It’s almost the end of my son’s primary phase of education. He has no school to go to in September because he is disabled by the people who are meant to help him learn.
[The school’s mentioned in this post are not in Wigan]
The school we thought was the right one, and where my son had a place, has proved not to be the right school. At break times, the pupils in wheelchairs are lined up on the playground like cars on a forecourt, and left, very neatly in a row doing nothing and interacting with no-one. I saw this with my own eyes, and I also saw staff from a feeder primary leave 3 of their wheelchair dependent pupils in a lovely semicircle, unable to mobilise, on the playground, while they went inside for a brew. This was part of their transition to secondary school.
Another reason the school isn’t right, is because even when kids have a statement or EHCP with specified 1:1 written into it, the school don’t provide it. They say they don’t provide a named 1:1, but assure me the pupils who need 1:1 get it. I’m no mathematician, but if there are 10 kids in a class, with a teacher and 3 teaching assistants, and a child needs the toilet, that would potentially leave the teacher and 1 TA in the class. And whilst the pupil who needed the toilet has gone, with the 2 staff, another child needs some help from the TA, to turn a page in a book for example, that leaves no TA left to support the other 8 kids. And so on, and so on. There seems only one explanation for what happens if TAs are taken from the classroom to help a child: the other children don’t have support. They wait their turn to get help. They must be sitting waiting, doing nothing, because TAs cannot be in 2 places at the same time. This thing about not having ‘named’ 1:1s (which just means not having 1:1 all the time it’s needed) is bizarre. How can a TA feed 2 children at the same time? Does he/she have 2 pairs of hands? Can he/she help a child drink, at the same time as helping another child cut up his food? Can he/she spoon feed a child at the same time as stopping another one choking on the full sausage he’s put into his mouth and not chewed up properly? Can he/she take a child to the toilet when 2 other children are relying on her/him to feed them? The answer has to be no. But it must be happening, and each child who isn’t given the 1:1 support specified in their legal document is having to compromise like no other child of their own age without the same needs has to. My youngest son doesn’t have to wait to go to the toilet. At lunch time he gets his food and eats it and has time to play outside, just like the other kids. Why is it ok to expect the most vulnerable of our society’s children to wait unnecessarily to have their basic needs met, before they even begin to attempt to learn in a lesson?
At this right school, that’s now the wrong school, parents aren’t involved in setting targets in the IEP. The targets are set, and sent to parents. They can be reviewed at the annual review, the SENCO and head of year told me.
At this wrong school, after 4 transition sessions of 2 hours each, and no-one attempting to find out the practicalities of how my son eats and goes to the toilet (because the transition sessions were between 10am and 12pm, which didn’t coincide with lunchtime, or toilet time) the SENCO seemed surprised when we raised concerns about the lack of readiness for starting in September.
This isn’t a mainstream school. It’s a special needs school, rated outstanding by Ofsted. A school in which staff stand around chatting, eating bananas on the playground, while the Ford Fiestas are lined up quietly and neatly on the forecourt. Obviously they didn’t think anything was wrong, and presumably Ofsted would have seen that when they inspected, and they didn’t think it was wrong either. It kind of undermines the inspection system in my view. Well, actually no it doesn’t. The inspection system is what it is and doesn’t need this to undermine it. The people inspecting clearly think it’s ok for non mobile, totally dependent kids to be lined up like that. No one trying to engage these kids to play a game, not talking, not singing, not pushing them around the playground to see what the other kids are up to and joining in. So as long as you have people rating a school outstanding, based on the things I saw in 2 visits, it has to be happening all over, and not just in this school. It must be, and this is why I’m not submitting a complaint to you. You cannot change the SEND landscape by inspecting schools in the way you do. Your inspectors need training. You need training from parents who are experiencing these unacceptable, disgraceful practices and you need to understand why it isn’t ok to not involve parents in setting targets, and why it’s not ok to abandon profoundly physically and learning disabled children in a playground unattended and uncared about.
Yesterday, my son was in his end of Y6 performance. ‘Pirates of the curry bean’. For months he’s been watching different versions on YouTube, reciting lines in the middle of the night when he wakes up all excited. But he didn’t have a part, because they (the school) couldn’t get him on the stage (in his wheelchair). When we bought our tickets, the TA was shocked and ‘worried we’d be disappointed’. She wasn’t wrong. I was utterly heartbroken and livid at her, at the teacher, at the headteacher. My son never disappoints me, ever. My son said ‘welcome to the show’ at the beginning, and ‘thanks for coming’ at the end. He didn’t get a mention and an applause at the end, when each of the actors were called out for their part in the production. My husband told me this, because I had to leave the room shortly after 2 of the children lifted a wheelbarrow on to the stage and playfully pushed each other around on stage in it, talking about cockles and mussels. My immediate thought when I saw this (which was funny and the children were amazing!) was how the teachers who’d organised the production found it more important to have the wheelbarrow scene in than have my son on stage. I also remembered a photo I’d seen some time ago, of Tanni Grey-Thompson sat in a wheelchair somewhere in London, campaigning for better wheelchair services.
My husband attempted to explain why what happened last night was unacceptable, and the teacher told him she hadn’t thought of getting a ramp so he could access the stage. I don’t need to say anything more on that. Do I? I really hope you can understand the severity of this without me spelling it out to you.
Again, I’m not going to make a formal complaint.
I’m not making formal complaints about these two schools because it will achieve nothing. Selfishly, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief tomorrow, when my son gets home at 3.30. It is selfish, because I know other children will receive the same treatment in the future, but I really don’t believe I can make any difference whatsoever. The only thing it would do is make me ill.
I think the word I want is ‘systemic’. I know many parents contact you with similar and often worse stories of discrimination against disabled children in our schools, and I suppose what I’m asking is that you do something about it. My son will be at home with me in September, and I know he’ll be safe and happy, but he should be at school, making friends, experiencing the world and I will never come to terms with the reason he isn’t. There are many children who can’t stay at home because the school they thought was suitable isn’t. They have to attend schools which have such low expectations and aspirations for their futures, and it’s frightening.
The origin of the word ‘alien’ is:
Middle English: via Old French from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another’, from alius ‘other’.
My legal alien, an 11 year old boy who has every right to be at school and doing what he wants to do, but can’t because he will always be seen as no-one’s responsibility. An ‘other’.
When will Ofsted see that children like my son are being denied so much and having their futures taken from them?