We must stop the Schools Bill: Act now to protect vunerable families from persecution.

We must stop the Schools Bill: Act now to protect vunerable families from persecution.

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Susan Liverman started this petition to Nadim Zahawi (Secretary of State for Education) and

Schools Bill Emergency Update!

It started with Attendance Guidance in January. Then the SEND Review in March. Here comes the first legislation. It contains changes that will disproportionately impact vunerable families.

Not support for lack of school places, attendance barriers, home educators - but standards of punishment on a national scale.

On Monday 23rd May the #SchoolsBill will have a Second Reading in the House of Lords. 

The Bill is aiming to change the Education Act, introducing:

"new requirements for schools, trusts and councils to work together to drive the highest possible levels of attendance in every corner of the country."

Introducing new standards for all pupils in primary school to reach, forcing all schools to become academies if LA chooses, changes for those regularly not in school, forcing home educators to register under threat of £2,500 fines /prison, and to share their and their children's private data with undisclosed third parties.

Yet again, maginalised families will suffer as a direct result of this bill. 

Please sign, share this petition - and find #StopTheSchoolsBill on Twitter and join the campaign. 

Protect not prosecute.

Update May 2022.

In the months since writing the below Nadhim Zagawi has only further hardened the Department of Education's position - with planned law changes to encourage the prosecution and fining of vunerable families in legislation. The legislation followed consultation with parents and families who provided a consistent view of the barriers to school attendance vunerable and marginalised families face, and the lack of support from the systems around them. This is hard data, and it was ignored.

As our petition already stated, without a clearly defined support framework Local Authorities will not hesitate to prosecute and fine families who's child is not attending school. This is against a backdrop of an overwhelmed mental health system for children (Camhs) and long wait times for autism, or educational health care assessment. Parents report already being threatened with fines and prosecution, while attempting to proactively seek help for their children.

This abuse of power by the Government must be addressed, Attendance Guidance must include a well defined Support Framework. There must be no legislation that encourages prosecution of vunerable families.

At 15,000 signatures we pledge to deliver this petition, in person, to Downing Street.

We must act to stop this government from causing further harm and trauma to our SEND children.

Maddie & Susan

To Parents, Allies & Advocates of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), whether diagnosed or not.

You may already be aware that The Department of Education recently updated it’s Attendance Guidance to further encourage punitive action against children who face barriers to school attendance.

Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi has also written to School Leaders to increase pressure on them to prosecute parents of children who are persistently absent.

This is likely to disproportionately affect children who face barriers to attendance due to SEND, whether diagnosed or not. In fact undiagnosed children will be particularly vulnerable, and those without EHCP's. 

If the overall system was fit for purpose the Attendance Guidance might be tenable. However obtaining assessment for a diagnosis is routinely years in the waiting. Parents report, again and again, being discouraged from applying for EHCP's and yet when they apply themselves, their child receives one. After applying LA's - consistently - do not meet their own timescales. It can take much longer than the 20 week SLA to obtain an EHCP - it can take years.

All of these experiences indicate that Education reforms are needed for SEND children. The law is in place to protect SEND children - let the Government help LA's to uphold it. Together let's make positive changes in Education for SEND though better training, awareness and accommodations. Less parent blaming - more listening - collaborating on solutions.

In recent weeks we have seen the Government and it's representatives fail to acknowledge the problems in the system, instead pushing blame back to families. Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel De Souza, label our children missing - that she herself “would go out and find them". Robert Halfon MP declared our children “ghosts”, although in fact, we parents are more likely to be “ghosted” by our local authorities as we ask them for the support they unlawfully withhold. 

Our children are not missing, our children are not ghosts. It’s possible that that would be easier for the current government - they could legitimately deny them the support they are entitled to. The Government wouldn’t need to care about the EHCP process that isn’t fit for purpose, the SEN schools that are full. That some families choose to home educate and their children are safe, and that some are forced to because there is no other choice. Ghosts are silent, we are not.

Thousands of families are already suffering as a result of systematically produced trauma and harmful outcomes in the Education system - further prosecution of our families is ineffective and harmful.

Please read and sign this open letter to call for Attendance Guidance to be changed.

February 2022

To: Nadhim Zahawi MP Secretary of State for Education & Chair of the Attendance Alliance, & all members of the Attendance Alliance,

Open Letter: Updated Guidance: Improving school attendance

There are 17 members of the Attendance Alliance who compiled the updated attendance guidance. Including the Secretary of State for Education, Ofsted Chief Inspector, Children's Commissioner, and Chief Social Worker among others. An Alliance indeed. And yet, not representative.

