A few weeks ago I was invited by the Disabled Children’s Partnership to share my views on the SEND green paper with MPs. The public consultation is open on the green paper until Monday 11th July. Below is the message I wrote, which was recorded by my friend Alaric and made into a video.
My name is Jonathan and I am 16 years old. Until the age of 9 I wouldn’t have been able to write this speech, not because I didn’t have the potential, but because I was not taught literacy in special school. Being non-verbal this is the level of expectation we too often receive – that due to our complex physical needs we are incapable of learning to read and write. The green paper talks of all children reaching their potential, but doesn’t explain how or who will determine what that potential is.
Tragically many non-verbal children have the same experience I had of being given a sensory curriculum devoid of the written word. Through my charity, Teach Us Too, I have also been contacted by scores of parents who have tried and failed to convince their non-verbal child’s school to teach them basic literacy. These are parents asking schools to teach their children, a basic human right which is not being met. Some of these parents are removing their children from special school so they can be taught at home. I was one such child; so much for co-production, there is a very long way to go.
The green paper talks about the need for excellent teaching and high standards of curriculum in every mainstream school – why exclude special schools from this statement? There is a very great need for aspirational teaching in special schools. Rather than advice for the deployment of TAs there is also a need for them to receive training in how best to educationally support pupils with SEND rather than just caring for them. With my charity I address trainee teachers and I am shocked to find that in most universities SEND is covered in just a few days of their course. Training teachers and TAs in excellent aspirational teaching for all pupils, mainstream and special, will have a positive impact on the ability of SEND pupils to reach their potential.
In the green paper there is a welcome emphasis on the need for better early years support in identifying needs. But I suspect this proposal is more about searching for those children with hidden disabilities, rather than providing robust support to those children whose physical needs are obvious. By the time I entered special school I had acquired the educational label Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). But I didn’t have a learning difficulty, I had an access to learning difficulty. Early and effective speech and language therapy would mean children were less likely to be mislabelled PMLD, which according to the latest EHCP census figures accounts for 9,976 pupils in England. My non-verbal friends who had a good alternative and augmentative communication system in place prior to starting school have had dramatically better educational outcomes than those without.
In conclusion, the main question this Green Paper doesn’t answer is ‘How you are going to raise the aspirations and potential for non-verbal children like me?’ I have come today as a voice for the voiceless, I implore you to use your influential voices to enable more children and young people to be given theirs.