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June 2015

Dept of Education, Finally after Five Years, Publish an Infuriating Protocol for Elluminate. 


Friday 12th June 2015.


Dear All, 


After a five year wait and two years of letters from the Minister of Education telling us that his Union Joint Working Party would soon produce a protocol for the use of E-Learning including Elluminate, they have on Friday last sent us their protocol. 

It took us to today to be calm enough to inform you. We are utterly outraged that this new service to meet the needs of our most vulnerable, most invisible, most in need children that was announced in 2011 and was supposed to start in 2012 when the Education Minister, John O’Dowd said of it: 

“This significant contract, representing an investment of just under £170million over the next 5 years, will offer schools greater flexibility and choice. “It will give teachers and pupils access to the best learning resources from across the world and will bring these resources into the classroom. Access to the ‘digital classroom’ and its e-learning tools, lessons and resources will also be possible from any internet connected device, 24 hours a day - allowing teachers, pupils and parents to work in real partnership to support learning. “The communications and e-learning elements of the service will support real collaboration between schools allowing them to work together to deliver a shared curriculum and give all their pupils a richer learning experience.”

The unions blocked it almost immediately in 2012 and the Minister has allowed it to be locked up in a unions joint working party ever since.

We have written to the Minister many times and always the same reply - almost agreed..... so we thought that after all these years, whilst children with cancer, autism, ME, brain injury, or other illness or disabilty were denied education, seriously impacting their futures and removing continuity in their lives just when they needed it most .,.. that the Dept would produce something worth the wait. 

But NO, after sending them the UK policies showing children should have full and equal access within 15 days via e-learning if they were unable to attend and sending them a flow chart illustration how it could work, (available on our website www. - blog / what we want the gov to do tabs) 
They still manage to put teachers first and the needs of our most vulnerable children don't even feature. Its just so bad, even though we have been pushing for something that would work, we feel like apologising to tell you what the unions have come up with after two years of the Minister letting the teacher unions shape this service. 

Here are our points when reading what they have come up with . 


1. 'Children who are absent from school for short periods' - how long is a short period? what if they are having cancer treatment or they have autism or ME pr a Brian injury and they are not ready to go back? why not a long period of time? if that is what they child needs and the system is clearly able to provide at a click of a button. 


2. 'Many schools already use e-learning' yes for nice pretty things like linking to a book launch or inter school event, but not for the most needed vital links for children unable to attend- only a few primary school children were able to have continuity in education when absent - no secondary school children were allowed access, even those with cancer pleading to continue to do their GCSEs have been locked out of the use of e-learning. 


3. 'up to 18' we fought with the Minister for this- so children whose special educational needs support ended at 16 could continue their education from home - but as they are putting in 'short absence' only this would rule out the children who need support and leave at 16 because their support in school ended. 


4. THEY WILL ONLY ALLOW ONE TO ONE LEARNING- FOR ONE TERM ON A PILOT BASIS. This is not full and equal access to all their subjects and continuity with their class and teachers - this is extremely disappointing after such a long wait since 2011. 


5. They 'WILL NOT  consider it for pupils who have been expelled or suspended' - this is simply appalling - so many of these children have special needs, ADHD or other often unrecognised needs that mean the teachers are unable to manage to support them and deal with their behaviour. Children do well and manage if they can - many lag the skills to always manage their behaviour in a school environment many teachers / schools lack the skills needed to support these children and retain and engage them in education - they all deserve to have full and equal access to their education within 15 days - even if they can't manage their behaviour in the school evnviroment - they should still get the chance to learn when the e learning system can provide it at the click of a button. 


6. The process to gain access via the pilot via home tuition team - makes it difficult to see how it can be operational within 15 days. esp if they need hardware, - it should work simply on the basis of a note from the child's GP to the school principal. 


7. 'NO TEACHER will be compelled to to participate' how awful is that? Can you imagine your child - for example - with autism or ME who simply can't manage in school any more or becomes really unwell or suicidal and they need to learn from home for a while to restore themselves or are in hospital for cancer treatment - you as a parent are doing all you can to try to limit the impact on their lives - the teachers don't understand your child not coping if they have special needs- they think you have them spoilt - you are desperate - parents would be on their knees begging teachers, knowing how much their child's education means, to limit the impact of their illness or disability on their lives and its all down to the whim of the teacher if they will participate or not - this is just so bad. What an awful position for parents and children too -when they are most vulnerable. 


