An EHCP does what??? Are you sure?

When I hear of a tribunal appeal that is for ‘placement only’, I let out a sigh and my heart sinks just a little bit more. Even though statements have been around now for two complete generations, it’s still obvious that precious few professionals involved in the system have taken the time & trouble to actually explain the statement’s purpose to the family involved. We now have EHCPs and still, few people seem to understand its purpose.

Way too often, the piece of paper is seen to be the end-goal, or if you have that piece of paper, the school itself becomes the end-goal. Without explanation, parents are set to repeat the same games of ping-pong that the generation before them have, and schools/LAs will let them (I am generalising here, as wonderful schools for inclusion remain few & far between).

The purpose of an EHCP is quite, quite simple. It is a legal document that sets out exactly what the student needs that is in addition to, or different from, that generally made for typically developing peers of the same age in mainstream. The only ‘extra bit’ to add on here is that once it has been determined that the student requires something additional or different, all of the student’s SEND must be set out, regardless of whether provision is of the type generally found in mainstream for peers of the same age.

Some LAs will try to argue that 6k must first be spent, or that ‘assess, plan, do, review’ must first have been carried out. Not true, as a) the additional or different is value-free, the test is against ‘generally made for a typically developing peer of the same age’ and b) the test is against ‘generally made for a typically developing peer of the same age’. Ok, so I repeated myself there, but for some children, it’s obvious that their SEND is not connected to their exposure to good quality teaching. I still can’t quite believe it when parents tell me the LA wants to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to their child with Down’s syndrome, or insist on a graduated approach first – or even try and force the parents or school to provide an EP report!!!

I am often asked if I can point people in the direction of a ‘good EHCP for ASD/DS/CP/SpLD’ etc. Erm, no. To do so is akin to suggesting that all children with X, Y or Z are exactly the same, that they do not have unique personalities or live with different life opportunities, and that their ‘condition’ is completely static. No, every child is unique, there is no generic EHCP.

The place to start with an EHCP is always section K, the reports. It is the reports that establish the needs (B), which drives the provision (F), which informs the outcomes (E). Anyone who tries to argue that you take an alphabetical approach has clearly not understood the C&F Act, the SENCoP or SEN Regulations. I’m not going to go into the other sections as only sections B, F and I are appealable through tribunal.

At this point I’m going to throw another oft-heard quote into the mix – my child’s statement/EHCP was written for mainstream/special. Again, this shows a lack of understanding of the purpose of the statement/EHCP. It is written for the child, no discussion about type of school can or should take place until parts B and F are complete. After all, the assumption is always for mainstream, the test being ‘generally made…. within mainstream’

You always need reports, because it is from those reports that you establish a child’s needs. Remember, without identifying what a child’s needs are, you can’t establish what they need that is in addition to, or different from’. So, reports in hand, needs can be set out. Next comes the provision, what interventions/adaptations etc are required, in order for the child to a) attend school and b) access the curriculum. Note there are two parts here, you can’t access the curriculum or achieve if you can’t get in the door/classroom etc. It is this ‘disability’ part that LAs often neglect. Yes, the student may well be an A* student, but they are currently locked in their bedroom with the curtains drawn…..

When section B is complete, section F is underway. F is all those bits that are ‘in addition to or different from’. Please, don’t agree to ‘a programme to improve A/B/C…’ That does not set out anything. ‘A programme of literacy’ may as well say ‘will be doing GCSE English’. A colleague asked for an Upper Tier tribunal citation a couple of days ago, which clarifies the situation where vague descriptions are concerned http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/uk/cases/UKUT/AAC/2016/9.html&query=(SEN)

If you launch an appeal for school only, what will that school actually be providing? School-only is fine if you want a like-for-like swap, e.g. you wanted the mainstream school 5 minutes up the road & the LA gave you the one 5 minutes down the road, and both schools are equal. If the local schools each have 2000 pupils, 30 per class and your child can’t function in groups of more than, say, 12, section B is going to have to identify this need and section F will have to state ‘groups of no more than 12’, because that is part of in addition to, or different from. Arguing that a specialist school (maintained or independent) is required without any supporting evidence in B&F is unlikely to end well. Or, let me put it another way, is getting the physical environment enough if there are zero interventions? Just because the school has a SaLT or OT does not mean that your child will access SaLT or OT if it is not in section F. It will not matter if the school is state-funded or private.

