other hand is the incumbent secretary of state. If he makes promises, he’s obliged to carry them out. Yet clearly he may not be in a position to do so – it’s unlikely that any changes requiring government legislation can be implemented before the election – an election which could be lost. Neither can he make rash promises though – it’s an election which could also be won !

So I’m satisfied for the moment with the promises made in this press release, but hope to see the issues surrounding the education of children with special needs, and with disabilities taking a higher priority as we move towards the election. I’m sure David Cameron will do that, but whilst I respect his position regarding these issues, I don’t feel that his party does, and would expect that this would be fertile vote winning ground for the more compassionate, and thoughtful Labour Party.

Only time will tell !

October 4, 2009 Posted by | Disability, education, politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cuts for Schools ?

I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times  Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.

He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself :  ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying  … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.

He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.

So what it’s it all about ?

Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.

I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.

Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.

What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.

I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why –

Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.

Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! –  first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.

Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could …  well we could do all sorts really.

This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.

Well that’s my guess anyway.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building Schools for the Future – why Michael Gove is wrong to condemn spending on consultants

I was very interested to read this post on BBC News :  School consultants ‘earned £170m’ , reporting on Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove’s statements claiming that Local authorities were wasting large sums of money on consultants to help them through the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme – commonly referred to as ‘BSF’.

At a local level I’m very involved in a particular BSF scheme – and it would be inappropriate to make comment which related specifically or politically to that project.

I did however feel that Michael Gove’s comments – if reported accurately – were particularly below the belt, and I feel compelled to flag this up – I’ll try and do this in a non-partisan way.

Building Schools for the Future  (BSF) is a huge long term project to rebuild or substantially replace all of the country’s special schools. As such it commands (at national level) broad cross party support. Although implemented by the Labour Government at a national level, local authorities of all political persuasions right across the country  have worked very hard to move this scheme forward.

It’s been a long process, and I believe the schools which are opening this week as a result of the scheme represent Waves 1,2 and 3 of the project. Waves 4,5 and 6 are in an advanced state of preparedness. Future waves are at various stages – from submitting Outline Business Cases, through to not having started at all. So straight away it’s clear that the process is only part way through – so why Michael Gove should comment that so few schools have benefited is a mystery.

Anyone remotely close to the action in BSF though can not fail to have noticed that the scheme does indeed generate a whole industry of  consultants and supporting professionals – who must (as Michael Gove points out) cost large amounts of money.

I wonder though whether Michael knows whether the people working on these projects – Head teachers like myself; Local authority officers and planners, who are  on the workstreams for BSF have any knowledge of how to design a school ?

Well I for one haven’t really.

Have I got any knowledge of how to incorporate sustainable energy efficient and environmentally friendly features into a school – adhering to PassivHaus principles ?

Well no I haven’t – I’ve only learned about them through this scheme.

Have I got any experience or knowledge of how to negotiate a multi-million pound deal with mutli-national consortia, who have far more business expertise than I have, and ensure that we get the school we need for future generations of children. Well no I haven’t .

So I wonder who helps the people in schools and local authorities to plan these ambitious, and immensely complicated projects ? Well Mr Gove it’s actually the consultants that you’ve been complaining about. They are the people who are ensuring that the people who really know about schools, but don’t know much about architecture, facilities management contracts, or competetive dialogue processes,  are still ble to provide their vital input into the building and refurbishing of the schools of tomorrow – and also ensuring that we get value for money, with high quality designs which will provide us with schools fit for purpose for decades to come. I’ve dealt with lots of them in recent months, and most of them are extremely skilled professionals, extremely hard working, and not always particularly well paid.

I feel that Michael Gove’s comments do little to reflect the efforts of Council members from all parties – Conservative included – who together with officers and other professionals have worked tirelessly on these projects and are now beginning to see the spectacular fruits of their labours.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Response to Tom Harris’s blog : A new Assisted Places Scheme would be patronising and misguided

I was interested to read Labour MP Tom Harris’s post tonight :

A new Assisted Places Scheme would be patronising and misguided

and bothered enough about it to prepare a bit of a comment.

