I have to admit to feeling totally demoralised at the moment. The behaviour of the coalition government is stressing me so much that I am loosing the will to write about anything on my blog. Instead I find myself taking solace in my garden, trying to ignore the news of cuts to services and benefits and the changes to the education system that are starting to affect us. Our local mainstream secondary school became an academy last year, rushed through with little or no consultation with the parents. As with other academies in the area, the school argued that meetings were not arranged because they assumed they would not be well attended.
Now I hear that the situation regarding SEN pupils and academies is uncertain. Some academies have refused to accept children with SEN, arguing that because they are ‘independent’ they do not have the same legal obligations to children with special needs as maintained schools. This means that if academies don’t want our SEN children, we may have no way of appealing through the SEN tribunal system. You can read more about it in this Guardian article.
It’s a deeply disturbing situation which could limit the number of schools that our SEN children can attend. In an area where all schools have become academies, it is possible that a child with SEN could find there is no where for them to go! It could also create a two-tier system where children with SEN attend maintained schools while everyone else can attend academies. Is that fair? However, legal challenges are being made so we will have to wait and see if this worrying situation is overturned. (For anyone concerned about academies, I recommend that you read A can of worms by David Wolfe, a lawyer who specialises in education law.)
For now though, my family is in a difficult situation for we have no idea which school to send our aspergers daughter to. Her local secondary school (which she would ordinarily be moving to this September) is the one that became an academy behind our backs. Though my daughter officially has a place at this school the statementing process that we are now going through could change things a lot. The school, particularly now its an academy, may not want her.
Indeed when we approached them about our son a few years ago, the attitude from the SENCO was that if our son couldn’t manage primary school then he would not manage secondary school. The SENCO made it quite clear that they didn’t want him even though he was officially on their pupil register. As it was, we felt it wasn’t the right place for our son and chose a special school instead.
Now we find ourselves in a similar situation with my daughter who like her brother a few years ago is out of school (primary) and going through the statementing process. I would be surprised to see a change in attitude from this secondary school particularly now they are an academy but I need to organise a meeting with them to know for certain where we stand. I also need to know whether I think this is the right place for my daughter. I have my doubts.
Though my daughter is more able than her brother she has considerable auditory and visual processing problems and other difficulties that need support. I am not sure this secondary school has the right level of expertise for her. As senior schools go, it is a small school that accommodates about 1000 pupils cramped into a rabbit warren of classrooms. I can’t see how my daughter will cope with all the sensory and social difficulties that accompany that sort of environment on top of her learning difficulties.
Neither am I convinced that having a teaching assistant in a mainstream class is the answer. Getting a good teaching assistant is pot luck; some are brilliant, others not so. I can’t afford the risk of my daughter getting a poor teaching assistant who has little experience of the autism spectrum. Her confidence is already at rock bottom and she is at risk of developing other difficulties unless she receives specialised help. In any case, I don’t think a TA is necessarily the only answer; my daughter needs an individualised and flexible learning programme which is beyond the remit of a TA. My daughter needs a school that embraces aspergers as part of its culture; I doubt this school does this.
Ideally I’d love to see more specialised units or schools that deal with aspergers and high functioning autism; where all the staff are trained in the autism spectrum and the other issues that can sometimes accompany it such as OCD’s, anxiety and depression. But there are no units or schools like this in my area. There are schools for the severely disabled and those with moderate learning difficulties but nothing that specifically deals with aspergers and high functioning autism. Children with these difficulties and who can’t manage mainstream school are either bussed out to special schools in other areas or are home taught. A few do go to independent schools but these are so far away that they are not even an option for us at the moment.
But even those specialist schools outside the area do not feel right either. Having a daughter with aspergers brings some unique difficulties. Girls are statistically in the minority of being on the autism spectrum and I don’t necessarily feel that special school is the right place for her. These schools can be dominated by boys who tend to be more aggressive in their presentation of their autism. My daughter is passive and gentle and I don’t believe she would feel comfortable in such a male dominated environment. On the other hand, mainstream is even more of a challenging environment so perhaps special school would be the right way to go?
I have absolutely no idea what to do and fear that I will be forced to go down the home educating route because of the lack of suitable schooling for my daughter. Whilst I am educated to be able to teach her quite a bit there is a limit to what I can do. I also believe that as her mother my role is to teach her personal and life skills which is a much bigger job than many people realise. To go and teach her more formal subjects on top of this and also when I’m caring for another autistic child just feels too much for me at the moment. In any case I believe the state has a responsibility to educate my children – isn’t that what I and my husband pay our taxes for? But aside from this, I think it will do her good to be taught by other people and to have emotional and social support outside the home. I worry that if she spends all her days at home, she will become even more reclusive.
Such is my sense of desperation over schooling for my daughter, I have even been thinking of moving to another area so that my daughter can access the right education but this is dividing my family up. My husband refuses to properly consider this option and my son refuses to leave the house.
It seems that I have to look nearer to home for the answer to my daughter’s schooling problems but I really don’t know what to do.
There aren’t the schools. There is no choice.