I have to say that the start of the new school year was marred a little by the worry of your impending visit to do an Audit on the allocation of SNA's (Special needs Assistants) in the school. Nothing personal, you understand. It's just that tales and anecdotes abound about other SENO audits in other schools. We hear all about the valuable SNA's that have lost their jobs and the children who suffer as a result. It has to be said that some of the decisions beggar belief. Zoe's case being a case in point. So, it's fair to say that the news of an impending SENO Audit is enough to freak out those who are generally unfreakoutable. And I would definitely include myself in that category!
It didn't matter that I knew the Audit was about ensuring that the already existing criteria concerning the allocation of SNA's were being strictly adhered too. I didn't quite trust that knowledge so I worried that you might have a hidden agenda. Maybe a quota of cuts to attain? And the thought of that truly freaked me out.
It didn't matter that I knew the only documents I need concern myself with were two of the Department of Education and Science's Circulars: Sp Ed 07/02 (regarding Applications for SNA's) and Sp Ed 0009/2009 (regarding the review of SNA allocations.) The wording worried me you see. I mean, I know how I interpret the phrases ....special care needs........ significant medical need............. significant impairment........... clear evidence and..... sustained efforts....for example. It was how you might interpret them in the course of your review that really freaked me out.
It didn't even matter that I knew we had the valued expertise of our very astute Principal, his up-to-date teaching staff and fantastic SNA's on our side. What an extremely dedicated and hard working team they are too, I must say. They made sure everything was in order and that we all understood what the review was about. I knew they were working so hard to assist and protect all the special children in the school which would also lead to a more harmonious family life for all concerned. I knew that everyone involved.... school, SNA and parents (The Holy Trinity).... accepted the children's diagnoses and understood the strict criteria required. It freaked me out anyway.
Nor did it matter that we really had nothing to worry about when we looked at the criteria required. Even when we saw the Special Care Needs appendix to Sp Ed 07/02 (kinda like a check list of the needs of the pupil and the assistance required by the SNA) was I appeased. I mean, by using this form I could clearly show the significant care needs and impairments. This form shows that bringing a child to the toilet is not the only care need that gets you an SNA.... supporting a child with emotional/behavioural issues (so that they don't upset and disrupt the whole class) is a care need too. But none of this mattered to me.... I was still freaked out!
It didn't matter that our Daily School/Home Communication Diary (a must for all of you in similar situations) also showed clear evidence of the required care needs and that our sustained efforts had not yet been totally successful.
None of this mattered...... I was still totally freaked out!
There was no talking to me.
I even tried talking to myself!
I reminded myself that you were just a person doing a job. I mean, I even know what it's like for you to do your job. In my previous existence
In tax audits there are negotiations and mitigations.
So I couldn't help but wonder : What negotiations and mitigations exist in an SNA review???
None, I feared.
And that really freaked me out.
Finally the day of your arrival was upon us. You were to be here for three days. A very worrying three days. You know I can now, hand on heart, totally recommend the new SENO's in Town Diet.... a very effective weight loss programme indeed!! Mind you, the sense of relief when the SENO has left town totally undoes any good derived from the SIT Diet itself!!
Anyway, here you finally were and you didn't have any horns at all...... you were just a person doing your job after all. You were efficient, brusque and extremely thorough. Oh, and you loved paperwork.
I got to meet you and I was extremely worried about our meeting. You really have no idea of the worry us parents have with regard to your review.
I was totally prepared for our meeting and was ready with my well rehearsed spiel. You met the parents after you'd spent 10 minutes or so with the children, the SNA's and teachers. So I wanted to add to what had already been said and to impress upon you how important it was for my son to receive continued SNA support to get him to and through secondary school. Fifth class is the most difficult Primary School year and to remove this last bastion of support that my son has...his last defence against his ASD behavioural battles (he currently has no Clinical Supports..NONE)... would be a major travesty that would affect his whole future. That's how strongly I felt. I mean, I had loads of behavioural examples but this is what it boils down to. His future. And you, with a flourish of your pen were going to decide on what my son's future would be.
Would it be a future in which he struggled, unsupported, through what will most probably be his teenage- hormone-induced and behaviourally and emotionally challenging Secondary school years ending with, hopefully, an okay job? If he makes it.
A future with a supported transition to and through his (as described above) Secondary school years, allowing him to reach his full potential and ending with a job in an area that he's comfortable in?? And maybe even... a future that includes....oh my, nervous tingles even thinking about it.... a...... College Education?? (He has been wondering whether or not he'll go to College)
Be in no doubt Dear SENO, that is precisely the importance of your decision.
My aim and goal in life is to ensure that the latter happens. And I'm prepared to give up my impending return to the paid workforce to achieve it.
I was prepared to go head to head with you in our meeting. I would leave you in no doubt of what actions I would take if your decision was to remove my son's SNA. I would appeal, go to TD's, a solicitor and I would hold the Department ultimately responsible for any diminished behaviours my son presented with as a result of your decision.
So, in I went to the meeting and got to say precisely...... none of the above.
The meeting was not about hearing my side of things.... not really. You had already made your mind up and had no interest in going over what you no doubt thought of as "old ground". It appeared that you just wanted to give me some advice. You told me you'd seen my son and he was fine, not a bother. But...you also said that you had obviously caught him on a good day.
What??? SENO's realise that this happens??
Yes, they do.
That statement alone relaxed me. A bit.
You advised me about giving him more independence for the remainder of his Primary School years which is something we want to do anyway. Independence, Organization and Talking with Respect are our goals.
And you gave me some advice about Secondary School..... any Secondary School can apply for an SNA apparently, so don't let them tell you otherwise ;-)
You also requested some paperwork. Fair enough.
I then asked you The Question. Even though I was getting the right vibes I couldn't leave that room without asking The Question. I could not bear another sleepless night. So I asked.
Will you leave him with his SNA?
I will not be removing his SNA, you said.... but I need the paperwork.
And paperwork you shall have, Dear SENO. I just hope we get you precisely what you need. I know how important that is.
But, I still couldn't totally relax until the written report from the SENO, who loves paperwork, was received.
I now wish to thank you, Dear SENO, for a very fair and thorough Audit of the SNA allocations. I thank you for being reasonable in continuing the sanction of some SNA's pending receipt of the correct paperwork. I also wish to commend you for your wise decision to leave us with our SNA's intact.... albeit with a little applied bureaucratic, mathematical formula, which left an hour or two short here and there. A mind boggling mathematical formula that truly beggars belief, but I'm not really complaining. Just saying like.
I've no doubt we can sort that one out too.
I have to tell you, Dear SENO, that although I am relieved that our school had an overall successful outcome of our review, I cannot help but wonder at the other schools who have had a completely different experience.
What makes our school different?
Are we just incredibly lucky?
Have we allocated SNA hours in a better, more successful way than others?
Have we got the level of commitment, knowledge and rapport between all branches of The Holy Trinity just right?
Have we somehow, magically stumbled upon a magical, mathematical formula of our own??
Or, am I right....... it depends on the Auditor???
Successful or not, I'll tell you one thing for nothing:
Forget the cuts in Special Education. What we have going in our school, particularly with regard to The Holy Trinity, should be replicated and installed in all schools.
Because it works.... Goddammit..... and it will ultimately save the State a fortune in the long run. It will save in the costs in providing more Therapies in the future, at a greater cost AND will gain in revenues to the State when our kids get well paid jobs....... and pay taxes.
While the review of SNA allocations is supposed to be about ensuring that the already existing criteria are being adhered to it appears that these may be currently under review.
Although we may have been successful in retaining our SNA's I do worry about about our (and other schools) new applications. It appears, as with other Departments, that the Department of Education and Science keeps changing the rules of the game and we have to somehow figure out how to follow the shifting goal posts.
It also worries me that you Dear SENO and your colleagues in the NCSE, no longer accept educational recommendations from Clinical Therapists.Preferring instead to limit the allocation of educational supports to the resources available. Well, that's how I, and others, read NCSE 03/08.
Very worrying indeed. Especially when this circular effectively allows SENO's , without any medical qualifications whatsover, over-rule the recommendations of a clinical psychologist, for example.
I hope all SENOs and your colleagues in the NCSE sleep well at night.
Erm... it was nice to meet you. I thank you again for your fair audit and, nice and all as you were, I hope not to see you again! Well, not in the next two years anyway ;-)
xx (a very relieved) Jazzy
Note: Although the school is unnamed, this post does not, in anyway, reflect the school's position in this matter. This is my personal account of my perspective on our experience with our school's SNA Review.