Parenting and the Education System

Something has been happening for a number of years now. A disquiet that is slowly building momentum. Adopters and parents of children with neurodiversity have been realising the education system is not only not meeting the needs of our children, it is actively damaging them. Parents of children who are neurotypical are also starting to express concerns. There has been a huge mental health crisis linked to education building since the lockdowns. Where once there was confusion and concern, now there is a frustration and anger. So many of our children are being let down by the demands created by the education syllabuses and agenda. Teachers are under pressure to deliver unmanageable targets. They are being let down too. Children are being squeezed by the pressure cooker approach. The UK government is trying to compete with countries that have very different parenting and societal expectations than we have and the children are the ones who are suffering, and not achieving.

When I look back on the experiences we have had within education since Katie started school 11 years ago I can see the incremental damage that led us to where we are today, totally disengaged from her education. Pip has never liked being in school, he found it too long away from me.  A recent cognitive assessment has highlighted that Pip has quite considerable neurodevelopmental challenges, most likely due to FASD (despite being told in his permanence report that he wasn't exposed to alcohol).  We now understand that the reason he didn't want to be away from me in school wasn't linked to separation anxiety due to being adopted, but rather that he wasn't coping academically and he wanted his safe person with him (me).  There was never any real flexibility with that. 

The school system is very blinkered and literal. Children must be in school for the set times, whether they like it or not and whether they are learning or not. They must learn a specific curriculum set by the government irrespective of whether they are subjects the child can manage or not (anyone having arguments with secondary schools over languages will know what I mean).  Computer says no.  Pip’s mental health was so bad in October 2022 that I removed him from school, signed off medically unfit by the GP. He was aged 10. Nearly eighteen months on, he is making great strides with his recovery. He is happier. He’s engaged in swimming lessons, climbing lessons, tennis and music. He loves his gaming mentor who is trained in working with children with neurodiversity. He no longer hides under a pile of blankets every time somebody comes to the house.  He likes his therapist and home tutor. He still has a huge block to reading and learning the curriculum but he is starting to see that he can overcome his anxiety.  The biggest step forward has been in him feeling ready to return to formal education and we have found an amazing SEMH school who have offered him a place.  We are currently awaiting an outcome regarding funding this from the local authority. Taking him for as assessment day at the school was amazing.  He couldn't even go through the doors of his old school in the end, yet he spent the day with me, having a tour, learning assessments and also SALT and OT assessments.  When we got in the car after the visit he said to me "what will I do if they don't offer me a place?".  I almost wept.  When I asked him what gave him the confidence to go off with the various therapist and engage in all the assessments without me he replied "I just felt safe there".  

Whilst we await the decision of the funding panel the local authority have named a wholly inappropriate secondary school on his EHCP.  The school have said they cannot meet need but the school was named irrespective because the outcome of the funding panel won't be for another month.  There is a national deadline for school places to be named so the inappropriate school is named so that I can appeal against it.  This means I have had to lodge the appeal and am now heading down the tribunal route, despite the fact that this could all be resolved within a month.  Unnecessary paperwork for both myself and the local authority.

I have been fighting for a change in Katie's named provision since her Annual Review in March 2022.  That fight has continued through her post 16 Annual Review in October, a change in the SEN Caseworker and now we are into the next Annual Review.  She has developed POTS on top of all her other neurodevelopmental challenges and acute anxiety and can barely leave the house.  The local authority are quibbling over her sensory integration occupational therapy (which I might add is the only intervention she currently has in her week, funded by the Adoption Support Fund, because she is unable to engage with the LSA from her specialist school due to educational trauma) and they have gone very quiet on our request to move her education into the hands of the organisation that deliver her OT provision who are also able to deliver a specialist wrap-around alternative provision based in the home.  I have recently placed a formal complaint with the local authority which unsurprisingly hasn't been responded to so I am now having to engage the services of a specialist to take a more legal route with the local authority.  I swear I've barely left my dining room table for the past three weeks just writing reports and letters whilst my daughter lies in bed unable to do very much at all.  Don't even get me started on trying to get the right medical provision for her.  You'd think she was the only person who needs medical services and assessments at home in the country.  The NHS just goes around in circles, each department saying it's someone else's responsibility.  

