Sunday, 22 November 2015

Trials and tribulations.

If I thought that all problems would end with a special school I was wrong. 

We have in fact run into the problems I knew would occur when J interacted with other children just like him.  J has had problems with "the boy with poor impulse control" who teases him at times. He has also had problems with "the boy with Tourette's" who shouts stuff out randomly but also makes comments he DOES have control over. This mostly takes the form of stuff being shouted put in the classroom making the environment noisy. J hates him because of the noise but also because he will say horrible things to elicit a response.  To J this took the form of being told "I hope you die a horrible painful death" while they were sat next to each other in a Science class. J left the classroom as he was angry but being J was unable to speak to an adult about what had been said. As always with J he internalised his feelings until he got through the front door and into his home and his place of safety...he then just ignited. The house practically shook with his rage and both I and his Dad were flooded for a few moments before we were able to try and talk him down and elicit the information about what had happened. We asked him why he had not shared any of this with an adult in school. His response was "because I was so angry". 

Thankfully the fabulous Grove House School are now on the case and J has a wristband he can use to indicate when he is too angry or upset to talk. 

We are still in the early days of settling down but it's still head and shoulders above the support he was getting in mainstream school and the staff within the school are fantastic and supportive. 
We feel fortunate to have got J into the school and although it's early days the signs are good that it will support J right through to early adulthood.

Friday, 25 September 2015


Today I attended a lovely coffee morning at Grove House school. We were raising money for the Macmillan cancer nurses. Cakes were made, displayed and eaten. Tea was consumed by the bucketload. 

At the end of the morning we'd raised just over £186.

A few of us had got together as well to begin forming a Parents and Friends of Grove House School committee. It felt good to begin talking about how we could start giving something back to the school. 

Lovely to meet some of the other parents too. We all understood each other and had experienced similar issues. 

Watching the pupils at break time was also interesting. All playing in groups but generally doing their own thing...and J did not look out of place among them. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ups and Downs.

One of the issues J has is that he cannot cope with being teased. He gets upset and angry when this happens as he does not know what to do. 

Conversations with him over the past few years have frequently gone like this. 

"How was your day at school?"

to his response of....

"X, Y or Z teased me and I hate that f***ing school so get me out of it". 

Then would follow an evening of increasing stress while he raged. 

So far since he started at Grove House we haven't had this raging all evening. The days have been far from stress free for him but somehow he is leaving it all behind in school.

I feel a little sorry for the teachers as all the children are new and having to adjust. It's stressful for all the children and the reactions to this big change in their schooling is impacting on their behaviour in some cases. 

For J this has manifested itself in a very short fuse with the boy teasing him. 

Yesterday J managed to ignore "the boy who teases" and I gave him lots of praise for this as he finds this ignoring if teased very difficult. 

That was yesterday though and today was another day. 

So "the boy who teases" said something provocative to J and J responded by thumping him. The teacher got a thump too as she intervened to stop the boys fighting. J was mortified about that and to be fair I don't think he would ever knowingly hit a teacher...and never has in the past. They are the people he looks to for safety. 

The deputy head who phoned me was fantastic, once J had calmed down he promptly said "I shouldn't have hit X (the boy who teases) but he provoked me".

This on its own is good as he recognised that he made a poor choice. The school are going to get him involved in writing a plan for when teasing happens. How he can ensure he doesn't hit out. 

This is good but I am still concerned, I've never known J to hit other children who have teased him. 
In the past he has raged and left the classroom or playground when teased, I have never known him to fight back. 

In a way it's good that he IS fighting back but thumping someone is not the answer. And that's where the work begins on helping him find other appropriate ways of responding.

Aghhh! Damn the autism which makes it so hard for him. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

We love Grove House school

So J has been at Grove House School for just under two weeks now. It's safe to say all the students are still settling in and the staff are starting to get to know J!

J has already found issue with another child who lacks the self control needed not to mimic J or name call.  As a result J has melted down nearly daily and required support. 