8 'Neither will any aspect of the pupil/teacher home-school eLearning interaction be used in any competency or disciplinary procedures against a teacher' now Ladies and Gentlemen, here we have it - this is the crux of the matter - this is why our children most in need, are being failed, no matter how desperate they are to continue their education if they can't attend schools - this we believe is the crux of why they are not getting full and equal access when they can't attend because the teachers are afraid of us seeing them in action, afraid of being seen incompetent or in need of discipline. Just think about this. Every day you send your child to school to be alone with a teacher in the class room - no other adult in attendance- is this really wise? many many children attend the school counselling service due to being bullied by teachers. Surely it is a good thing that other adults especially parents can see what is going on in a classroom. Does this not ring alarm bells that we are barred from the classroom? Whats happening with our children that they need to hide? If they are incompetent or behave badly - or don't do their job - vulnerable children or parents can't complain or their child's only chance of learning will be terminated! Not healthy!


9. This is why we are so concerned that it says ' it should be noted that this WILL NOT  involve LIVE classroom streaming' why not ? what are the teachers afraid off? what do they not want us to see? our children in need are vulnerable, what ever the crisis of illness or disability they need the choice if they are able, to be able, to have continuity in life. Children in crisis need as much 'sameness' as they can get. Continuity in relationships is vital. Ellluminate allows live streaming from the classroom- so they are fully up to speed with all their lessons and what to do etc. if its not live streamed what on earth is going to be the extra cost of this? it will mean teachers getting extra pay for extra hours outside of class - which of course is voluntary, making it even less likely they will co operate to meet the needs of the child - this makes no economic sense, this makes no sense for the child in need, this only makes sense for a teacher who wants to hide whats going on in the classroom and for the unions to set up a system that lets teachers who want to earn more money on the side when they could perfectly well allow access to the classroom which the system is designed to do. This is what you get when the Minister for Education puts the unions in charge of designing provision for our most vulnerable children. The Minister for Education must put our children first - not the teacher unions!  This is not good, healthy, open, or transparent, this is uneconomic and hugely wasteful of tax payers money. Why pay extra hours outside of normal classroom teaching when a click of a button at the start of a session would let the child at home see and hear the teacher teaching the class. If they are capable and able and only teaching - why not? what are they hiding? the camera or microphone is not at the other children, its on the teacher who is teaching not the class is who listening like the child at home - its surely healthier that others outside the classroom can know if something questionable is going on - we are all parents - if they are only teaching whats the problem? At primary school level this is being used as it should in some schools, - at third level young people leave their phones at the front of the class to record their lectures - if they have dyslexia the education board even give them voice recorders so they can record the teacher. But at secondary school level - closed classrooms - WHY? Not healthy!


10.'Mechanisms will be agreed and included in the parent/pupil/school agreement to prevent the recording of the teacher/pupil eLearning interaction' WHY - this is for children who are unwell or not coping. They may need to record the lesson so they can listen again. It is good for the children to be able to record it. Why can they not record it ? whats the harm? - this brings us back to the crux of the matter - teachers wanting to hide whats going on in the class room and with their teaching. If its a straight forward maths lesson - or what ever subject what's the harm? - all lessons should just be recorded so it saves the teacher repeating themselves and lets the child learn when they need to. If they have been up all night because they have been ill or stressed or distressed, or they have a chemotherapy or other treatment - letting them record is in the best interest of the child. Yet again unions letting teachers hide is the priority here. 


11. 'They can terminate immediately based on their professional judgement' So if you have a child who is unable to attend and this elluminate / e learning system is all they have to be able to get their education so vital to their whole future - in many cases meaning the difference between a life on the dole and life of successful working and all that brings to their self esteem and mental health and resilience in life. They want to terminate our child's future based on 'their professional judgement' - NO! - there should be a lot more process involved- if their is a problem it should go to the school principal, the board of Governors, the education board and others who can support, and provide advocacy for a vulnerable child, medical and professionals all need to be involved. Not just a teacher who is doing this voluntarily, who may be tired, or just not bothered any more as the child who is unwell is too much bother- this is bad. 


