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To: The Government

Stop threats of EWO Action to Parents of SEND Children for low school attendance related to needs

It should be noted that I am a parent, not a legal expert and I start this petition based upon my experience of parenting disabled/SEND children over nearly 18 years and not any legal training . . .

I would like the government to review Section 444 of the The Education Act which relates to action being taken against parents of disabled/special educational needs children with regard low attendance rates or lateness which is related to their needs.

I believe that there should be an amendment to the Act to legislate very clearly a different process for these children. Before legal action is taken the local authority/schools must ensure that Section 66 of the Children and Families Act "Best Endeavours" and Section 20 of The Equality Act "Duty to make reasonable adjustments" are considered and observed.

My suggestion would be that the first response to attendance slipping below 95% for a disabled SEND child is that a Team Around the Child meeting is urgently convened to explore any difficulties with parents and find a solution to them.

The first response should not be to send EWO letters or take legal action in these circumstances.

I believe that the Team Around the Disabled Child should all vote unanimously to support EWO intervention and agree together that everything has been done to support the child and that it’s now time to call in the EWO and send parents threatening letters!

In the cases of Disabled and SEND children, there should be a clear process whereby Schools and the Local Authority must clearly demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken before parents are threatened with or party to legal action which falls under criminal law!

The local authority MUST satisfy itself prior to such action that schools have used their best endeavours to support children and that all relevant reasonable adjustments are in place to support children to attend school. This means that a school must seek support for children AND fund it where attendance is sliding and it is clear that this is arising out of a child's special educational needs or disability.

Why is this important?

It is very important that this step or similar is included in Section 444 of The Education Act to avoid what is currently taking place for some families.

Of course parents who are not bothering to take their children to school for no good reason should be dealt with. However, when you have disabled children or in my case Autistic children the causation of lower attendance can be for very different reasons.

For example, numerous legitimate hospital and clinic appointments can soon lead to lower attendance levels and children being flagged up for concerns. This is especially true during the statutory assessment process when there are lots of appointments with professionals and assessments undertaken.

I have autistic children. Children with high levels of anxiety around social interactions with associated sensory processing dysregulation who need a higher level of support. Getting that support in place can be a protracted process where budgets available to support are already stretched. Sometimes support fails and needs updating or amending. Again unfortunately this tends not to happen quickly. In the interim, while children are waiting for help to be put in place it can lead to very real school based anxiety reflected very often in school refusal or lateness.

This is a very different kettle of fish. I believe that there should be a separate process for these situations and that is a simple fix by way of an amendment or exclusion.

Too often EWO action is used as the first response and this can really frighten parents who are already parenting under pressure. This response to difficulties doesn't help the child and it certainly doesn't solve the situation. I feel it is not what Section 444 was designed for.

I live in Exeter, Devon. I am currently party to such a situation. I have an autistic child in the middle of a statutory assessment. I am nearly at week 20 of the process. Many needs have been identified including new diagnosis and the local authority in charge have confirmed that they will issue an EHCP in response to those needs. Those needs include Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Sensory Processing Dysregulation, Dysarthria. This is a child with many barriers to the mainstream school environment.

In the interim whilst needs are identified, there is still no Education, Health, Care Plan (EHCP) in place and subsequently no extra funding available to deliver extra help in school. SEND Support has not been stepped up in response. SEND Support comes out of a budget which is not ring fenced and so many schools in the current climate simply do not have money available. Children have very often already broken down or are suffering by the time all of the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

My son is presently in limbo without the support that he needs being put in place. As a result, his anxiety has increased around going to school, in the absence of any consistent support to the recommendations around this, we have had to bring him into school slightly later to avoid the sensory overload (noise, visual stimulation) that the very busy mainstream morning school environment causes him. This has got much worse, the longer his now very much identified needs have gone unidentified and unmet. He will be 6 years old in the summer.

The first response of the school and the local authority has not been to support us and work together to put support in place with the professionals around the child, but rather to fire out an EWO letter to us with no prior meeting to discuss or resolve. Fire this letter knowing full well that this child has special educational needs and that he is in the middle of this statutory process. We have done our level best as parents, contacting the team around the child as the difficulties began to present themselves and we have asked for their help. We wait hopefully for a response.

Also sometimes attendance issues can be the first red flag for children who have special educational needs or disabilities. This should be factored in to my mind when the school or local authority are noticing attendance issues. Is this being caused by SEND?

Section 22 and 23 of the Children and Families Act highlights statutory duty around these children. Section 22: The duty of Identifying children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and Section 23: The duty of health bodies to bring certain children to local authority's attention. SEND as a causation should surely be the FIRST possibility ruled out?

Lots of parents to disabled children become so afraid with this gun being held to their heads that they deregister and home educate their children rather than face a legal battle. Section 444 shouldn't cause exclusion of disabled/SEND children from school, backing helpless parents into a corner? That cannot be allowed to be the knock on effect of this law! It needs to be amended or SEND children need to be excluded.

EWO letters/action clearly are not a helpful response to unmet special educational needs for disabled children.

For lots of parents this can cause more very real worry, distress and anxiety on top of what is already a difficult situation. Section 444 allows in extreme cases for action towards parents that falls under criminal law. This is not an appropriate road to travel in these circumstances.

As a seasoned and experienced parent to SEND children, I can confirm that It's a common nationwide practice that I see occur more often than it should do. I don't believe that the intention of this law was that it be used in this way towards disabled/SEND children and their parents/carers and that there should be clear steps involved in the process to prevent this from happening or that disabled children should be exempt from Section 444 and different legislation be applied altogether.

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2019-02-09 16:33:14 +0000

However, it is a case in point. These things should really be set in motion BEFORE it gets to this stage and I'd like all parents of SEND children to experience this reasonable and rational response well before they receive a scary letter out of the blue from the EWO. Reasonable adjustments are supposed to be anticipatory, not reactive. However, I am glad that the support was there by the end. I would still like to continue with my petition to see this become a national response to all parents of SEND children and ensure that each case is considered upon its merits. I also welcome the Children's Commissioners plan to obtain deregistration figures for every school in our country to try to identify the areas where this might be more of a problem as related to SEND children particularly . . .

2019-02-09 16:32:47 +0000

Update on my personal circumstances. I am pleased to report a positive inclusive response from my local authority and my sons school. Reasonable adjustments have now been made and there has been a special form completed which extends the register to remain open to allow for my son's difficulties. This will be subject to review which is perfectly acceptable. The school in question have adapted their attendance policy for our particular set of circumstances. This is very much a welcome and positive response.

2019-02-03 23:04:12 +0000

Figures gathered by Schools Week in 2017 show the number of home-educated pupils rose from 15,135 in 2011-12, to 29,805 in 2017. The 2017 figure is likely to be higher as not all pupils are registered, and only 86 out of 152 councils responded to the FOI request, with figures dating back to 2011

2019-02-03 21:20:53 +0000

1,000 signatures reached

2019-02-03 12:16:11 +0000

500 signatures reached

2019-02-02 23:22:48 +0000

100 signatures reached

2019-02-02 19:26:15 +0000

50 signatures reached

2019-02-02 18:33:27 +0000

25 signatures reached

2019-02-02 18:02:58 +0000

10 signatures reached