Page 1

Evaluation Education Law Unit 2013 By Danny Phillips


Summary Education Law Unit (ELU) is an expert legal resource in the field of school education, with a particular focus on tackling discrimination, promoting human rights, the rights of disabled pupils and pupils with additional support needs. There is no doubt that ELU is providing a valued service to vulnerable families. Clients and professionals said they would have no hesitation in recommending the service to others. The ELU was respected for its specialist legal expertise but also for being approachable and understanding. In particular clients valued the fact the service was on their side. Clients said they would not have had the positive outcomes they had without ELU intervention. The service had a range of outcomes for both carers and children. Carers reported they felt physically and mentally healthier and they felt more secure because of ELU work. Clients also reported their children got more opportunities and had a better chance of fulfilling their potential. Clients also felt that ELU intervention had changed the attitudes of the services. They felt they went from clients being seen as a problem, to them being seen as part of a solution. They felt that ELU intervention had improved both their informal and formal partnership working with agencies and it had improved their informal networks - for example - where they had managed to get access to a special school they now felt part of a parent forum. These outcomes are consistent with the SHANARRI outcomes1 in Getting it Right for Every Child. ELU is making a contribution to ensuring children are safer, healthier, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included. Scottish Government also have fifteen top level national outcomes which describe what they want to achieve over a decade. Their aim is to enable government priorities to be more clearly understood and provide a better structure for delivery. This research highlights evidence that ELU is making a positive contribution to these Scottish Government outcomes. ELU not only effects the lives of their clients. They have a broader role improving services for all families in Scotland by challenging poor services and decision making; making legal precedents; using their expertise to provide training and workshops; and using their broad experience to influence policy and practice.

SHANARRI are the outcomes that are the basis for the Getting it right for Every Child which is the Scottish Government approach to ensuring every child gets the support they need. It is an acronym for Safer, healthier, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included children. See page 14 below for further details

1

by Danny Phillips

1


Education Law Unit Evaluation 2013 Aims of Research This research investigates the impact Education Law Unit (ELU) has on its clients and others. We investigate the outcomes for clients and the contribution ELU has made to the Scottish Government’s policy of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and to the Scottish Government national outcomes. Our findings will be used to improve the legal service provided by ELU. It is hoped they can also contribute to improving policy and practice at both a national and local level. Methodology We have used both qualitative approaches including thematic analysis of interviews and a focus-group, and quantitative methods such as analysis of client feedback forms and casework records. We used a purposive sample2 of both service users (clients) and those who work for organisations and agencies (professionals). All ELU clients are invited to fill out a feedback form which asks if ELU can contact them again. We chose clients randomly from this group, ensuring we had a mixture of people and issues that reflect ELU’s client group. Clients came from across Scotland, and included carers, parents and grandparents. The professionals worked for organisations and agencies and also came from across Scotland. They were both from strategic management and front line staff from a range of services and all worked in the field of additional support for learning. Field work was carried out in autumn of 2012. Focus groups and interviews Interviews help investigate opinions and experience. They allow us to hear from people who find participating in groups more difficult and can allow investigation of more personal issues. Interviewing professionals is also illuminating. They have day to day experience of working with many clients. They see patterns of problems and solutions. Focus groups help facilitate interaction between people, they provide rich data through social interaction. They uncover more complex relationships and help unravel combined perspectives. They are good for enquiring into views and opinions: respondents’ attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions. Interviews and focus groups were semi-structured. Participants were encouraged to talk and explain what had happened from their point of view. Questions took clients through the ‘journey’ they had taken with ELU. A purposive sample is a sample selected in a deliberative and non-random fashion to achieve a certain goal. In a focus group, for example, you may want to consciously seek out respondents at both ends of a spectrum (as well as some in the middle) to insure that all viewpoints are adequately represented. In this case we wanted to interview a cross group of clients who were representative of people who used ELU.

2

2

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


ᔢ ᔢ ᔢ ᔢ ᔢ ᔢ ᔢ

What are their caring responsibilities and who do they care for? What happened? Why did they need ELU? How did they know to contact ELU? Who did they see? What were their first impressions? What did ELU do for them? How did they rate the service they received? Was the service successful? Has anything changed? What differences did ELU make to their lives? What, if any, was the longer term impact? ᔢ Have they recommended the service to others? If, so how?

Professionals were asked similar questions: ᔢ How often they use ELU services and why? ᔢ What ELU services they had used? ᔢ What they think about the ELU service? ᔢ What difference they feel it makes to their ability to provide a good service? ᔢ What difference they think it makes to their clients? ᔢ Would they recommend the service to others or their client?

Education Law Unit (ELU)3 ELU is part of Govan Law Centre (GLC) which is an independent, charitable community controlled law centre operating in Scotland. ELU is based at GLC, in Govan, and operates a Scotland wide service. ELU is an expert legal resource in the field of school education, with a particular focus on tackling discrimination, promoting human rights, the rights of disabled pupils and pupils with additional support needs.

Scotland’s school are diverse institutions that mirror Scottish Society ᔢ 670,511 pupils are in publicly funded scottish schools. ᔢ 98,523 pupils have additional support needs ᔢ 14,819 pupils are assessed or recorded as being disabled. ᔢ 24,555 pupils were identified as having English as an additional language. [Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland, No.2, 2011 Edition 7th, 2011]

3

www.edlaw.org.uk

by Danny Phillips

3


ELU is funded by the Scottish Government to provide: ᔢ Legal advice and representation in appropriate education law cases to parents or pupils. ᔢ An education law telephone and email helpline which is available to anyone who has an enquiry about any aspect of education law in Scotland. ᔢ A series of education law related websites and a number of information leaflets. ᔢ In-house training to advocacy groups, parents’ organisations, the voluntary sector, schools and other education professionals. ᔢ A contribution to relevant seminars, conferences and other training events. ELU receives over 800 helpline enquiries, opens over 90 new cases and receives over 100,000 visits to its website every year. They make over 50 tribunal and court appearances every year including: Sheriff Courts across Scotland, Additional Support Needs Tribunals, Education Appeal Committees and Court of Session (including Inner House). One in four families who use ELU are entitled to a free school meal which is above the national average.4 Clients reported that ELU attended meetings with them; wrote letters on their behalf; phoned decision makers on their behalf; represented them at courts, tribunals and other hearings; completed legal documents; explained their rights and gave them advice. Professionals report that ELU advised and represented their clients, provided telephone advice to them, provided written opinions, wrote to decision makers, provided training, workshops and seminars, and chaired and contributed to policy groups and consultations. Rights of Scottish school pupils Education is not a privilege it is a right and every child has that right to an education. School should be a place for everyone to learn, grow and reach their full potential. Responsibility for this is shared by parents, government, schools and support services. ELU works in partnership with these agencies, parents’ groups and charities across Scotland to make pupils’ rights in education a reality. Educational rights in Scotland comes from a range of Acts: ᔢ S1, Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000 – the right of every child of school age to be provided with school education ᔢ S2(1), SSSA 2000 – the right for that education to be directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential ᔢ S15, SSSA 2000 – the presumption of mainstream education ᔢ S4, Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 – the right of children or young people with additional support needs to adequate and efficient provision for those needs ᔢ Part 6, Chapter 1, Equality Act 2010 – the right of school pupils not to be discriminated against because of a protected characteristic (including disability)] From march 2011 to February 2012, 57 clients responded to a survey. 26% of families reported their children were entitle to the a Free School Meal. This compares to a Scottish National Average of 22.6% for primary schools and 15.2% for secondary schools

4

4

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 2 1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. Article 3 1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. Article 12 1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. Article 14 1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 23 1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child's active participation in the community. 2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child's condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child. 3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development. Article 28 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, Article 29 1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; Article 31 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. by Danny Phillips

5


Findings Clients were universally positive about the ELU service. They said they felt listened to, they said staff understood them, they trusted staff, and felt they received a professional service. A phrase used was “[ELU] had our best interest at heart”. Clients said they received good advice. Phrases like, “It was extremely useful to get clear advice” were common. Another said “It wasn’t [always] what I wanted to hear but it was always good advice .... I knew [ELU] were doing their best for us”. The ways in which clients measured satisfaction can be clustered under three headings: 1. Expertise. ELU are seen as the leading experts in education law in Scotland. Clients recognised their expertise. They frequently made statements like “they know what they are doing”, or “they know their stuff”. Professionals frequently used terms like “authoritative” and could give examples of how tapping into ELU expertise assisted them in their day-to-day work. Clients and professionals said access to this expertise gave them “confidence”. 2. Customer Service. Clients appreciated the professional customer service. “I was impressed with the whole set up they always kept in touch, and we were kept informed”. Others made statements like “we got updates”, and “when they were busy or if they were out they always got back to me and they organised things rapidly”. Clients prioritised this as highly as the lawyers expertise. Good customer service helps build trust and confidence it also reduces client stress. Professionals also prioritised this part of ELU performance, one said “very rarely can I not get to talk to someone, but if I can’t then they get back to me that day, or perhaps the very latest next morning”. 3. Ethos. Clients felt ELU had the right values, that they understood their lives and were on their side. “Understanding” was a word often used. For example “They understood what I was going through, I didn’t have to explain everything because they understood, and [S/he] just got it. I think it was because s/he [also] has children”. Clients believed that ELU was working in their best interest, in part because they felt ELU were “on the same page” as them. Referrals In this study clients heard about ELU either because it was recommended through a support group or because they met an ELU solicitor at an event organised by a support group. Any client who did go to the website or picked up a leaflet did so after ELU had been recommended. One client did say “I found them after searching on the internet so I ask my support worker who they were. She said she knew them and that I should go and see them”. This highlights the importance of ELU continuing to work in partnership with other organisations. Information ELU publish about its service is rarely the first point of contact for clients. Where it is used it tends to be filtered through third parties or is further information once they have been referred.

