I have some new followers, I guess the new ‘Home Education’ tags have drawn interest from different circles so I guess I had better do a quick post to fill everyone in! are you sitting comfortably, you might want to go wee and grab a coffee before you start!
We tried school, it didn’t work for us, we now Home Educate
Of course there’s a lot more to it, so here goes……………….
The girls first came home at the beginning of summer meaning we had to get their names down for school before we’d even met them! We knew nothing of schools, or the education system never mind what the needs of our soon to be daughters would be so we had to rely on local advice when choosing the school/nursery. We opted for our largest primary, within walking distance, it came highly recommended by some of our older neighbors who had sent their, now grown up, children there. We visited, had the guided tour, I even took my mom along! It seemed lovely, they had lots of space, lots of staff and lots of experience with SEN apparently. We filled in the forms.
It was fine for about a year, well kind of, but then, so were the girls, kind of, it took about a year for us to realise that they were ‘too fine’. We soon realised this was compliance. Once they realised that we’d realised they were faking it, well the masks came off and the games began. We paid more attention to the subtle clues they gave us, we connected the dots and we noticed more. Baby girl, well she was a unraveling at school. She didn’t feel safe, there was too much going on, too many faces, too much time where she wasn’t supervised, and she knew it, she was stealing food/milk, cutting up her school clothes, being disruptive in class, being unkind to her peers, her name spent more and more time in the ‘red zone’ on the classroom wall. ‘She needs to know your watching her and keeping her safe, think toddler’ we said, ‘We are’ they said ‘So how did she manage to cut her dress up in class if you were watching her, she knows your not watching her, and your behavior system is making her feel ashamed’ we said.
Big girl was also struggling, she didn’t have any friends, she was constantly falling out with people in her class, her work was falling more and more behind, she was getting more and more frustrated, she began self harming at break and lunch times, she shouted at teachers and ran away from lunch time staff. She was scared and didn’t feel safe.
Middle girl was invisible. ‘she’s so helpful isn’t she’ they said. ‘she’s trying to please you because she doesn’t feel safe’ we said, ‘she’s got such a lovely smile’ they said. She became more and more invisible, hiding her fear behind her smile.
I cant blame it all on the school/staff, this was before the Pupil Premium, they had no real experience of traumatised children and neither did we. We didn’t know what they should be doing to support the girls needs and neither did they. But we knew the girls didn’t feel safe in school, we gave it 3 years before we realised we needed a smaller school with less faces, less space, less visitors, less everything.
So the hunt for a smaller school began. We narrowed it down to 2. One within our local area and one further afield. The closest one had a warm family feel about it, but the head openly admitted she knew nothing of attachment or trauma but would en-devour to do her best to support their needs. The school that was further away was marginally bigger, had that same warm friendly family feel about it and a head teacher that said she knew all about attachment and trauma as they had lots of adopted and looked after children in school. We signed the forms.
September came, by October it was very apparent that the head teacher, nor the staff knew anything about the needs of truamatised children, the open door policy the head teacher claimed to have was more like a door slammed in your face policy. Thankfully November bought her resignation. It took the best part of that academic year for a replacement head teacher to be appointed, it was a difficult year to say the least, a wasted year really, no relationships were made, no trust was gained so no learning took place. We then had quite possibly the worst summer ever, the anticipation of the return to a school that didn’t understand them was just too much for the girls. We entered a new academic year weary and tired. Thankfully that September bought a new head teacher and with it renewed hope. My hope wasn’t misplaced either, he was/is amazing. He listened, he accommodated and he did his very best to understand. He put measures in place, the most important of which was a Key Worker, she was/is also amazing. Between the two of them they did their very best to support us all as a family during what was Big girls last year in primary school. They used some of their pupil premium money on attachment training, removed the girls from their behavior modification systems, put in specialist support at crucial times throughout every day, added flexibility/consideration to the curriculum and vast amounts of extra learning support.