12 'Any breech of the agreement will mean it will be withdrawn' - this is as above totally unfair. The Department of Education did not involve any parents or users when they designed this protocol - we had asked for organisations such as Autism Charities, Child Cancer Charities, ME Charities, Mencap and others to be part of designing this because we felt if it was left to the unions they would come up with something like this! The right to education is fundamental. Now we can deliver it via e-learning they spent 170 million plus of taxpayers money on - it needs to meet the needs of children who need it! 


13.'In certain circumstances, the support provided to the child through the eLearning home- school pilot (visual or aural), may be given by a teacher/tutor who is not the pupil’s regular teacher, for example, the teacher may be in another school or a teacher may be employed by a number of schools'. This is exactly what we did not want - but unions wanted. Our children in need, those with illness or disability need to be cared for and supported within their own communities, not shipped off to goodness knows where, forgotten, disconnected, to become more invisible. They NEED the continuity of the relationships, they need the sameness, they need continuity with their teachers and class mates, they need to be supported to be able to, where and when possible to return to school. Disconnecting them from their local natural school environment is not in the best interest of the child who needs relationships and people to care for them and their family in the local area. Its also important for parents who will be stressed and distressed when their child is in crisis. They need to stay with their school in their local area and all the connections there. Its also unpractical - homework needs to be submitted for marking, collected, dispatched via the school - there are simply too many books and handouts for children to be expected to print them off. Teachers can't have time to scan in and upload everything to allow a child access - have you seen how much an average GCSE student carts to school and back each day? - try uploading that - unfair to student or teacher. Most parents can organise someone to drop in to school once a day to do leave off and pick up - thats an important practical step - and a small inconvenience for an unwell child or a child going through a crisis to get full and equal access. It also maintains good communication between parents and school at a time when its most needed to form a circle of support around a child in need. How are all the other organisations involved going to support the child when the education connection is to a remote hub- its madness. A local circle of support needs to form around the family and child and they need to be held onto within their local natural normal school environment. Remote hubs make children and families in need remote, isolated, disconnected Not good, no compassion or humanity in this idea.


14. ' The pilot should be seen as a further opportunity for the Department of Education to explore mechanisms by which additional teaching staff could be employed in schools or in purpose built eLearning hubs to which schools would have access' 

As above - this reminds us of Nazi Germany - ship off our disabled children - wash your hands of the inconvenience of them. Schools should care for all of our children - even when they are ill or not coping. They need that care from people they have relationships with- they have already become isolated when they can't attend school - its cruel to disconnect them further by connecting them up to e learning hubs miles away to strangers they have no relationship with. How on earth is this supposed to assist a child who is unwell or not coping? they have lost their health / wellbeing - now they are dumped by their school, how is this going to help them reintegrate? Continuity in a crisis is vital to a child in need. Cancer could happen to anyone - we know many children with cancer desperate for this e learning connection and it can be done so easily - maybe you don't have a child with cancer - but just try to put yourself in their shoes when this awful time comes and on top of all your school which could keep you fully connected via e learning - simply cuts you off and you are hooked up with strangers miles away. This is simply inhuman and is all about the unions wanting additional staff and the dept wanting to waste money on a new building!! - this is a complete waste of taxpayers money - no additional staff are needed - no new hub needed ! just click a button from the classroom they normally attend! Keep our vulnerable children and families connected in their community! 


15 'If home-school eLearning pilots are established, a mechanism of monitoring and evaluation should be provided by the ELB/Education Welfare/Education Psychology services. This should include consultation with the school involved. At the outset the organisations responsible for monitoring and evaluating the pilot should be clearly identified. It is envisaged that this should include representatives from Management side and Trade Unions'. - how bad is this? if its going to be evaluated - where is the opportunity for children and parents to contribute to that evaluation ? its about our children, its about their lives, its about their future? its crucial, its a human right! so we are we locked out of the design of this service and the evaluation of it? and the unions? - well they are back again! 


