Updated: Apr 6, 2019
So, we are moving. Both children require a school place for September. I have done my homework. I have sat in front of a map and have read Ofsted reports and SEND policies. I have met with SENDCos and spoken to parents. I have found two schools that offer an excellent education to their pupils. If my children were neuro-typical the process would be straightforward. You visit your local schools, choose, apply and, within a set period of time, you find out where you child will be educated.
Not so when your children are different. You apply through the Local Authority SEND team. They contact your current local authority and the first round of finger pointing ensues with both complaining that they have not sent/received what they need. The parent chases, in my case, for months. Eventually, the appropriate documentation is sent and the new council sends out requests to the selected schools.
Upon receipt of the requests, each school must consider carefully whether there is any concrete, legal reason why, in spite of all reasonable adjustments, the child in question cannot be educated in their establishment. In our case, no school can say that they are full as my children both come with provision for an extra member of staff.
Both children are armed with an Education, Health and Care Plan which catalogues not only their needs but also instructions on how to meet each need and a list of outcomes that will be achieved by meeting those requirements. Helpful, you would think. Constructive. A decent Plan, when used appropriately, reduces the guesswork, ensures as close to a smooth transition as is humanly possible and has the potential to improve the prospects of the child immeasurably.
Sadly, this is where the wheels seem to have fallen off. Both potential schools appear to have thumbed through the EHCPs and circled the parts that they don’t fancy. They have spoken to the children’s current SENDCos and, despite fervent assurances, have decided that, on reflection, they can’t/won’t/seriously can’t be arsed to take them on. Staggeringly, we have also managed to be rejected by a school that I had not requested – it’s borderline impressive.
I am now in the delightful position of having to fight to get my children into schools that don’t actually want them. I cannot tell them to get stuffed and have to continue to appear happy to work with everyone, despite feeling that they have stabbed me square in the heart. Immediately I am on the back foot and I will need to concentrate wholly on this issue and no other until it is resolved. I now have to challenge, via the new local authority, as I do not believe that either establishment will actually be able to come up with any legal reason why my children’s needs cannot be met or why, with the correct support, they would not thrive. One school has suggested that they meet one of the children first, to allay their concerns. This trespasses dangerously close to disability discrimination as it adds another layer of criteria to their potential admission – if they can prove that every other child in their establishment had to be met/interviewed first, absolutely fine. I think we all know that that is not the case. Imagine seriously expecting a frightened 6 year old to cover herself in glory the first time she looks round a new school. Then imagine that same child thinking that she’ll be going there only to tell her that somehow she has failed to impress. It’s a fucking nonsense.
Every school talks a good game regarding Inclusion. Their websites showcase their policies, quoting the law, the SEND Code of Practice, their stringent rules against discrimination. You stand, with your children, on the other side of a closing door as someone shouts through it all the things that they think they represent and believe, all the while desperately trying to padlock it shut lest you sneak in with all your tiresome needs.
Once more I have to push, to fight, to go into battle. This may simply be Round One. I will answer all of their questions, assure them that I will work constructively with them and I will have to continue to research our legal position. I am so bloody tired of having to tell people what they ought to be doing. Whoever does, eventually, accept my children will find me immediately on the defensive, questioning everything they are doing because I am a mother and cannot let the new teams’ shameful lack of will affect either child’s future. ‘Choose another school’ you might say. I’d love to. Find me an excellent one, where my children can make local friends and that will welcome them with open arms and I will. I thought I had. Believe me, it’s slim pickin’s.
All this time I must continue to impress on my children all the wonderful things that will come with our move. Time is running short and they are already asking about their schools; my son has even asked me whether the new teachers will understand him. Imagine if they knew this.
So, new schools, let me tell you a few things about my children that you may have skipped over with your highlighter. Every morning my daughter brushes my son’s hair for him because she wants him to look smart at school. He hugs her before he leaves and wishes her a great day because he knows that he is going to have one. They try, every day, to join in as much as they are able and, when given the right support, they succeed. They have made strong friendships and are popular with their peers. Their Teaching Assistants and SENDCos care deeply for them. They work hard and feel that they are part of their schools. They are strong, resilient, loving and kind. They are the bravest people I have ever met. I cannot begin to express how proud I am of them.
So start again. Bin your previous, shameful work and bloody well start again. Or remove your Inclusion Policies from your websites because they are a fucking lie.
Martha Smith Parent Advocate is a supportive blog focusing on the challenges and wins of parenting children with additional needs. Based in Hampshire Martha runs workshops for schools and other education providers in Surrey, London & Hampshire on how to encourage children with additional needs to thrive in education.