6

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


First contact with ELU5 Clients reported it was a straightforward process making an appointment with ELU. They got through first time, got to speak to someone in ELU and were able to make an appointment fairly quickly to see a lawyer. However clients reported that they became even more stressed after they made their first appointment. The reasons suggested for this included that they didn’t know what the solicitor might say, they knew they would have to confront the problem, and a concern that using a solicitor might further damage relationships with agencies who look after their children. Some clients also reported they generally felt intimidated by lawyers. For some it was quite clearly a big decision to make an appointment at all. However the stress reduced after the first meeting. Clients reported feeling reassured and felt that they were in safe hands. Reasons for feeling safer and more reassured include giving clients choices, giving clients time to talk with someone who understands their problem and someone who listens. This research suggests that even these early meetings between solicitor and clients have a broader impact on outcomes. Clients reported feeling less stressed, more in control, improving health, and increasing resilience. Common statements included [after the first meeting] “I felt much better, and I could get on with it and I [already] felt better about myself”. Expertise and empathy Clients reported that ELU staff understood their problems and they stressed how important this was. For example “[s/he] knew what I was going through [s/he] knew how important it was to make this decision”. Both clients and professionals agreed that expertise and understanding was important. The key difference between them was only in emphasis on why this was the case. Clients tended to stress the personal qualities of the solicitor that they were “friendly” or “committed” or because staff “had their own children”. It was important to talk about their problems with people who “understood” and “genuinely cared”. For example one client reported that they had a “brilliant discussion”. Professionals, on the other hand, tended to stress staff expertise and knowledge. They stressed the importance of having this back up for their own work and while the manner and approachability of the solicitors was important it was the fact they were experts and spoke with authority that took precedence. As one said “you can be a great lawyer in this area and not have children. It is the expertise that’s important and it’s crucial we don’t lose it”. What is clear is that, for clients, talking to someone who understands the issues and understands their life was extremely important to them. Clients wanted expertise and empathy.

The findings in this section are consistent with other evaluations we have done of Govan Law Centre. Please see the Evaluation of Prevention of Homelessness Project or the Evaluation of Govanhill Law Centre

5

by Danny Phillips

7


In contrast clients reported their frustration in talking to people in authority, and the difficulties in getting authorities to listen to them. Statements like “the council was like a stone wall and not listening” were common. Of course clients in this study needed the services of a lawyer because they had a negative experience with an agency or decision making body. However clients also explained the negative effect it had on them and their health. It made them less confident, less able to cope, more stressed and less healthy What this finding illustrates is that a good understanding service “in itself” has a broader positive impact on outcomes. Carers say their health and their ability to take more control of their problems improved before they had found any real solution to their problems. Outcomes improved because they had been listened to and found empathy. Clients reported being less stressed, able to organise themselves, able to take more control and ultimately to cope better. Some even said that they could take a more balanced view of the issues. Accessible service Both clients and professionals stressed the importance of accessibility. Clients reported it was easy to contact ELU, and to make an appointment. They liked how easy it was to talk to ELU solicitors. One mother said “[s/he] really put my daughter at ease”. A term often used was they “are approachable”. As one client put it “they are normal and they speak to me like a person .... [they use] normal language”. This was equally important to professionals. They liked that they could get clear explanations. As one put it “this whole area is full of terminology but [ELU] talk in people talk and I think that is really important”. Accessibility built confidence in the service. Negative experiences and fair treatment Clients expressed their deep frustration in decision makers including: not being listened to, their rights not being recognised, coming up against bureaucracy, or someone in the system who was blocking what they needed. Clients interpreted these negative experiences as agencies not caring. They believed that the decision maker did not think their child had the right to fulfill their potential or that other factors like costs were taking precedence over the rights of their child. Clients expressed the view that what was happening to them or their family was not fair. On your side and championing a cause6 The fact that clients felt ELU was on their side was a key factor in their positive outcomes. As one said, “we have enough on our plate. We are cope-aholics. But with them working for you it makes you feel stronger”. This view was common and for clients it was linked to an ethos of an understanding listening service. Another explained.