I’m going to prattle on a bit more about B/F/I in my next Special Needs Jungle post in a few week’s time.

By the way of a P.S., I was given a copy of the government’s survey into how well the EHCP process is going. I have some thoughts:

  • Given what I have written above, do you think that all parents understand the EHCP document & its purpose?
  • Do you think that parents with learning difficulties will be able to access the survey?
  • If parents with LD use an advocate, does the first bullet point come back into play again?
  • What is it with ‘feelings’? Are they a SMART target?
  • Like a game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ how many examples of examining legal compliance/accountability did you find?

Just a few thoughts there……

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Naming, shaming, Grammar schools and parent-blaming

A few things have been buzzing about on Twitter over the last couple of weeks. Two in particular have caught my eye, the discussion over a specific school and by association ‘school shaming’, and the other is the debate about Grammar schools and social mobility. The school in the news also reports that its ethos also relates to social mobility.

Is it right to name & shame a school, is it right in some cases, or is it never right? Is it more appropriate to name & shame a school that on the one hand is claiming that it aims to provide top-class educational opportunities, and on the other hand punishes a child for the deeds of the parent? UNCRC Article 28 states ‘any form of school discipline should take into account the child’s human dignity […] school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical and mental violence, abuse or neglect’. Article 29 includes ‘children have a particular responsibility to respect the rights of their parents, and education should aim to develop respect for the values and cultures of their parents’. The UNCRC also goes on to state that no-one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way (Article 37). Removing a child and isolating them from peers runs the risk of running contrary to the UNCRC principles. I don’t think this is ‘my opinion’, I believe it is quite black-and-white. The child involved was subject to a ‘public’ shaming within the school, since he would be missed over dinner. His mother publicly shamed the school for doing so and the child has to bear any mental issues stemming from the school’s actions. Tit-for-tat? It makes me wonder who started this as I very much doubt, given what has been exchanged on Twitter, that this is a ‘first offence’. Apparently, the parent was ‘one of those types’ so that’s ok then, is it? Clearly, ‘insiders’ never gave much thought to Data Protection issues either.

I’m not condoning the actions of either side, but where would we be about the Justice for LB campaign, naming & shaming Southern Health? Should I have named and shamed the local primary, whose deeds included accessing my son’s blood testing kit while he was in assembly? To this day I have no idea if whoever did it, changed the needle, or whether my son later tested his blood with a dirty one. Thing is, because my son had the label ‘SEND’, like LB, he was considered ‘lesser’, hence a huge catalogue of discriminatory actions which led to him to become a school refuser. The issue with his blood kit was never investigated, the seriousness was ignored. He was ignored.

‘Lesser’ is an argument also used against Grammar schools. In this case, I’m hearing people claim that Grammars do not improve issues of equality and that failing the 11+ results in children being branded as failures for the rest of their school careers. In fact, not passing the 11+ seems to smart so much, it invokes bad memories in adults well past their school careers, as they became ‘lesser’. I was a Grammar girl, but I never sat the 11+. I didn’t even know what an 11+ was. I was placed in the Grammar school purely because I moved home from ‘city’ to ‘county’ & I was assigned a place there due to being pretty much top of the class for every subject in middle school, despite being summer-born. Without advocating for or against Grammars, what, exactly, are the problems with different school types? It does seem to be based on this idea of ‘lesser’.

There is a valid argument that ‘rich’ parents have their children tutored to pass the 11+ and that even if the 11+ was removed and KS2 stats used instead, parents would simply tutor their child for those tests. But wait a moment, don’t many schools already do this to improve their social standings?  We have a section of society that wants Grammars, and a section that doesn’t. If my family had not moved, not only would I have gone to the local comp, it would have been a long-failing one. In fact, 40 years on, it still carries that label. But why is not passing the 11+ seen as a ‘failure’? Kids are not failures in the same way as acquiring certain jobs does not equate to being a failure. Having a Grammar education does not necessarily mean that you go to university – I didn’t until I was 40. Grammar school did not improve my social mobility purely and simply because I had no interest in social mobility. What is it? What does it do? Why should I be ashamed of being in a Grammar school? It was never instilled into me to look down on people and I think that’s the whole point. I have never seen people as ‘lesser’, I only see people I like, those I don’t like or those I simply don’t know or am indifferent to. I am no ‘more’ after completing 3 degrees than I was before I completed one.

