It has been some time since I have returned to writing and providing commentary on my parenting journey. I will need to return to the past, July, end of the 2018 summer term to be exact as a starting point. Then we tried to have some optimism that things were heading in the right direction for my son and his schooling. Things were not perfect by no means, but we were hopeful that the next academic year for my son was the one where he would finally settle into his new school. However, that was not the case. The fact my son was illegally excluded again on the last day and afternoon of the summer term should have been a tell-tale warning sign to us as parents that this school could not live up to its own values of honesty, integrity and doing the right thing. We deluded ourselves thinking that the staff were trying their best with a lack of funding (a national schooling issue), and were just absent minded about the paperwork and we would give them a chance, and ultimately would any school deliberately set a child up to fail?
Summer holidays rolled on, no significant issues, he did have one meltdown at his first short notice full day at holiday club, which was planned last minute as my mum who helps us out with childcare a lot had to have a unexpected hospital visit. His behaviour to us at the time was no worse than any other child his age, but we realise he can have a short attention span and is very energetic. We had a follow up paediatrician appointment at the child development clinic, the only thing I was surprised at was hearing the full details of his school’s views. Something that despite yes, the few initial fixed period exclusions when he first started there and an enforced part time timetable that went on from end of January to early July, they were not forthcoming about it to us as parents. Despite several meetings we had with them that year I never really felt they were truly honest with us and I was in shock about how different our views were about my son and the fact the last meeting I had with the school before the summer holidays commenced, they were quite positive about my son’s progress and he was back on a normal school full time timetable. We were surprised ourselves that his timetable was increased so quickly from attending mornings only to full days again, but we had to have faith that the school knew what they were doing. In hindsight, I can say obviously not.
My son returned to school in September 2018 to his new class and teacher, everything was quite positive at first, getting thumbs up signs from his new teacher, coming home with regular good behaviour stickers and certificates. It was all going swimmingly well 3 weeks in, and then the phone calls started again, “your son is showing signs of agitation, and we are quite concerned, we really would like his time at school to stay positive, he has done so well and we don’t want him to fail, and think he would be better if he goes home this afternoon to cool down”, my reply as usual “okay, that’s fine, but I am concerned this is not an illegal exclusion as I am not comfortable with them”. Silent pause on the other end of the phone from his teacher, then “of course not, yes I agree the best place for your son is in school, I absolutely agree”. His teacher passes me on to the deputy headteacher, which I get the usual gibberish about I shouldn’t view them as illegal exclusions and we just don’t want to set your son up to fail, and your mum has been an absolute star, “I understand that Mrs name I cannot repeat for legal reasons, but I would like this afternoon’s exclusion put on paper and recorded as if it is not recorded the school will not get the help and support that my son needs to stay in school”. School finally agrees. This is the first one of many fixed period exclusions that happen over the next 9 weeks at school, each one increasingly becoming more concerning and severe. Yet after attending regular meetings at the school during this time, no change in tact, intervention or further support is brought in or agreed, just carry on with existing arrangements as that is clearly working I say ironically. I regularly report back to my son’s paediatrician about his difficulties in school and we are finally given a short notice appointment with him during one of my son’s longest fixed period exclusions, his teacher and Senco from his school join us at this appointment. However, to be honest our relationship with the school is reaching its all-time low, but my family despite everything are still trying to work with the school. Another reduced timetable is suggested with more intervention and support, we feel we have no choice to accept it, but are wary and concerned that another sudden change may escalate my son’s already temperamental and erratic behaviour. The part time timetable starts again in mid-November 2018 and as I feared it doesn’t start well, in fact second day into it my 5 year old son manages to abscond from school literally 5 minutes after being dropped off at the reception entrance. We are not informed about this incident until later in the day of course. Alarm bells should have been ringing? They were, and I really did have serious concerns about sending my son back to the school. I had already sent a parental request for an EHC needs assessment off to the local authority earlier that month and was awaiting a response. My main priority was trying to prepare for that and any rebuff that the local authority would make. I was in two minds about getting my son signed off by the doctor on health grounds as I was worried about the mental impact this school was having on my son’s wellbeing. However, later that week during the first week of the part time timetable my son appears to start settling down and even came home with another good behaviour award, and we started to think despite our doubts that maybe this timetable was starting to work.
Our bubble was burst finally on 19th November 2018, my son was permanently excluded from his school that we have been trying to work with since he started there earlier in January that year. My partner went to collect my son from school that afternoon and my son was discovered in a completely distressing state, so distressing that I am not going to mention all the details on here, his school completely failed in their duty of care to my son. My partner has always been the more optimistic one out of us, if the headteacher never made the permanent exclusion decision that day, we would have never returned him there anyway and my partner for the first time would have been in full agreement with me. The ironic thing is the local authority decided to accept my parental EHC needs assessment request a few days beforehand and started gathering evidence from the school on the same day he was permanently excluded from it, make what you will of that.
After a tough few months, my son is now settling into a new school, we have a draft EHCP agreed, waiting for a final to be issued. We have been through a governing body hearing and an independent panel review hearing with the help of a law student representing us, which we will always be highly appreciative towards as it would have been a lot tougher to go through those processes alone. It was finally decided on the 1st March that the decision my son’s previous school and headteacher made was unlawful and should be quashed, the school have chosen not to respond to this within 10 days, so it has later transpired that the school should be fined, fees adjusted. We would have rather not gone through this whole process and spared my son the anguish, and the effects this whole experience has had on his self-esteem, but we do feel vindicated and one can only hope the school learns lessons from this, but I won’t hold my breath on that one. My son still has no diagnosis, despite going through his first ADOS assessment in December last year, but the assessment was incomplete. As I said earlier we are still waiting a copy of my son’s final EHCP, which should release additional funding to my son’s current school to support him further. This does prove that EHCPs can be gained on a needs basis and a diagnosis is not always necessary, we also realise that the EHCP is just another beginning for us and we will have other hurdles to overcome no doubt. However, it feels like it has been a long time coming, 2 years to be exact.
Thanks to The Bluetones for blog title inspiration
Glossary of terms:
EHC = Education, Health, Care
EHCP = Education, Health, Care Plan
Senco = Special Education Needs Co-ordinator
ASD = Autism Spectrum Disorder or some people prefer Condition rather than disorder
ADHD = Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADOS = Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule