As you guys probably know I’ve been migrating all my posts from Blogger onto this self-hosted WordPress site…and because of this I’ve been reading through old posts to make sure they have arrived with links working and photos in their proper places. I came across this:
Do me a favour, will you and go and have a quick read then come back…go on, I’ll wait for you.
Are you back? Because now I need to apologise for being a right liar. Surprised you can read this from the smoke coming off my trousers.
See this was the reason I gave for home educating my wonderful children:
“School was so supportive of the children and I, and I am sure the children were in the main happy whilst they were there, but our quality of life pre-school (from 6am til 8.45) and after school (3.20 til 6.30) was pretty crap.”
Now I didn’t lie about the fact that our quality of life pre and post school was crap, but you see to give this sentence as a reason for pulling them out of school was doing a dis-service to me and my husband AND the girls too. I wrote what I did because I was trying to be non-confrontational. I was attempting to avoid ‘rocking the boat’. I cared about what my Facebook friends thought of us and our decision. When I read the post today I was cross with myself. I nearly deleted it. I thought about sneakily rewriting it but then I thought, you know what? I will admit I did it and why and I will explain properly.
We moved to Rossendale because Elizabeth was due to start school in September 2009 and the schools in the area we lived in in Bolton were (in my opinion) poor. We couldn’t afford to buy a house in the catchment for a good school. I knew she had Special Educational Needs, she already had an IEP from Nursery in Bolton (she had no diagnosis but with my background of teaching and her Dad’s background as a counsellor and psychologist we had worked out that she had ASD) and I spent hours trawling the internet looking for a house we could afford in an area with an ‘Outstanding’ school because I thought this would give her the best chance. Eventually I found a house a stone’s throw away from an Outstanding school.
I requested a meeting with the Head at Thorn Primary School and handed her a report I had written outlining Elizabeth’s idiosyncrasies in an attempt to smooth things over for her in advance of her starting school. The letter explained things like Elizabeth didn’t respond to instructions unless her name was used, she struggled to make friends, she would need warning five minutes before the end of an activity, she would take things literally etc. Being an ex teacher I tried to keep it objective and professional but I might as well not have bothered.
From a couple of weeks after her starting school I was called in almost nightly. Her ‘friend’ had suggested she expose herself in the yard so she did, she was screaming (for the pleasure of the noise) in the dinner hall, she was reorganising the teacher’s desk, hitting out when on the carpet next to other children, hitting out in the crowded cloakroom, unable to sit still in assembly, not responding to the whistle, taking too long to eat her lunch…you get the idea.
At home she refused to eat breakfast, refused to get in the shower, refused to get out of the shower, refused to get dressed, hid my car keys so we were late for school, finally we would get to school with me a complete wreck and her in tears and hysterical, late. I would go to pick her up where I would have a 15 minute meeting with the teacher most nights: “Mrs Bridge, can I have a word?” was a phrase I learned to hate! I would then start my post-school time with Elizabeth by telling her off for whatever I’d been called in about. We would come home and she would inevitably hit out at her siblings, argue with me and refuse to eat her tea. She would be in bed by 6.30pm because she was knackered and I couldn’t stand to be with her any longer. Next day it would start again.
I went to the GP and got a referral to the paediatrician where I hoped to get a diagnosis of ASD. She wrote to the school. They said Elizabeth was fine! I went into school and asked why they hadn’t listed the behaviours they called me in about, they told me it was likely she had High Functioning Autism but not to worry, she would grow out of it.
Things escalated. It was six months before they told me that despite the fact that she could read fluently before starting school they wouldn’t put her in the class with children that could read because she was disruptive. Instead she was sat on the carpet with the kids that were still learning their phonics, bored.
Eventually the Head and I had a major falling out. Interestingly it wasn’t because of the lack of support for Elizabeth, it was because they decided to hold the Sports Day at the local football club where the parents were smoking and drinking all afternoon (literally cheering their kids with a pint in one hand and a fag in the other). It was a glorious sunny day and the children were out in full sun for about two hours without a drink when finally one of the PTA mums came out with two big jugs of glow-in-the-dark juice. Elizabeth is allergic to citric acid. It takes a rather mild form now, but at the time if she had consumed a glass of that juice she would have been off school the next two days with horrendous diarrhoea. So they didn’t give her any. They didn’t give her anything at all. If I hadn’t been there to go and queue at a bar three deep in parents ordering their next pint of Strongbow (with a 3 year old and a baby in tow) for a glass of water for her she would not have had a drink at all. And I was livid. I wanted to take her home there and then and I wish I had, instead I let her finish, I waved and smiled and clapped then went home and got on the phone to the Head and tore her a new seat in her trousers.
I then pulled her out of that school and put her in a worse one.
She started at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Bacup in June 2010. At first she loved it, the Reception teacher was absolutely wonderful. She recognised that Elizabeth had issues with fitting in and coping in school and she wrote a letter to the paediatrician for me. We got a diagnosis of High Functioning Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. I was really hopeful that things were improving.
In September 2010 Elizabeth started in Year 1 and Imogen (who had turned 4 on July 27th) started in Reception. During the first term Imogen fell apart. She constantly had nits so I was combing her hair every night whilst she cried, she is Dyslexic (obviously we didn’t know then) and the youngest in the year and they were sending books home that she couldn’t read. They refused to change the book until she could read it to the teacher without a mistake despite me going in and telling them that it was too hard and requesting that they change it. They were sending home sight words for her to learn and she couldn’t even recognise and name or sound the alphabet. She was disappearing before my eyes. My funny, confident, capable little girl was sinking. And she was starting to think she was thick. We stole the book they kept sending her home with…she finally read it when she was almost seven.
Meanwhile Elizabeth was in a class with an authoritarian, old-school teacher without an imagination who made no changes to his classroom or teaching style for Elizabeth despite her diagnosis. I asked please could she use the cloakroom first or last to avoid the situation of feeling panicky near all the other children. The answer was no. I asked could she please sit on the edge of the carpet, not in the middle. His answer? Sitting on the carpet is a life-skill and he wouldn’t pander to her. Again I was called in every night. By November things had escalated. She was self-harming by ripping the skin on her fingers so she had thin ribbons of missing skin down the sides of her fingers. She was licking her lips so furiously that they were red raw almost an inch all the way round. Her clothes had holes in them where she had pulled nervously at them. She was refusing to eat breakfast or tea at home and subsisting on the jacket potato with cheese she ate every day at school. I had her on Complan because she was so thin.
Eventually the Head and I had a major falling out. Interestingly it wasn’t because of the lack of support for Elizabeth, it was because one day in the January he called an assembly where he told all the children we were at war. He didn’t say they were pretending to be at war, he told them we were at war. He showed them footage of The Blitz and played an air-raid siren and had the kids sit in the basement whilst they set off fireworks outside telling them they were bombs. Even with an ASD diagnosis she was involved in all of that. And she didn’t sleep for a week afterwards.
You really did read that correctly,honest!
There’s more…but you know how to Google as well as I do.
So… I pulled them out. I pulled them both out. We went to our first Adventure Playground trip (a meet up for home ed kids in Lancs) whilst listening to Mr Richards stutter his way through an interview with Jeremy Vine on Radio Two.
I am glad I pulled them out. I know there are great schools out there, but we didn’t get lucky and in a way I am glad we were unlucky…I wouldn’t change our home educating life for anything.