these findings are consistent with other evaluations of GLC legal services. For example, for further information please see Prevention of Homelessness Partnership Evaulation Section 11 Homelessmess etc (Scotland) 2003 pilot project by Danny Phillips Associates

6

8

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


“[The authority] were not listening to me. No-one was taking me seriously. I needed someone to help me fight my corner. Sometimes people look down on you like I was just complaining all the time. But I am someone and I wanted them to understand our problem. The best way I can describe it was I could talk through ELU. They knew the proper channels and proper procedures, I just didn’t know that stuff and it was making me more-and-more stressed. I could never have got where we are today without the help of ELU. I can’t explain it. It is such a relief to have someone fighting for you and listening to what you say. It changed everything”. Another said: “My daughter has a mental health problem. She felt she didn’t deserve any extra help. She thought she was stupid. The school kept fobbing her off but [ELU] helped her realise it wasn’t her fault. They listened to her and made her feel better about herself. I think it was because they believed in her”. It was a strong common theme throughout the research that people say that having someone working for them, and “listening to them” and being on their side helps improve resilience, confidence and ability to cope. In fact clients experiences suggest that outcomes improved because of this factor alone, whether or not they found a solution to their problems. Stress of fighting a case or getting legal work done Clients described how having to make big decisions on behalf of those they were caring for was very stressful. Clients interpreted decisions that went against them as proof that decision makers didn’t understand their predicament and didn’t have their children’s best interest at heart and how this was very stressful. They also described how in the first instance using lawyers just added to this stress. As one professional said “it can be quite a step for parents to seek legal advice and challenge a local authority decision. They have to be up for one big fight”. However, once they had put the work in the hands of lawyers, and they felt they could trust them, they explained that it was a big weight off their minds. Comments like “it was one less thing to worry about and they did all the hard work and we can concentrate on all the other things and it was a big stressful part of my life that someone else has taken over were common themes”. As one client put it: “You have no space to think about what to do. You are constantly trying to deal with the day to day. At times the stress [of the problem] was becoming unbearable. After I met [the ELU solicitor] I just knew I didn’t have to worry”. As another put it. “I can’t deny that I have been down on my knees on the stairs saying I won’t know what to do if we don’t win this case. If [my child] doesn’t get the support s/he needs. At some points I didn’t think I would be able to cope. But ELU helped me to keep going with [my case] and we won and it has made a huge difference. In fact it’s difficult to put into words”. by Danny Phillips

9


The importance of legal advice and representation7 When asked, clients said they could not have dealt with their problem without a lawyer. As one client said in the feedback forms “without the knowledge and helpful assistance of all the people concerned at the Law Centre, I don’t think I would have achieved the outcome I was pursuing”. Clients tended to give three reasons for this: 1. Some clients said that the issues were too technical for them, comments included statements like I wouldn’t know where to start. For example, obtaining expert evidence was mentioned, a client said “I didn’t even know I could get these reports” another said “I wouldn’t know what questions to ask”. One client said “I knew what should be done I just didn’t know how”. 2. Some clients explained that were in dispute with a decision making body like a local authority, or a school or other agency. They spoke of their feelings of powerlessness and of being ignored. These clients observed that when ELU took up their case authorities attitudes changed and they suddenly listened. Comments included “with ELU we were taken seriously”. And “with [ELU] on board suddenly their whole attitude changed”. As another said “my daughter’s needs were taken seriously when [ELU] got on board”. 3. Those who needed legal action in the sheriff court or court of session made the obvious point that you needed a lawyer as a matter of law. One client explained that: “The last straw was just before Christmas when I was in the head teachers office again. [S/he] would just not listen to me. [S/he] refused to take anything I said seriously. [My child] was getting into trouble all the time and at home too. I knew he was ill. The school told me there was nothing wrong with [my child] and, when I asked, I was told that there was a 5 year waiting list to see a psychiatrist”. “I had enough so I got an appointment to see ELU on the 5 January and they got me an appointment with the psychiatrist on the 3 February and [my child] was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome very quickly. ELU also dealt with the school and it all changed. Now we have a plan for his education and a strategy to deal with problems. His behaviour has changed completely. Now we work together. They tell me if there are problems and we deal it together. And things are a lot better. A lot better. And we are all working for the benefit of [my child]”. Partnership working, inclusiveness and being linked to others A key outcome for clients was being included. Client experiences tended to have a pattern. A parent or family were struggling to cope, perhaps their child was refusing to attend school or could not do school work because of lack of support. The parent - and child - came into conflict with the school. They both then felt isolated. Often they said things like “I thought I was the only parent going through this”. ELU intervention - whether that be a letter to the school or further legal action against a local authority - would often find some solution to their problem. 7

