A story caught my eye in today's Sunday Times (£wall) that may have passed you by.
Under the headline "No, minister: scornful mandarins quietly kill government policies", it seems that a senior civil servant, one David Owen, has won a tribunal case for unfair dismissal. He was apparently sacked after blowing the whistle on civil service colleagues' attempts to obstruct a ministerial policy proposal.
After winning his tribunal case, David Owen reportedly spoke of the "dismissive attitudes" of some civil servants, "warning that risk averse officals are blocking potentially valuable policies" and that they "placed excessive emphasis on risks associated with implementing the policy" ... "rather than setting out the risks and seeking ways to overcome them".
This comes just a week after the widely reported charge from former Prime Ministerial policy chief advisor, Steve Hilton, who spoke in similar terms of the civil service and civil servants.
What has this to do with SEN? Well, for my colleagues and I, this is how 2013 has begun.
1. Governance: a letter from DfE requiring us, in relation to our non-maintained special school, to confirm that our governance arrangements conform with 2011 Regulations, ensuring our alignment with various aspects of the governance of local authority maintained schools, as if there had been: no discussion during the past couple of years of school governance generally (broadly, between 'representative' and 'skills' models of goevrnance); nothing learned from the newer governance models of Academies and Free Schools; or that a review of governance of NMSSs was due. If we cannot confirm that our governance documents comply with 2011 Regulation, we must now submit our governance documents to DfE for scrutiny. Fortunately, we shall be writing to DfE confirming that our documents do indeed comply. But why this? Why now? Aren't there more important matters of SEN policy for over-stretched civil servants to be occupying their time with?
2. Finance: a new Funding Framework is to be introduced in April 2013. Aside from the fact that this was initially described as an "Interim Funding Framework", the word "interim" now apparently dropped; aside from the fact that it is being introduced utterly separately and at least 18 months before the SEN draft legislation is due to be enacted; aside from the fact that the Framework introduces 3 funding streams (i. central government fixed £10k per pupil; ii. local authority negotiated per individual pupil; iii. central government routed via local authority fixed but not yet agreed amount in respect of previous 'NMSS grant') where there were previously 2 (i. fee charged by school to local authority per pupil; ii. 'NMSS grant'); the introduction of this new funding framework has not only created a level of uncertainty as to (a) how it will work, (b) whether the figures will be resolved so as not to disadvantage schools and pupils compared with current funding arrangements and (c) whether the flow of funds will not impact on cashflow in April and May but now, we hear, local authorities, no more than ourselves, have a thorough understanding of the new Framework. This in January, just three months before it is to be implemented.
3. Assessment and Funding: I have been re-reading "Special Educational Needs: Assessment and Funding" the 10th Report of the House Commons Education Select Committee, chaired by Barry Sheerman MP and published in October 2007. This report strongly recommeded the separation of assessment and funding and ties this recommendation explicitly "to enhance parental satisfaction with the way in which special needs are identified and addressed". In the same year, the Conservative Party commission on special educational needs Chaired by Lord Lingfield (then Sir Robert Balchin) reported in broadly similar terms. These are clear and strong recommendations; the concerns they address are widely shared. Why, then, 5 years and a new coalition government later, is the draft legislation on SEN so hesitant on these matters? Why are we aleady hearing what sounds like a watering down of these recommendations?
Now take all these areas together. Governance. Funding framework. Assessment & Funding. Parental preference and confidence. Key elements in the radical reform of special needs and education. Surely this is not evidence in support of the Sunday Times headline and the Treasury whistleblower, David Owen's view?
Cui bono? In whose interests, the chaos and confusion? The next 18 months will reveal whether we are witnessing real policy-driven change in special needs education or something else. I hope the former. However, unusually, those who know me as an optimist will say, I am increasingly less confident that the promised benefits to children and parents will be allowed to materialise.