SEN Parents Survey

In 2015 I ran an online survey to find out more about the views and experiences of home educating families where children had special needs and disabilities. There were 169 responses. All the parents who responded said their children had special educational needs but only half had a statement. Although this was a number of years ago with statements of SEN rather than EHCPs, the themes still resonate today and most parents who get in touch with me still experience the process as ‘them against us’.

0ver a third had been home educating for more than 2 years although this may not have been their original intention, . Three quarters of children had previously attended mainstream school (rather than special school). Over two-thirds said that the child being unhappy was a factor in their decision to home educate, with anxiety and bullying also cited. Parents felt pressured to send children in because of the effect on the school’s absence figures.

2 out of 3 said their child didn’t get any of the support set out in the statement once they were home educated. In some cases this meant that access to health therapies was withdrawn immediately the child was no longer on a school roll, with parents being deemed to have opted out. Meanwhile, contact with the SEN department is often stressful. Parents tend to resent the intrusion and in many cases trust has broken down. Parents felt that when a child special needs it gave professionals more chance to have a say in home education. This definitely puts parents off applying for an EHCP.

3 out of 4 felt their children wouldn’t be able to cope with school or college. Parents tended to be hugely relieved that home education was working, since there was really no alternative. Some were very pessimistic that an appropriate place could ever be arranged. Parents mentioned college as a possibility because it was perceived to be more flexible. Parents felt things needed to be in place right from the start.

It isn’t necessarily binary with EITHER either school OR otherwise; some parents described more complicated scenarios. “Currently unofficially home educating again” “home educating whilst court case is resolved” “home educated for months at a time” “son hasn’t attended school regularly for nearly 2 years” “he couldn’t cope in school and they couldn’t manage”. In some cases home education was perceived a stopgap, but even where a child had returned to school, parents didn’t necessarily expect it to last.

The effect of problems at school could be devastating. “Appalling mood after school and didn’t want to leave the house at the weekend” “became mentally unwell and planned how to kill himself” “bored senseless and became disruptive and aggressive” “bullied physically by other pupils and suffered emotional harm from support staff” “held it together then huge meltdowns at home” “”all the schools refuse him saying they can’t meet his special needs. Fair Access are trying to find a place but it’s very difficult” “school just wouldn’t provide quiet area” “constantly had to fight battles I had already fought” “expected to get on a normal bus with a change in our city centre just to get to school” “school ignored what tribunal said about 1 to 1 support” “child being constantly sent home from school” “spent more time being excluded than actually in school” “too poorly to make a full day in school” “took 3 people to get him dressed and then had to be carried down the path to school” “wandering out of school without being supervised”.

Parents felt they had no choice; comments included: “numerous disagreements with the LA about suitable school place” “schools refused to take him” “looked at 18 secondary schools” “council didn’t provide alternative education” “home education was the only viable option we were happy with” “one of the reasons for choosing home ed is that I just don’t want my child to see me fighting all the time”.

It wasn’t straightforward to deregister even from mainstream. Sometimes the problem was with the council, and parents said they were “bullied and threatened with court”. At other times the problem lay with school. “Head teacher made repeated referrals to social services claiming we were disabling our child and school was the only way of keeping him safe” “head tried to tell me that I needed to have my house inspected by Ofsted before I would be allowed to home educate”. Some parents though had a very easy time taking their child out and suspected this was because the authorities just wanted the child out of the way. “For the LA it’s a financially cheap option and therefore they just let families get on with it and ignore them pretty much” “the process for SEN support in schools is embarrassingly poor and is a terrible experience for child and parent yet when you then move to home education the professionals all tell you the best place for your child is school where they quite clearly failed the children in the first place it’s a frustrating experience all round” “given up expecting anyone involved in traditional educational systems to understand someone who didn’t quite fit”.

In some cases parents are looking for support, especially where they feel they have been pushed into home educating. “I feel very nervous to contact them as I feel they may judge my home ed provision ahead of looking to help me” “I want them to help but they say they can’t” “seems we don’t exist anymore” “the moment we removed our child from mainstream school they pulled the plug on all provision” “we’re arguing that this is not elective. We don’t believe we had a choice in our decision” “can’t get any practical information or help from my councils SEN department” “short staffed with no real follow up” “asked for an Ed Psych assessment and got a long letter telling us why we should avoid going down that route” “felt very lonely and all alone.”

Some parents resent the intrusion. “Given we received nothing I felt cheated that we had to report what we were doing to an inspector” “I’d rather they stayed away and left me to it” or have negotiated their own compromise. “I just send in an annual report”. In some cases trust has broken down. One parent said of the council “they will never write down anything that can be argued, preferring to phone.” However, another parent commented that “making an effort to build positive relationships really does help”

Some families were left alone or only had minimal contact. Comments included: “because was not costing the LA a penny they left us alone” “I’m not going to inform the LEA in the hope that it takes a while to filter through from the school – I don’t need more hassle” “they email once a year to ask for a report” “I keep getting told I chose it” “I don’t know which department it is, I send in a yearly report” “we have as little contact as possible” “we have had her name passed to social work by the council because they were worried about her health because she wasn’t in school” “the LA kept blaming me for poor parenting”

The local authority has a legal duty carry out an annual review but this doesn’t always seem to happen when children are home educated. One parent said “I had to ask for annual review and push for it to be done”. When I asked parents how they felt about the annual review, a third said the statement hadn’t been reviewed since they started home educating. Parents often felt that the reviews were of no benefit to the child. “It certainly does not feel like they are there to help” “an absolute farce” “a pointless exercise, it doesn’t change anything now we home educate and it doesn’t help with anything”.

