Thursday, 13 October 2011

Objection! A tale of two consultation documents

Not too long ago NYCC published its shiny new consultation document "North Yorkshire Special Educational Needs and Disability Strategy 2011-14", setting out the Council's strategic plan for the coming years for children with SEN. Within a few days of the launch PACT, the parent's advocacy group objected to how it had been quoted in the document. NYCC swiftly withdrew the original and replaced it with version two.

Let's see what changed:

North Yorkshire PACT networks with other well-established parent support groups across the County and has been a key factor in the identification and promotion of good practice within services delivered to children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities. Through consultation with PACT a number of areas of good practice have been identified, including Service improvements include year nine transition review meetings, where parents are now invited to attend alongside their child, Connexions Representatives and School SENCos and improved parental involvement within the Early Support programme. Additionally, trials of a new format for Pupil Centred Planning Meetings have been undertaken, to give a more holistic view of the child and provide an enhanced voice for users of the services with regards to decision making. Consultation with North Yorkshire PACT also indicates that there are effective communication channels in place between Special Schools and parents.


In general terms, parental satisfaction for services is lower for parents with children with SEN and/or disabilities when compared to the whole parent cohort. Consultation with North Yorkshire PACT brings to light the fact that parents believe there is a lack of cohesion in the way services relating to SEN and disabilities are offered and provided across the county. Focus groups with parents report that provision varied significantly across the county and many parents had to rely on word of mouth in order to identify appropriate available services. PACT have reported that greater guidance for families should be introduced, and that there is currently insufficient information relating to SEND services available  and improvements in childcare for SEN children were required.

What could have caused PACT to object? Could it be that NYCC likes to give the impression that PACT is a fully functioning, county-wide, wholly representative group of parents of children with SEN, and therefore has no need to consult individual families, voluntary or other parent groups? 

This approach seems to be on the increase, seen earlier this year with the LMS consultation debacle. NYCC seems to think if it consults PACT, it has fulfilled its requirements to consult. Despite the hard work of its members, PACT is a small organisation with only a handful of active members. It cannot possibly fulfil the role that NYCC would wish. There is no easy way of consulting families of children with SEN. By definition they are a hard to reach group, but that doesn't let the Council off the hook. It simply has to try harder.

One could infer, of course, an ulterior motive to NYCC's actions. Consulting a small, overstretched, non-representative group of parent volunteers (by their own admission) means NYCC is less likely to find itself effectively scrutinised by the people who use its services.

Full marks to PACT for acknowledging its limitations.

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