Parenting & schooling.

I am stirred into action today by @jarlathobrien’s post here. I have no issue with whether children should be taught in mainstream or special, as that’s a decision that should be initially made by parents, then later by the children themselves if at all possible. The law, as it is today, states that mainstream is the default position, unless it is against the wishes of the parents.

The issue about joining any debate about special vs mainstream is that I can’t really argue without bringing forward my own experiences. By discussing my own experiences, I am, by extension, drawing in my son who is likely to be less than appreciative of any public discussion of him! I will try to tread carefully and not disclose the entire contents of his past statement…

I feel that I must state that first and foremost, I am a parent. My journey in to teaching occurred much later, some time after my youngest voted with his feet & refused to go back to school, aged 10. He was traumatised by the attitude of the adults that surrounded him at school. He has never suffered fools gladly. They held conversations about other children over his head, kids with SEND who needed to ‘buck their ideas up’. He was told not to drink over lunchtime as he would not be allowed a toilet break in the afternoon, even though he has Type 1 diabetes and his care plan clearly stated he was to have free access to both water & the loo. His blood testing kit was tampered with, while he was in assembly “another kid must have done it”. Honestly? Another child was allowed to wander the school on his/her own, sought out my son’s bag & blood kit, decided to test their own sugars (and knew how to work the meter), then put it all back again? The meter records all tests.The list could go on and on.

Son didn’t last until the end of the second week of Yr 6. Warning signs were appearing by the end of Yr 4 and intermittently during Yr 5. No-one at his school attempted to contact. Actually, that’s not correct, a peer did. It was the teachers who did not. Son did try the occasional day, but by November, it was clear that the school simply didn’t care and he wasn’t ever going to make it back in.

In December I identified a tiny village school, but it became clear that the trauma ran deep. He sat outside the classroom in the hall & did his lessons there. I say lessons, it was agreed that he would only do 1hr per day so as to not make matters worse. I educated him for the rest of the day, some French, science and photography, oh, and plenty of walks. I can’t really fault the school, they banged on doors for us, and importantly, stopped the ‘parent blame game’ in its tracks. A high school needed to be found though.

The local school had 1800 children in, and had already refused point-blank to allow assistive technology, which he needed as much for emotional support as for anything else. The next school got crossed off my list when, after visiting the SENCO (an incredibly nice and supportive lady) we witnessed a teacher bellowing at a child, who was trapped in a corner. No, my son would not be going there either. Being semi-rural, choice was limited.

The LA, to my surprise, wanted to name an independent mainstream school, which took a number of children with a range of SpLDs. I had discounted it, but it seemed like there was no alternative. I had not considered a special school at all, why would I have done? My son was bright and funny, capable and ahead of his peers in so many ways. He was also one of the youngest in his year. Even the lady from CAMHS agreed and also commented on his highly advanced IT skills. The damage was caused by his primary teachers at the local school. The CAMHS lady stated he was fine until you mentioned ‘school’, his new primary said the same.

So, we ‘sold’ him on the idea that he was going to an indy. My dad came with us during the holidays to pick up his uniform, and my lad commenced with owning his new school life by showing him around. The school at first sight is a ramshackle collection of old mobiles, set in the grounds of and old hall and acres of woodland. Class sizes are small and most of the kids had similar tales to tell, rejected by (or rejecting of) mainstream state schools. The school didn’t push my son academically, but he was having a ball and so didn’t push himself either. He had a great relationship with virtually every teacher, annoying each and every one with his constant jokes and comedy timing. He would make an excellent stand-up comedian, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s actually quite shy! (No-one who knows him will have seen that coming!!)

Nothing stays the same though. The school changed designation a couple of years back and is now registered as a special school. It is taking in more students with MLD, not just SpLDs. Presumably it no longer takes fee-paying mainstream children. My son became acutely aware that he no longer ‘fitted’. Remaining there would have been isolating, but luckily for us, his time is up and he’s now gone off to college (to do guess what? yep, IT).

So I’m back to Jarlath’s post. What does a parent do if their child doesn’t fit in either mainstream or special? A child has to fit wherever s/he goes, and that, I believe, has as much to do with the nature of the peers as the attitude of the teachers. My son was initially isolated in primary because he was too far advanced, he became isolated in his secondary for the same reason…..

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