Making a statement;Talkback;Opinion

6th August 1999 at 01:00
When will the statement be written?" This is the most frequent question I hear, usually in resigned or impatient tones. That they get written at all is a minor miracle. It requires not only single-minded determination but also luck. I am unlikely to have that kind of luck today.

I try to get off to a good start, arriving at 8am. But no sooner do I open a file than the telephone rings. It is a head who says one of his pupils is no longer appropriately placed at his school. After a long discussion I tell him to talk to the school's educational psychologist then hold an annual review. I agree to attend and pencil in the date. The school is in Sussex. Few statements will be written that day.

By 9am the office if buzzing and concentration is difficult. People are complaining it is too hot - and it is. Someone telephones office facilities. A workman comes, concludes the air conditioning is not working properly and leaves. Someone turns a fan on. The papers on my desk fly to the floor.

As I pick them up my telephone rings. It is a parent. They are given our direct numbers in an attempt to make our service "user-friendly". This parent has no wish to be friends. She says teachers are picking on her son, "J", who has a statement for emotional and behavioural difficulties. He is at home and will never return to the school.

I fail to calm her down and tell her that in that case I will cancel his transport to school for tomorrow. She then tells me that if I do she will take him to school herself.

I tell her the transport will collect J as usual tomorrow and put down the telephone quickly.

It rings immediately. It is J's headteacher warning me that J's mother is hopping mad and about to call me. We discuss the situation at length. The school is doing all it can to help J but his behaviour is deteriorating and the head fears he is heading for exclusion. We agree an interim review is needed - another half-day out of the office.

I turn on my computer to begin writing a statement. But I find a message in my internal mailbox from a councillor. A parent has complained about the delay in the LEA's decision on whether or not to carry out a statutory assessment of her child. I explain that the parent has misunderstood the system and that the LEA has not exceeded the statutory time limit.

I begin writing the statement.

Someone is standing behind me. It is an education welfare officer. She wants information and advice about a child who is refusing to attend school. The file contains nothing to suggest the child is having problems. The headteacher confirms the child is appropriately placed and his needs would be met in school if only he attended. The welfare officer says she will pursue legal action against the parents. I continue writing the statement.

The post arrives. Letters from parents request statutory assessments for children, letters from schools request statutory assessments for children, letters from schools request my attendance at annual reviews and network meetings, letters from schools request additional funding and IT equipment, letters from schools ask me to amend statements.

There are also letters from schools refusing my requests for places for two children with statements. This is depressing. Both are proving hard to place. One is autistic and inappropriately placed in a mainstream school. The other has learning and behavioural problems. He was excluded from school six months ago, since when he has received five hours' home tuition a week. He has been turned down by all appropriate schools within travelling distance, and his parents will not allow him to board. He is Year 10 and the prospects of his attending school again look bleak.

I search books and directories for potential schools while eating a sandwich. This is my lunch break.

After half an hour I continue writing the statement.

Someone puts a fax on my desk. It is from an Indepedent Panel for Special Educational Advice representative who is supporting parents who want three pages of alterations to the draft copy of their child's statement. The representative wants an immediate response. A detailed reply would take the best part of half a day and I will need to consult others first. But borough policy stipulates that external letters should be replied to within a few days of receipt. I write a brief letter of acknowledgement, and promise a more detailed response soon. I cross out half a day in my diary to deal with this. My diary is now almost full for the next two weeks. I continue to write the statement.

I am interrupted by someone bringing me a registered letter from a parent who plans to appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal over the LEA's refusal to assess his son. Tribunals are bad news. They entail at least a week's work, great expense and much antagonism. I resolve to attempt negotiation with the parent as soon as possible.

I finish writing the statement.

I leave the office at 4.30pm with a spinning head. I have managed to write just one of the three statements I had planned. On my way home I buy The TES and read the appointments section.

Anonymous. The author is a special needs officer

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