As always it is difficult to get clear information from J and so I am not sure if he has been able to share this with the school. 

Last night J drew this to describe what was happening. It was a great piece of communication and I have lots of praise. I wrote in quote marks what J told me. I am going to share it with the school. 

However despite this one boy J is struggling with all seems good.
This is what his class thinks of him

That's now up on the wall.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

First Day

J has now done his first two days at Grove House School. He has returned home happy and relaxed on both days. 

It can be difficult to get information about the school day from J but I have elicited the information that "it's much better than my old school". 

I can well believe this as mainstream school no longer suited J. 

The other information he remembered was about what he had for lunch. Chicken Korma on Thursday "the chicken was chewy" and "fish fingers and chips and a dark chocolate crispy cake" on Friday.

His home/school diary notes that he has had a great start to the term and is happy. 

Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

School Visit

Yesterday we visited Grove House School and rejoiced.
The school is tiny compared with the mainstream secondary school which J was attending. There are very few classrooms at Grove House although this will change with each year as they fill to capacity.

The deputy headteacher was lovely, I've met her previously when I visited the special school she used to teach at. She was fabulous then at looking through J's Statement and advising me. I am overjoyed to find her at Grove House.

Building work on the refurbishments are in their finishing stages and will be complete by Thursday when J begins.

There will be speech and language therapists within the classrooms and occupational therapists at other times depending upon the subject.  There will be two LSA's and a teacher too, the classes will be small ....around 10-15 children per class so lots of support can be given.

I am so relieved that J has the opportunity of attending this school and am keeping everything crossed for a successful launch.

I will also join the PTA and fundraise for them. They are going to be so supported by parents who have had to wait for this much needed school.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

We've done it!

Finally, after all the sheer worry about how J was being let down by the mainstream school system we have hope.

J has been offered a place at Grove House School in Brentwood from September 2015.

It is no exaggeration to say I cried when I got the email from the Trustee dealing with admissions. It is such an enormous relief to know that he will be in a school which supports his learning in a way he can access it.

I am angry too, angry that it's been such a fight to reach this stage when it really should not have been. I get the impression that had I not been proactive as a parent, had I not had the strength and confidence to fight the Local Authority then J would have been left to flounder in a mainstream school and getting continual negative  messages. It makes me wonder how many more children are out there, not succeeding in mainstream but just being left because their parents cannot "rock the boat" and demand a better service.

So J has a school place and I now have to find the money to buy a whole new uniform.....this will be a struggle as it was last year but I will do it. The new uniform has a bottle green blazer with the school logo on the pocket, white shirt, grey trousers and a black tie with a yellow and green stripe going through it. It will suit J very well and I can't wait for the first photo of him wearing it.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

So they turned us down....

On Friday I received the phone call I was dreading. J's case file had been discussed by the Panel for a special school  placement and they turned him down. They didn't feel he was right for one of the C.L.i.P (Community Learning in Partnership) schools. They DID however suggest  Grove House School a new specialist special Free school opening in September 2015. Interestingly back in March this is the same school they told me would not accept J. They said in March that he wouldn't meet the criteria ...apparently now he does!

I have given them permission to send J's file over to Grove House school for consideration. Not wanting to leave anything to chance I emailed the school to say that J's file was coming to them and had the positive response of an email back the next day to say they had received J's info and would discuss it at an admission's meeting next week. I will know by the end of the week if J has a place there or not.

If he does then great, the write up looks amazing and here are only 10 pupils per year group. Teaching will be done with speech and language therapists on hand to support pupils who need visual aids and receptive language support (like J). An occupational therapist will be employed full time to support with sensory needs too and there will be a sensory room. If accepted then J could stay until he is 19.

If J is not accepted then we will go to tribunal for a place at the special school.

I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed.

The other positive thing I take from this is that the LA have recognized mainstream education is not right for J and that he needs a different kind of teaching.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Executive disfunction

One of the difficulties and impairments J has is with executive function. Put simply this means his game controller (or brain controller) is pressing many buttons at the same time and his brain (the console) is struggling to interpret this.