I once informed a customer that I had signed up to the OU, he eyed my shop up & down & declared that it ‘would probably do me good’. The implied content was ‘you’re in a shit job, look at me, I’m a teacher and so much more professional’, i.e. I was ‘lesser’. What this chap didn’t know was that I earned more than he did, for about the same amount of hours. I did not just work in a chippy, I owned the chippy. What was up with his attitude? What’s up with anyone’s attitude that leads them to think that anyone is ‘lesser’ even if they are paid more? To me, a job is a job. For example, I love a good coffee and I think it’s absolutely great that I can go to cafés and get one. I don’t look down on staff, they are no more less or more important than I am. They serve me with a great coffee and I’m really grateful to them for doing that, in the same way that I’m grateful to those that empty my bins, or do the conveyancing on my house or stack the shelves in the supermarket. Those unable to work due to disability or caring duties are also not ‘lesser’, they are humans, with views, wishes and feelings, just the same as me.

I was chatting to Nancy G today on Twitter, she would like her son to have a job when he leaves school. Something fulfilling, but not necessarily highbrow, waiting tables may be acceptable. For him, it may check that ‘social mobility’ box, but it would it if one of her other children took the same job? They do not have SEND. She added to the conversation, is social mobility relational to the job, not the pay? Yes, I think so. By the time students reach FE, discussions of social mobility appear to lessen. Whether you attended a state comprehensive, an independent school, a special school, a Grammar or any other type of school become second to the course you take. A Level students, for example, may have attended any of these. There is no reason why a Grammar school child would not be sitting next to a special school one. Just ask my son. Where is the social mobility argument in FE?

The problem, it seems to me, is like the Two Ronnie’s sketch about class. It summed up the psychology excellently. We put down those who appear a little better than us, in order to raise our own standing. It is these perceptions and attitudes that need addressing, in order to remove the ideas of ‘lesser’. Not one single person who attended the Secondary Modern that shared my school’s site were lesser, nor were those who attended the comprehensive that was the amalgamation of the Grammar and Secondary in the year below mine. Any thoughts that they were, were purely social constructs in other people’s imaginations, as is the idea that punishing a boy for the actions of his mother. We have pratted about with the education system for years and we’re still no further forwards. The comprehensive experiment hasn’t worked. The Academy and Free School experiment is likely to result in the same. The Sure Start initiative produced little gains for the money invested & the data would suggest that the money the government pumped in to ‘sort out problem families’ has also not produced results either.

The problem remains in people’s attitudes. As I used to say, if the Queen came in for chips, she would have to wait in line with everyone else because she is no more, or less, important than any other customer.

Is specialist autism training a good idea in ITT?

When I first came into contact with the education system, I made excuses. I hear the exact same excuses being made by other parents when I do my advocacy work. It generally goes along the lines of – ‘schools aren’t really set up for kids like mine’, ‘it’s not their fault, there should be special arrangements/teaching’, ‘they need more funding/support’ etc etc. I’ve since done a complete U-turn. While a few students might require a more therapeutic/nursing environment, these are few and far between. Warnock envisaged about 2%, everyone else should be supported in local schools with a bit of additional help. I have blogged about this before – are parents inadvertently perpetuating this social myth of ‘special’ needing ‘separate’ and schools happily playing their role of ‘not qualified enough’? What school is not ‘qualified enough’ to support a dyslexic student? Or a dyspraxic one? How about ADHD and Aspergers? Surely, all of these ‘conditions’ generally only require the Reasonable Adjustments that should be part of good practice?

Thirty-eight years on from the Warnock Report, I’m not sure we’ve actually got very far, although ASD is now going to feature in Initial Teacher Training (ITT). I’m not sure that’s a very good idea. The more we use labels, the more we perpetuate ‘special & separate’. In any case, what does the label actually tell us? Years ago, I would have been shouting ‘special & separate’ from the rooftops, now I’ve learned more about children’s development and learning and, funnily enough, it’s neither special nor separate. Yes, there’s typical and atypical, but labels are imposed. Typically, children learn to crawl, pull themselves up and then walk. A few, like me and my brother, skipped the crawl phase. My brother just got up & walked, I was a bum-shuffler. We were both atypical, but the outcome was the same as a typical child – we walked. Cognitive functioning isn’t so much different. Even if development is atypical, it doesn’t mean the end destination is also atypical. Where is the dividing line anyway? It may just be that it takes longer, or work-arounds are needed. A bit of wheeling and encircling rather than walking and running.

If I describe some functioning difficulties, can you tell what the label is?

