Bullied by Headteachers: No fresh starts allowed.

Bullied by Headteachers: No fresh starts allowed.

I learned a lot from the contents of my Subject Access Request.  Under the Data Protection Act I requested a copy of Peter’s files and along they came.  In theory, there should have been no great surprises should there?  School staff should work with me in the spirit of a shared aim of ‘the best for Peter’, shouldn’t they?  Any concerns/thoughts/ideas/letters/reports they had should have been discussed with me shouldn’t they?  I had assumed we should be working together, certainly, I had naively trotted along to meetings with them being open and honest: expecting the same professional standards from the adults that call themselves ‘professionals’ within the school setting.  I was mistaken.  My expectations of decent/adult/professional behaviour were very misguided.

Just lately I have been immersing myself, as much as possible, in discussions with staff from education, health and social care that are just like me.  There are plenty of them.  Professionals who possess some humility, some expertise and who are team players.  Those who have child at the centre, but also with a mind to care about all of us adults; about each other.

I was reminded by one of these, that teachers who risk becoming unpopular with a school manager with less than decent moral code, can pay a heavy price.  That their attempts at leaving the school to work with a team more aligned to their priorities and approaches can also face appalling consequences from the “Cross me and I can affect your career” type.  There seems to be a hardcore of Headteachers who themselves are disordered (with desperate need to be ‘right’/in control at all costs for example) or those who are down right abusive bullies.  Let’s face it, every profession has them.

I was shocked and it reminded me of how determined Peter’s Headteachers were to destroy any hope he might have had of a fresh start.

Below is a copy was the handover information that Peter’s first Headteacher made when he moved schools (mid Year 3).  By this time he had been diagnosed with ASD for a year, been under CAMHS for anxiety for two and a half years and been under a psychiatrist for more than 7 months (where antipsychotic medication was considered for severe anxiety and dissociative episodes).  In the hope of help for us as a family, the Clinical Psychologist had asked social services for help 8 months previously – they had carried out an assessment and concluded that there were no safeguarding concerns and that they were unable to offer help.  Peter’s school wasn’t working out, so I moved him.

You can make your own mind up about the professional standards this Headteacher employed when conducting the handover, and about the chance that Peter had of a fresh start at this new school.  This was taken from the Peter’s school file:  

“The meeting was held as a handover of care.  Peter’s previous head teacher explained the situation from their POV [point of view] and the progress they had made.  As a school they felt that Peter functioned normally and that any kind of individual education plan or inclusion on the SEN register would be unnecessary and inappropriate.  Mum asked for a referral to [CAMHS] herself and school agreed for an observation to take place at school.  Situation didn’t improve and because school didn’t agree to an [individual education plan] mum contacted parent partnership who encouraged the school to put Peter on an individual education plan.  Autism team became involved, [name].  LA Safeguarding Officer was contacted by school as school were concerned about the impact on Peter’s emotional and mental well-being.  As Peter was fed, clean, well clothed etc she didn’t feel an investigation would go anywhere.”

I will take each point the Headteacher made individually.  As you will see not a single phrase demonstrated safe practice.

The Headteacher said: “Peter functioned normally.” The facts are:

  • Peter had a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder from a multi-agency team which included a specialist autism teacher and an additional, second, psychologist.
  • School had been sent two letters from a psychiatrist outlining his extreme distress, dissociative episodes and need for medication.
  • School had also been sent a letter from a paediatrician explaining how the freeze response impacts Peter and the seriousness of this.
  • The Learning Support Teacher had written a long list of recommendations to support Peter’s literacy difficulties following her assessment of him.
  • Peter’s Clinical Psychologist had been involved for 2 ½ years and had been liaising with this Headteacher directly for 18 months.

The Headteacher said: “An individual education plan and inclusion on the SEN register would be unnecessary.” The facts are:

  • This was clearly appropriate and should have been in place.

The Headteacher said: “Mum asked for a referral to CAMHS herself.”  The facts are:

  • Referral to the CAMHS was made by the school nurse.

The Headteacher said: “Situation didn’t improve and because school didn’t agree to an individual education plan mum contacted parent partnership who encouraged the school to put Peter on an individual education plan.”  The facts are:

  • The situation didn’t improve because Peter’s SENs were not met leading to extreme anxiety; recorded by his psychiatrist and shared with school.

The Headteacher said: “Autism Team became involved, [name].” The facts are:

  • This was requested by both the Clinical Psychologist and me.  School obstructed/refused the involvement of (the autism teacher) for months and until parent partnership became involved.

The Headteacher said: “[social services access point] was contacted by school as school were concerned about the impact on Peter’s emotional and mental well-being.  As Peter was fed, clean, well clothed etc she didn’t feel an investigation would go anywhere.”  The facts are:

  • A full Social Care Assessment had been completed 8 months previously and demonstrated that there were no concerns.

Imagine a GP writing a referral to a hospital team with this degree of inaccuracy?!  

Aside from the down right nastiness – it’s not SAFE!  

It’s not professional.  It’s not true…  

It could even be considered slanderous?  

What utterly appalling practice.  

Most of all, it prevented Peter from having a decent chance at a new school where teachers could have read his reports, liaised with this NHS team and properly assessed his Special Educational Needs.

The culture of blame and gossip continued.  By the time he was ready to move with his peers to the next school, more was understood about his difficulties.  In addition to those previously identified his dyslexia was obvious and he was also medicated for his anxiety.  The Occupational Therapist (OT) had been involved and raised concerns about his very low visual motor integration (3rd percentile) and sensory processing needs. There had been a number of meetings at school attended by the OT and the Clinical Psychologist.  This school had also offered Peter no help or support and some months before, in desperation, I had submitted a complaint that included all the evidence of the help he needed in the hope that this would turn the situation around.

So, below is a copy of the record of the handover to the SENCO at the next school.  There was a pre-meeting and then I was invited to join in.  The atmosphere was hostile, I (stupidly) assumed that in the pre-meeting his educational needs had been discussed.  The entire record of the SENCO to SENCO pre-meeting states:

“I spoke with the SENCO prior to [Peter’s Mum] arriving.  I explained some of the issues we had experienced during his time at [this First School].  I discussed the content of the complaint and the extent of the time spent to resolve the problem.  [Peter’s Mum] arrived and the conversation was then between her and the SENCO…….”

That was it! Notice that here was no mention of any of Peter’s difficulties at all…..  No wonder there was a horrible atmosphere by the time I arrived.  No wonder the next school also failed to put necessary provision in place.

No fresh starts allowed here, either, it seems. 

Perhaps not surprisingly no provision or support was arranged at the next school.   Peter lasted 7 weeks before he had a severe mental health breakdown necessitating a 19 week stay in a children’s psychiatric unit 150 miles from home.  So entrenched were the three schools in their belief that there was nothing wrong, there is a note on the social services files, made 6 weeks after his admission to this Tier 4 CAMHS assessment unit that states “School think Peter is fine and mum is fabricating“.

Sadly in this blog I have no advice or words of wisdom.  I guess if I had read this a few years ago though I might have been less trusting and naive, and that, in itself, might have proved useful.  This, as Yvonne Newbold so kindly puts it, is simply to “shine a light into shadows that most people never see”.

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16 thoughts on “Bullied by Headteachers: No fresh starts allowed.

  1. Sadly this is a far too familiar story and one that reflects my own experience with my two sons in education. It is almost as though for the schools to admit that they need input from outside agencies to support a child is a personal failure and reflects badly on their ability to educate. This is not the case of course and while they desperately fight “to keep control” they fail to recognise the devastating effects that their behaviour is having on the very people that they claim to care about the child.
    As parents if we chose to ignore the advice of professionals in the way headteachers do our child/ren would very likely be taken away from us, so why are schools able to behave in this manner. They are not! I took a case against a mainstream high school with advice/ guidance from the NAS education rights service, on the premise of psychological abuse. When our local authority were given the evidence they informed the headteachers that “the school were on their own” and would get no backing or legal help from them.
    Ultimately the school requested mediation and were instrumental in securing what I can only describe as excellent provision for my son. However the cost of the battle emotionally on myself, and the effects of not having support for so many years on my son have had long lasting and far reaching consequences.
    Headteachers can and should be held to account for the physical emotional and psychological well being of our children

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  2. Alot of similarities to our own series of events in last 5 yrs, and bullied by the HT was the reason. We home educate now.Perfectly written.

