Following on from the tips from Rosie and Jo’s mum (see unable to attend school) I want to share some lessons learned from the experiences of Peter and Jack.
Peter and Jack were almost 9 and in Year 4. They had shared the same kind, nurturing teacher for 1 term in Year 3 and the same unkind (and worse) teachers and Teaching Assistants in other school years. The SENCos were really out of their depth – one most certainly had a bad case of unconscious incompetence. The less said about the Head Teachers the better.
Both boys have autism. Where Peter’s response to anxiety was to ‘freeze’ Jack’s panics were explosive, frightening, more obviously a safety issue and so distressing Peter told me it made one of the SENCos cry.
It came to a point where both boys were only in school for the morning for a couple of weeks. By coincidence, every lunchtime I would arrive in the school car park and bump into Jack’s Grandad. We were there to collect the boys, neither of whom were coping with school because their autism needs were neither understood nor met. That is where the similarities ended though.
Peter was utterly exhausted with coping. He was using pain to manage his anxiety, to help him to mask his difficulties and to blend in. His mental health had deteriorated dramatically and even though he was nearly 9 he would fall asleep in the car on the way home at lunchtime. I knew that he was not well enough to be in school full time and his next Paediatric appointment was a couple of weeks away. The school insisted on a GP ‘sick note’.
Jack on the other hand, also unable to manage at school, was illegally excluded. In his case school staff were able to see his distress which was transparent but felt unable to support him (having tried very little) so they excluded him instead. This has happened a lot to Jack and I can’t imagine how these rejections has made him feel. I wonder how society would react if an asthmatic child was punished for having asthma attacks in school…… I digress.
So there we were the two of us. Both collecting the boys who were both unable to attend school because of a lack of support and understanding of the same disability.
There are three messages I want to share with you. The first two relate to Peter and about the importance of keeping a record and asking school for their records. Take a look at this:
The only accurate record for this entire period is the one in green.
I had NO IDEA that school were recording all of his OT appointments and other agreed absences as unauthorised. Even when school called in the Education Welfare Officer to a meeting which I attended this information was not shared with me. Thankfully I followed my instincts after the meeting, requested a copy of his attendance record and discovered this underhand and unsafe record.
Message 1 – Lessons learned?
- Email school about all absences with a brief reason. Offer to share a copy of appointment letters in the email where appropriate.
- Ask to see a copy of the attendance record if attendance is ever raised as an issue (before the meeting with the Education Welfare Officer!).
- Keep a note of the agreements made in meetings (I know, more work).
- Be aware that schools have policies to follow with regard to recording attendance: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/564599/school_attendance.pdf.
The second bit of information I have for you is with regard to the GP letter. I disagree strongly that GP’s time should be wasted in this way. I wanted him to simply write “I have no reason to believe that this parent is unable to determine for herself whether her son is well enough for school”!
The GP wrote this:
“(Peter) has an appointment with a child psychiatrist in 2-3 weeks time and Mum has suggested that he might benefit from attending school [only] in the mornings to see if this helps the situation. This would be a short-term measure until he sees a child psychiatrist. I feel this is a sensible suggestion as he does have somewhat complex needs and his mum does appear to have a good grasp of the situation and what might benefit him. I would fully support this request to reduce his school hours for 2-3 weeks”.
I took the letter to school where Peter’s absences were recorded as UNAUTHORISED regardless! The Head Teacher also responded to the letter by contacting the GP without my permission, and then he recorded that the GP said he had authorised the absence from school for another prolonged period ‘just to shut mother up’. It was as though he was creating false paper trail to support a different agenda altogether.
I would never have known if I hadn’t done some detective work. It was so easy to believe that although they weren’t helping, that they were just busy and a bit incompetent. I had no idea they were dishonest and deliberately obstructive to this degree.
Message 2 – Lessons Learned?
- Don’t make assumptions based on your own professional and personal standards. I was very naïve and tended to assume people were doing their best to help.
- I would make it explicit in all those bits of paper that you sign at the beginning of school that in no circumstances do you give permission to any agency to share information about you or your child with any other agency without you being present.
- Make use of your rights to have copies of all information about you. If simply asking for it doesn’t help, then use a “subject access request”. They will have no choice but to comply (See ‘request your own information’ here).
So on to Jack. Having offered little to no support or options to reduce his distress, Jack’s crisis was now impossible to ignore. Classrooms were being cleared for safety at times. It could no longer be ignored and so he was illegally excluded.
This DfE guidance states:
“it would be unlawful to exclude a pupil simply because they have additional needs or a disability that the school feels it is unable to meet”
“‘Informal’ or ‘unofficial’ exclusions, such as sending pupils home ‘to cool off’, are unlawful, regardless of whether they occur with the agreement of parents or carers”
and before all of that:
“Disruptive behaviour can be an indication of unmet needs. Where a school has concerns about a pupil’s behaviour it should try to identify whether there are any causal factors and intervene early in order to reduce the need for a subsequent exclusion”
Message 3 – Lessons Learned?
- Familiarise yourself with this guidance about exclusions, there is a lot of information it that relates to children with SEN: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/269681/Exclusion_from_maintained_schools__academies_and_pupil_referral_units.pdf
- If asked to collect your child early or to keep them off school, ask for the relevant paperwork to be prepared for you to collect on arrival. The policy states this should be done “without delay” and that it should clearly state the reason for the exclusion. This may of course come in handy later if school choose to deny that your child is struggling in school.
There is no question that both Peter and Jack’s mental health has been significantly affected by their experiences in these two schools. Given that they have communication disabilities, and the shortage of clinical psychologists who specialise in autism, helping them to resolve these and to fully recover will be difficult. The sorts of support these boys and other children may need is outlined in here Prevention and Early Intervention of Mental Health Dificulties for those with an Autism Spectrum Condition for your information :).
A post by Peter Lily’s mum.