  • Organisation
  • Working memory
  • Slow processing
  • Sequencing
  • Motor skills
  • Auditory/visual processing
  • Literacy (reading/spelling/comprehension/fluency)
  • Distractible

Suggested answers will probably depend on your child’s label – ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia/DCD etc. The professionals often say that these ‘conditions’ overlap and children may acquire more than one label. Some have a whole list of them. Without knowing how a child is affected, the label is pretty much useless. One thing I do know about my students with ASD is that no two are alike. A few years ago I taught a chap who had very poor spelling and little understanding of number (I wasn’t then in a position to teach him these skills, he was, in part, some of the reason why I chose to specialise). Recently I assessed another student with ASD for exam concessions who was well above average for every test I did, but his comprehension just wasn’t there. He scored well in my ‘usual’ assessment of comprehension, but was citing the sentence rather than demonstrating understanding. I had to find an alternative test to show this. The first student was witty and quietly engaging, projecting an air of ability that was, actually, significantly impaired. The second appeared to be intellectually impaired due to his social language issues, but was otherwise highly academically able. So what, exactly, is going to be taught as ‘autism’ in ITT?

Will ASD-specific ITT cover the ‘core’ only, i.e. social communication and restricted/repetitive behaviours, or the whole wide spectrum of difference? Given the overlap with other Specific Learning Difficulties, wouldn’t it be better to teach teachers to organise their classroom practices around the cluster of issues listed above, so that it would not only be a catch-all safety net, but also so it removes the bulk of ‘special & separate’? What classroom could not be made to accommodate these various learning differences as standard? Surely by doing so, it would free up teachers to concentrate on whatever difficulty remains? What school, what teacher cannot do this?

If it is assumed, for example, that all children may find it difficult to copy from the board (for all sorts of reasons), an effective teaching strategy would be to have handouts available to those who need them. I’m a big believer in allowing students to choose for themselves if they need them and leftovers can be re-used for revision/lost books/absentees etc. I’m also a big believer in making my life easier! The more ‘differentiation’ that can be done at whole-class level, the less I need to do for individual students. I can spend more of my time on quality teaching for what difficulty remains. In other words, the bits of teaching that ‘are not of a kind generally made for peers of the same age in … mainstream’. A move to a whole-class approach also removes the need for a substantial number of students to require an EHCP.

It is not only the student with ASD who may need assistance with social use of language, shy students and those with limited English may also benefit from group work in this area. Likewise, a student with ASD and spelling difficulties may also be linked with dyslexic students and English-learners. Of course, it will all depend on age, stage and personalities!

Students with weaker working memories forget key pieces of information which can inhibit their progress. Likewise, those who are prone to distractibility will not learn efficiently in a high-sensory environment. Motor skills issues & visual/motor integration issues will slow a student down, so they run out of time/unable to complete ‘tidy’ work in the timescale available. Knowing these issues exist to various extents in a larger population, and the types of differentiation which may assist, has got to be far more useful than learning a label, surely?!?!

How are we ever going to move forward if we continue to insist on a label-led approach, which does not feature in SEND law?

Research

During a 4 week period from late April to late May I conducted some research into the EHCP process. 218 parents responded to my request to take part in a survey. I am publishing the entire report here (below) and http://www.specialneedsjungle.com/ehcp-process-bren-parent-participatory-research/ has the ‘short version’ if you’d rather read something a tad less dry! Either way, please feel free to share widely. This isn’t published in an academic journal, so it needs to be spread by ‘word-of-mouth’ if we want the powers that be to take notice. This was written by a parent (me) for parents and with parents.

The full version is rather long, so I’ve attached it as a Word document to download. If you have any issues accessing it, please let me know.

Parental reports on the EHCP process

Post Baker Small: What comes next?

Now that Baker Small has lost contracts with LAs (with more to come?), it seems that we have a window of opportunity to effect some real change. Not just in those LAs where Baker Small was commissioned, but in other LAs too. Baker Small aren’t the only solicitors firm on the block.

We could now take a leaf out of the wonderful @sarasiobhan & co’s book and keep up the pressure. Without their tenacity and dogged determination, the Southern Health scandal would have quietly slipped away and even more people will have had their deaths uninvestigated.

