The Education System

During the lockdowns of 2020/2021 I noted that if ever there was an opportunity to reform the UK education system it was now. The pause in normal life provided the opportunity for reflection and change. The one size fits all approach hasn’t worked for a long time, if it ever truly has.  A total overhaul of how our children are taught is desperately required. Smaller class sizes could solve so many problems faced within education. The needs of all pupils could be met so much more easily. Teachers might feel like teachers instead of crowd control. The joy might come back into education. Of course that change didn’t come. Attention was focussed on other matters that were not child centred. Our children’s basic needs were not placed at the forefront of government and education policy making. This has been an issue that was growing prior to the pandemic with increasing pressure on schools to meet government targets to the detriment of the mental health of pupils but the issue has become much more obvious since the schools returned to normal. 

Many pupils have not been able to return to normality, their mental health damaged, unable to cope back in the classroom. Most schools are unable to cope with these added pressures, they are still in a sort of managed chaos as they try and rebuild normal school life on the back of funding cuts, staff shortages and pressure from the government, local authorities and the Children’s Commissioner to have 100% attendance. Most importantly most schools are not equipped to understand nor manage the needs of the children who have found themselves unable to return to school. They find themselves under a scrutiny that they cannot manage.

Many adopters have found that the sudden closures of schools had a profoundly and long lasting detrimental affect on our children. Stability and routine is important for all children but it’s even more so for children with early trauma. Life needs to be as predictable as possible to feel safe. People need to be predictable to feel safe. Both with the lockdowns and with the return to school life was not predictable and safe. Home became school for a long time. For many adopted children, especially those with neurodevelopmental challenges, school is tough. Like us, many adopters have a home is home and school is school policy to ensure that demands are lower at home so to be suddenly plunged into a situation where all those school demands came into the home was too much. That was certainly the case for us. It became quickly very apparent that home schooling in the way we were being expected to deliver it wasn’t going to work. 

As vulnerable children due to being adopted the children could have gone into school but school had changed. The school day wasn’t the same. The children from all the classes were taught together. The staff were different. People were anxious. My children did not want to go to school under those circumstances. When the time came to return to school Katie and Pip just couldn’t cope. There were too many people, it was too hectic, life was too uncertain. Anxiety soared. They retreated into themselves. They just wanted to be close to me. This was, and still is, understandable. They have been through a lot on top of the pandemic. TCM and I separating. All the issues that led to that. A house move followed by TCM’s death. It’s a lot.

I have spent a ridiculous amount of my time and energy since both children entered the education system, fighting for their needs to be met. A large element of their fear in returning to education is due to the fact that the system has never met their needs. They both started out in the same infants and junior schools. The same frustrations have emerged for both children. Their needs were not understood. The same message that they were ok, even when both were failing tests and unable to meet targets. My requests for Education Health Care Plans ignored. It begs the question that if those needs were met and the EHC plans easier to access might the current situation have been different?

Currently both children are out of school. Katie’s new SEN school have been supportive. We are hoping that they will start engaging with her at home soon. She has nothing in place for her currently however. This is on the back of two years of little or no education.  The situation with Pip’s school has been more complex and a potentially concerning situation seems to be developing. After a year and a half of unsuccessfully trying to build up Pip’s time in school he was finally awarded his EHCP. I think there’s a holy grail feeling about EHCP’s because they are so hard to get and there is such hope that once this magical plan is approved life will change exponentially. The reality was it took an extra six months to appoint the one to one required in Pip’s plan. Another six months of inconsistencies from school which heightened Pip’s anxiety and culminated in the passing of TCM just as the LSA was appointed and able to finally start working in the school after all the DBS checks etc. In all reality the moment to integrate Pip back into this school had long passed. Anxiety was further increased when his old LSA misjudged a situation one day and restrained Pip. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back really. School admitted their fault but never apologised to Pip. The LSA in question was vanished out of his life. He was confused about why. We briefly attempted to go back to school after the summer holidays but it quickly broke down and I requested from our GP that Pip be signed off medically. 

Throughout all my time within education with the children I have always been honest about our situation, my thinking and my intentions. I’m a pretty open book. I believe that my children can be helped more effectively if I am open and honest and people work together.  Imagine the possibilities! My experience of school has often been lots of promises made that can’t be delivered and an awareness that they are constantly trying to protect themselves. This has become very apparent more recently as I currently watch them trying to tick all the boxes expected of them by the local authority and rewrite history to shift blame away from them and onto me. There have been many mistakes made. I am a very forgiving person and only want what is best for my children. I see the challenges within the education system and feel empathy for those working in the chaos. I don’t think any teacher gets up each day wanting to cause harm but the system is causing untold harm to so many children. When mistakes are made though ranks are closed and schools will do everything they can to shift blame to someone else. I’ve seen this done to other friends and I’m watching an attempt currently to do this to me. 

I have learned this week that when my child is on school roll I do not have overriding responsibility for their welfare during the school day, even if they are at home with me, in my care. I have learned that my employing a nanny (who is DBS checked and registered with Ofsted) to look after the children whilst I work now needs to be checked and approved by school. I have learned that I can no longer employ the teacher who has been coming to see Pip at home (paid for by myself) during school hours until they have been checked and approved by school. They are responsible for his education, not me. The experiment to see if Pip could engage with learning in his own home has had to be stopped until a) the GP says it’s ok for him to have learning at home and b) school have checked and approved the teacher I chose and decide to either allow her to continue working with him or whether they bring in someone different. Yet another loss of an adult in his life. Apparently this is all child centred and keeping Pip’s needs at the forefront. School knew weeks ago that I had engaged the teacher but they haven’t shared with me all the rules that have been imparted to me this week. I’ve had a nanny for a year and only now have they asked for information. They are visiting for welfare checks at home, in pairs. They phone me, in pairs. There is some significant backside covering going on. The rackets are in hand and the ball is being prepared to be served. I am awaiting a letter that school are sending me next week which will no doubt be the written evidence of what I suspect. What am I guilty of?

I am guilty of putting my children’s needs at the forefront of my life. Last week I handed in my notice at work because it has become very clear that I am needed full time at home. My nanny can no longer work the hours I need and I can’t employ another nanny at this point. That wouldn’t be fair on Katie and Pip.  I only work for 11 hours a week. I mostly go to work because it’s pretty much the only time I get to myself. I have a name at work. I can do a job and make a difference and that gives my mental health a boost. I love my job. I also love my children and they need me so I will trust that as I close this door I embrace the hope that another door will open.

I am guilty of advocating for my children’s needs. They need me to be their voice. I don’t have all the answers but I see their distress and know someone needs to protect them. I am guilty of standing up for their rights and taking on a system that doesn’t like to be taken on. I am guilty of taking matters higher if I feel a situation isn’t being handled correctly. 

Not exactly the worst crimes to be guilty of are they?

But I am also angry, and I don’t actually like carrying anger around with me. It’s not healthy for me. I’m angry that school are prepared to throw me under a bus to protect themselves from their own failings. I’m angry that Pip’s needs are not at the centre of their decisions. I’m angry that they will do that knowing the ridiculously awful year we are having and the generosity I have shown them in forgiving them for not meeting my child’s needs. I’m angry at the arrogance of the education system in thinking that they can do this to people. I’m angry that I now have to face this fight on my own. I have no backup from my husband anymore. I go to these meetings alone, whilst school are there in pairs, always in pairs.  Protecting each other. One with their foot stretched out in front of me and the other ready to give me a shove from behind into the path of that bus.

That is our education system.

Very child centred isn’t it?


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