The parent, the advocate and the teacher.

Sounds like the start of a pun doesn’t it? Sociocultural theorising suggests that we all have different personalities, mantles we use to suit our different environments or social groupings. As I have previously stated, first and foremost I consider myself a parent. I probably consider myself as a parent above all other of my personalities, e.g. female, middle-aged, opinionated bolshie cow…. So, here are 3 of my personas.

The parent

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think my boys have grown up well. I’m not sure how much I would change, if given my time again.

Eldest is now fully-fledged with a fancy IT-cum-PC job in the city. The other, not sure when he will fly the nest, but he’s not quite hit adulthood as yet. Both are very IT literate. A discussion over Christmas with eldest revealed that there is no course, degree or otherwise, in his specific area. He acquired his job on aptitude and field work, off the back of a chance phone call. Someone who wanted somebody who knew something about IT and electronics. To me, it’s nice to know that there are still emerging areas in employment that if you’re able, you can grab and be well paid. But why no course?

Youngest is in a similar situation, but in a different way. Like his brother, there is no course he can currently take, but unlike his brother, there doesn’t seem to be an expressway that will take him to where he wants to be. His abilities lay in understanding and manipulation digital media. There’s been some murmurings on Twitter etc. about choices post-16 for students with SEND. For us, SEND makes no difference, the choice isn’t there, but why not? Youngest is doing Creative Media, but it misses the mark. He doesn’t want to analyse films and soaps to the nth degree, he wants to create! Still, he’s doing well. The only other recognisable option was music production, but he wants to do more than using a mixing desk. Heck, he knew the ins and outs of software such as Audacity, Nero, Pinnacle etc. well before leaving Primary School (and they gave him Clicker 5 to see if he could manage it **sigh**)

The advocate

I touched on some of our issues in my previous post. I’m not going to go into fine detail, our journey was no more or less remarkable than others, just a different version of the same thing that occurs when children in general are treated as some form of sub-human with no feelings. A comment from the SENCO just popped into my head. I’d gone in to see her as she hadn’t arranged the appointment she’d promised at the end of the previous year, before taking on her new role. She clearly did not want to discuss any issues my son was having because ‘didn’t I know that she was having enough issues with that table [nodding across the empty room] to deal with?’ I have no idea who sat on that table, nor what it had to do with the appointment that she failed to make. If I knew she wanted to hold a pity party, I’d have brought a bottle of wine & some nibbles….. Anyway, appointment got made for Nov 5th. I took in my son’s SSEN & some questions I’d noted down, since that was common advice given by LAs/support groups etc. I’m not exactly sure what happened next, I’d pulled up on of those small-sized plastic chairs and greeted her with a warm smile, she retorted that she wasn’t going to continue without her union rep present! What? What on earth did I do?

I walked out via the main entrance & informed the school secretary that I was keeping son at home until we got something sorted. I also wrote one of what became a few letters to the Chair of Governors. They all came back the same ‘we’ve spoken to the Head and he assures me that he is doing everything that is needed’. Hmm. I got to Stage 4 of the complaints process, a meeting with the Head and SEN Governor. The Head seemed surprised that I knew the new Governor. Well yes, I normally saw her on her way home from a night out. She was a reasonably regular customer of mine and knew I was having school issues. She also worked for the LA as an attendance and behaviour officer. The meeting didn’t go well.

Do you ever watch these films, where someone in the witness stand gets cross-examined at such a pace and with constant interruptions that their head starts spinning? This was worse, I couldn’t even finish a sentence. She manipulated every word and bullied. Big time bullying. Forward leaning body language, finger pointing, the lot. I sat there wondering if I should simply walk out (see, I knew she knew she was in the wrong, why else would she have left?) or retort something along the lines of ‘problem with the school, blame the mum’ (well, look how rude she is, no wonder you say she’s trouble). So, I let it go in one ear and out the other. Actually, the meeting finally ended with a threat – remove my son from the school roll, or be taken to court for truancy. A school dad (whose lad was being bullied for having SEN, in full view of the teachers) asked me this: if it was Xs mum, or Ys nan, how do you think they’d have coped? Good point. I downloaded the forms for SENDIST. If the SEN Governor wanted to go to court, it was going to be on my terms! (I now know that she would have had a hard job taking us to court, it seems that many LAs issue these threats when it’s them that are in the wrong).

