Hannah M, a member of FLARE, writes about her experiences in education and of the SEND reforms.
In 2014 I turned 17, the same year the Children and Families Act became law. Having suffered meningitis as a one-year-old, my whole life that I remember I have had special educational needs and physical disability. I have suffered epilepsy, I have had numerous hospital stays and health issues.
I spent the first 16 years of my life in education under the old Education Act and since I was 17 I have benefited from the new reforms. I have attended a mainstream school, a mainstream college, a specialist college for students with disabilities, and am now at university studying special educational needs, disability and inclusion. I also, through the EPIC and FLARE groups, have had the chance to give my input and views on the development and delivery of the reforms. Because of my direct experiences and advisory role I feel I am in a unique position to reflect on the reforms.
Having always gone to mainstream schools until 16 I always had a full-time Statement of Support which meant I got full-time support at school. I had various ups and downs along the way but by and large I was supported at school. At 16 my senior school only allowed students to stay on to do A-levels. Due to my dyslexia, problems with my short-term memory, and visual issues, I struggled with exams and didn't have the grades to do A-levels there, so had to look at a local mainstream college to do a BTEC. On leaving school my Statement ceased and, although there were promises of support at college there was nothing legally binding, I was left to struggle. I was the only student that was not allowed to do placements, as there was no one to support me and I felt my time in education was over. Problems with my epilepsy increased and I had major brain surgery and a number of months after that was spent recovering.
During this period of time the SEND reforms came into being. After my surgery, and with the existing support in place, I knew there was no way the local college could support me to achieve my potential. The reforms allowed my parents to apply for me to have an Education, Health and Care plan. Mine was the first plan independently applied for in Dudley for a student whose statement had ceased. Without the reforms I wouldn't have been able to do this, my education would have been over. The process allowed mine and my parents' voices to be heard.
I ended up getting a place at a local specialist college to do Level 3 BTEC. Having always gone to mainstream school I was nervous about going to a specialist college but I can honestly say that this college helped me to achieve my goals. I was allowed to do the course over three years - the slower pace suiting me and helping me build my confidence. I did numerous placements, I became a college ambassador, I even managed to pass my GCSE maths on the fourth attempt, and when I left the college I got the college award that year for an achievement.
I am now back in mainstream education, in my second year at Wolverhampton University. I am enjoying my course, I am enjoying learning. I lived at home for the first year as we are local but I'm trying to increase my independence by living in halls for part of the week this year. Without the SEND reforms and the Education, Health and Care plan, which extends educational support up to 25 years, and listen to my views, this would not have been impossible. I know there have been issues with the reforms and the delivery of Education, Health and Care plans. For me there were delays and time scales were not met, but I can honestly say the reforms have helped me to achieve my goal of going to university and leading an increasingly more independent life.