On the basis that I don’t think comments should ever be longer than the original post though I’ve stuck it on my own blog instead. Please read Tom’s blog first so that you’ve got some idea what I’m on about.

I think there are 3 sides to this : –

  • 1. This “assisted places” scheme sounds like silly season rubbish to me – and would be rubbish in what ever season it was in.
  • 2. The people who’ve pointed out that ‘assisted places’ used to mean assistance with fees to private school are I believe right – and I feel very pleased that we’ve lost this scheme which supported a mode of education dedicated to perpetuating inequality in society.It might be interesting to examine though whether we could make better use of partnerships between private and state sectors in education (as indeed we do in the NHS) – Many people may be unaware, for instance, that local authorities already spend many millions of pounds providing independent special school places for children with special needs which can’t be met within the local area. Although there are a few issues with this it generally works quite well.

    An increase in public/private partnership in education wouldn’t exactly go down well with the left wing of the Labour party I’m sure, but I’m all for looking at radical solutions – and if something works well, I really don’t care who provides it if it’s free at the point of use.

  • 3. You’re wrong when you say that it was nobody’s fault but yours that you didn’t work hard enough to get to university. Yes you made that choice – but your culture (and mine) was a product of the divisive society that preceded you – and the biggest part of the challenge for education is educate ALL sections of society that education actually has value – and to do it in timely fashion so that disadvantaged groups do not drift off into delinquency in their early teens – as I almost did.

If no one in your family has ever been to university or worked in anything other than low paid jobs, then the prospect of getting a degree and landing highly paid jobs in positions of influence seems pretty remote when you’re 15.

I did actually wake up in time to get to university, and did so not on a loan, but on a grant – which was a great leveller – it made even the rich kids poor. Of course now we have far more people at university and the state can only afford loans, and students have to pay tuition fees. Irrespective of the reality of this – the mere prospect of the debt puts prospective students from poorer families off.

What we don’t seem to be facing up to, is that by increasing the numbers of people at universities (and thus reducing the money to fund each student) – we’re actually decreasing the proportion of poorer people at universities – and also devaluing the degrees that they would achieve. It would seem sensible to me, to reduce wider access to universities – replace loans with grants  – and ensure selection is purely on academic merit. Oh yes – and find a way of persuading young kids from poor families that doing your homework really is more worthwhile than hanging out all night down the town centre with a bottle of cider.

This would arguably make university education more elitist – however a better way of thinking about it might be to say that it would be more specialised – high academic study is not for everyone – but it should be available to everyone who wants it and is capable of it.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | politics, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

David Cameron’s right to flag up provision for families with disabled children.

I don’t often agree with the Conservatives – but this time I did – I’m writing this in the hope that it will stimulate a little thought and perhaps encourage Labour to make it plain that they are every bit as committed to these issues as David Cameron.about

I felt that David Cameron’s article outlining his position with regard to provision for children with disabilities for the Independent on Thursday was a very important one.

Of course I would do – I’ve spent my whole career working in special schools – but I feel that the article has far wider importance – and signals an attempt to place the politics of disability centre stage, as we approach a general election.

If so then he has made a very good start. He rings most of the bells which families of disabled children, and those working with those children want to hear.

He also has a personal interest through his own personal experience as parent of his child Ivan who sadly died recently. The authenticity with which he relates that experience will certainly ring true with many parents and carers.  I applaud his article – and hope that it kicks off a wider debate about the issues which he raises.

What I’d like to do is to look briefly at each of the 5 areas which he raises, and state how and why I’d like to go further :

Lesson 1 : The importance of early intervention and help : The next Conservative government is going to increase radically the number of health visitors

It’s hard to disagree with this – but I’d go further – we also need therapeutic input – Physios, OT’s, Psychologists and Speech & Language therapists as well.