A mate mentioned that when she was having trouble, a nice lady from a charity called IPSEA helped. I looked them up. Although I did make one call, I was too nervous to ring back. Instead I read their website from cover to cover (well, ok, no covers but you know what I mean!). It seemed like I could bring a case for Disability Discrimination but there appeared to be 2 ‘types’, 1) events that excluded your child and 2) whole non-compliance of statement. We had both, but could I pull the latter off on my own? I aimed for a 2-way split, I went for the ‘events’ one and also lodged a formal complaint with the LA (& then on to the LGO). The tribunal found in my favour for 3 out of the 4 examples I brought, the 4th they stated insufficient evidence – but did pull the school up about it anyway. The LGO found 3 counts of maladministration against the LA. I’m sure it would have been far more simpler for the LA to have listened to me when I told them that things were going wrong, some 2 yrs earlier???

A couple of days after my tribunal hearing I did a psychology exam for my degree. I got a Grade 2 pass, so that was good! The SEN Governor was ordered to apologise, she left so I never received one. About a couple of years later, after the dust had settled, I became a volunteer advocate. Earlier and I may have been too ‘tainted’. I’m now on my 6th year and it’s brill! I love doing my bit to ease the burden on families of a broken system. I remember my one and only call to a helpline & hopefully do as much to put a caller at ease as I do to give them the knowledge they require.

The teacher

How on earth did that happen? I didn’t mean to, it wasn’t on the agenda. I signed up with the OU back in 2005 – I wasn’t going to have some snotty LA official that I couldn’t educate my son myself (I now know that was never my job, it’s the LAs duty). I started in Life Science (OMG, I quit science at 14, what was I thinking??? No A levels, just a mixed bag of Os). I liked the OUs way of doing thing, I found out I learn very well when left to my own devices. I got half way through the Life Sciences degree before getting side tracked with tribunal etc. I took a psych and an inclusive education module. Both gave me the conviction that I was right, it was my son’s school that was broken not us. As I was finishing the degree I spotted a couple of Mental Health courses. A bit more digging found me doing another degree – Health & Social Care. I was honing my ideas about treating people holistically, rather than along the more predominant Cartesian ideas previously ‘sold’ to me.

I’d had to give up work at the end of 2005 to sort out all these schooling issues, time was ticking & my mind wandered toward work. A TA? Maybe even a primary teacher? Paediatric Occupational Therapy looked good (what with my knees? maybe not). I spotted an advert for a Functional Skills tutor. I could do that! The HR lady said that if someone applied with a teaching qualification, I wouldn’t hear back. I didn’t hear back so I rang her again. ‘Would the college support me voluntarily to get one?’, ‘yes’. So that was very nearly that, only the college who was running the CTLLS course cancelled. Me to HR ‘any ideas?’ ‘Our sister college, 50miles away’. I rang the Uni who was doing the outreach – ‘yes, it’s x weeks and costs y’, ‘ok’, ‘or we do DTLLS’, ‘’what’s that’, it’s a higher level course that people do if they don’t have a degree’, ‘I have a degree’. ‘Would you like to do a PGCE then?’, ‘how much? ‘same price as the DTLLS’. ‘oh what the heck, in for a penny….’

My interview for the course was on the bus home one day. ‘Do you have a degree?’, ‘yes’. ‘Ok, you’re in’. And, that, as they say, was that. I found myself doing a PGCE, finishing off a 2nd degree and starting a MEd all at the same time.

I realise that my approach may well raise eyebrows, but as disappointedidealist says here, experience can count for a lot. Teaching is my 3rd career & it pays less than my last……


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