With SEND tribunals, we can quietly slip back into the shadows and Baker Small will be quietly replaced by Small Baker or similar, or we keep up the pressure for change. One of the first issues has to be around the Statutory Assessment (SA) process and Refusal to Assess appeals. a whopping 84% are won by parents, why? Put simply, because they are appeals that the LAs should not have allowed to happen in the first place. They are wastes of taxpayers’ money. I’m not, for one moment, suggesting that LAs just waive through everything that parents’ want unchallenged, that would be plain wrong. What I am saying is that LAs need to go back and look at what the law has to say and defend the right appeals for the right reasons.

We, as parents, want good quality assessments, we want a broad range (SEN Reg 6 again) and the reports must identify needs, provision to meet them and the outcomes that provision is to provide. This simply isn’t happening in too many cases (research results to follow). I do have to ask the question though – why has a parent asked for a SA? Is it because, perhaps, the actually want a diagnosis? If it is, the chances are that they ought to be going through their GP, not the LA. ASD (without LD), dyspraxia, ADHD and language difficulties are all high incidence Specific Learning Difficulties that can be explored by the medical profession. Dyslexia, however, isn’t in most cases. For that you do need an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Teacher. However, it’s not about labels, it’s about provision that is in addition to, or different from, that normally found within mainstream. What a child or young person needs is not affected by their diagnosis. They remain the same person.Whether or not a plan needs writing is based on the outcomes of the assessment, and whether or not they need the legal protection it brings to secure the provision.

There are of course, other reasons parents use tribunal. But what if schools were supported and challenged to do more for the high incidence-low cost SEN/D students? LAs should have published via their Local Offer, exactly what type of support they expect schools to make from their budgets. It’s shouldn’t be waffly, or state ‘see individual school’s offers’, it should be clear. For example, 1 hr per week explicit literacy teaching for pupils who are finding hard to acquire literacy? Why not? Primary schools have phonics teachers, high school are now having to train & ensure they have a Specialist Teacher to assess for exam access arrangements, so in my book, both levels have specialists who can do this – with LA support where necessary.

LAs need to continue to hear our voices, we need to keep up the momentum to stop the slide back into unnecessary and adversarial processes. I’m not suggesting how as such, as, well, I don’t know all the answers. One thought I’ve had is to lobby you LA to hold some open meetings, get involved, co-produce (with or without you parent/carer forum). Someone else on Twitter suggested joint training, where LA officers, school and parents all train together on what the law states. Nice thought, but the training would need to be a) impartial and b) independent. This lobbying could happen in all LAs, not just those using Baker Small, we could keep the momentum of parent-power.

I shall have to pass the mantle on to parents, as I’m now dropping out of the SEN/D system as a parent. I’m still here as an advocate though! Food for thought anyway.

Implosion

A great many Twitter users watched as the strangest of events unfolded on Saturday 11th June. Social media is a funny thing, there you are, sitting quite happily in the comfort of your own armchair, chatting away. Guards are down and you forget those other eyes that can be watching in, you forget that you are typing and not actually talking, you forget that anything put in writing can come back and bite you on the bum.

I’m not sure that having a cosy chat though, was on one solicitor’s mind. What seemed to be on his mind is those occasions where there’s been a big case, a case that’s tested what was actually meant by a specific strand of writing contained in a law. On the one side, there’s a solicitor, working on behalf of a Local Authority, attempting to dilute meaning so as to ‘lessen the financial burden on the LA’. On the other, because important case law might be being established, a parent may be supported by a pro bono solicitor or a legal charity, or maybe they have deep enough pockets themselves to hire a Lawyer. Their legal team will be seeking to strengthen what is meant in law, because it is important for those the law serves. Because of the importance of the clarification, the result is often widely publicised. It may in the favour of the LA, or in favour of children with SEN/D. Last week a judgement was passed in two cases which were heard together, the judgements can be found here: https://www.senexpertsolicitors.co.uk/news/clarity-upper-tribunal-young-people-ehcps/

I don’t know if this was at the back of the LA’s solicitors mind on Saturday, but his posts might indicate that it may have been the case. The judgements found in favour of the parents’ (Lawyers) understanding of what the law meant. The subsequent posts from the LAs solicitor were bizarre and the most unfortunate upshot, to borrow from a Tweet, is that the solicitor concerned may have just become the greatest whistle-blower into the workings of a SEND appeal from a LAs perspective that there has ever been (sorry, I don’t know the original posters name).