No child voices. No parents. No advocates. Noone, for example, like Margaret Mulholland - Special Educational Needs and Inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders - who concluded: The emphasis is on stricter tools to measure and manage absence. Mulholland proposes a pupil support model instead, using a data led approach to inform new frameworks and plans. This is forward thinking compared to guidance that suggests school leaders “use physical presence” and relies on outdated and ineffective methods such as sanction. 

I write as someone who could be affected negatively by the "crackdown". I am an autistic parent of an autistic child who has been failed by the Education system in direct relation to his neurodiversity. Who has been harmed by the school environment and who continues to recover from it. Is absent from it. Going through the most unimaginable pressure - and being asked to provide proof of illness, the prospect of fines, or worse. As a family we are far from alone in our experience. 

Children with SEND with an education healthcare (EHC) plan are known to have a persistent absence rate of 24.6% – more than twice the rate for pupils with no identified SEN. That figure is likely to be even higher due to the number of undiagnosed children. Children who can’t access assessment or support. Due to their absence issues these children are likely to be disproportionately affected by the new Guidance.

In recent months children like ours have been labelled “missing” from Education - attempts made to justify punitive stances on attendance by utilising safeguarding concerns. None of which actually helps children whose school absence is affected by SEND, or indeed, other causes.

The Attendance Guidance ignores professional evidence that for some SEND children attendance to the school environment presents difficulty or harms them. And that suitable alternatives are frequently unavailable, even when the law says they must be. The Attendance Guidance doesn't acknowledge these challenges, in fact it barely mentions SEND at all. 

The time has come for SEND to be acknowledged - including the suffering that has already been caused by actions such as:

  • Threats of, or actual prosecution and fines 
  • The responsibility of proving our child’s SEND 
  • Routine parental blame and SEND treated as behavioural choice
  • Gamification of the EHCP process by Local Authorities who routinely waste time with SEN appeals and tribunals, winning 3.6% of their cases at a cost of c£250m
  • Lack of support compounded across healthcare and social care systems
  • Loss of income and increased family pressure

A problem with attendance is a symptom, it is a communication and all too often it is a cry for help that must be listened to, not punished.

As supporters we state that the latest Attendance Guidance is not fit for purpose, does not meet the needs of children and puts them at risk of further trauma. We call for the following:

  • Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi to prevent discriminatory action against children with SEND and retract encouragement to School Leaders to prosecute parents for their child’s repeated absence 
  • All members of the Attendance Alliance to become familiar with the issues children with attendance barriers face by listening to parents, children and those involved with their advocacy
  • Update Attendance Guidance to reduce emphasis on penalty and prosecution for all families and increase focus on genuine pupil support
  • Ensure new Guidance is fully representative and is based on children, parent and advocate views and insight

This is just the start - but we do need to start somewhere. Change is needed today.

We the undersigned, Parents, Advocates & Allies support this open letter 

Susan Liverman & Maddie Roberts - SEND Parents

Supported by the following organisations:

  • AUltering Attitudes Advocacy: Embracing and empowering our children today for a better tomorrow.
  • Bury SEND Reform direct action to reform all Children’s SEND services in Bury area.
  • Define Fine: Parent Peer Support for Attendance Issues
  • Education Otherwise Than At School EOTAS Support for SEN Families
  • Missing The Mark 1-2-1 Parent Support and Talks
  • NeurodiverCity® C.I.C. We aim to provide a platform for the Neurodiverse community created by Neurodivergents
  • Neurodivergent Education Support & Training - NEST
  • Neurodive: Providing training for families and professionals supporting children and young people with Neurodivergence [Autistic, attention differences] 
  • Not Fine in School is a parent/carer-led organisation set up in response to the growing number of children and young people who struggle with school attendance
  • The Nurture Programme® offers bespoke training for teachers, professionals & parents & carers of children with additional needs.#
  • PDA For Connor, advocacy
  • PDA Society We provide information, support and training about PDA for individuals, families and professionals.
  • Positively PDA Helping parents of autistic children with a PDA profile 
  • SEND Family Instincts: SEND & EHCP membership service and admin support for parents, carers and professionals.
  • Square Peg: Square Peg campaigns to effect change for children who struggle to attend school and their families. Because one size does not fit all in education.
  • Sunshine Support Independent SEND information, advice + support to parents/carers and professionals of children and young people with special educational needs.
  • Time For Change - SEND Advocacy 
  • Yellow Brick Education - Education Consultancy



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