these findings are backed up by ELU’s Annual summary of feedback by clients

10

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


Parents/carers reported that a key outcome for both them and their children was that they felt more included. They expressed this in three ways: 1. They felt more linked (both formally and informally) into other parents/carers with the same experiences. Either they now felt part of a school or support group or they just met like minded parents at the ‘school gate’. Parents stressed this as a key factor in them feeling more secure and healthier. A typical example would be the parent who ‘won’ her fight to get her child into a special school who now met many other parents with children with the same needs. 2. They felt more included by agencies. Both formally through statutory co-ordinated support plans or informally by more positive working with teachers and service providers. An example would be a child with autism who was being excluded from school for his behaviour. The school was treating it as a discipline issue. ELU intervention changed the attitude of the authority to one in which they were looking at the child’s additional needs. Parents reported a much more positive relationship with the school and now they had a plan and strategy to deal with parents and the child when ever problems arose. 3. They felt their children were also more encouraged to be part of their solution. Parents could recount experiences where their children were able to contribute to decisions made about them where before they were ignored. Changing attitudes of agencies This finding is important as often the reason clients gave for their anxiety before they contacted ELU was a worry that even the simplest interventions, like an ELU letter to a school, might further damage their already difficult relationships with, for example, a head teacher or local authority department. However, a notable outcome for clients was that the intervention tended to do the opposite. It did not just bring better partnership working but, clients felt, it also helped to change the whole attitude towards them from them being seen as a ‘problem’ to ‘how can we all find a solution’. Clients, professionals and ELU staff, could explain cases where a child’s behaviour was seen as a discipline problem but, even a simple intervention of a letter to the school asking if they had considered this case under the additional support for learning legislation could change the attitude of the school from seeing a child as disciplinary problem to a child who needs support and assistance. This change of attitude could also be seen in clients who seemed much more willing and able to work with services. The impact was an improved relationship between, for example, a parent and head teacher which then had a positive impact on their child’s behaviour and their educational outcomes. Why a law centre and not a high street solicitors? Clients were asked why they just didn’t go to a high street or local solicitors. A strong theme was that clients said did not have confidence in them to do the job, or they worried about how they would be treated. A range of reasons were put forward.

by Danny Phillips

11


Some had had a negative experience with a high street solicitors already, others provided second hand accounts and for some it just seemed to be an opinion they held. Some said they did go to a high street solicitors but were told they didn’t do that type of work. Another went to one high street solicitor only to be referred to another firm so they didn’t want to take it any further. One got advice but didn’t go back because she didn’t think they had the expertise. Others didn’t approach high street solicitors. Reasons included that it would have taken too long because it was not their area of expertise or more generally they didn’t think they would get a good service, and some had not even thought about approaching a high street solicitors It was a strongly held belief. As one client wrote in the ELU feedback forms: “I would also like to say that I have since had to contact other solicitors outwith this service and was at times spoken to in a very patronising and demeaning manner. If only all solicitors spoke to the public your [ELU] solicitor did”. Recommending ELU to others Clients said they would recommend ELU to others, many already had. A key way in which clients made the recommendation was through their support groups. It seems to be a key route for ELU clients to get trusted information. Statements included: “I have already recommended ELU to a few people in my group or I have suggested to our group that we ask ELU to come and speak to us others should benefit from what they are doing. Or I have recommended them to many people I know in the same position. I would recommend them in a heart beat”. ELU has well developed links to a national network of advocacy groups, parents’ organisations, voluntary sector organisations, support groups, schools and other education professionals which is crucial to its reputation and crucial to engaging with its client group.

12

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


Outcomes A number of clients said ELU intervention had meant that their children did not miss out. Many talked of their children getting “more opportunities and fulfilling their potential” and “getting an education for them”. As one client said after her son won additional support for his learning “he now gets a better education and can take part in his school. He can contribute to his class”.

ELU effect change in 3 ways. 1. 2. 3.

