You went to school.
Your parents went to school.
People will be going to school for years to come.
It is the academic and social passage through childhood to adulthood which equips you with all the skills needed to successfully navigate society and be employable.
IT IS THE LAW.
Until recently I have never questioned this fact.
I went to school and was one of the lucky ones. I enjoyed the majority of it. My Primary school years are viewed back through rose tinted glasses. Everything seemed like an adventure. I felt safe, I had friends, I played chase and Thundercats, I had play dates, I went on School trips. I joined Gymnastics and Brownies. Life was pretty good. Secondary school was on the whole OK. I loved English, Geography and Languages and hated Maths, Science and Swimming. I was more aware of the dynamics of socialising and witnessed and experienced strong bonds, bullying, the pack mentality especially in P.E lessons and break times, losing friends, changing friends, being included, being left out, wanting to conform, being secretly in awe and intrigued by the non conformers.
I had a child. They struggled with socialisation. But age four came around and school started.
I think back to my own time at school and what I learnt.
At Primary I have no recollection of learning to read or write only vague flashbacks of reading aloud to another person on my own in guided reading or a test – I’m not sure. My memories are more visual and sensory. They are the visit to an African Village, banging the smoothly worn leather drum in a rhythm, eating black eyed beans which had been roasted on a long bamboo stick in a fire. Visiting a mock Tudor village and hearing the old English accent, smelling the syrupy oats of the flapjacks they were baking. My year 3 teachers’ interest in cross stitch where the whole year seemed to be filled with threading needles and creating cross stitch calendars, holly wreaths and decorations. My Year 4 teachers’ interest in nature, walking up and down a corridor filled with plants and smelling the strong scent of geraniums getting hot in the sun. A trip to a river, a Victorian museum, two holidays by the seaside. All my memories are of doing and seeing. I know that the senses harbour stronger recall than the more mundane but they also provide a wealth of learning opportunities.
I’ve come to question the belief that learning can only happen successfully within a school classroom.
At secondary school, aside from two field trips in Geography which I loved and a trip to the Science museum all I remember is sitting at a desk with a text book, turning to page X and copying. Memorising prescribed texts in order to regurgitate it under exam conditions. Secondary seemed more about navigating people and remembering the right thing on the right day and carrying a diary around with you. Staying out of trouble academically and keeping a low profile socially.
Schooling has changed since I was there.
It is constantly changing.
The National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 and has morphed progressively since then. I managed to experience a few years of schooling pre-Curriculum which was more topic based and which is still revered by some to this day as being a more organic, child-led vehicle with the teacher being allowed more autonomy in guiding and planning work for their class as interests arose. This is evident in the cross stitch and gardening memories I have where that year I learnt above and beyond in those subject areas driven by the teachers interests and enthusiasm. Would cross stitch find a place in today’s primary curriculum?!
The National Curriculum was developed to create an educational framework which all children across England could follow, providing a ‘broad and balanced’ education that contributed towards their ‘personal, academic and professional learning and development.’
If a child moved schools then, theoretically they would be able to pick up where they left off. In order to ascertain if the curriculum was ‘fit for purpose’ statutory assessments were rolled out between 1991 – 1995, gaining momentum over the years to become the now infamous SAT’s tests, the markers of progress and success and alongside attendance figure and Ofsted reports, the grading system of Education.
Schools can be Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate (Failing). You can have outstanding teachers at inadequate schools and vice versa. Admission to school is primarily a postcode lottery after children in care, disabilities and siblings are taken into account. The variables which feed into a school year, a single class are vast and each class in each school will have a different dynamic which will change over time.
I had a child. They struggled with socialisation. But age four came around, the application process was entered into and a school subsequently started.
What if the school your child finds themselves in doesn’t work for your child? What if the School system doesn’t work for your child?
Where do you go from there?
I’ve come across the square peg in a round hole analogy a lot over the last few years when reading about autism. Schools wants their round pegged pupils to fit nicely into their round holed classes. And I can see how this logic came into being. Thousands of children come of school age each year and need to be processed through the system in order to come out the other end a fully functioning product.
Logistically, it makes sense to apply rules to this epic task. Age boundaries, a standardised curriculum, a timetable, fresh air occasionally and a bit of fun now and again. Its not worth reinventing the wheel every year so what worked once gets repeated or tweaked and from time to time something momentous will happen so the big bosses will filter down new initiatives which have to be absorbed. If we were looking solely at results you would agree that it works. The vast majority of pupils come out of the system functional and ready to go. Myself, a case in point. And everyone lived happily ever after, The end.
