When we moved out of town and into a village, Freddie was seven months old. We knew he wasn’t developing typically but the overwhelm of appointments and therapy hadn’t really kicked in yet. We were still a little in denial and our romantic vision was that we would spend the next 3 years or so working hard to help him achieve as much as possible and he would have a place at our local mainstream primary school. I would walk the dog and Freddie along the village paths, kiss him goodby and hear all about his day at pick up time.
When his physio suggested we apply for the special needs nursery/pre-school, 30 minutes away, we were crushed. My first thought was no way. That wasn’t how we had planned it. Plus, at the extremely young age of two, we would have to let him go off on a bus or a taxi for the journey there and back all on his own. Learning to trust was a big thing. It wasn’t feasible for me to take him and collect him with another small child in another setting. This was a crushing blow. We went to visit the special school and within just two minutes, I knew this was that most amazing educational facility. He had to get a place. We were fortunate to receive confirmation that he had been accepted. What a relief.
I also enrolled him in the village pre-school for two afternoons a week. This process wasn’t as easy. No experience of children with special needs, no provision, no possibility of getting a 1-2-1 for him to access the two hour sessions. I think the manager was pretty overwhelmed with the list of his needs. Plus they wouldn’t take on any personal care. Not very inclusive. Thankfully, Entrust Care Partnership came to the rescue and provided a fantastic lady to support him once a week and one of his amazing support teachers at the special nursery, volunteered to attend the other session. We wanted him to have inclusion in the local community. It was important that he was known and that his peers would talk to him or wave. It was important that when Bella went to pre-school, it was known that she had an older bother and everyone was included. He did enjoy it, made a good friend, the children were kind and accepting and he got a lot out of the sessions with the right support. He was even in the nativity play. So emotional watching this. An amazing experience for me to have as a parent. The only way for inclusion to happen in the community is to be seen, be real and to educate everyone.
Still perhaps slightly in denial, we went along to a meeting at the local mainstream primary with the then Head. We shared our aspirations for Freddie and his needs and we were met with a very disinterested response. I asked if they would be able to provide (which they are obliged to) a 1-2-1 for him to support him physically and with his learning. I also asked if they would adjust the curriculum (which they are obliged to do) so that he could reach it cognitively and keep progressing. These questions were met with “I would hope we could get a one to one but it’s not a definite” and “If he can’t work at the pace of a mainstream school and needs an adjusted curriculum, he shouldn’t be in mainstream school.” And that was that. Not exactly what I would call inclusion.
Thankfully there is a new Head there now and Bella is thriving at the school.
As time went on, it was clear that Freddies needs were too great for a mainstream school and that if we were lucky, he would be offered a place to stay on at the Special School. He is now in year two and adores it. Every day he waits at the kitchen window for his escort to collect him for the bus ride. He knows all the children’s names and in which order they are collected. Such a relief that he likes it. Anyone working at the school, including members of the office and the front desk have to learn the name of each and every child and each child is greeted personally as they enter the school. It’s so personal and caring. Here he is on his first day in Reception.
In his special school he has so many opportunities he wouldn’t have had at our local mainstream and for that I am grateful. He has Hydrotherapy twice a week, access to Rebound Therapy, a Sensory room, Soft Play room, quiet spaces, amazing outdoor facilities, forest school each week, music, arts, trips out. The list goes on. Proper changing facilities and a high ratio of staff to pupils. They all know Makaton so they could communicate with him before his words started to emerge. The class numbers are small by comparison so each child is seen as a true individual and can be taught as such. The whole school is on a very adjusted curriculum but they still follow the path and help them to achieve their individual potential. No child is left behind.
Bella is coming home with reading books and talking about how the body works and maths and so much more. Freddie isn’t there and may not ever be but he is starting to form letters in his writing and has full alphabet recognition plus he can count a little. He is progressing so well. Freddie’s focus is on personal independence, communication and progression generally.
There are so many children out there not in full time education. Many have been refused an EHCP which recognises their needs and ensures their educational setting commits to the provisions needed. There aren’t enough Special School places and many mainstream schools simply can’t cope and don’t have adequate experience to help our children achieve their potential. Many children have been excluded and their parents have had to resort to home schooling. How is it that in 2017, we still have so many children unable to access education in the UK? I have met so many parents whilst doing my workshops and talks who are going through this exact challenge. The problem is huge. The stress it cause the families is huge and there is a massive breakdown of support.
This week the BBC is covering a number of stories around SEND education, the legal requirements, what the Government are proposing and where these families are being let down. Here is one of the latest articles on this topic from the BBC, talking about a parent who felt she had no choice but to home school her daughter who has Autism and ADHD but has been refused an EHCP.