Tag Archives: residential college

The First Half-Term

COLLEGE

We had another glorious Autumn day to travel to college to pick Harry up for half-term and had timed our arrival so that we could see him out on the football pitch.

When we got there we found the pitch and scanned the various players but none of them was Harry. We double-checked but he wasn’t there. Where could he be? Simultaneously we spotted movement in the woods near the brook. Harry. Collecting sticks. We watched for a while, wondering if he had wandered off from football training but he was dressed normally (albeit without a coat in a chilly 11C), no-one seemed to have noticed his absence and there was no-one supervising. The wood is close to a visitors’ car park and Harry was wandering awfully close to the brook.

We drove on and parked near to Harry’s accommodation and quickly went to retrieve him. He was nonplussed and didn’t seem to be expecting us. I took hold of his hand and it was freezing cold. This was not an auspicious start.

In the week before half-term staff had phoned to say that a new room had become available and they had offered it to Harry. It was larger and en-suite, although still shared. We were keen to check out this new accommodation and it was indeed a lot better than his original room. It is much brighter with more room to move around and a large en-suite shower room.

Harry’s counsellor’s office is directly opposite his room and we told her how we had found him on our arrival. She was mortified and swore that Harry normally attended football training suitably dressed: in fact, complete football kit plus his coat!

We gathered together his belongings, noticing that his shampoo seemed unused (!) In fact, his hair was unkempt and his breath smelled bad but we kept this to ourselves. The journey home was slow with rush hour traffic but brightened by listening to Harry singing along to songs on the radio. Close to home we decided to pick up fish and chips – Harry’s favourite.

HALF-TERM ESSENTIALS

A haircut was high on the list of essential things to do, swiftly followed by a visit to see Grandma. There was also a timely trip to the dentist. Dad had discovered that the batteries had run low on Harry’s electric toothbrush. Maybe this was the reason for his bad breath? The dentist confirmed that Harry’s teeth were OK but his gums were suffering from lack of brushing.

HALF-TERM HIGHLIGHTS

Then it was time to enjoy spending time with Harry. He went to the movies with his Dad, caught up with Strictly and Downton (he’s a big fan of both) and the three of us went to a local beer/music festival – Pocktoberfest – which Harry thoroughly enjoyed: 3 halves of beer and a lot of enjoyment from watching the performances, particularly Hope & Social, Lumberjack Cowboy Heartbreak Trucking Co and Glenn Tilbrook.

Harry absorbed by the music

Harry absorbed by the music

Harry seemed to thoroughly enjoy his week at home and we certainly enjoyed spending time with him. We were on the lookout for signs of change. His Dad thought he’d grown taller; I noticed that he’d remembered his manners: lots of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. It took him a while to get into the swing of being at home again and he was resistant to hugs and kisses for a while but that soon wore off.

He hasn’t been able to tell us much about what he’d been doing at college but staff told us that we should receive a report at Christmas so hopefully we’ll learn a bit more then. We know that he has been making the most of his weekends and going to lots of shows at the regional theatres around college. I estimate that it’s going to cost around £1000 a year to keep him in trip and pocket money at this rate! But it’s good to know that he’s getting out and about.

BACK TO COLLEGE

We made sure that Harry knew that this was a brief visit home and that he would be going back to college. The day before we were due to take him back he said gruffly “Don’t want to go back to college.” It was a quick journey back and we were able to settle him back into his accommodation (only one “Don’t want you to go”). We had another brief word with his counsellor and mentioned that his shampoo seemed unused and that he needed to be more vigilant with his teeth brushing. She made a note for staff and also said that there was a trip to the cinema to see Thor later in the week and that seemed to lift Harry’s spirits.

We were amazed at how quickly that initial five weeks had sped by. And it won’t be long before he’s home for four weeks at Christmas.

I go into a bit of a low when we drop him back at college and it takes me a while to get back on an even keel again. We all miss him dreadfully and I could never have imagined what a difference his absence makes to our daily lives. But gradually we are adjusting.

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The Final Countdown

As the calendar on the sidebar of the blog shows, there are now only 5 days to go before Harry starts college. We have been sticking our heads in the sand and trying not to think about it but I can’t ignore it any longer.

The pile of Stuff For College is getting larger: new sweatshirts, extra medical supplies, posters, Blu-Tak, a spare duvet cover and even a football strip. Harry has never had a football strip. Never shown any particular interest in playing football. But when the forms came through from college asking him to indicate which sports he would like to participate in Harry opted for football. Much to our surprise. How he will manage with the laces on his boots we don’t know. We’re hoping he can get away with having them slack so he can ease his feet in. We indulged in a replica shirt, partly because Harry has never had one, partly because we like the idea of him running around with ‘Van Persie’ on his back. But he doesn’t have any socks. The pair I ordered online arrived and they were tangerine; not black. More suited to the Blackpool strip, or Wolves maybe? So, today I will be going shopping to buy a pair of black football socks.