Case work can influence local service delivery beyond the individual case. Legal precedent through case law can clarify the law for both parents and agencies and create new rights and responsibilities. Broad case work experience means ELU can influence policy and practice nationally

Others stressed their children’s out-of-school activities and better family life. One family who got additional support to help their son communicate explained he can now give his views within the family. Another parent said. “The school stopped taking our son on outings because he used to just shout and have tantrums. They said he didn’t enjoy it. But we always said that he doesn’t want to sit in his chair all the time. He actually wants to join in with the other children. Now he can say that himself. He went to the carnival and he went on everything. It’s his life. His choice”. Another common theme expressed was ‘security’. Carers felt ‘more secure’ and they felt their children were more secure. For example, because the school place had been secured, or they felt they were more included in a school network, or their child was settled at school, or they had the additional support they required. Parents would often qualify this by saying they knew at some point their child would have to leave school, or even that one day “[they would] not be here”. But they were thankful that things were “secure for a few more years”. Carers also told us about the benefits for them. A theme was that they said they were ‘less stressed’. They felt more in control. As one put it, “there is no time to think about your own health. You just go from crisis to crisis. This has helped me sort a few things out for myself”. Carers said they could get on with things, and think about their own health. Clients also stressed the benefit of being included. Something which was backed up by professionals. Findings confirmed that many parents felt isolated. Many said they thought they were the only parents who had these types of problems. So getting to meet up with other parents and discuss concerns is very important to them even on an informal basis. These outcomes chime with the SHANARRI (see below) outcomes of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC). This research suggests that ELU are making a contribution towards these GIRFEC outcomes.

by Danny Phillips

13


In short, client experiences tended to be one where they felt under valued, not included in their school or community, not stimulated, not respected and unsupported. Through working with ELU this changed. They felt safer, healthier, more achieving, more nurtured, more active, more respected, more responsible and more included.

Getting it Right for Every Child Outcomes GIRFEC is the Scottish government approach to ensuring every child in Scotland gets the consistent co-ordinated support they need. Safe...

protected from abuse, neglect or harm

Healthy...

experiencing the highest standards of physical and mental health, and supported to make healthy safe choices

Achieving...

receiving support and guidance in their learning – boosting their skills, confidence and self-esteem

Nurtured...

having a nurturing and stimulating place to live and grow

Active...

offered opportunities to take part in a wide range of activities – helping them to build a fulfilling and happy future

Respected...

to be given a voice and involved in the decisions that affect their wellbeing

Responsible... taking an active role within their schools and communities Included...

14

receiving help and guidance to overcome social, educational, physical and economic inequalities; accepted as full members of the communities in which they live and learn

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


Scottish Government Outcomes Scottish Government have fifteen top level national outcomes which describe what they want to achieve over a decade. Their aim is to enable government priorities to be more clearly understood and provide a better structure for delivery. ELU aim to contribute to these outcomes. This research highlights evidence that ELU is making a positive contribution to these Scottish Government outcomes. Clients agree that the support received contributed to improving the lives of those they care for. In a number of cases parents stressed that what they achieved would benefit other children too. As one mother of a severely disabled child said after ELU won a legal case for them “We have set a precedent. This means that not only is life better for my son it is better for any child that comes behind him. This is important for me as well. In fact it blew me away. I said I always knew my son was here for a reason”.

Relevant Scottish Government Outcomes ᔢ Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens ᔢ Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed. ᔢ We live longer happier lives. ᔢ We have tackled significant inequalities in Scottish society. ᔢ We have improved the life chances for children, young people and families at risk. ᔢ Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs

Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed. Parents and carers regularly stated that the work of ELU had had a positive impact on the life of those they were caring for. In particular they felt that it had improved their start in life and made a positive contribution to their learning. Parents and carers regularly used phrases like “more confident”; and “he has come on leaps and bounds”; and “ELU made a huge difference”. Some repeated government policy language to make their point, for example, “my son can now fulfill the national curriculum for excellence he is much more confident and can contribute more. Even his teachers say how much he is coming on”. by Danny Phillips