Parents felt they were not treated as equal partners. “They are far more zealous about checking our provision than they were about checking what the school was doing” “LA gives parents very little notice” “I have to remind them that the statement only applies to state schools and I don’t have to follow it” “we were sent letters as though we were a school” or that they had to do someone else’s job “I was told to rewrite the statement myself and send it to the SEN team”. There was not 100% negativity; one parent said “we looked back at disability issues which were causing problems and ahead to what he’d need in the future to support them, it was a useful opportunity”

There was widespread cynicism and pessimism. “I think I will be lucky to hang on to what we have got” “as always I am hoping for less costly support but more parental control ….. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” “I’m in the dark and think it’s just another useless form but I could be wrong”. Professionals have been managing parents’ expectations. “I have been told we will not get anything” “they’ve already told me I’m on my own” “our daughter’s SLT therapist informed us that she didn’t believe our daughter would qualify for a EHCP”. One parent already had a backup strategy “I never hope for anything from them, the legal route is the only way to deal with them”

Parents wanted to hang on to a statement or Plan as insurance. Asked whether they saw any benefit in their child having a statement or Plan many parents were dismissive. “I have heard from many that it’s a waste of time and can even invite more headaches” “pretty pointless” “it’s useless, it was useless in school and has absolutely no value when home educating, it’s just a potential stick to be hit with” “just to keep tabs on us basically”. Nevertheless, “when the time comes he won’t be left out as a vulnerable adult” “it is then set for the future” “I do believe the EHCP is a positive document, it acts as an insurance policy in case the child might need an urgent school place at some point in the future” “I believe an EHCP would limit how much my son is sidelined and written off” “it leaves the door open for further education” “it means if ever they have to go back to mainstream the transition will be less stressful”.

Statements or Plans also have value because they can serve as a passport to important benefits or support elsewhere. “It helps to have listed legally things they struggle with to support any benefits they receive” “it’s helpful for the renewal of DLA”.

Statements and Plans give professionals more chance to have a say in home education. “Loads of bureaucracy, loads of ‘justification’ to LA, ongoing stress” “more checks” “more hassle from the LA” “being hassled and inspected” “it takes a lot of my time for no benefit, my child got so distressed at last years meeting that we will not attend this years” “council staff assume they have rights which they do not” “it’s another layer of bureaucracy to deal with, and more professionals who think they know the law but don’t” it’s “too goal oriented for autonomous home edders” “you have to toe the line more with the LA’s ridiculous and sometimes unlawful requests for fear of jeopardising future support through the EHCP” . This perception definitely puts parents off applying for an EHCP.

It was often a battle to get the statement hence the strength of feeling about keeping them ticking over as insurance could well be related to perceptions of how difficult it might be to get anything in place later if they let them go. 9 out of 10 parents thought it would NOT be straightforward. “I had to go to tribunal 3 times to get what we have now, it would be beyond my resources to repeat the process” “I think it would be an incredibly difficult process” “like everything you would have to fight for it” “most probably not as they could say I coped on my own” “the LA would be keen to put all barriers in the way – they would not want to assess and that would be the first hurdle to overcome”) As one parent put it “general opinion seems to suggest that it’s quite difficult to get an EHCP assessment anyway and I would think that as home educators even more difficult without school’s input to illustrate SEN.”

It was relatively rare for the council to suggest ceasing the statement, however several parents felt it would be taken away if they actually wanted anything from it. There was also some confusion as to whether the statement was still in force. “They haven’t suggested ceasing it but then I don’t know if they maintain it or not??” “according to the previous school my child had made lots of progress and did not require all support in the statement and professionals working for the LA watered down my child’s needs, from that information LA wanted to stop support”.

For some families it was a case of not ruling anything out. “Who knows! I never once ever imagined that we would be home educating – things change”. “We are giving school a go again and at the end of this academic year we will decide if its working or not” “hoping to flexi school to reduce anxiety” “we’re hoping he will attend secondary school but happy to home educate him if that’s what he wants” “I keep an open mind about the future” “now back in school with a statement” “we are going to see how it goes” “we have no plans to return to school at present but we would facilitate it if our daughter wanted it” “we just want him to have an education” “will never be full time always part home part college/6th form etc” “we intend to home educate during the primary years, with the possibility of school at secondary” “I might think about some sort of 6th form – to give him opportunity to meet other young adults with similar issues” “if he wanted to do a course or study something we would do everything possible to make it happen” “due to money issues there will be a lot more online learning which might suit him better than a busy institution”

Some parents doubted that an appropriate place could ever be arranged. “I don’t think the LA will ever fund a suitable place” “I have asked and asked for him to go to a specialist school but they won’t unless I put him into the oversubscribed special school to fail then they will consider it” “my son would need a LOT of support” “there is a complete void when it comes to SEN school placements for academically able children” “will never be full time always part home part college/6th form etc”)