Shortly before Christmas we were told that there would be changes to the Sensory Service that we as parents felt would alter the provision our children had. We were given 4 weeks to comment. While everyone else was busy preparing for the Christmas holidays, those of us with a visually or hearing impaired child were having to get into campaign gear. While I cannot say I enjoyed it, I learned a few interesting things that I’d like to share.
First, all local authorities are statutorily required to consult on their SEND provision. Consultations must include several options, and not just a single proposal. They must also provide a reasonable time frame for response. Our first efforts were to extend this consultation. Our Councillors and MPs stood behind us 100%. It was admirable how responsive they were. I found the website – Write To Them – really useful in getting the appropriate contact details.
Second, the proposal focused on the creation of integrated area teams. The argument was that some children may not be getting all of the services that they need. While this made sense for some of the other conditions being included in the proposal, e.g. autism, it is not suitable to low-incidence, high-need conditions, such as visual impairment. Both the 2014 SEND Code of Practice and the RNIB recommend that support for children and young people with vision impairment should be provided through a unified and centrally managed service so that specialist support can be targeted most appropriately and cost effectively according to the changing needs of the pupil population.
Area teams lead to a fragmentation of expertise and prevent QTVIs from specialising as they do now. For example, the skills required to work with the parent of a young baby are wholly different from those involved in teaching a blind child to read through braille, or to adapt the curriculum to enable a student with vision impairment to access A level science activities safely and independently. It also means the specialist teachers are managed by generalist, something that is not legal.
The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) policy and campaign teams were incredibly supportive. They attended meetings, provided us with the evidence base, and formulated a coherent response that we could share with our Councillors and MPs. They also helped us formulate a media response. The RNIB however, emphasised the importance of the campaign being led by parents to maintain legitimacy. They had been in situations previously in which they had tried to campaign, but no parents were willing to front the campaign, leading to failure.
As parents we focused on responding to the consultation. I asked everyone involved with Ronan in any way to write in. To facilitate this, I provided a template into which each person could write about their experience of working with Ronan. There were over 150 responses about the Sensory Service – that mattered. Other parents prepared a petition which got over 1250 signatures and we got the media to cover its handover to the Council.
I am happy to say that after a long fight, the Council has listened and decided not to change the Service. It shows that we as parents can make a difference in the services our children receive. The best part however, was that I had a house full of blind children just before Christmas. What more could I have given Ronan for Christmas.