Tag Archives: NATSPEC

Harry Gets An Offer of a Residential Placement

I now know the meaning of a ‘red letter day’. On Monday we got an offer for Harry of a residential placement at our (and his) first choice college. I was unable to open the letter straightaway; instead I had to make myself a coffee in preparation. When I read the words, “I am pleased to be able to offer Harry a residential placement…” I felt tears spring to my eyes. This was what we had been waiting four weeks to hear.

Attached to the letter were a further four pages: one was a summary of their pre-assessment report. Another was a more detailed assessment of Harry’s numeracy and literacy both of which indicate that he is working at a Pre-Entry Level. The remaining pages give an outline of the programme of learning on offer and a provisional weekly timetable, both of which fill me with hope and delight that they will provide Harry with a fulfilling and meaningful time at college.

I realise that I am jumping the gun somewhat in setting so much store by this offer. And that I probably shouldn’t even be blogging about it. But I intended this blog to be ‘warts and all’. So, if, ultimately, Harry doesn’t get this place those who have read the blog will have a sense of what he has missed out on.

The offer letter makes it clear that funding approval is yet to be granted (and is something we will not receive confirmation of until May 2013) and mentions a fee banding of F. I managed to find out that that indicated annual fees of £42,000 which is an extraordinary amount of money. However, I have to remain optimistic that the Local Authority will approve funding, especially since there is no provision for Harry locally.

So, forgive me if I wax on about the offer but I find it interesting in that it is so specific. They have obviously spent the last four weeks working out an individual programme for Harry which is:

  • The development of Functional and Key skills, which will be integrated throughout his curriculum (his curriculum!)
  • A general programme of vocational education with access to external accreditation
  • An Independent Living Skills programme to enable him to achieve the maximum independence possible for post-college life (be still my beating heart…)
  • A Personal Development programme to encourage him to acquire the skills for citizenship and support in forming relationships with his peers (something which Harry desperately needs)
  • Teaching matched to his identified preferred learning style (verbal instruction in a practical setting)
  • Leisure activities which will include out of college trips, supported use of public transport to access local facilities and a wide range of sporting options and clubs, plus a full programme of College entertainment during evenings and weekends (sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?)

This last element is not perceived by LAs to be of importance. When applying for college places we have been advised not to mention extra-curricular activities as a reason for applying. But it is absolutely vital that our children can have access to a social life, especially during this formative years of late teens going into early twenties. When a neurotypical child goes to university one of the key reasons for going (whether parents like it or not) is to experience the social life of a student. Why shouldn’t our autistic children have the same opportunities?

The offer letter goes on to detail Harry’s support requirements as follows:

  • Specialist teaching and enabler for 28hrs/week (1:4)
  • Structured programme of residential learning – 3hrs of 1:1 equivalent
  • Social, creative and leisure activities – 1hr of 1:1 equivalent
  • Support with personal care and activities of daily living at approximately 1:7 making 7.85hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Medical Centre support 0.4hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Immediate access to counselling support 0.2hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Immediate intervention for emotional support 0.2hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Speech & language therapy 0.25hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week (this is the only area I have a slight quibble with, it doesn’t seem very much)
  • At the end of the first term the College Assessment Tutor will prepare and forward a Baseline Assessment Report
  • Guidance by the College Assessment Tutor to develop his Individual Learning Goals
  • A first year review meeting to discuss his Individual Learning Programme and progress
  • A three-weekly 1:1 Personal Tutorial to review his progress and support needs
  • A Transition Review meeting in the first or second term of his third year to plan his post-college opportunities

In summary the college will provide 13.5hrs of 1:1 teaching equivalent and 8.9hrs of 1:1 care and therapy equivalent.

Finally, the college attached what it refers to as a ‘pro-forma timetable’ showing that if he went, Harry would be doing, e.g. Breakfast Life Skills on a Friday morning from 8.15am till 10am, a Vocational Course leading towards Skills for Working Life with Speech and Language Therapy integrates on Monday afternoons and Community Access 1:3 on Friday afternoons.

I can’t tell you how happy that single page makes me. His days will be filled from 9am till 5pm with meaningful learning, extra-curricular activities he loves and opportunities for integration. At this very moment my cup is much more than half-full; it is overflowing. And I’m going to savour it for some time to come.


Assessment Day at Residential College

Last week we took Harry to our (and his) first choice of residential college. I’ll call it College 1.

It was our second visit. In November 2011 we did the rounds of Natspec colleges (see Blogroll) and College 1 was on our shortlist. Those on the shortlist all had certain things in common: we wanted a college that wasn’t too big (and wasn’t too small), there had to be plenty going on with a good choice of courses and, when we visited, it had to ‘feel’ right to us and to Harry.

We had already visited two other colleges that week. College 1 was the only one that wanted to assess Harry. So, on that occasion he had two hours of assessments whilst we pottered around the campus. There’s a lot to see: we shopped in the farm shop, had coffee in the cafe, lunch in the restaurant and bought Christmas presents in the craft shop and garden centre. It also gave us an opportunity to get a feel for the place and we were genuinely impressed with what we saw and experienced.

