Obviously this didn’t happen overnight, we had many years of H being incredibly unhappy at school and many years of her needs not being met but what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? What were the final nails in the coffin that school had become?
I am thinking about year’s 5, 6 and 7 which were, apart from reception the most traumatic for H and where the slide into not attending happened.
In year 5 H moved into what her school called “Winter Phase” there were three teachers, one of whom H was already frightened of. H had minimal contact with this staff member although she was unavoidable in some circumstances. My first alarm bell was finding out that H had hid in the toilets for an unknown period of time while the whole year group were getting told off for something she felt she wasn’t involved in and therefore didn’t not warrant a telling off for.
The hiding itself didn’t worry me, the fact that nobody missed her did.
A few weeks later H told me she “Could not go into year 6 and I approached the senco to express my concern. Not much was done and there certainly wasn’t a “robust transition” into H’s next class.
The following September H was placed in the class with the teacher she was scared of, there were 2 classes so only the school can know their reasoning for this.
Problems started almost immediately the first major issue was the scary teacher shouting inside the changing rooms at the swimming pool, H is known to have sensory issues, she was extremely upset and despite loving swimming she was unable to go back to the pool with this teacher. For the first time officially, the week before October half term 2013 H was unable to attend school due to anxiety. Previous incidents of being unable to attend had been attributed to genuine illness, which we now understand to have been anxiety/burnout related.
So what was it that tipped the balance?
Actually it was a foolish throw away comment that was said in frustration and not really meant but the impact of which had a devastating impact on an autistic child with complex communication issues who thinks in a very black and white way. The comment was:
“That’s it year 6, you are never going on another trip again”!
The upset that this caused H is difficult to describe but the following Monday I found her lying face down on our dining room floor crying. She said “I cannot go to school!”
We took the decision that we weren’t going to force her into school, she was 11 and way beyond picking up and carrying as we had done in the past.
We text the SENCO and emailed the Head Teacher, within a few minutes I received a text back from the SENCO which simply said “Get her in at any cost”. We were taken aback because it was clear to us that H really wasn’t coping by this point.
For some reason a meeting couldn’t be organised for that week, so H had an extra few days for half term and we spoke to the Head teacher during half term by email, while he was in holiday in Cornwall. This was a bizarre feeling for us and we were hopeful that it meant he was serious about sorting the issues out. Sadly it was not really the case.
On her return to school H was moved into the parallel class and placed on a part time time table. This was to remain in place for the whole of the rest of the year. We didn’t take H home in the afternoons, she remained in school but she was out of class and she received no teaching during this time.
We had many days of being unable to attend during the rest of the year, 33 in total according to the attendance sheet we received at the end of the year. Funnily enough this attendance sheet was not the same one that was entered as evidence for our first tribunal in April 2014 where all the absences were marked as authorised, the one we received at the end of the year all were marked as unauthorised.
We had tried to prepare H for secondary but due to a bizarre set of circumstances and a terrible LA she had to transition with a Note in Lieu of a Statement. This is basically a non-statutory plan and the new school proceeded to ignore it from the moment it was issued.
H was expected to start secondary full time after a year almost of a part time timetable and with very little support in place. A class TA was nominated as her key worker but this person was completely unsuitable for the job and she did very little to support H.
H crashed the week before Christmas, her transition had actually been relatively positive up to this point, although I was becoming increasing concerned that all of the provision made for her was reactive and I had to constantly contact the SENCO when things were wobbling.
And then came another grenade moment!
H’s English teacher left, H is a very able child but she learns in a way that works for her and doesn’t necessarily fit with the curriculum, however this teacher had taken to her and seemed to be making some progress with her.
H was devastated.
From then we had a list of failures that led to more and more days of being too anxious to attend including:
The new English teacher setting an impossible target of an increase in 2 national curriculum levels in a term.
Being poorly supervised on a school trip.
Being shouted at for attending a trumpet lesson.
Being given a detention for talking in class without a clear warning as per the behaviour policy.
Being told by an EP that meditation was the answer to her difficulties.
Not being able to access the toilet.
Not being able to access hot food.
Not being able to access support.
A continual denial of support needs.
Eventually on 2nd June 2015 H fell out of the school system.
I sent a text to school every day for the rest of that term and we had one meeting with staff where staff were still denying her support needs despite the LA finally deciding that she needed 15 hours of 1:1 per week.
No staff member phoned us, no work was sent, no EWO although I did invite the SENCO to send one round.
The EP visited once but did nothing and we were abandoned!
Left to make a momentous decision about what we were going to do about H’s education.
I have already written that blog and will share it again.
by Rachel Tenacious
A little bit about me, I am a late diagnosed autistic parent with three children aged between 30 and 16. H is my youngest child she was diagnosed with autism at age 9 and selective mutism at 15.
We removed H from the education system in 2015 after she had what we now know as an autistic burn-out.
The school system didn’t suit H at all but home ed has been amazing.
Since my diagnosis I have begun to share some of our experiences at support groups and am hoping to expand this out to schools, colleges and anywhere people want to hear me really.