The result of all this extra activity is that J misses instructions and mislays objects at times. Sometimes from morning to evening, often from room to room or in school from lesson to lesson.

The school have detected this and made several plans which they have failed to keep to. One big issue has been with writing down homework in school, J's writing is literally unreadable and being asked to write down his homework under pressure doesn't work. Deciphering this homework is impossible and J cannot usually remember what he needs to do, then the school sanction him for not doing it.

Back in March J mislaid his PE kit for the second time since September, as money was tight I couldn't afford to replace everything at once and so I cobbled together a top and shorts but had no trainers which could be used. I replaced his trainers the following week when I could afford to do so.

The replacement of the trainers coincided with my receiving a letter from the school saying that J was issued with an after school detention for not having a complete PE kit during the previous week.

As we had recently had the Annual Review of James Statement where his executive function issues had been highlighted I asked if we could try using the plan instead of sanctioning J.

The SENCO did not agree and said that J should do the detention as issued. I pointed out that the reason he had lost his kit was down to his executive function impairments which the school had identified. She did not agree and reluctantly I allowed the detention to go ahead, in doing so I let J down.

J went to the detention which I envisaged taking place in a classroom, I pointed out to the school that sitting for an hour would be difficult for J but that if the PE teacher needed a cupboard tidying they could do this with him to make it easier. They did not do this.....instead something different happened.

So what happened during detention?

Firstly a teacher had to leave early which happens and is not anyones fault. This meant only two teachers left to supervise both the detention and the after school rugby club. So the teacher supervising detention lead the pupils in detention out to the rugby field where they stood for an hour on the sidelines watching the rugby.
 No problem one might think, well yes there WAS a problem...a big problem.

Firstly they had left J in an unsupervised and unstructured situation, something they already know he finds difficult. Secondly one of the other pupils in detention was a boy who was known for teasing J.
Thirdly it was cold and J had forgotten his coat, it began to rain as well which was too much for J.

So J began to cry, his autism makes him emotional when he feels overwhelmed and he was upset. The "boy who teases J" called him a "cry baby" and J got more upset, J then lay on the ground and raged. The "boy who teases J" laughed at J and an argument commenced with both boys calling each other names and J getting more and more upset. Where were the teachers during this incident? They were on the field teaching rugby and did not witness what occurred.
J was angry and emotional, he chased the other boy and threatened to "strangle" him but says the other boy was too fast. The boy and others continued to laugh and jeer at J who was already upset but all settled when the teacher came back to them.

So J was once again left, left in a situation he found hard to deal with, a situation the school already knew he struggled with.

J left detention an hour later in full meltdown, he screamed, he raged, he cried and he threw his bag to the ground. It was nearly 30 mins before he was calm enough to get in the car so that I could drive safely.

 I was angry, he should not have done the detention in the first place as it was given for a circumstance outside of J's control (my inability to afford to replace his trainers immediately) and because J's executive function impairments really do mean that he has a tendency to lose things.

A far better approach would have been to say "we now have a plan to ensure he keeps track of items" and then to monitor this.

Since this detention the school have agreed to leave J's PE kit in the PE department so it cannot get lost. That was three months ago and to date it isn't happening, nobody remembers to ask for J's PE kit after each lesson and he brings it home. It's a matter of time before he loses it once more but this time I am ready and we will NOT be doing any detention.

I should add here that my issue is not with J's school as such but with a system which fails to recognize differences effectively enough. The teachers are fabulous and really nice committed people but the system for children like J at secondary level is pants. There is partial differentiation but what they practice is integration, this is NOT inclusion and is why I am now asking the Local Authority to place J in a special school which can meet his needs. From all I have read I am firmly expecting them to refuse.....and we will then be gong to tribunal because I am not leaving J's well-being to chance.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Peaks, troughs and doubts.

It's been  roller coaster of a few weeks here which saw a final straw being added to my difficulties.This led to a trip away to think, decisions were made and unmade, tears were shed and frustrations expressed. I am calmer now but still with doubts and worries.

