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”.
Don’t forget to sign up to follow our blog if you wish the receive notice each time a new one is published.
If you have found this post helpful and you think others may too, please click one of the share buttons below
Like this blog? To see more of our blog posts please click here