Except no. Having a ‘square peg’ has opened my eyes to the minority that can’t or don’t fit the round holes. They are there in full view but strangely you don’t really ‘see’ them until you are one of them or raising one of them. And they need to be talked about. LOUDLY.
Schools are severely underfunded and over stretched. How much difference would it make to our society if each class could have two or three LSPs, to manage holidays, training or sickness, an admin assistant per year group to alleviate admin for the teachers and a technician to prepare art, cooking or gardening lessons which are so so important to our well being. I know this is complete ‘pie in the sky’ thinking but could you imagine how beneficial these extra support jobs would be for all our children? It might even help towards stemming the ‘Great Anxiety Epidemic’ adults and children are finding ourselves in and provide better foundations and more time to stop and stare.
Teaching would be a more attractive career path and creativity would increase as the burden of all the other ‘stuff’ would be delegated.
The Education system is stuck in the past. The SEND system is on the brink of collapse, just as we need it the most as more children are coming through with additional needs.
So what are the choices?
There is provision for special needs children. There are schools, there are policies and procedures but they are clunky and archaic. There are gaping holes and shortages. You don’t even need to scratch the surface very hard to see these faults. The majority of our children are OK but there is a large minority who really are not.
Systems are flailing and stuck. Governments are flailing and stuck. The School system is flailing and stuck.
As I see it, today in England, the options are;
Mainstream. If it works, great if it doesn’t buckle up for a bumpy ride.
Mainstream with an EHCP. If it works great, if it doesn’t you will need to fight to make it work or attempt to secure a place in specialist provision. However, unfortunately there aren’t enough schools and the good ones have huge waiting lists so good luck with that.
Specialist provision with an EHCP. If it works great, if it doesn’t try another one. Cue another battle.
Home education. When everything else doesn’t work or your child cannot cope in a school environment. This can be an elective or forced choice.
Alongside all this you might experience school refusal, exclusions, reduced timetables, epic waiting times and cat and mouse style administrative wars, off-rolling, violent and challenging behaviour, mental health issues and/or family breakdown.
Ok, looking at it objectively, Autism is a highly individualised condition. How could a school possibly cater for a number of autistic children across the length and breath of the spectrum? Its already widely documented that teachers workloads are too big and many are leaving the profession due to the stress and pressure. If its hard to cater for the majority then how can the minority possibly stand a chance? PDA is a relatively ‘new’ condition, originating in the 1980’s and hasn’t been widely filtered through or accepted yet. How can a PDA child possibly find the right ‘fit’ if the system isn’t even geared up for them yet?
But Education is a right in this country and every child should be entitled to full time local provision which meets all their needs and realises their full potential. They should be able to accommodate them, shouldn’t they? But they can’t. It seems that for highly anxious, demand avoiding kids provision doesn’t exist or is limited to a small handful of places across the whole country such as Limpsfield Grange.
I’m sure there are amazing schools and some children are extremely settled and happy there but through a lot of digging I have only found a tiny handful. I wanted to make this post more diplomatic but the truth is the Schooling system in England has left me feeling disillusioned.
Things are conspiring in modern society to make minority voices heard. Social media is giving people an instant and more visible voice and creating awareness and understanding. Research into PDA is finally being done. Next generations coming through are not impressed with what their parents generations have left for them and they are more vocal and angry than we were. Disability awareness and specifically Autism awareness is finally spreading and infiltrating our systems. More people are being diagnosed as knowledge and experience increases. Autism parents are feisty. Believe me, and although it is depressing and draining these warriors are speaking up and challenging the system on a daily basis to try and change things for their children and future children. A march is taking place on 30th May 2019 to highlight Hertfordshire’s SEND National crisis and similar are being organised across the country.
Its a long process but the cogs are slowly turning.
For now I feel that we are at a cross roads in our educational journey and although I know that the best case scenario would be an inclusive, flexible, nurturing setting with high staff to child ratios, an abundance of LSPs with an emphasis on physical activity, nature and creativity I know that that is a fairy tale. Do we stick or twist? I’m not anti school in any way as I said I enjoyed my experience and it is successful for the majority. Lots of fantastic teachers do the best they can with the resources they have and the constraints they are put under but I am anti ‘the system’ as it is destroying the spirit of so many vulnerable children and in turn their parents or carers and it is just plain wrong.