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  3. When I was trying to move schools after my (and my family’s) relationship with my Catholic junior school broke down at the end of year 5, the local ed psych went to school after school in the local area and each one rang my old headbastard who told them not to take me, and they didn’t. Finally they persuaded one not to call the old school, and I was taken on, though only on a part-time basis. (I had an SEN statement then; Asperger’s diagnosis didn’t comeuntil adulthood.)

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  4. As CAMHS psychiatrist I am unfortunately only too familiar with this kind of scenarios. Many teachers hold very inaccurate mental image of how ‘autism’ looks like. A non verbal child rocking in the corner. They are not only uneducated but also reluctant to accept any professional opinion or advice that doesn’t fit with their stigmatising preconceptions.

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  5. We are now entering into the 5th failing school setting for our child and all because he is bright and masks his difficulties. In the eyes of school he is fine but it doesn’t explain why he frequently leaves the classroom and will not engage with staff! They call him rude and this is a special school that have very little knowledge of anxieties and what this might look like. I haven’t yet asked for my child’s school record, I’m scared to, I know I will see a very unhappy picture and parental blame! I’m tired of fighting the LA for provision and a legally compliant EHCP, my child is traumatised by his experiences of schooling over the past 7 years and these proffesionals that are kind and supportive to your face but my oh my definately stab you in the back as soon as you leave the meeting!! I’m currently appealing for HE with a PB, enough is enough!! I don’t see any discussion’s in the run up to the election for our SEN children even though it is more than clear that they are being failed! Xxx

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  6. Our experience too. As someone with a relevant professional background in the public sector I naively thought individual teachers simply didn’t understand and that by working with them they would start to see that differentiation and understanding would reap far better results than discipline and criticism. When I discovered my Y4 deaf daughter was not even on the SEN register (despite having outside agency support, not making expected progress, and being bullied because she was deaf) I successfully got elected as a parent governor only to not be allowed by the other governors to make any contribution i.e. join a committee etc. Rumours had been spread by the SMT and CoG, and it was only after submitting a DPA SAR to a third party that I discovered a rather telling email which showed that the NAHT Union Rep was advising the Governing Body on strategies to use against me. And there was me thinking schools were being run by Governors not Teaching Unions. I wanted to support all the children to achieve their potential but the bottom line is that the Teaching Unions support their adult members. Yet the school was a mess: people were removing their children in droves and as a governor I had the statistics to prove it. I left and drew the DfE’s attention to what was happening but in truth they were as useless as a chocolate teapot. The adults who could have helped the children at the school all closed ranks to protect the HT. No real surprises. Children with SEND do badly in this area.The (then) LA Head of Education was a former HT who is famously quoted in the local press as saying the ‘champagne cork popped’ when she became the HT of a grammar school . I expect it was because she didn’t have many SEND pupils (or their parents) to deal with. I was going to say ‘support’ but deal with better describes the reality. But all this it just goes to show the power and control being used in practice. If anyone has any doubts about the bullying that goes on by the adults running schools please just skim read the posts on the TES forums. Parents are not liked or respected by a huge amount of teachers unless they support them at all costs. But those of us who have children with SEND know how important it is for every child to have a real chance in life. And therein lies the difference. We do not have the luxury of abandoning our duty of care when it suits us.

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    1. Wow. What an amazing comment. Would you mind if I share it in a closed SEN forum. Thank you so much for writing this I was literally gasping that teachers would have no clue that being deaf would lead to huge SEN and social needs. Huge needs. OMG. Glad its not just me that thought teachers would behave in a professional way and be willing and capable team players. Some are, of course to too many are obstructed by the culture, set by their leaders……

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  7. Thank you – Yes of course! Its all very draining. I’m very pleased to say things did work out for (this) daughter after a change of school (x10 GCSE’s A*-B) but I am sorry to say that another of my daughter’s has not been anywhere near as fortunate: She was so quiet, well behaved, and bright that her difficulties were not picked up until she failed a GCSE oral exam because she was too anxious to speak a single word. The bullying she then personally experienced from teachers was quite unbelievable. Its so sad and unnecessary. I really feel upset that so many CYP are developing MH problems because of how they are being treated in schools.

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  8. Well this is true for me too. And I’ve been put through fabricated illness by S’s. Soul destroying to watch your babies suffer under bullying. My youngest is too scared to tell his new school how he feels as 8 sw have told him he will be taken from me. 😢

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