Possibly one of the many lessons that I have been slow to learn over the years is when to stop hoping things will get better. When to stop trusting, believing and imagining good intentions in others. When to realise that very many ‘professionals’ are anything but ‘professional’ and that someone may have the title ‘expert’ but ‘in what?’ remains debatable.
So often I want to tell parents to stop trying to make a school placement work. This brings with it, though, a worry about upsetting others. I want to say ‘I know you feel like there are no other reasonable options right now, but there is NOTHING, literally nothing, you (or anyone for that matter) can do, to make the staff at this school follow legal processes… so doing the decent thing, the right thing, the sensible thing – even the ethical thing – is way out the picture. It isn’t going to happen unless they want it to.”
But at what point should a mum like me take away the hope that another parent has that things will get better at this school, that they will be OK? Will they hear what I am saying as a criticism of their decisions and choices? Will they see them selves a naive and duped? Will they be angry with me for being just another negative voice? Will they even hear the message at all?
I remember feeling that I had invested so much in Peter’s first school. I had told people how good it was, always looking for the strengths and building on them. I worked hard from the start to do the right thing, to communicate well, do all that was expected of me to be a ‘good parent’. I had shared information openly, tried to build decent relationships with teachers some of whom were patronising, obstructive, judgemental, unhelpful – unkind even. I had made excuses for them, tried to help. I felt that if I gave up it would be an admission that I was wrong all along.
The bottom line is, I felt stupid because I had got it wrong. I did my very best but I got it wrong three times for Peter. Thankfully I managed just one wrong move for Lily and staff at her other two schools (along with CAMHS) have helped her to recover from that experience.
The behaviour of Peter’s teachers, SENCOs and headteachers had me totally confused. I had this crazy idea stuck in my head that they wanted to help, but couldn’t because they didn’t understand. I was right about their ability to understand but very wrong to assume that they wanted to get the support right for him. I kept on trying to make the school work even when it was (with hindsight) blatantly obvious my efforts were futile.
So the lessons I have learned and want to share are these:
- Not many will thrive in a school where the leadership is poor, ineffective or toxic. Children with additional needs are likely be the first to suffer.
- SENCO’s that are under-educated and lack awareness of this, will not grow professionally no matter how many times you helpfully send then relevant, credible, information about your child.
- Any professional that lacks the desire and ability to learn, to reflect on their practice, to ask questions of those who have trained in separate yet related specialties will not progress. If they don’t understand your child’s needs now, they never will.
- If a teacher doesn’t believe or understand a specialist report or opinion and then sees this as reason not to act on it; its not a lack of knowledge that is the problem. They have a degree so they know how to find things out: they just don’t want to.
- Any professional that lacks the ability to learn from the parent of a child they are responsible for is a hopeless case.
- Without humility and integrity no-one will ever develop as a professional, no matter how much you hope that they will. These people are to be avoided at all costs.
- Teachers that bully will not change: they don’t want to.
- Some teaching staff love the power and control they feel they have over children and their parents. They are truly poisonous. The harder you try to make it work the more they will enjoy the freedom to bully, practice and develop gas-lighting techniques, record false information, manipulate others to think badly of you and so on. Don’t feed these people with any time, effort or information.
- Fabulous teachers working in a toxic environment will be very limited in how much they can help your child and it may cost them more than you realise to do so.
My advice would be:
- to remember, there is nothing you can do to ‘make’ teachers do the right thing, especially when so much of the right thing is about teamwork, self-reflection, kindness, predicting needs and learning about difficulties that aren’t immediately visible;
- to recognise when the situation is futile. Take a deep breath, admit you got it wrong in choosing this school, learn from it and walk away if you can.
- if you can’t walk away then stop feeding the dragon and hopefully it will run out of fire somewhat, but remember you cannot change him. He would have to want to do that for himself and he sure as **** won’t be asking you for help if this happens…;
- if it feel like you are fighting then you are already loosing. They have the power, there are no safe governance systems and there really is no accountability. They don’t need to follow the law (even if they know it) because no-one will enforce it on your behalf.
Once you come across a school that wants to get it right for your child you will know. It will feel so very different and that can actually be quite unnerving! The communication will be free-flowing, professional but friendly and fairly informal. There will be the odd hiccup but you will know straight away that it will not turn into a drama that is all of a sudden your fault. They may not be able to support your child in the long term but in the short term they will work with you to find a solution that is right for your child. It should feel like teamwork, not a fight. It should feel like they care.
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