As we were leaving we asked Harry which college he liked best (I always mix up the list when doing this so that he doesn’t automatically choose the thing I say last) and he picked College 1. I had done this when we had two colleges to compare and he had chosen the same college as us. Good taste obviously runs in the family!

After that initial visit in 2011 the college had sent a brief (1/2 page) report to us which was also copied in to our Connexions advisor. This stated that we would need to take Harry back to the college for a further full day of assessments and we later found out that this would start at 10.30am and finish at 4pm.

We waited until the weather had improved before undertaking this trip. It is a 3hr journey each way and means we have to make special arrangements for our daughter and our pets to be taken care of! The college’s distance from home is something we have talked about at length since, if Harry does gets a place here, we will have to make this round-trip journey six times a year. (And looking a long way into the future, what if Harry establishes relationships or finds work in the area and decides he wants to put down permanent roots? Yet another aspect of residential college for parents to bear in mind).

On ‘Assessment Day’ Harry had to get up an hour earlier than usual. Fortunately he’s quite good at being an early riser. Our trip was relatively easy and after a brief stop we found we had made good time and arrived a few minutes early. A member of the college staff met us in reception and explained to Harry how the day would be split up. Before lunch he would be doing classroom-type assessments and after lunch they would be assessing his practical skills. Harry was not overly impressed at the idea of having to work. I think he thought he was there for a day out! And that was it. He was whisked away and we were left to our own devices.

We can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we have been out together as a couple recently. What to do? It was with a lightness of spirit that we felt relaxed enough to be able to look around tourist attractions, enter tea shops and have lunch without worrying about Harry wandering off or touching things he shouldn’t be, or picking up rubbish off the floor.

Back at the college, Harry arrived back in reception at 4pm and we were free to go home. No feedback, no idea of what the assessments consisted of. That was it. Because Harry is so reticent to talk about himself all we could get out of him was that he had been washing cars. One of the modules on offer is car maintenance so we can only assume he was being assessed on his skills relevant to that aspect of the course… My husband tracked down a member of staff who simply said that we would received a written report in due course.

And so we wait. Every time the letterbox clangs my heart leaps in anticipation. And dread. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a positive result.

Assessments Over!

Red Tape & Bureaucracy Wastes Parents’ Time

Our preference is for Harry to attend a residential college. We have gone through all the processes listed in my previous post: read the NATSPEC directory from cover-to-cover, decided which colleges to visit, attended Open Days, made visits & taken Harry for assessments.

We picked out three colleges and visited them all within a space of ten days in Autumn 2011. In so doing we were easily able to make comparisons between the colleges because all the visits were fresh in our minds. All three of us came to the same conclusion: we dismissed one college and had picked the same two remaining colleges as our first and second preferences.

The process is far from over, but as far as application deadlines are concerned we are ahead of the game.

However, in order to comply with advice given by our Connexions advisor we also have to approach our nearest college of further education. I bit the bullet this week and decided to contact them.

I had Harry’s most recent Statement of SEN to hand and phoned the Learning Support Unit to ask them about the only course they run which is suitable for Harry. The upshot was that Harry was nowhere near the required entry level in the National Curriculum. Whereas he is at M4 & M5 (Milestone levels) for literacy & numeracy; the minimum entry level for the course is Entry Level 3.

So, my question is, why do we need to continue with the farce of making an application? Harry’s most recent Statement should be sufficient to prove to any funding body that our ‘nearest local college’ cannot meet his needs.

I asked for this to be put in writing (a requirement in order for us to pursue residential college applications) and was told that it was not a priority for them, i.e. because Harry is not due to start college until September 2013.

A basic e-mail would suffice. Is that so much to ask for?

The Road to Tertiary College

We have reached a key stage in Harry’s continuing education. When the current academic year ends in nine weeks’ time he will have only one more year left at his current school.

Harry is 18. When he left his special school at 16 he was lucky enough to secure a sixth-form place at another school very close by. The sixth-form course lasts 3 years and so he is 2/3 of the way through the course.

However, applications to tertiary colleges need to be made well in advance of enrolment. For example, to start in September 2013 applications for places have to be made by the preceding December 2012. And in order to submit an application you need to have trawled through suitable colleges, attended Open Days, made visits and – in some cases – taken your child for assessments.

All of this takes time.

Some colleges hold their Open Days in the autumn which is very close to the application deadline. For this reason you may find yourself attending an Open Day almost 2 years before your child is due to leave school. This is what we found ourselves doing in November 2011.

As part of the decision-making process, parents are required to make an approach to their nearest college of further education, regardless of whether they think that college can meet their child’s needs.

This seems to me to be completely pointless and a waste of everyone’s time.

However, approaches to residential colleges will not even be considered until and unless the nearest local college has been contacted.

And so, we jump through the hoop!