So the hunt for a high school began. We researched all the local and not local high schools, we knew a big school would be too much for her so we opted for a smaller one (same size as the first primary school but smallest we could get) outside our catchment area but everyone agreed it was the only suitable place for her, well everyone except the LEA, without knowing anything about her, they were adamant our local high school, 3 times the size, would be fine so they refused to support us with transport. We knew our daughter best and applied for the smaller one, it was there or Home Ed, we knew that much. We got the EHC plan the high school said she’d need and we did our best to make it through the year. Big girls tantrums worsened as her anxiety increased, baby girl got closer and closer to school refusal needing more and more support each day and middle girl finally found the courage to remove her mask at home and tell us and our therapist that even though she said she did, she really didn’t like school at all, she found it scary. There was a lot more to all of this, I’m simplifying it, many incidents, many indicators, many sick days due to stress, many tears and much hard work and relentless support from the school.
September came and before we even got big girl to high school, there were problems. Aside from discovering that the tutor she’d met during her transition meetings was going on maternity leave, We discovered days before school was due to start that the crucial key worker that they’d assigned to big girl, the one person that had the ability to help her feel safe in school by taking the time to build up a trusting relationship, was also key worker for many many other children most of which outwardly displayed their needs, unlike big girl who would need time and patience and trust before she would be able to even consider to ‘open up’. I feared she would become invisible, her needs over shadowed by the needs of those more secure needy children. I wasn’t wrong. By mid September Id already had a meeting with school, exchanged several heated emails and already requested an emergency review of her EHC plan. Her needs were going totally unrecognised, they were utterly unable to see past her compliance. Her anxiety was very apparent at home, once she got home and felt safe it would all come out, often in violent rages. Things were also made worse because despite her EHC Plan being in place with details of 17.5 hours worth of support including social skills support, reading support, emotional language support, classroom support, she received nothing more than a room to spend break/lunch times in, where she would build a den under the desk in order to feel safe, and a busy key worker to share with various other needy children. She’d scraped through a level 3 in SATS just a few months prior, yet was expected to do level 5 work, or at least try, without any support. By October things had become completely unmanageable for all of us. Big girls anxiety was through the roof and it was effecting the entire family. Middle girl had completely stopped ‘learning’ and was needing more and more support, she was withdrawing and showing signs of underlying anger, baby girl wasn’t sleeping, crying, clinging to me each morning and not wanting to go to school and becoming more and more ambivalent in our relationship. CAMHS had agreed to prescribe big girl with medication for her anxiety 😦
Half term came and the week was spent agonizing over what to do. Id asked both the LEA and high school for a review of big girls EHC plan several times, no action was ever taken. I was about to medicate my child ‘just’ so she could manage school. Middle girl was withdrawing from ‘relationships’ and becoming ‘shut down’. Baby girl was a mess, she was angry with me for making her go to school, but clingy and needy at the same time. All of this, just for school! We had to draw the line. We’d spent 5 years trying to get the girls to feel safe in school, things were getting worse not better. How much more of their childhoods could we spend unhappy and stressed out, just because of school!? They needed so much more joy in their lives, they deserved happiness!
So we made the decision to home educate. It wasn’t a snap decision, it had been on the cards for over a year, we’d discussed it with several professionals as well as family members, Id made no secret of it. It certainly wasn’t my choice, but I knew that we might at some point have to accept that they were just unable to manage a school environment. Id really hoped that the high school would get it right, if they had, well maybe things would have been different, if things had been going well for at least one of them, maybe it would have given us enough ‘hope’ to carry on. But it didn’t, it was falling apart from all angles, even with a super supportive primary school, baby girl and middle girl just weren’t improving and big girl, well she didn’t stand a chance at a high school that couldn’t even see her needs, never mind meet them. If we’d just de-registered Big girl, well, there was no way Id have got the other 2 in school, and if I’d forced them, the damage to our relationship would have been catastrophic. This was a make or break decision for our family.
So here we are. Big girls anxiety has reduced so much that we no longer feel she needs anxiety medication. Baby girl is happy, I can almost see her heart smiling, middle girl, well, her confidence has soared!
My only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner!
PS remember the LEA that insisted our local huge high school was the best place for big girl, and as such wouldn’t support us with transport to the smaller further away school, well since I asked again for her EHCP to be reviewed in November, with a view to name Home Education and apply for a personal budget for tuition, they’ve now decided that the smaller high school, that they refused transport for, is the best place for her and are still refusing to review her EHCP (Education Health Care Plan)! Couldn’t make it up could ya!