David quite rightly tells us of the trauma which parents suffer on finding out that their children are disabled. Much of the help provided, will need to be as much for parents as for their children.

There’s no mention of who will pay for this radical increase in health visitor numbers – but I for one will not be picking holes in his suggestion.

Lesson 2 : Life for parents of disabled children is complicated enough : a crack team of medical experts – doctor, nurse, physio – [should] act as a one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.

Well he’s absolutely right about the complications – the politics of statements, about who does what, which number to ring for what service, who pays for which piece of equipment. It’s ridiculous – parents should be able to access one point of contact to deal with all of their issues. My own feeling (and I freely admit to my bias) is that this should be via the schools.

I do like the idea of a “crack team” – and I certainly endorse the “one-stop shop”. I’d caution against seeing disability as a primarily medical issue though. Some disabilities can be of course, but many are educational, psychological, and sociological in nature and the professional input most needed is often not a doctor or nurse at all. In fact a side effect of  viewing disabilities as a medical issue, is that it can encourage the view that the disabled person is “ill” – and the corollary that they can be “cured” – which almost by definition is unlikely to be the case.

I’d suggest actually that in many cases these “crack teams” already exist, which is not to say they can’t be improved. One suggestion I would certainly like to see is the re-introduction of specifically trained teachers in the education of children with special educational needs.

I wonder how many people reading this think that teachers in Special Schools for example, had specialist training in order to teach there ? Well some do of course (me for one) – but the last courses leading to qualified teacher status, and specialising in “Special Needs Education” closed their doors in 1989.  Most teachers in special schools are mainstream trained teachers with no prior specialist training. I think it’s time we did something about that.

Lesson 3 : we’ve got to make it easier for parents to get the right education for children with disabilities we’re going to stop the closure of special schools and give parents more information and greater choice

If I could change one thing in the world of special education it would be the way in which disputes are settled with respect to special educational needs provision. I could write a book about it – and I’ll blog another time about the specific frustrations of securing out of placements in the specialist independent sector – but briefly here’s the problem :

The local authority has the responsibility to meet the needs of a child with a statement of special educational needs. The statement is a relatively complex legal document (especially if you’ve never seen one before – which most parents haven’t) – which is drawn up by the local authority. It has to be agreed by the parents, and reviewed annually, and any dispute can ultimately be decided by a Special Needs Tribunal under the auspices of SENDIST.

Problems are usually sorted before that – but sometimes not. It can be a tough situation though.

I wouldn’t wish an educational tribunal on my worst enemy. They are heavy going even for seasoned professionals. For parents with no experience of taking on the great and the good, and worried about their children’s future they can be daunting in the extreme.

Like David Cameron, I want this situation to be improved and I suggest the following :

  • SENDIST tribunals to be replaced with a non-adversarial arbitration and conciliation services, which provides a free advisory service to parents  – and if necessary to local authorities.
  • The removal from local authorities of the financial burden of funding non-maintained and independent special school places. This funding to be handled by regional bodies, drawing an averaged amount from LA budgets, allowing LA’s to reach decisions on suitability of placements on a purely needs driven basis.

The thinking behind the closure of special schools is a complex and philosophical one. I’m certainly encouraged that David Cameron appears to be in favour of a special school provision – but do remember : Most children with special educational needs, can and should be educated in main stream schools.

As of course they are. Some would do better in special schools though – but the nuances of where we draw the lines, how we decide who is placed where, though tiny in the national picture, are huge life changing decisions for some young people and their families. It is an area that certainly would benefit from further public debate.

I’d like to see :-

  • A national review of LA policies on special school versus mainstream special needs provision, basing outcomes not on ideology, but as far as practicable on the choices of young people and their families, and the needs of individuals not populations.

Lesson 4 : Like all other carers, parents need a break.

Respite care is such a massive need for families with disabled children. It must become a major priority. Like David I feel that the voluntary sector will undoubtedly be key agents in addressing this need – but let’s not undervalue it – and if funds are needed they should be allocated.

Lesson 5 : “Here is the total budget for you or your child, you choose how it’s broken down.”

This is of course already happening for some –but not for others. I love this approach because it’s radical and progressive – in some respects extremely  right wing, in others extremely left wing – it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea that is about enabling the most powerless, vulnerable, and disenfranchised people in society to make directly the decisions that will improve their lives and give them control over what happens to them.  Get on the case Labour – and tell the world what we’re doing towards this !

If I was to offer a few words of caution, they would be to look at who really makes the decisions in the end – is it the parents, the person with the disabilities  – or is it someone else ? Parent’s don’t always choose the things for their children that their children would choose for themselves. If you’re an able bodied teenager you tend to find that out and make yourself heard and make your choices accordingly. If you’re a severely disabled teenager you might not be able to make your feelings heard quite so easily.

In a similar way parents of disabled children are not necessarily skilled in managing the responsibilities of spending delegated budgets to meet their children’s needs – and may need help.

I hope I’ve given a brief hint of how I feel about these issues – and that it may stimulate a little debate elsewhere – hopefully within the Labour party – about these important issues. I’ve tried not get bogged down in detail – but if this article is a little on the long side it’s because I could literally write a book on each of these 5 “lessons” – they really do mean an awful lot, to an awful lot of people – who are still a tiny minority within our society.

I’d like to finish by drawing attention to a sixth area that David Cameron hasn’t covered : Our provision for children with disabilities is strong, but could be stronger. Yes – but many of them will need our services for their entire lives though, and there is a reality that provision beyond school age is no where near as intense in terms of either quality of frequency as that which they receive as children. I think this is a problem.

I’ll leave that one for people to think about.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Disability, politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cameron’s making the running on disability issues

David Cameron with his son

David Cameron with his son

This piece on “The Independent” website by David Cameron today (The five lessons I learned as the father of a disabled child) will resonate very powerfully with professionals working with disabled children, and with the parents of those children. Most of those people will agree with every word of it, and even those who don’t will agree with much of it.

I feel strongly that this is a powerful electoral battleground that the Conservatives are opening up, and hope sincerely that Labour responds in kind quickly and sensibly

I’m headteacher of a special school – and I’ll certainly be blogging on this in the next few days. Watch this space

For anyone who thinks David Cameron is cynically exploiting the sympathy value of his dead disabled son for a few votes – think again ! He has a well known history of championing the rights of people with learning difficulties in particular, not least in Oxfordshire where his constituency lies, and is one of only two politicians ever to have approached me as a head teacher to ask my opinion (long before he was leader by the way). The other was a certain Mr John Bercow – who I personally feel has a lot in common with David Cameron, and can’t understand what the Tories have against him. But what does a raving Socialist like me know !

July 15, 2009 Posted by | Disability, politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating the return of my Hair

This is Maria in my office yesterday.

Maria is well known amongst people in the world of special education, and is now recovering from breast cancer.

Maria is interested in helping other breast cancer sufferers and their families, probably via the internet, possibly using video, but hasn’t done much like this before (someone helped her with her own website !)

I’ve advised her to get a Twitter account, and probably a WordPress blog, and will post updates here when I get details.

In the meantime she can be contacted via her website here It’s an educational consultancy website (although there are a few kitteh pics as well – I recommend Lurkio !) so look for the contact page. [ This is technically a commercial site – but I’m not spamming – you’re under no obligation to buy Maria’s services ]

Those who know Maria will know that if she’s going do anything she tends to do it exceptionally thoroughly – So if anyone is looking for positive role model to show how you can beat breast cancer – Maria is your girl !

— Post From My iPhone

July 8, 2009 Posted by | blogs | , , , , | Leave a comment

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