Academisation, ME/CFS and the Neglect of Sick Children

Privatisation Plans -Divide and Rule

Premeditated plans for privatization is why we have witnessed academisation of our schools and break-up of the NHS. As with basic utilities, pursuing privatization for education and health is morally wrong on two basic points:

  1. It is immoral to profit from others basic needs; individuals have no choice, and those with financial means can exert undemocratic control.
  2. Privatisation perpetuates privilege. Buying your way to a hospital bed or smaller class sizes unfairly deprives others.

The British habit of queuing is based on an innate sense of fairness. People will not tolerate an impatient bully pushing to the front of the bus queue, and will give up their seat to someone in need. They see people as individuals when meeting face-to-face. But the private wards and private schools separate people, so those seeking such privilege close doors to other people and indirectly cause suffering and even death.

Academisation

Inter-school competition was encouraged by the introduction of league tables, which focussed on publicised external exam results. Co-operation and mutual support between schools continued within local authorities, and they benefitted from centralised services, such as Education Psychology, Education Welfare Officers, Connexions Advisors, Youth Workers and EOTAS Services (which provided education for children who were unable to go to school, for example because of injury, chronic illness, anxiety and depression). Further close co-operation between CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, NHS) and Education services can be effective, but separate NHS and Education budgets can be problematic.

Financial sweeteners were offered (1) to encourage the Academisation process, such that the cost of the process exceeded original estimates by £1Billion. (2),(3). Schools resisting the process have been forced to convert. Schools have reported unreasonable, disappointing and unexpected OFSTED results. Presenting organisations as failing is part of the plan to justify change. Yet the change has been made without evidence (4) that Academisation improves achievement.

Education for Sick Children – and the effect of Academisation

Every child has a right to an education. Sadly, during prolonged illness, sometimes children are unable to go to school. Geographically, there is considerable variation regarding provision of education for children unable to go to school. Some LEAs offer little provision, some employ contracted, trained specialists to provide an outreach service and specialist centres. Academy Schools have no responsibility to provide services for sick children, or even to offer school places to them. Furthermore, cuts to Local Authorities has resulted in the depletion of centralised services offered to children and young people. Guided by league tables, Academies have no incentive to offer any provision, since numbers are comparatively low. Offering a classroom on site with a tutor or support worker is woefully inadequate and pointless if a child is unable to get out of bed or even to sit up. Furthermore, lack of training to mainstream staff in delivering an education to children with EBSR (5) ( Emotionally Based School Refusal) or ME/CFS (6), often compounds problems these children face. Many mainstream schools are inflexible, unwilling to change a timetable, reduce the demands of a curriculum or even to enter for exams if they expect an adverse effect on league tables. To be denied exam entry because of missed lessons during a kidney transplant is scandalous. Yet schools are pressured to maintain statistics.

About 1% of children : NHS, (7) are unable to attend school because of chronic fatigue known as (ME/CFS), NHS, (8) which can follow a viral disease. Life prospects for these young people depends on a number of factors. We must consider:

What Educational provision is offered while a child is confined at home?

Does training to mainstream teachers and support staff include needs for sick children as well as those with special needs?

Are multi-professional teams working together towards a common aim?

Is contact with friends maintained and class members informed?

Who is listening to the young person?

Problems for young people suffering from chronic fatigue can be compounded by depression and emotional fragility. However, this is caused by the inadequacies of the educational system itself and is avoidable. A recently published study (9 and 10) by Dr Esther Crawley shows how lack of awareness by teachers, and other children can reduce the prognosis, and life prospects for children suffering from ME/CFS. It concludes that depression is not a consequence of the illness itself, as had been previously believed to be the case by some professionals within health and education. There are many teachers, and indeed even some doctors who unaware of the nature of the illness and who refuse to believe the suffering is genuine. They therefore attribute the lack of attendance to truancy. In addition, lack of understanding of the illness by peers frequently leads to bullying.