I couldn’t get to sleep last night for thinking about all the What Ifs. We have tried to keep the idea of going to college in Harry’s mind without dwelling on it too much. His responses have varied: “I’m not sure about college” cropped up regularly. And the other day he overheard me talking to a neighbour about it and he piped up, “I’m not at college yet”. Then he asked me “When will I come home?” and my heart caught in my throat. “At half-term. October.” “Half-term?” Harry has no real concept of time so this means little to him. The longest we have ever gone without seeing him is two weeks (and that only happened for the first time last year). How can I explain to him that it will be more than twice that length of time until he sees us again and until he comes home?

And of course, once I had set off on that tack I couldn’t stop myself:

  • Who will tell him that, actually, he has last night’s dinner on his trousers and should put them in the laundry?
  • For that matter, who will teach him how to use the washing machine?
  • Will he realise that the batteries in his toothbrush are running low and need replacing?
  • Will he remember to towel-dry his hair thoroughly so that he doesn’t emerge after his shower fully-dressed but with his hair still dripping down his neck?
  • And how will he manage those football boot laces?

We have made adjustments to his daily routine so that college is less daunting. He has been getting up to an alarm clock signal, having a wash, brushing his teeth, getting dressed and coming down to breakfast. Because that’s how they do it at college. It has been harder to persevere with the evening routine. He might be 19 but we were still in the habit of going in to his bedroom and repeating the “Night night” mantra: “Night night, sleep tight… Don’t let the bugs bite… Good night, God bless… Love you.” Harry would repeat all these phrases back to us and sometimes it was more than he had said to us all evening. He has stopped saying to his Dad last thing at night before going up to bed, “Want you to come up.” That’s a killer.

So many people have told us not to worry. “He’ll be fine”, “It’ll be the making of him”, “It’ll do him the world of good.” And deep down, we know this is true, whatever “the making of him” means. We know that this college course is a huge opportunity for him to learn vocational skills and to start him on the path towards independent living. We know that he will be surrounded by students just like him and by staff that understand his likes and needs. We know that he will have lots of choices of social activities at evenings and weekends and that he will enjoy participating. We know that he adapts fairly quickly to new surroundings and routines. We also know that he rarely, if ever, expresses homesickness, although he usually says that he has missed his sister if she has been away.

So, we are preparing to let him go. It is daunting and exciting by equal measure. And there will be tears. Lots of tears.

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!

The End of Statements

Last week I attended a Pathfinder workshop on the government’s green paper into the future of the assessment process for children with Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND).

It was entitled “A new way to help young adults to plan what they [sic] want for their future: a single assessment process and one ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ bringing together support for children and young people from birth to 25, and focusing on better life outcomes beyond school or college.”

You will notice that this title mentions ‘young adults’ and it became clear that the primary focus was on school leavers in the area aged 16 plus. It may be that other workshops focus their attention on other age groups and I would urge parents to find out if there is a workshop in their area and attend in order to make their views known.

The government tender to run these workshops was won by Preparing for Adulthood and the one I went to was attended by about 30 people, mostly from the education, health & social care organisations in the area. They included deputy head teachers of Special Schools, staff from Further Education Colleges, representatives of council departments and careers advisers but noticeably few parents. Although some parents attended under the auspices of the local Parents & Carers Forum (PACF) I counted only two independent parents/carers, of whom I was one.

It was made clear from the outset that what goes into the new bill to reform SEN assessments will be informed by what comes out of these pathfinder workshops. There is a sense of urgency to reform and so this new Single Plan is going to come into being quite quickly. However, quickly in legislative terms (2014) turns out to be not so quick for those children/young adults and their families who are desperate to get some sort of plan in place now!

This new document will replace the Statement of Special Educational Needs. The intention is that it will be formulated by the young person and their family and then relevant bodies will have to work out how best to meet that person’s needs. If anyone has ever been involved in Person Centred Reviews or Person Centred Planning then the new document will follow that sort of format.

The government is looking to learn from previous programmes which you may (or in my case, may not) have heard of, including: Transition Support Programme, Getting a Life and Valuing Employment Now. It will also build in elements of existing documents including the Statement of SEN, the Learning for Living and Work Framework and the various needs assessments questionnaires.

During the course of the day we worked through topics such as:

  • What is your vision for SEND young adults in the area?
  • What is working and not working now?
  • The Single Plan: do person-centred planning questions help?
  • What should the next steps be after today?

Of course, as is the tendency with most of these type of events, those in attendance have their own particular agendas. They all want to keep their jobs, their departments and, most importantly, their budgets. However, what will change in future is that there will be joint commissioning, hence references to the ‘Single Assessment’, ‘Single Plan’ and the ‘Education, Health & Care Plan’ in which all services currently engaged in supporting a young person will have to work together.

I have to say that, although we were few in number, parents’ voices were heard (loudly and with some emotion) and our opinions noted.  We were all of the mind that we wanted our children to have the opportunity to attend residential colleges. Whereas local day colleges give students the chance to role-play life skills; only colleges with a residential aspect give students the chance to put those life skills into daily practice in a meaningful way.

If for no other reason, such events are useful opportunities to meet those people whose decisions directly affect your child. For example, I talked to teachers from Harry’s past and present special schools, managed to bend the ear of his Connexions advisor and made contact with members of the adult disability services team. I would advise any parent to do the same. Get your face and name known, along with that of your child.

I hope it was enough…

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?