In our desperate quest to find schooling for our aspergers daughter we have been forced to look at schools further and further away from home. This is what happens when there are no school places in your home town and no one has the will or otherwise to create places. Officialdom are quite happy to send disabled children miles and miles away, irrespective of whether its ‘right’ for the child or the family.
And so, over the last few months we’ve been looking at schools on and off the internet. One school we visited was a special school that focused on teaching pupils from across the autism spectrum. It was located half an hour’s drive from home (doable) and held great promise (autism trained teachers). Indeed, as soon as we walked in and chatted to the staff and other parents on the ‘school tour’ I immediately felt a great sense of solidarity. It was quite something. It felt like I had found my community, something that has been missing from my life for so long.
Unfortunately our sense of belonging was undermined by the tour leader’s prep talk on the ‘pupil premium’. She clearly had a duty to tell us that children on free school dinners would receive extra support not least because some of us on the ‘tour’ may have had children that qualify. Even so it was obvious that the teacher was uncomfortable telling us and it was also notable that our group had descended into a stony silence. Why? Were parents embarrassed that they could be singled out for more help or did they feel disappointed that their children wouldn’t qualify?
I don’t mind telling you that I felt the latter. In fact I felt pretty crap that my children, through no fault of their own, would receive less support than those on free school meals. I don’t decry the support offered to poorer families but I found it hard to hear that my daughter who has had such a miserable time of it wouldn’t get much needed one to one. In the area of SEN and disability I think it is wrong to allot resources like this. To focus on one group of children above others I think leaves us in danger of perpetuating the very problems that Clegg and co are trying to address.
Take my son for instance. He has become disengaged from education because its too difficult for him to learn without one to one support. Now he suffers severe anxiety (possibly depression) and his life has become more and more restrictive to the home. This is not a life any young person should have and it troubles me greatly as to what will happen to him in the future.
Not surprisingly, what started as a hopeful visit ended up with me feeling that, yet again, the state education system was discriminating against my children. A hopeless, sickening feeling.