Matt Keer, member of NDCS, guest blogs for us on the Ofsted/CQC consultation on SEND inspections.
Dear Ofsted & CQC,
I’ve got two profoundly deaf boys. I’ve sent a response to your consultation about how to inspect special educational needs and disability provision in local areas. But there was something else that I wanted to say from the heart.
As a family, deafness has been part of our lives for over 15 years now. We got through the initial storm: dealing with diagnosis, learning how to help the kids develop, protecting them when they experienced social stigma, giving them a sense of self-worth and pride in who they are.
We managed all that. We’re not special people. Tens of thousands of other parents in our shoes do the same thing every day.
But the process of getting our kids the educational support they need? The support that they have a right to by law? Getting that nearly destroyed us.
Both our boys are now at a special school for the deaf – Mary Hare School in Berkshire. It’s a school that, educationally and socially, is transforming their lives – the ‘best possible outcomes’ that the new SEND legislation aspires to. It is a truly awesome place. But it took us years to get them there.
How did that come about? Pretty simple. Our local area fought us at every turn. None of its actions was in the best interests of our kids. None of their actions even aimed at giving them an adequate education. All of their actions were deeply unprofessional; many of their actions were unlawful.
We got there in the end, as a family. We went through Tribunal, some of us broke briefly, but we mended ourselves and the boys finally – finally – now have a full shot at life. It was worth it – but it never, ever, should have been this way. It never should have been allowed to be this way.
And the worst thing? There are thousands of families in the same boat right now. Still. Despite all the change in legislation last year. Families who coped fine with the stress of disability and severe illness, who now find themselves falling apart against the gruelling, life-sapping struggle to get their kids the support they need to get a few GCSEs, life skills, and friends.
My youngest child’s best mate? He’s deaf too. He’s tough as nails. He beat leukaemia at the age of 3. But this year, he nearly fell apart with the stress of knowing that an entire local area was trying to deny him a place at the special school he needed. His LA acted unlawfully. Repeatedly, without mercy, without remorse. Because it could. Because it can. Because it is not yet accountable in any meaningful sense of the word.
This is why you have to get this right. Because there is no-one else out there both willing and able to hold local area organisations like this to account. Parents and charities like the NDCS have been holding the ring here for far, far too long. And thus far, no-one else has stepped in.
We’ve tried the local area complaints process. It’s pointless. We’ve tried the Local Government Ombudsman. It’s toothless. We need expert, independent people to inspect these organisations, without fear or favour. We need them now. And that’s where you come in.
How do I know my local area’s actions were wrong? Because along the way, I have had to read, learn and inwardly digest several hundred pages of dense legalese and education jargon. I have had to argue, resist intimidation, fight my kids’ corner, do it again and again, year after year. Not for a Rolls-Royce education. Simply to get my bright, hard-working lads a shot at basic literacy, numeracy and a peer group.
We weren’t experts when we started out. We are now, and we’ve had enough. We’re sick and tired of being the ones doing the accountability. We’ve got kids with SEND to bring up, wider family to support, jobs to hold down. Frankly, life is busy enough.
Over to you, Ofsted & CQC. Please – please – don’t bugger this up.
The Ofsted/CQC consultation closes on the 4th January so there is still time to have your say. You can respond by going to the Ofsted website. Or you can respond using a NDCS template response for parents.