You don't know what you've got till it's gone

7th February 1997 at 00:00
It is an interesting coincidence that the report on the investigation into the effects of the special educational needs tribunal in local authorities, commissioned by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association for County Councils (TES, January 17), will be published just as the three-year Grants for Education Support and Training funding for special educational needs parent-partnership schemes comes to an end.

Tower Hamlets is one of the two London boroughs referred to indirectly in the article as having had no appeals since the SEN tribunal was introduced in 1994. I would argue that this is due, certainly in part, to grants for education support and training-funded parent advice workers (and volunteer named persons) defusing potentially confrontational situations and, in the vast majority of cases, negotiating solutions which are acceptable to both the parent and local authority (or school). In other words, they are offering a conciliation service, much as is recommended in the report.

The most important reason for doing so is not just to save the LEA money, but because it is in nobody's interests, least of all the child's, for there to be a lengthy, acrimonious dispute. With an increasingly long wait before an appeal against an LEA decision can be heard, it may be many months, or even years, before the case is resolved.

However, conciliation and mediation are only half the story. One of the most effective ways of ensuring that scarce resources are targeted at those children who need them most, is to inform and empower all parents. Then those who have the least knowledge or ability to "work the system" can be just as successful in asserting their rights as the stereotyped, middle-class parents referred to by John Fowler.

This is what SEN parent partnership schemes up and down the country have been working hard to achieve, but with the end of Department for Education and Employment funding fast approaching, how many schemes will survive, as LEAs are pressured to delegate an even larger proportion of central funding? In the words of the song "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone".

SARAH GALE Tower Hamlets Parent Partnership Officer 85 Harford Street, London E1

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