I have had huge success with CAMHS recently though after I put our local psychiatrist in touch with the FASD Clinic in Surrey for a Teams call with Professor Mukherjee.  Our psychiatrist who originally claimed he'd never had a patient with FASD before has had a swift education and is now much better informed.  I shouldn't really have to say how grateful I am that he was willing to be educated but many people reading this post will know that we are lucky because not all CAMHS services would do this. Both children are now being treated much more with FASD in mind rather than classical treatments for ASD and ADHD which often aren't suitable for children with FASD.  I like to feel that I have done something to help the children and young people in our area who have FASD maybe get a better and more suitable service for their needs.

As Katie and Pip's parent I have had to change and become different than I was when we first entered the world of the education system 11 years ago. My expectations have had to change. I have learned that when you challenge the education system it will try to retaliate. Rather like our children, it doesn’t like to be wrong. Blame will be laid at the door of the parent for their child’s inability to cope within school. You are making life too fun at home. You are not firm enough. It’s not that the curriculum only caters for individuals who can learn in a specific way and cope in a specific setting. No not at all. More and more parents are starting to question and refuse to be blamed. Instead we are looking at the education system and calling for change. 

Rather like the way the education system treats parents, it’s easy to do the same in response and blame teachers and the management team. But in many ways, they are in the same situation as we are. Central government sets targets and the curriculum. The curriculum is delivered at breakneck intensity. Despite valiant efforts of many teachers learning isn’t always enjoyable because there’s too much pressure to keep up with the pace. Teachers are under so much pressure that they cannot be the kind of teacher that I am sure most of them dreamed they could be when they started their training.  The education system is a dinosaur that refuses to either evolve or become extinct in its current form.  New governmental legislation regarding the provision of SEN will only compound these issues, as will increasing the fines for parents who take their children out of school for any length of time.  The government are using parents who take their children on holidays as the carrot and stick for this increase but anyone who skirts near the education system will know that the people most effected by these increases will be the parents of the children who, for a variety of reasons, just cannot cope in school any more.  No amount of fining me would make my children be able to go to school currently.

Our education system does not seem to equip children and young people to be work or life ready. Many of the skills they need to live independently are not taught. Maths does not include real life skills like budgeting. English does not prepare students to write important emails or even apply for jobs. Young people who are more practically minded are forced to forge the same academic path as their friends who are more capable of passing 11 GCSE’s. Those students might prefer to learn a trade and to explore and excel in their own talents. Instead they are often left broken and unmotivated to learn because they feel unsupported and their talents unseen. Class sizes are far too large to meet the needs of the pupils or the teachers. Education Health Care Plans are not delivered properly due to staff shortages and difficulty appointing LSA's. Schools are bringing in more and more rules around uniform and behaviour.  Children and young people with ADHD are being given detentions for being distracted.  Detentions are often given during the limited breaktimes given during the day, eating into time these pupils might need to re-regulate.  Imagine punishing a wheelchair user for not being able to walk into class?  How is this any different?  Schools are often not giving pupils time to take toilet breaks and are locking toilets during class time.  This often makes school too emotionally and mentally stressful for children, who then disengage.

Parents navigating these pressures with their children have had to change. It is no longer possible to passively sit by and trust that our children will be ok. Too many of us have now had to quit our jobs to take care of our children because they cannot manage in school. To quote a much used phrase they are not "fine in school". They are struggling, disengaging, experiencing mental health difficulties and voting with their feet.  We have had to become warrior parents, fighting for recognition of the needs of our children. Taking on a system that cannot offer what is needed. A system that blames the parent first and asks questions (if you're lucky) later.  A system that is struggling to recover from the damage of all the lockdowns.  Reform is urgently needed. In the meantime though we fight the futility, trying to create an outcome where our amazing children can feel able to shine their light in the world and make their own difference, rather than just being blamed for being different.


Popular Posts