First-tier tribunals, just like the Upper Tier described above, should be about clarification. The point of SENDIST is so a parent, who remains in disagreement with an LAs decision, can ask the tribunal to act in the LAs place to decide whether or not their child is legally entitled to what is being requested. Of course, they must provide evidence for what they are seeking, whether it’s an assessment of needs, an hour a week of explicit literacy teaching or speech therapy, or a change of school. By the time that parents reach tribunal, they tend to be tightly coiled and emotionally spent. They may also be financially spent, having had to seek independent reports to support their case. The vast majority of parents will not know the law. They will make emotional appeals based on what they view as a ‘common sense’ approach. Their child might be falling further and further behind, they might not even be in school at all. Minor issues that could have been easily resolved with some early support may now be entrenched mental ill-health. the parents who found themselves in the Upper Tier will have already gone through the First Tier.

So what actually happened on Saturday night? Well, this solicitor, who has contracts with multiple LAs to defend parents’ appeals, decided to publish a taunting post. Not only was he taunting, he may well have exposed who his target family were. Big data protection no-no. It seems that the solicitor was happy that a parent did not know their legal rights and waived away the support that the child should have had, support that the child was entitled to. Yes, that was the upshot. He was happy that a parent was not educated well enough in the law to secure the support that the LA had a duty to provide.

It was suggested that he reflected on the appropriateness of the tweet and off it went. A Twitter storm. He taunted and then blocked angered parents, he also blocked professionals suggesting he ought to desist. A parent did a quickie search to look at contract values, others offered further information. It was estimated that there was over £1million in live contracts. That’s over £1million of taxpayers money being spent so that LAs can oppose amendments to SEN/D children’s support. Over £1million towards ensuring that LAs do not have to comply with their duties. £1million that could have put support and training into schools.

Were parents angry? You bet they were. Are the LAs angry? We will have to wait and see. They have been exposed as deliberately employing a firm of solicitors who, rather than advise the LA on their duties, are there to avoid them having to meet them. Quite embarrassing, yes?

More information can be found through the following links:

https://t.co/zdcVrfb4GA

https://t.co/Xn2tcNlO2n

https://t.co/O5Tq9yCDOf

SEN Law & Professional Responsibility

Baker Small (BS), what were you thinking?

 

Food, glorious food

Like lots of us do when there’s an important essay to write, I am procrastinating. Well that’s what others will tell me I am doing. I like to think that I am actively engaged in some metacognitive activity, for while I am writing on an unrelated subject, I am also pondering on the ‘real’ one (the real one, by the way, is the write-up of the research I’ve been doing). The topic here is food. A fellow Tweeter described her offspring’s eating habits as ‘self-imposed’ and while I understand her point, I am inclined to disagree.

Somewhere back in the late 70’s, our class teacher wrote a load of different types of food on the board and divided it in two. On the one side, there was traditional ‘British’ food – the meat-and-two-veg kind of stuff, along with fish & chips, burgers, sausages etc. On the other side of the board was fish, pasta, fruit, nuts, pulses etc. We were asked who ate mainly from each side. Only one person failed to raise their hand to the ‘British’ fare – me. Later, I did an ‘O’ level in Food and Nutrition. We learned all about the food groups, what they do and how to balance a diet. We didn’t do the types of topics seen in modern exams, we did more chemistry/biology in the theory lessons and did ‘real’ cooking in the practical. We researched menu, bought the ingredients and cooked. No ‘tin of this’ or ‘ready cooked that’ – or even – just bring in £X to pay for school-supplied ingredients for school-supplied menus.

I learned that we needed protein for muscle and cell repair, carbohydrates for energy and an array of micronutrients for things to work well. Back then, there were no leaflets given out, no Eatwell plate to copy. We had a book. A big book. The book contained recommended doses of X & Y to create the optimum diet, both on the macro and the micro level, which foods they were found in and in what quantities. Looking back, we learned some tough stuff! I took away with me some important information. Too little protein and we become weak, our bodies won’t self-repair. The body burns carbs to fuel itself, too little and not only will you not have energy, your brain will start to get confused. Too much and your body will not burn surpluses in its fat stores, so you will put on weight. Fat stores are our safety net, our rocket-boosters for when we find ourselves being chased by a lion, or for pregnancy. Women store a little more around their waist/hips/thighs just for that job!

More recently I’ve been amused by the talk on the news that ‘fat isn’t bad for you’ and ‘eating too much carb’ makes you fat. Hmmm. I had this discussion with a chemist in a spa pool at the local gym some 10yrs ago. She didn’t follow, she said she had a PhD. I was confused – I learned this stuff doing an ‘O’ Level in the dying age of Glam Rock and the advent of the Punk one……. Why is it only now that it’s news?