16. They want more money for more teacher cover for them to prepare for preparation and class contact time - utterly unnecessary - simply click a button and let the child at home join the class. If that child at home asks a question via elluminate - the teacher answers online, just as if the child was there - no more time needed. Their homework arrives at the school reception the teacher picks it up on their way home and leaves out hand outs at the same time - all that is required is a little thought to ensure the child has the handouts the day before they need them so when they give them out in class, the child has them at home. Its really actually very simple to do for the teacher and makes a massive fantastic difference for the life of the child, it means the education or not to a child in need. Massive impact on their future. Home tuition is just 4 hours a week in a couple of subjects - elluminate can give full and equal access - vital for children able to and needing to have continuity in education and all their choices. For some facing serious treatments they really need this continuity as it helps them cope, getting stuck into their homework as normal, participating in class as normal - vital coping, and vital relationships. Totally unacceptable to pawn them off to remote strangers in remote hubs - what kind of example is that to the other children in the class room ?- when 'Susan' gets ill - thats it - disconnect them, wash your hands of them, get rid off to some remote hub, when with a little compassion they could click the button on their laptop and let Susan join in from home so she is not so isolated, lonely, and feeling more down when she already has so much to cope other stuff with when she is ill. 


We waited 5 years for this to work - so many children have completely missed out on their GCSEs and A levels becuase this system has been allowed to fail - with devastaing consequences for them and their families.  Only to be presented with a document that lets teachers hide, discriminate, claim more money and jobs which are unnecessary and see plans to further isolate our most vulnerable children when they are most in need. It's a disgrace and we are nothing short of raging. For children who can and want to have continuity and full and equal access to their education when they can't attend - its a insult a complete disgrace. 


Please act immediately to secure education for our most vulnerable invisible children - there are 1000s of them in NI, hidden in badly recorded absence figures.  Its wonderful that the time as come that technology can deliver education to them - we can't let teacher unions and weak leadership deprive them of their futures - they already have more than enough to cope with. 


Here is the link to the publication of the protocol.…-- 


Please also see our blog section for how it should be - the info-gram flow chart illustration. 

From our Home page see 'What we want the Government to do' and click on 'UK Statutory Guidance' tab to see how it should be- full and equal access within 15 day using e-learning. 




Update on 5th December 2013


Prior to our presentation in Stormont on 19th of November 2013 we requested via an MLA an update of progress made by Minister John O'Dowd to address the issues we had raised over past year.  He had written in his repsonse to requests via Childrens Law Centre on 19th March 2013 saying he had instruced Dept staff to 'follow up requests and find out if there were any issues relating to the use of Elluminate to allow pupils who are at home to link into classroom based lessons and if there are problems to seek a resolution'. In the interim we had also met the Minister in Stormont in August 2013 (see press release section)  so he had a clear understanding of the needs and realities and BBC had covered the issue twice on prime time NI news. So we really hoped that progress would have been made given Elluminate was rolled out in 2011 and his awareness of needs of children.  


Please see below Education Minister's response to MLA on 25th of Novermber 2013 on his progress todate regarding Elluminate and our response to the Minister's letter submitted on 5th of December 2013

On Tuesday 19th of November 2013 Elluminate Our Lives have been given the opportunity to make a presentation to the All Party Group on Autism. This was arranged for us by Autism NI. Please take a moment to click on the link below titled "Powerpoint Presentation to Stormont MLAs Nov 2013 

On Thursday the 8th of August 2013 a team of parents and older young people who would have benefited from Elluminate Provison met the Education Minister John O'Dowd at Stormont.  Our main aim was to make him understand the realities of system failures and the impact that had on young people and to ask for FULL and EQUAL access to education for all young people unable to attend school.  We took forward three documents. Bullet Points to Summarise current situation - (see Press Release Section), the UK Statutory Guidance we want adopted in NI (see under What We Want the Government to Do section on this site) and a Submission to the Minister to help bridge the gap between our realities and their policies and proceedures. 

Please contact us for more information vist our facebook and twitter site. 

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