At long last Ofsted have raised concerns about thousands of youngsters missing from the education system. In a recently published report they state that children with special educational needs, those who have been permanently excluded, newly arrived migrants and youngsters with mental health problems are not receiving a full time education. They go on to state that if the findings of inspections in 15 local authorities were replicated across the country, it would mean that 10,000 youngsters are missing from the school system.
Sadly this news comes as no surprise to me. Both my children have had spells where they have been out of education; my youngest still is. In my experience both my children’s difficulties arose from their time in primary school where the lack of specialised support combined with a rigid and uninspiring curriculum caused so much distress for them that they developed mental health difficulties. If that wasn’t bad enough I then had to deal with the apathy of both school and the local authority towards my children’s situation. No-one gave a dam about whether they were receiving an education or not and it was left to me and my husband to fight for alternative provision.
Unfortunately that alternative provision only amounted to a few hours of home tuition a week provided by semi retired teachers, many of whom did not have the understanding of autism to adequately support my children. It really was pot luck as to whether you got a competent teacher or not which considering the needs of my children is simply not good enough.
Children such as mine who have developed mental health problems in addition to their disability and/or special educational needs really do need a specialised (in our case autism trained) teacher. (Note trained; autism awareness is not enough.) In addition there needs to be better mental health support ie a therapist who can work with the parent and school to help the child reintegrate into a school setting, if appropriate. Alternatively a school could have a professional dedicated to working with pupil with SEN and/or mental health problems as a means of bridging the gap between home and school.
To date I have never come across this sort of provision. The NHS (notably CAMHS) and education are such disparate services that as a parent you find yourself piggy in the middle trying to navigate some sort of integrated working between the mental health services and education. In reality (my reality) there was no such thing and I found myself doing the reintegration work myself which included telling the teaching staff what I was going to do. Unbelievably, few of them understood how to help an autistic teen with severe anxiety and CAMHS did not involve themselves with the education side either. They didn’t even write a letter or report to school. They didn’t even contribute properly to the statementing process. Everything was left to me.
Now I have nothing against helping my child and indeed helping my son back to health and into school has been one of my most satisfying achievements to date. In many cases we are the ones most equipped to do this as we know our children best. However, to do it in isolation without the understanding or back up of professionals is tough. Many a time I’ve found myself questioned by professionals and many a time I’ve had to stand up to them. There seems to be an unacceptably low level of expectation for children like my son and I often felt that people were too ready to give up on him and let him languish at home with a few hours of tuition a week. Now I realise that for some pupils home tuition works as does home education but for my son it doesn’t. He simply will not engage with either external tutors or myself because in his eyes (due to his autism) school is school and home is home which I why I had to push for him to get back to school.
I realise I have digressed a bit here but the point is that provision for children like my son is so poor that it comes as no surprise that so many are missing from education. Unfortunately some people seem to think that children missing an education is the fault of the parents and whilst that may be the case for some it isn’t the case for all. Too often I read (as I did yesterday in the comments section of a major newspaper) of people demanding that parents face up to their responsibilities, that parents be punished should their children fail to attend school. I can’t tell you how angry this makes me feel.
I never wanted my children to become ill and drop out of school. I wanted my children to do well at school and aim to be the best they could be and I did everything to support that. However, no one supported them and they were left to struggle in a large class until such time that they simply couldn’t carry on any longer. I can’t tell you how awful it is to see your child become suicidal because of what is or isn’t happening in school. It is deeply traumatic and leaves you with an acute sense of betrayal. You expect school to be a caring place and to teach according to the child’s needs but often it doesn’t. Education has become so inflexible and there is such a pressure to meet government targets that there are few opportunities for teachers to meet the needs of the individual child. For those children who are already vulnerable is it any wonder that they drop out of school?