Supporting disabled children in schools: a view from teachers

A Guest Blog from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on the resources and joined up working we need to support disabled children in schools

The purpose of schools is to educate our children and young people; this aim drives the work of ATL’s members.  While there is much debate in society on matters such as curriculum, assessment, inspections, school structures etc, that much at least is a broadly shared vision.

The school day serves, for many, another purpose in a society where most parents work outside of the home; in the state sector it provides free childcare cover for a large part of the day which is very welcome to parents in a country where childcare costs are amongst the highest in Europe.  However, while this is a result of schools’ operations, it isn’t their raison d’etre – which is education, education, education.

It is around this ‘childcare’ byproduct that difficulties can arise between schools and working families.  While some employers are exploring family-friendly flexible working policies, many are not and most working families will need to combine private childcare arrangements around the school day.

These challenges shared across most working families are compounded for parents of children and young people with disabilities especially when their support may be called upon during the school day itself, their working day.

Of course, asking a parent to come in and take their child home not only affects their ability to work but it can damage their child’s access to education and as such, will not be done lightly by any school.  However, the key issue for most schools is whether they have the capacity to offer the appropriate care, in particular situations, for pupils with disabilities.

This capacity will include staff expertise, whether the school has the medical knowledge within its team deemed necessary to judge the level of need and appropriate interventions when particular situations/emergencies occur.  Most school staff are not contractually obliged to administer medication for example and some may do so on a voluntary basis.  Where staff have agreed to provide this type of support, it’s vital that they have the appropriate training, which is kept up-to-date, and that full agreement is reached with parents about the extent of the care which the school can provide.  The ‘will’ is often there, but the ‘way’ is often less straightforward.

ATL believes that all schools should work together as part of an inclusive education service to meet pupils’ needs in the most appropriate setting with resources that support and value all children and young people in their teaching and progress.  We welcome the call made by Working Families, as part of their campaign, that schools have sufficient resources to prevent unnecessary call-ins to parents of pupils with disabilities.

To support this, there needs to be close working between families and schools, assisted by external health professionals.  Furthermore, the government needs to ensure that resources are available, in schools and locally, to support professional training for school staff and necessary adjustments.  Then the shared goal of schools as suitable and safe learning environments for all pupils can be achieved, allowing school staff, pupils and working parents to do the work that they need to do.

Alison Ryan
Education Policy Adviser
ATL, the education union

Costly, unavailable and affecting parents’ ability to work

Today we launch the findings of our summer holiday childcare survey of parents of disabled children.  Many thanks to all of you who responded.  Our findings are pretty grim – only 10 per cent of parents say that their work is unaffected by the difficulties of finding and paying for appropriate childcare and two parents left work altogether because of care difficulties.  The high cost of childcare is a real issue – more than half of parents responding said they are paying more for childcare than they would for a non-disabled child – with 62 per cent of those paying at least an extra £5 an hour.   Over 80 per cent of parents say that their summer care arrangements are a compromise, and the vast majority are relying on family and friends to fill the gaps.

But why is this the case, and why has so little changed since our last survey in 2009?  Local authorities are under a duty to secure the provision of sufficient childcare for working parents – but clearly many are not securing enough for disabled children.  Parents don’t get recompensed more through tax credits or childcare vouchers for the high cost of childcare – but they are clearly paying well over the odds.  And when good facilities are available, why are they only for a couple of weeks not the full summer holiday period? Parents told us that organizing care is “another full-time job” and that summer holidays can be the worst part of the year when “no physio or therapies are available, so my daughter’s health takes a nose dive, and that makes caring harder”.

These are the issues we’re campaigning to change.  We need to hold local authorities to account for securing appropriate provision so parents of disabled children are not stressed and struggling to find care.  We need to make sure that summer holiday care is inclusive and fun for disabled children, not a compromise.  And, until we’ve cracked this problem, we need employers to be particularly understanding when parents ask for unpaid leave or flexible hours in the summer holidays – this may not be their choice but a choice forced on them by a lack of available, affordable, appropriate childcare.

Read our press release here: Summer holiday childcare for disabled children 2013 final  and the full report here: A SURVEY OF SUMMER HOLIDAY CHILDCARE FOR DISABLED CHILDREN SUMMER 2013 final

And we want to hear from you.  Let us have your comments and views on the report or the blog and cheer us up with some examples of really good practice for summer holiday childcare for disabled children.