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Special needs: your stories

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 January 2007

Several distinct themes emerged from viewers' responses to the Ruth Kelly story.

Ruth Kelly (Reuters)

We've had an overwhelming response to yesterday's coverage of Ruth Kelly's decision to take her dyslexic son out of state education and enrol him at a private school.

Several themes emerge from the many viewers' emails describing their experience of the special educational needs system:

Your emails
Due to the length of your responses we have taken extracts which reflect these key points.

Sympathy for Ruth Kelly

"I have a 7 year old son with special needs. I fully support Ruth Kelly's decision. We were faced with a very similar situation. We finally found an excellent Independent School and my son is thriving. We are both in favour of a State System. However, it couldn't provide what was needed i.e. small class size, a whole schools approach in addition to specific help during school hours"
Eileen Feeney

"Of course people who have more money are able to spend it on things poorer people cannot afford... The need for education, like the needs for medical treatment, is a bottomless pit. No government could ever wholly satisfy that need."

Inadequacy of mainstream schools' special needs provision

"The closure of so many [Special Need's Schools] has been a disgrace often justified by the misguided mantra of 'inclusion', by such means are many left to fend for themselves, ill-prepared and ill-supported in institutions which exist, these days, to compete by league table. It is a sad farce and a tragedy for individual families who cannot afford to take the private route as we did."

"Children with autism are complex and challenging, and staff at mainstream schools have no idea how to deal with them. They have not even a basic training in autism, let alone the extensive and thorough training that would mean a meaningful and appropriate educational experience."

"As Head of a large Primary school is fully inclusive I know that the funding given to my school is barely adequate to meet the provision that is legally required for the children that have special needs.

"Every year we battle to set a budget and to deliver for these children. The funding is a lottery. Over the last three years I and my governors have been pressured some would even say bullied into reducing the budget especially for the special needs group of children".

"I am a single parent and a student with a 10 year old daughter who has recently been diagnosed with moderate dyslexia and dyscalculia (the numerical equivalent), which is more severe...

"The school's answer to supporting her was to withdraw her from her peers, something she hated. She ended up acutely aware of her perceived difference and as a result her confidence fell to an even lower ebb.

"I took matters into my own hands, and sent her to a tutor once a week who specialises in teaching dyslexic children. This has had the affect of raising her self-esteem and her reading and writing ability. However, this has cost me £12.50 a week. Another financial burden for a family who can least afford it."

Local Authorities dragging their heels

"These children & their families are a marginal interest group that don't translate into substantive votes. The issue that I would most like to highlight is the inherent unfairness of local authorities acting as assessors and decision-makers in the Educational Statementing process. This permits them to legally drag their heels and rule against children; based not on need but because some Councils don't set aside an adequate budget for special needs education."
Keith Blake

"The hoops you have to jump through to get a child onto the register, never mind getting them to the point where they get some real support, are so time consuming that it almost seems not worth the effort - you certainly wouldn't go through it for every child in need of support."
Gary, primary school teacher, London

Legal difficulties encountered

"I had to sell my house to fund private educational needs for my child. We were refused a Statement, I took them to tribunal, which I didn't win. I couldn't afford a specialist Ed Psych and QC, which I was advised was the only chance of winning a tribunal. To date the current Government owes me in excess of £100,000 for my child's education, which they failed to provide.

"My child left school last summer with, 7 GCSE's, 3 AS levels and 3 A Levels, has just spent three months doing voluntary teaching in West Bengal and intends to start a degree course in the Autumn".
Jane Orr

"I am a mother of a severely dyslexic child who had a monumental battle to get my child statemented and sent to a special school and only succeeded after employing a solicitor specialising in education law."

"The solicitor dictated a letter, while I was in the office, to the education authority, reminding them of their statutory duty, and saying he would take them to judicial review if an assessment for a statement was not arranged within 7 days. An assessment was immediately arranged and a statement followed.

"Why should a parent have to go to a solicitor? Because the local authority will do anything to save money. A statement means a specified number of sn hours are allocated to that child because they need help, but all the education authority care about is saving money."

"The tribunal process, as well as being horribly expensive, is enormously stressful, as LEA divisions are expert at dragging the appeal process out. The deceit and bully-boy tactics employed routinely by the LEA SEN divisions has now become part of their make-up.

"Parents know this: but of course the government and, likewise the Opposition don't seem to have a clue about the reality of the situation caused by a flawed insistence on inclusion (implemented and now rejected by Ms Kelly) whether suitable or not."

Difficulty in getting a statement

"My mother was... educational director for the British Dyslexia Association. Even with this wealth of experience in Dyslexia it has still taken five years to get my youngest son who is severely Dyslexic to the point of being given a statement."
Christopher Augur Life long Dyslexic

"I am a single, well educated parent with a son of 9 who has suspected aspergers and dyslexia. He is STILL waiting for assessment to confirm this.

"I am unable to work because he needs me to take him to and from school, which he sometimes refuses to go because he hates school. He has become more and more withdrawn and isolated and his needs are not being met.

"He has made little progress at school and has no friends. If I had money, of course I would send him to any school which would make his life better, but I dont.

"Ruth Kelly has let every parent with special needs down and has proved to us all that only the privileged get forward in life. This surely goes against Labour policies. I feel sick and angry inside."
Georgina Fenn

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