A ‘must read’ post by Cross and Ginger.
Education is a funny thing. Before I had my children, I thought I knew what education was. It was very clear to me that it was the acquisition of qualifications via an institution, to equip me for work. No more, no less. On that score, I aced it. I plodded through school and University, and then pottered through a corporate career, before having three children, all of whom I had assumed would do pretty much the same. My husband’s life was a parallel, and we were very sure that our genes would produce academics of equal if not better quality. As I stroked my first baby bump, I smugly thought that my Precious First Born might read PPE at Cambridge, followed by a career in the Foreign Office. Maybe a couple of overseas postings, grandchildren at boarding school, all would be well.
Readers who have got this far will be relieved to know that I’ve since removed my head from up my own backside, and got over myself. Turns out that my ideas of the future might not have been wholly accurate. My children are of course, to me, perfect, and easily the most beautiful creatures on God’s Earth. The eldest two have additional needs, and the third is stroppy and a bit idle. I love every atom of their beings, and whilst they are the ones with the learning difficulty labels, the real education has been mine.
I now realise education is nothing to do with qualifications, exams, SATS, Oxford Reading Tree levels and spelling tests. I also realise that one definition doesn’t fit all. In my own children’s lives, I think they will have been educated effectively if they are able to feel comfortable in their own skins. If they are able to evaluate information and make their own decisions with confidence and if they are equipped to follow a path for which they have passion. Afterall, you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.
I delivered the above speech to my son’s educational psychologist, and was expecting to see some sort of a spark of agreement. Instead I was met with dead eyes that looked like they were fighting the urge to roll. It was the same with their teachers too.
Apparently I was missing the point. In their view education really IS a thing that happens for six hours a day, forty weeks a year. Everything else is a nice-to-have. This became even more clear when I saw the school’s supporting statements for one of my children’s EHCP. His needs were clear and well documented in a myriad of reports. Yet the school seemed to think that if only he would get into school on time, and wear the uniform nicely, and not “fuss” in assembly, everything else would fall into place. I pointed out that my child’s overwhelming sensory overload and anxiety, coupled with a terror of crowds, was what caused him to come into school ten minutes later sometimes. That’s when (and many of you will snort here) school suggested a reward scheme. My self-harming, autistic, highly sensory and dyspraxia child apparently just needed a bit more motivation, and school thought this was an ideal point to make on his EHCP. I quietly insisted they deleted it. If he would just “comply” then the school would be better equipped to deal with him. If he would just get in on time, then his teachers wouldn’t be thrown off their flow. If he would just wear the school uniform (he can only tolerate the PE kit as it is soft cotton, not a collar and tie) then they wouldn’t have to explain to the other children why he was wearing something different. If he would just, you know, be a bit less autistic. I recently discovered that for assembly once a week he wears the class’s spare fleece and he manages this because he says it smells of his beloved teacher.
My children are not standard issue. I realise this is somewhat tricky for schools to handle, and their lives would be easier if they were the same as the other kids. Yet handle it, they must. The EHCP is there to remove barriers to learning. It isn’t there to make children comply for the benefit of their school. It’s not a difficult concept but it bears saying out loud as too many educators seem to be under the impression that a successful education is accessible if only all children would fit through the same sausage machine production line.
I am aware that I may be accused of expecting my children to be treated like special snowflakes. However there is no escaping that they really are different and if they are to be reached successfully by educators, then they really do need to have their differences taken into account. When schools are finally able to embrace this, everyone’s lives will get easier.
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