One of the problems when raising a child like J is trying to make the best decisions at the right time, as a parent I know I won't always get it right and my fear is that I will cause J long term issues because of decisions I make or don't make at this point.

Currently education is giving me headaches and nightmares despite the best efforts of individuals within J's school. I recently attended the parent/teacher evening where I met most of J's teachers and it was very reassuring. Everybody made nice comments about J, he was described as polite, enthusiastic, friendly and a lovely member of each class. Academically he has progressed a little since Easter but all in all he has made no progress at all this year.  In some cases he is now a whole two levels lower than when he left Y6. My problems with this is that J is not unintelligent, he is bright, he knows what he wants to say and has lots to contribute.  All his teachers said the same but commented about his poor handwriting, about his struggle to concentrate, also his fast paced brain thinking ahead and asking about stuff the teacher has not yet covered. Yet he remains in all the bottom sets and his assessed levels put him in the bottom 15% of achievement. Something somewhere is wrong and I suspect that is mainstream education with its fast paced approach and one size fits all ethos.

A local education advocacy service is now offering me support and their opinion is that J is in the wrong setting, the problem with this though is that the ideal setting does not exist, at least not in the state sector. I have requested a change to a happy medium,a special school which will meet J's needs more than adequately but at a slower pace than mainstream school. In making this request I am going to war with the local authority but I am beyond accepting the cheapest most convenient option for them.

So all the paper work went in on Tuesday along with a diary of incidents to show what J has experienced this year. A covering letter tells the Local Authority that I have no faith in the mainstream system. It also says that I have little faith in the Local Authority either as I suspect they are prepared to accept the lowest possible achievements and outcomes for J in the name of saving money.

I have news for them,  they are not balancing their budget with MY child as a casualty...not now and not ever.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Left hand/Right hand confusion part 2

So following a productive meet up between the SENCO plus myself and M on Monday, a few plans were made.

The SENCO agreed that J should not be writing down his homework and said she would email all teachers to remind then of this.

Today....J has come out of school telling me he has a lunchtime detention tomorrow for not doing his IT homework. Oh really, what IT homework would that be then? Something they evidently have not written down.

Secondly on checking J's homework book I found he had yet again been left to write in his French homework.  I have now asked three times for an adult to record the homework
 J has hypermobility in his joints, this means that writing is difficult for him. Asking him to write down homework in the rush that is the end of each lesson means barely legible scrawl.  Add to this his
impaired executive function issues and you have a problem. Not only can I not read J's writing. ..nor can J!

Got home, phoned the school and left a terse message for the SENCO and the IT teacher pointing out that J's Statement was not bring adhered to and that I wanted a call back from ons or both of them before midday tomorrow . In fact scratch that as tomorrow morning I am going in there. ....again.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Oh dear, the left hand and the right hand are not talking!

Today I went into J's school to discuss the letter I recieved at the beginning of half term.

I spoke with the SENCO, the conversation regarding the letter went like this.....

Me: "Were you aware this letter was being sent out"?

SENCO: "No I wasn't".


So the school has my child with a Statement of SEN, the teachers are experiencing problems with J and are expressing concern about effort and level of progress.  Wouldn't you think the obvious thing to do would be to the SENCO about the concerns?

Instead they sent out a blanket letter with no real plan beyond signing a report card each day which reports on how he has been in class with regards to his work. I have no issue with this per se as J has just had an increase in medication. Monitoring how he is responding is a good thing and will allow me to see how effective the increased dose is.  I am not happy for it to be used as a punitive sanction though, especially when there has been no discussion with the SEN department.

I then had the joy of a discussion with J's caseworker at the LEA, I wanted to know if his case had been to Panel yet for possibke admission to a local special school which offers a mainstream curriculum.  The caseworker's response was "actually no. I didn't think we were going ahead with that'."
"Ummm.....yes we are, in fact J's Dad is especially keen for this to be looked I explained to you at the Annual Review."

