Know when to stop flogging the dead horse.

Know when to stop flogging the dead horse.

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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13 thoughts on “Know when to stop flogging the dead horse.

  1. This is incredibly helpful for two reasons – firstly my son and the fun we have had with the transition into secondary after a fab primary school – it has just started to feel midway through the final term that we have turned a corner, I do hope so. And secondly, this autumn I start to train as a primary school teacher after 25 years doing something else. I hope to be one of those teachers that ‘get it’. With two children with EHCPs, one still in nursery, and both with a progressive life limiting condition I hope so. Because if I don’t get it what hope is there for those who don’t come from our community?


    1. well take very good care of yourself… I really hope you find a school that fits you – if you know what I mean – they are definitely out there. Thank you for your comment. 🙂


  2. I don’t know you, but I feel you are the more enlightened version of me. Much better at beautifully putting every feeling I have ever had parenting two kids with Sen with additional educational needs. This is everything I have felt. When professionals do not care about the job they do, do not hope to bring improvements and can’t improve because ego prevents them from ever being wrong.
    I had a professional tell me in her professional opinion this week a consultant paediatrician was wrong.
    A teacher.
    Knew better than a consultant.
    Stop for moment and think about that level of arrogance.
    I love your writing, I think it’s the most connected I have ever felt to any writing in my life.


    1. I see your teacher and raise you, nursery staff! That’s right; their level 2 and 3 GNVQs meant that they knew more than the consultant. They also felt that I should be grateful because “we let you have the diagnosis even though we didn’t agree”. My son is the most open and shut case of autism ever – total regression with no speech or play skills at 2.5 years!


      1. My son passed his two year check with flying colours. He was non verbal. He couldn’t play. At three he was diagnosed with ASD. At four he was in a ASD school. At five he still can’t talk or engage. It was all in my head ( and the paeds head, portage head, speech therapists head)
        can you imagine if Tooting NHS win their proposal to stop asd diagnosis? All these vulnerable children will have left is these professionals in the blog. Because schools are best placed to help…….


    2. Yes! that level of arrogance had me in a state of disbelief for years. I just couldn’t understand the lack of insight. i felt like I was in shock for so long and counldn’t understand why so few people ‘got’ just how crazy it was!


      1. And that’s why your blog is so important. I felt so alone and like I was the crazy one. You just need to hear or read one other person’s experiences to realise that it is not just you and it is them! You are probably saving so many people from such misery. Thank you.

        And yes, our situation was unbelievable. I have only described the surface of this Ofsted outstanding, “SEN specialist” nursery that left us with a horribly damaged, little boy, who is now recovering (recovered?).


  3. I live in an entire country that is as toxically-led as the classrooms/schools you refer to. Replace the word ‘teachers’ with ‘social workers’ and you’ve just described Finland.


  4. This really resonates with me right now. Looking back l feel angry wth myself for allowing things to continue for so long and my poor daughter was suffering all the while. You got me thinking when you say about toxic leadership. My daughters school is toxic. The further up the ladder the worse they are. I had at first felt it was just lack of understanding, that once I had more medical evidence they would start to see what is happening and properly support my daughter. They didn’t. In fact the more l pushed for support the more unpleasant they became, and not just with me . My heart broke when my daughter told me “mummy please don’t go to see the teachers again, they get meaner and meaner everything time you go in”. My poor girl was not only being bullied by other girls, which was openly dismissed by the dreadful senco amd other staff, but staff bullied her because l was fighting for support. I have now taken her out and the school are being even more aggressive. Trying to get us referred to SS! All bullying and gaslighting of course, in revenge for me brining their precious school into dispreprute. The damage they have caused will last a long time. My daughter still feels like nobody believes anything she says. She is so used to being dismissed. I feel immense anger at the school. Even now they are not letting her leave peacefully. They are fighting to prove she didn’t really have the problems doctors said she did. It is evil it honestly is. This is a ‘outstanding ‘ school as well. Please don’t belive ofsted reports, they really do lean nothing!


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