So, back to food. I am informed. I know what it all does and why. I love reading those magazines at Christmas with their glorious pictures of ‘the big dinner’. I get excited. I plan the menu. I don’t eat it. I never eat it. I don’t like it. And there it is, the elephant in the room. Is it self-imposed though? I have no memories of eating ‘normally’, even though I have some fairly strong memories spanning back to about 3yrs of age. I’m smiling – my dad grew some peas at the bottom of the garden, just in front of the shed. I’m not sure he saw the fruits of his work because I couldn’t help popping a pod here and a pod there. I love raw peas, I like mushy peas, I hate frozen, tinned or otherwise cooked peas (don’t ask me why I like mushy ones!). I like other raw veggies, such as carrots and cauliflower. I hate cooked veggies (except potatoes). I discovered I like raw cabbage in my teens – the usual night out then everyone went for a kebab….

Back in middle school, our dinner ladies used to serve us our food to us at the table, but dessert was a big bowl of something plonked in the middle of our table, which we served ourselves. More often or not it was a milky pud, such as sago or semolina which was ignored by most of my peers – bliss. I got to pig out! The only thing I didn’t eat was chocolate flavoured blancmange. I don’t like chocolate cake either, yet I like chocolate.

I have, for as long as I can remember, a very uneasy relationship with food. Not food in general, just certain types of food. I’m not sure I can fully explain this, but for those whose children are ‘picky eaters’, I’ll have a go.

When we eat, we don’t just eat food, we eat flavours and textures. We eat with our eyes, ears and noses. We see it, we hear it coming, we smell it. Restaurants have popped up which serve you in pitch darkness, the experience is changed. Wine tastings have been done to music, the same wine but the taste is changed. We know that serving food on smaller plates leave you feeling fuller than the same portion on a bigger plate. Like cats hearing the biscuits being shook, we start to anticipate. Dogs salivate on the opening of the tin. We salivate to get the gastric juices ready to receive the meal. What happens when you don’t get the cue? When your mouth doesn’t water when you hear the pans go on, or smell the food cooking, or see the meal in front of you? What happens when the food tastes like battery acid or smells bad? Will you salivate then?

I have become aware of the fact that what I am tasting is somewhat different to what others taste – even when eating in front of the TV, when people generally stop tasting what they’re eating and just shovel it in anyway. There’s appears to be a taste-bypass for many, because they’ve already ‘eaten’ the taste when they smelled the food before arrival? I drink my coffee black usually, without sugar. I gave up sugar in the shortage of ‘74. I can taste if the spoon used to stir my coffee was used in a cup with sugar in it first. Many foods ‘leak’, especially celery, onion and peppers. You can’t simply remove the offending item from the meal because it has touched other foods and ‘leaked’ its flavour. ‘But it’s not even touching it’ is something I’ve heard so many times, but you used the same knife, the same chopping board didn’t you? Like the spoon you used to stir my coffee. ‘But you’ve never tasted it’ is another cry. No, but I smelled it. I could smell it cooking, I could taste it cooking. Can you taste it in the air? Can you taste the heady perfume of the lady walking ahead of you? Can you taste the smoke when passing the pub? I don’t need to put foods to my lips to taste it. I can taste it in the air.

Then there’s the texture. The thought of texture is new to me, something that was suggested on Twitter. I like crunch, I like foods that make my jaw work. I also like to eat slowly, I savour each mouthful. I’m inclined to eat breakfast and dessert with a teaspoon. Even cake, nice small mouthfuls at a time. I like flavour too. I like herbs and spices, lemon and grapefruit. While ‘normal’ people are salivating over the cake counter at the sticky buns on offer, or the deli counter at the cooking meats or ready-to-go meals, I can be found in the fruit & veg section. What fruits are there? What’s in season? Is there something I haven’t tried? What about nuts? How much are they? Should I have a tomato pasta for dinner? Maybe some Lemon Sole goujons over a salad with some walnuts and sour dough rolls, maybe a touch of homemade sweet chilli sauce?

It’s not that I don’t like food. It’s not that I’m in some kind of self-exile (except chicken, I choose not to eat chicken) or following a fad (I am actually both allergic & intolerant of milk). It’s like what my high school teacher did. I just don’t like your side of the board.