I despair, I really do.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Handwriting hell

J's handwriting is, it's safe to say, a nightmare. There are several reasons for this but the bulk of the issue appears to be his hypermobile joints which mean he finds handwriting difficult and gets aching hands and fingers when trying to write for any long period of time. 
At junior school handwriting was less of an issue because although J can rush he could be told to repeat work and slow down.  At secondary school the pace is much quicker and he is keeping up at all. At the end of September I asked the SENCO if I should buy some handwriting practice books to try and help J increase the speed and accuracy of his writing. I was told there was no need because they woukd do a handwriting assessment and they would look at alternative methods of recording work for J. At the beginning of March this had not happened and I was told again that they would do a handwriting assessment. Today we are almost at the beginning of June, J's academic progress is going backwards and his handwriting is virtually unreadable. I have asked him if anyone has assessed his handwriting or sat down with him to check how fast he can write things down. The answer was a predictable "no". 

So a whole academic year has gone by, much has been promised but little has been delivered apart from a once a week session with his lovely key worker who is good with him. Things that should have happened have not. 

So tomorrow I will be in the school and waiting to speak to someone or arrange a meeting. The Local Education Authority can expect a call too. I want J out of this school and placed in an educational establishment which can meet his needs properly and which won't make plans and promises they cannot keep.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Tears and Frustrations

J has now been in his secondary school since September, to say it has been rocky is an understatement. The school carefully chosen for its small size and good reputation for special needs is proving to be something of a let down. To be fair this is not the fault necessarily of the school but of the whole "one size fits all" approach of mainstream schools. To be frank, most mainstream schools will struggle if they have a large cohort of students with special needs, the staff don't have the experience, teachers are overworked and underpaid for the job they are expected to do, Statements and support plans will be skimmed over rather than read properly and the funding has decreased in a major way. Schools now have to find far more of the funding for their students with additional needs than they used to.

J is struggling, the SENCO has noted that he is more subdued than before (good observation skills there, as J can be pretty "full on"). In addition his results academically are going backwards despite the Statement and despite a meeting at the beginning of March which was goug to address the change in J's needs.

Now we have a letter, like all "not good news" letters from schools this arrived on Saturday morning right at the beginning of half term.  It says that they are not happy with J's level of work or his effort in class.  So okay.....I need to address this with J and with the school as the letter is meaningless without some detail.

Is J being lazy and difficukt in class? Yes that is possible as J can be very lazy if a subject doesn't interest him or he finds it difficult. I have ways and means of tackling this.

Is J not showing sufficient concentration? If this is the case I have recently had an appointment with his paediatrician who feels that based upon his weight and height he needs a higher dose of Mediknet so it's been increased. If this IS the issue then we should quickly see a change in the situation.

Is it down to homework not always being completed? This is possible too as J hates homework and doesn't see the point of "schools stuff" at home. Homework is a regular nightmare here not made any easier by the fact that it is not always written down for J as it should be or even worse....J is left to write it down at the end of a lesson. Given his dyspraxia and hypermobile joints this is a disaster as even if he DOES record it in the right place (rarely), the fate he is rushing means it cannot be read by me and more importantly by J! The annoying point here is that I have asked the school several times to ensure an adult writes down J's homework for him so I have a fighting chance of u dear standing what is being asked of him.

Whatever the reasons are I need yet another meeting with the school to try and address what is happening. I have noted that J is frequently mentioning run ins with other pupils once again...and on Friday when I collected him he mentioned difficulties that day. Apparently he stormed from one classroom after being teased by another pupil, in another lesson a teaching assistant had to take him out and wait while he calmed down after a similar incident. Again, if these issues have contributed to the letter then I need to raise it with the school.

I think what is making me the most uneasy though is the fact that nowhere on the letter does it mention any liaison with the SEN department and my concern is that they know nothing about it. If this is the case then I have a decision to make as I cannot place my faith in a school where departments and staff do not communicate....especially when the subject is a child with special needs who is showing obvious signs of struggling.