Equality can cause inequity – blanket school policies should be challenged.

Equality can cause inequity – blanket school policies should be challenged.

Each time I hear of a ‘ban’ on the latest craze of fidget toys my stomach churns.  You see, with good reason, I don’t trust all school staff to understand that equality causes harm to many with SEND.  Equality can prevent Equity as Linda Graham demonstrates….

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I do wonder, if we were to ask teaching staff to debate this within the context of their own school for 20 minutes once a year, would their practice be enhanced and more naturally inclusive?  I wonder, does all of the crazy stuff ‘DfE policy’ dictates they ‘must do’ obstruct them from actually thinking much at all?  How are they to develop personal styles that are intuitive, and responsive to the needs of their class, if their heads are filled with what colour pen to mark with, and ‘have all the children in the class made unrealistic progress this term?’ – and ‘have I demonstrated this in the right way’ …. and so on and so on…..

What I do know about developing professional expertise is that it comes from being supported; from being allowed to honestly reflect on and learn from every day practice.  Reflection requires some time in a ‘safe space’ sometimes alone and sometimes with skilled mentoring.  It takes ‘headspace’.  I don’t think current education policy allows for headspace at all.  I digress, but highly recommend the blog by The Fake Headteacher for many entertaining (and very informative) accounts of just how crazy the expectations on teachers (and therefore on our children) are.

Back onto trust then.  I don’t trust teachers to understand.  I don’t.  Experience has taught me over and over again that it is a mistake to make assumptions about them having the first clue about what it is like as a child to live with any hidden disability…. What it is like as a parent to advocate for their child, or for a sibling living with the effects that unmet need in school has on their brother/sister and the entire family.  Day after day, week after week….. you get the picture.

Just recently I have seen a school newsletter about sports day that stated:

“As every child is expected to take part in an event, …….: Pupils are to come to school in their school PE kit only – there will be no negotiation on kit; if it is not correct, they will not participate and will have alternative work to do. If you have any problems/queries please contact school before the day.”

This is really disappointing.  I believe the school is supportive and aims to be inclusive, and I choose to believe that this was written more out of a lack of knowledge/late at night/under some other duress, than out of a desire to discriminate.

Frankly though, if you struggle with change (the whole day is sports day), sensory issues, and anxiety (which will heighten both the impact of the change and of the sensory issues) you are totally stuffed.  What this letter says to me, is that if your child can’t conform then we will punish and exclude them.  We will not really talk to you about their needs, as our mind is made up.  We will not accommodate difference.  This (as they have stated) is non-negotiable.

I must emphasise that I don’t think that this is their intent.

A few years ago I would have responded by trying to make it work.  I would have tried to talk to the teacher, sent an email explaining, and so on.  What I have learnt, though, is that the rigid, blame culture, that often exists behind statements like this would simply lead to more harm, as school will carry on regardless – determined to prove themselves right: “Peter is fine, it-must-be-mum”.

What I would do now is simply keep Peter at home for the day and he would have missed out on what (with some minor accommodation) would have been an important, fun, day with opportunities to make more friends and achieve new goals.

I suggest that the approach below to sharing the information in the newsletter would have made a world of difference:

“As every child will be supported to take part in an event, …….: Pupils are to come to school in their school PE kit only.  Would would like to ensure that every child is in full correct kit.  If this is likely to cause your child a difficulty please contact their tutor so that accommodations can be made where necessary.   If you have any problems/queries please contact school before the day.”

………………………………………………………………………………..

So back onto the ban on fidget toys…

Clearly there is a balance to be made here.  I have sympathy with those that are disturbed by clicking, or those that have had near misses from flying spinners.  I also know that for some children they are a lifeline, helping them to manage from moment to moment on some days.  I wonder if it is sometimes difficult to find a middle ground with regard to the access to sensory support in schools.

Peter regularly reported to me that Jack’s sensory support equipment was put on a shelf out of his reach as he was told to stop using them and to ‘concentrate’ in their First School.  Oh the irony.  On the other hand Lily’s school is very, very, supportive of children for whom fidgeting helps them to concentrate and manage their anxiety.

Just recently the fact that all children enjoy some of the toys designed for children with SEND has led to blanket ‘bans’.  There are a number of messages on SEND forums about these ‘universal bans’.  I understand the fear that families feel when those messages are shared back at home.  Instantly you worry that the very things that your child needs, so that they can manage to slot into that round hole each day, will be removed by the application of some ‘blanket policy’.  I wonder if there is some information in this article on managing the use of fidget toys that can help in these situations?  There are some ideas to support appropriate use of fidget toys but I’m not sure this approach in its entirety would be right for all children (especially those with demand avoidance or those who  are more sensitive).  Certainly there are some principles that may help parents and teachers who face the “equality at all costs” brigade….

Inclusion and equity isn’t meant to look like this:

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…. and believe me.  Many square pegs are destroyed by our ‘inclusive’ education system.  Their siblings don’t have a great time either.

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