15


To quote one client whose teenage son is both paraplegic and epileptic. “It has made a huge difference in ways I can’t even communicate. [My child] can now reach his full potential. He is making steady progress all the time. Before he sat there, head bowed, bent over squashing his internal organs. But [because of the support he now gets] he can communicate with us, he is even learning maths and English, he can talk and socialise and can tell us what he needs and what even happened to him at school. He now uses an eye recognition tablet so can tell me if something has happened at school that he doesn’t like and I can sort it out. He was able to tell me they were not closing the curtain when they changed him and he doesn’t like it. So I told the staff it’s against his rights to do that and they have stopped it. I can’t believe the change in him. That is down to the hard work of ELU I couldn’t have done it without them”. We have tackled significant inequalities in Scottish society. We have improved the life chances for children, young people and families at risk. It is beyond the reach of this report to say whether ELU has tackled significant inequalities. However we can make two points. First, one in four of children who use ELU services are entitled to a Free School Meal which is above the Scottish national average.8 Second, we can say that both clients and professionals felt this was true. Professionals in particular felt it was undeniable. Carers said that the work of ELU had ensured their children were treated more fairly. They saw it as exercising rights. Their children received additional support that they were legally entitled to. They were more included at school and were able to get more out of their education. They felt that through improving the support for their children they had improved their children’s opportunity for a better education. In short they felt their children were gaining more of their fair share from services which improved their life chances. The outcomes included better health and inclusion in the family and society. Some parents/carers spoke of quite dramatic changes to the lives of their those they were caring for. How they were healthier, better educated, had increased income, had access to better opportunities and were getting a better start in life. Professionals agreed. In some cases strongly agreed. As a teacher at a special school put it: “[ELU securing a place in a special school] usually makes a huge difference to families. Most have been struggling. The scenario can be that a child is refusing to attend school. Or they are only attending intermittently and when they are there they don’t fit in. The child will be getting more and more isolated. Spending more time in their bedroom. They stay up all night and sleep all day. They might be on antidepressants. They may have OCD type problems. They may be constantly playing on their computer. When [ELU intervene] and they come to a special school. That all goes. It is a huge relief for the family. Including other children in the From march 2011 to February 2012, 57 clients responded to a survey. 26% of families reported their children were entitle to the a Free School Meal. This compares to a Scottish National Average of 22.6% for primary schools and 15.2% for secondary schools.

8

16

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


family who are also suffering. With in a short space of time, once the child has settled, holistically the child is managing. The child will go from being very anxious to having a real confidence boost. They will take part in school perhaps have a part in a school play, or learn to play in instrument. And they may never have had friends before, that’s the point [for autistic children], they will not have had the skills to make friends before. Many of these children, for example, will start to have overnight stays at the weekend with their new friends. It can be quite a transformation and effects their everyone in their family”. Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs This research highlighted five factors in which ELU contributed to improving public services. 1. ELU worked as a check and balance on public services. They were one route of ensuring individual children got the educational rights they were entitled to. Many parents/carers provided accounts of how ELU intervention had improved public services for them. Schools and parents had improved their partnership working, the parents felt more listened to and felt more included in the decisions that affected them and their children. 2. ELU provided training on a range of legal issues which professionals said had improved the way they work. Professionals reported the importance of this training and how positively these sessions had been received. It was both getting the updating of information and also getting to discuss work with others working in the same area. They also said how useful it was to hear from others doing the same job dealt with problems. One described it as very useful, another described it as “the best training I have been on. I was only disappointed that it was only for half a day and that there are not more of them”. 3. ELU is seen as authoritative. Professionals argued that if they challenged bad practice with an ELU written opinion then this carried weight and was taken seriously by senior managers. One professional explained that “additional support needs is a specialist area but I am still [regularly disappointed] that people [in authority] who should know the rules don’t understand the position properly and have to have it explained to them. The problem is if I explain it they don’t take it nearly as seriously a letter from ELU explaining the position. One letter can have quite an impact”. 4. ELU cases also set a precedent and if they get a decision at a higher tribunal or court the decision can clarify the law and impact on more than the individuals in the case. One parent explained how her son’s case has changed service provision for all children in Scotland and made her own local authority change its policy. 5. A number of professionals especially in more isolated areas (but surprisingly in more populated areas too) described how they felt they worked in an isolated silo. They were perhaps one of the few people in their region who specialised in working with children and families who needed additional support. They welcomed ELU as a sounding board and described their workshops as a great opportunity to learn from others, discover different approaches and get authoritative advice, keep up to date with legal and practice changes and improve.

by Danny Phillips

17


We live longer healthier lives. Although more difficult to make the links that people live longer, clients certainly felt that the service had had a positive effect on their health as carers and on the health of their children. This was backed up by professionals. Some parents reported big differences in their children’s health and lives. One parent explained how she had fought to get her severely disabled son digital communication equipment which meant he could explain what he wanted and which means he is “not slumped over all the time�. One professional said clients undoubtedly got healthier and sometimes that the changes are profound. The links between stress and ill-health are well established. Carers reported stress reduction for themselves as well as their children.

