Many of you will be old hands at school entry as you have progressed with your children through starting nursery, primary school (and possibly junior school), secondary school and on to college and university or apprenticeships, plus maybe your own personal experience of going to school. I seem to remember that everyone I knew as a child (except those who went to private or faith schools) just went to the local school. We moved house quite a lot as I grew up so I started a lot of schools but I always just went to the local primary school or comp.
However, now it is not uncommon to hear stories of siblings being split up and not attending the same school, long car and taxi journeys to other schools, tales of multiple meetings, appeals and tribunals.
Quite frankly, it’s upsetting, you want the best for your child, you’ve done your homework, you’ve looked round as many local schools as you can. It can be hard making that decision. Often you only see the school at it’s very best, when the cleaning has been done, the wall displays are immaculate, the staff are on best behaviour and only the best books and coursework are laid out for you to see. But make a judgement you must and quite often that decision can be made on here say, what other parents have said based on their own experiences or the inimitable jungle drums. Having made that decision (with or without your child’s input) there are the forms to fill in, and possibly multiple forms for some schools, then the wait begins. That initial looking round school with children is often unsettling for the children and then it’s quite a while before they know what’s happening, for many though it’s forgotten until the letters come out.
Many of you who know me will know I have had a saga of my own with school entry, mistakenly approaching this phase thinking my son would have some type of priority entry, as my son has an educational health & care plan and reading the school admission policies and SEN information – so all that was left was for me to do was to look round carefully and choose!
I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.
My naive view of those with disabilities and additional needs having some kind of priority was blown out of the water. I was constantly left with the feeling we were not wanted, were not important and that we were causing problems. The school we had chosen could not (or would not) meet my son’s needs, no explanation, nothing. The staff would not meet our eye and were very defensive and emotional about their ill informed, ill prepared decision. We were reeling, who would look at us now – if one main stream school rejected us, why would any other school take us? All the other children at school had found out where they were going, as usual my son stood out and was laughed at. It was almost unbearable as the weeks and months passed by with delays, excuses, no replies to emails, letters and phone calls. I stayed strong and resolute and contacted as many people as I could to try and sort this problem out – so my local MP (never had a reply), the director of children services (holding replies only), the head of the school who had refused us (took 6 weeks to respond “sorry I lost the letter on my desk”), SEN at York Council (countless emails ignored after an initial good response), head of our local primary (always responded), SENDIASS (always responded) received more than 1 letter.
It seems dealing with local government is fraught, they are overworked and seemingly unaccountable. Eventually a school was found and a decision made after a last ditch attempt by SENDIASS to contact someone else in children’s services, someone finally got hold of it, made some phone calls and agreements were reached (11.5 weeks after we were refused).
This feels like a warning sign to become armed in SEN law and our rights, I feel positive about my son’s future but others may not. Although it is a lot better than it was (and I’m sure there are some pockets of excellence) many schools understanding of attachment and emotional difficulties could be found wanting, instead just seeing everything as “behaviour” not what is behind that behaviour. Of course they are under funded, under resourced and over worked (I know as I worked as a secondary teacher for 10 years) but attachment is fundamental for all children and could explain a lot when considering many children’s difficulties.
What am I doing about it? Other than this email – not moaning about it, I’ve signed up for a course in SEN law, offered to support other parents with similar difficulties and I am readying myself for the next battle and making sure I take care of myself and my family.
If I can help you or your family please get in touch.