Dorothy Jarvis-Lee: A worthwhile investment for a brighter future

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THE Local Government Ombudsman has reported that a worrying number of children with special educational needs (SEN) are being illegally excluded from school to the extent that it is affecting their long term education and seriously damaging their future prospects.

In 21st century Britain, it is both outrageous and a scandal that children are being illegally denied the chance of education and life opportunities because they are special.

Worse, in a society just emerging from recession, it is absurd that we are wasting precious resources by denying our talented young people the chance to develop fully and squandering money by delaying corrective action that could harness this.

Many SEN children are on the autism spectrum and have a very valid and valuable contribution to make to society. It doesn’t just damage their future prospects, it damages ours.

It comes hot on the heels of a similar report by the charity Ambitious about Autism. Of 500 families surveyed, 23 per cent of all children had been illegally excluded. Given that there are in excess of 70,000 children on the Autism Spectrum, that could equate to 20,000 children, a huge loss of talent.

Some of our brightest talent in the arts and industry, are on the autism spectrum and with the correct support and guidance they can become productive members of society making a valuable contribution and generating multiple benefits for everyone.

It’s simple maths. With the correct investment at the beginning of their education, SEN children can access the support they need to help them achieve the same results as every other child and therefore take up their rightful place in society, they contribute through talent and tax revenue and not stay reliant on the state for care throughout their lives.

It isn’t difficult to work out.Every well run organisation recognises that its biggest asset is its people. They invest in them and develop them, they don’t shut them out before they have assessed the contribution they could make.

A key reason that SEN children are excluded, according to the report, was that teachers felt they couldn’t cope with the condition. Without fully understanding the actual needs of the children, they were leaving them standing at the school gate and not allowing them in.

Prejudice and stigmatisation are the two biggest hurdles any SEN child faces. Parents of children with SEN complain that they face constant battles to have their children assessed properly by local authorities, then they face another battle to have the recommendations implemented.

It shouldn’t be that way. Again, it’s wasting time and money that if channelled correctly could harness real talent and provide incremental benefits for all.

At ubu, we have many consumers who come to us, when others feel they are beyond help. Parents say they have almost given up hope of finding the appropriate care and support package for their loved ones.

Our uStep model has evolved over the years as we have listened to the needs of our consumers who tell us they want to live independent lives within their communities.

We work out an individual care package that delivers the real benefits to their lives and puts in place support that over time reduces as they improve. Within a few weeks we see real improvements, we are then able to reduce the support as they take decisions about the kind of lives they want to live.

They respond and their lives improve rapidly and incrementally they continue to improve, reducing their reliance on medication, support and equally become less of a cost to society.

Many of the people we support at ubu achieve independent lives, having previously been reliant on one-to-one care or more. It’s a win for society as they become independent they become less costly in both financial and manpower terms.

So it could be with SEN children. Given a prompt assessment and with the correct support, these children could access valuable learning that would allow them to achieve academically.

They would realise their potential and their own aspirations but, more importantly for society, they would be able to make a valuable contribution benefiting everyone.

NHS and the social care budgets are under constant pressure. As a society, we must invest in development, not throw good money after bad by denying SEN children access to education.

The Government has brought in tougher rules so that local authorities must assess children sooner and provided cash for more SEN co-ordinators.

Society must look beyond the immediate short term savings of cutting budgets and focus on the long term investment needed to educate all our children so that everyone in society can reap the benefits.