18

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


Issues for Further Consideration 1. Clients were overwhelmingly positive about ELU. This may well reflect ELU’s excellent service. The research showed nothing that would suggest the contrary. In fact professionals reflected the views saying ELU were the best at what they did. Terms like excellence and fantastic were often used. Feedback forms, although a small self selecting sample, also have 100% ‘excellent’ approval rating. ELU is clearly doing things well. However ELU might should bear three factors in mind: ᔢ that the selection process for this research (and the feedback forms) may have influenced this finding. Perhaps those who had a longer more successful relationship with ELU were more likely to provide feedback and take part in the research. ᔢ clients tended to be referred to ELU through a support organisation and these people might be more likely to access assistance and make the most of any support and the rights and opportunities that follow from this. ᔢ ELU do focus services on groups identified by Education Scotland as less well served by Scottish education: looked after children, young carers and children with mental health problems. Continuing to widen access to those isolated parents and children is an area which requires continued reflection and improvement. 2. There is no doubt ELU contribute to Scottish Government GIRFEC outcomes and top line national outcomes. In some cases it may be difficult to quantify and some top line national outcomes are beyond this report’s ability to make categorical links. However clients and professionals were in no doubt that ELU made a significant contribution to these outcomes on both an individual and more general scale. This research found clear evidence that both carers and children have better health and education outcomes, are more included by agencies, have better life chances and are more fairly treated. There is also no doubting ELU’s contribution to improving public services. 3. Providing a professional customer service in itself has a positive impact on client outcomes. Clients were as likely to highlight good customer service as they were to highlight a positive legal outcome. Good customer service gave them confidence in ELU. Clients reported it reduced stress and made them feel stronger, healthier and more in control. 4. Clients want a service which is on their side. Clients want straight ELU advice whether or not it is something they want to hear. They want to know that ELU is acting in their best interest. For both clients and professionals the accuracy of advice is what makes ELU authoritative. Trust is crucial which and is built through expertise and accurate advice, but also by listening, being approachable, understanding problems and being committed to their client’s best interest. 5. Expertise is important. ELU must consider how they remain a centre of excellence and the leading voice in the field of education law in Scotland. Keeping updated, providing information on changes in the law, leading on legal challenges, and making information available improves confidence in ELU and impacts, more broadly, on policy and practice. by Danny Phillips

19


6. Do not underestimate the stress for clients before they make a first appointment. The first contact and meeting is important, clients who reported a poor first experience with high street firms did not return. Even though nothing in this report suggests ELU are not providing a good first time experience, they might consider how to continually improve this aspect of their service. For example, ensuring clients are directed to relevant information about the service before appointment, providing information about who they will see or talk to on the phone, and what will happen at the first appointment. Clients will want to know that ELU will work in their interest and will not take any action without the client’s agreement. They may also want to know that ELU will work with them to improve their relationships without compromising their rights. 7. Remaining accessible is important. ELU’s strong equal opportunities policy which underpins its service is crucial. However access for clients tended to be expressed as a mixture of ELU staff being friendly and approachable; understanding and listening; getting through on the phone; keeping promises like returning calls on time; receiving clear explanations in normal language and taking the time to explain; and acting promptly. 8. Professionals appreciated the training, seminars and workshops. Although only briefly mentioned in the report training, seminars and workshop were very much appreciated by frontline staff. They enjoyed meeting in the same field and found the access to expertise invaluable. ELU could look to increase this part of their service. 9. Partnership and inclusion was a key outcome for parents. Being introduced to a new network of other parents with the same issues, or that they got time with a head teacher to find solutions to problems, or that they felt more included in both formal and informal decision making meetings, were invaluable outcomes. It is a reminder that while parents needed specialist rights based legal advice, they also required a service that was sensitive to all their needs. In short a holistic approach is required. Clients need a service which can provide a rights based approach but is also sensitive to their relationships with other agencies. 10. Cost savings. It is beyond the scope of this research to give an accurate figure for cost savings. However a reasonable case can be made, consistent with organisations like Carers UK9 and preventative spending reports by the Scottish Govenrment and Scottish Parliament10 , that ELU do contribute to preventative spending elsewhere to the public purse. Clients reported that they felt less stressed, healthier, more included and that services were better meeting their needs. In their view solutions meant services working more effectively and efficiently in meeting their needs. Carers can be pushed to breaking point which have a longer term impact on public services. However more efficient and effective interventions are more cost effective as they pre-empt need for further support down the line.

see Counting the Cost of Caring: cash-strapped carers ‘sick with worry’ about finances. Available at www.carersuk.org (although this tends to deal with costs to clients).

9

Also see Scottish Parliament Information Centre Preventative Spend summary document or from paragraph 77 of 3rd Report, 2011 (Session 4) Report on Scottish Spending Review 2011 and Draft Budget 2012-13, Volume 1: Finance Committee Report

10

20

Evaluation: Education Law Unit 2013


Education Law Unit Evaluation (2013)  

An independent evaluation by Danny Phillips Associates of the work of Govan Law Centre's Education Law Unit.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you