Young people with chronic fatigue syndrome or myalagic encephalopathy (CFS/ME) experience higher levels of psychological distress than healthy controls and young people with other chronic illnesses, and it was recently demonstrated that 38% of this population scored above the clinical cut-off on the Spence Child Anxiety Scale. Subscales of social and separation anxiety were consistently high across gender and age groups. In this study, we used qualitative methods to help us understand more about these two types of anxiety in young people with CFS/ME. Eleven young people (age 12–18) were interviewed. Interviews were self-directed by the participants and were wide ranging. The transcripts were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Five superordinate themes were identified: social loss and adjustment; introduction of uncertainty and unpredictability; the vulnerable self; individual differences; and contributions towards recovery. Many themes were identical to those described in young people coping with other chronic illnesses in adolescence. In addition, young people with CFS/ME describe experiences associated with the perceived illegitimacy of this condition, namely: feeling unable to explain their illness; bullying from peers; disbelief; and distrust from adults around them. This becomes an additional challenge for these young people. Clinicians need to be aware of these problems, and offer appropriate support. Study by Dr Esther Crawley (10)

The exclusion of children from society will be exacerbated by the increasing isolation of schools from each other and centralised services. For many, exclusion will continue into adulthood. The human and financial cost is considerable. Labour’s Andy Burnham has stressed the need for Health and Education Services to work together (11) and that is very welcome. However, this is pointless if individual health trusts and various schools in a locality are managing affairs in isolation, and driven by their own objectives of climbing league tables, or, disturbingly which is very clearly on the horizon of financial profit (12).

Renationalising our NHS must be at the forefront of Labour’s manifesto, and reuniting schools in consortia (13) along with properly funded centralised health, welfare, and support services for those with special educational or health needs. Children, not profit, is what our schools should be about. Labour’s policy of “Every Child Matters”(14) seems like ancient history. Labour should plan an NES, a National Education System, providing excellent education for all, an opportunity missed in 1945.

See: Academisation and the Demolition of our Education System

While future Osbornes and Camerons and their chums are allowed their privileged lifestyles, chances for our grandchildren will be diminished. It just won’t do.

References and Further Reading:

  1. Local Schools Network: We did it for the Money: Survey reveals extra finances were the most popular reason for Academy Conversion
  2. Local Schools Network: Academies Programme cost £1 Bn more than expected
  3. The Schools Network: Unleashing the powers of Academies
  4. Anti-Academy Alliance: Academies and Achievement: Putting the Record Straight
  5. Think Left: Emotionally Based School Refusal (EBSR)
  6. Think Left: Somebody Help ME
  7. NHS News: ME/CFS: The cause of school absence
  8. NHS: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  9. Pro Health: Adult and Peer ‘Disbelief in ME/CFS adds significantly to burden for teen patients – Refers to latest study by Dr Esther Crawley
  10. SAGE Journals: Abstract: from Dr Crawley’s study Why do young people with CFS/ME feel anxious?
  11. CYPN: Labour’s Andy Burnham calls on local areas to prioritise mental health in schools
  12. Anti-Academy Alliance: Spotlight on Sponsors AET
  13. Consortia, not free schools or Academies
  14. Every Child Matters, Parliament 2003
  15. Anti-Academy Alliance: For Profit free schools would increase social and educational segregation
  16. Academies – the £120 million bonus
  17. Think Left: Labour’s welcome helping hand for the Hidden Children
  18. Think Left: The NHS Bill, ME/CFS and Professor Pitchings farewell message
  19. Think Left: Welfare reform and ME/CFS
  20. Think Left: Integration or Inclusion
  21. Bristol University: Chronically fatigued patients face huge inequalities in accessing specialist services
  22. Bristol University: Is chronic fatigue a major cause of school absence?

6 thoughts on “Academisation, ME/CFS and the Neglect of Sick Children

  1. Superb article. Andy Burnham pledged last month to stop “the privatisation of the NHS on Day One” of a Labour government. It doesn’t sound like it extends to reversal, but it’s a reassuring step towards the much needed renationalisation that you advocate.

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  4. Great article about ME/CFS and education. I particularly like the part, “Problems for young people suffering from chronic fatigue can be compounded by depression and emotional fragility. However, this is caused by the inadequacies of the educational system itself and is avoidable. A recently published study (9 and 10) by Dr Esther Crawley shows how lack of awareness by teachers, and other children can reduce the prognosis, and life prospects for children suffering from ME/CFS.” This is very true. My son is 8 years (yes, only 8) and has had ME/CFS now for 2 years following glandular fever. The treatment he has had from school is nothing short of abuse and neglect. In trying to get resolution I am labelled a difficult parent. Precious time is wasted. Instead of limited energy being spent caring for him and helping him to pace and achieve where he can I am struggling to get a suitable offer of education to which he is entitled. More awareness and recognition is desperately needed.

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    • I have been in the same position myself .. and understand just how devastating it is. All you are trying to do is your best for your ill child, and you find yourself stigmatised as being ‘difficult’ or somehow invested in your child’s illness. I’m so sorry that this is still happening! Chicken pox was probably the triggering virus in our case.

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  5. Pingback: This is Undeniable Evidence that Academisation has Failed. | Think Left

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