Three little girls to school are we…
A member of our support group wrote this piece about how school phobia can travel down the generations. And she also wanted to give other people some hope for the future.
My mother was a ‘tour de force’. 6ft tall, looked like Elizabeth Taylor and had a penchant for very large scary German Shephard dogs. At 16 my grandfather decided it wasn’t appropriate for my mother to go to university so she went to art school. A waste of a fine brain but he held the purse strings and she had been a school refuser, hiding under the hedge on exam day and swearing a lifelong hatred for schools. She married for the first time at 18 and when she quickly divorced she took herself off to Cambridge to study history. They treated her like an adult and she loved the libraries. She had 4 children and was incredibly encouraging to us all. My older brother is dyslexic, barely acknowledged in the 60/70s yet she got him permission to use a computer in his exams. He went on to be a ‘Johnny English’. Her mantra for us all was ‘the knowledge of the world is contained in books, read something every day and do your best, it is good enough’. She wasn’t always easy (today I would suggest she would be classed as bi polar) but I miss her every day. I channel her when I need extra strength.
Next came me. Fine in school until 13 when I had to leave my private girls school for the local comp. My granny had died and my uncle quickly jumped on the family money. My sister had chosen not to go to our alma mater but join the newly built school from 11, so all must be well?- it was a 1970s experiment, full of hippies, perverts and with a hatred of anyone posh. My head knew the loo bowl well and I was called every name under the sun for daring to speak nicely or know the answer to a maths question. I gave up pretty quickly. They hated me (including the teachers). I was an exceptional truant. Forging my mother’s signature on the sick notes and anyone else’s for 50p. I had one friend from our village so I threw myself into sport. No need to find a lunch partner or anyone to walk home with as I had my training. I left at 16 and went to the sixth form college. Then to Oxford (twice) and have had a very successful career in London. At our school reunion ‘the girls’ didn’t speak to me (no change there) but I enjoyed parking my huge car next to the front. My form tutor (he frequently made comments about make up girls being thick) asked me what I was doing. My reply ‘this make up girl became a CEO of a beauty company’. Would I go back in a few years’ time for our 40th reunion? Would I heck. I am done. But I would send them a box of matches!
Finally my lovely bright daughter. All was well until she was 12 when she was attacked in school and developed a mutism. She didn’t want to go and a 2 year battle commenced with threats and frequent ‘please collect your daughter’ calls. She would freeze in lessons and be unable to answer or indeed move. Her first school was an ’outstanding academy’. Her brother was Head Boy and they didn’t get what was ‘wrong’ with her. After her attendance reached 60% we were encouraged to find her a new school. Drawing on my happy days at my girls school I thought perhaps she would like to look at a few? Together we chose a small boarding school and they were delighted to have her. As she is very bright she won a scholarship. Sadly this came with immense pressure to perform and she ‘popped’ so to speak after her grandfather died. Her selective mutism became worse and other parents got to hear of it. The jealousy around her scholarship meant they felt her ‘behaviour’ was effecting other girls learning. She fell out with a particularly aggressive science teacher who didn’t get why she had a scholarship (it was for English, History and RE). This teacher became her head of year and very quickly called for her expulsion. Two weeks after her grandfather died she was asked to leave. She was unreachable. We looked at 22 schools. Due to the attack she wanted to wear trousers. Shockingly all the private schools refused. The inference was that she would be a rule breaker. When I explained the background they treated her as damaged goods. Finally after home educating her for 4 months she asked to go to the local school. This school is in the ‘requires improvement’ category. I was so exhausted I agreed. I knew the SENco was the best I had ever met but I didn’t expect the kindness of the vast majority of teachers. She goes every day and has had 100% attendance. Is it perfect? No but she has new friends, has met some old friends and smiles every day. She walks to school, wears her trousers and is planning her A levels and degree. She has SALT for her selective mutism, goes to learning support when she can’t cope and has a Saturday job. I can’t join the yummy mummies in their ‘school boasting’ but I know she will do well.
For three girls school was a struggle. When I think of us all, I know we wanted to learn, it was the environments that weren’t right for us.
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