Filed under: A few thoughts, Education and the new government, Special Needs Education | Tags: A levels, Asperger's Syndrome, course work, post 16
Peter has now completed his first term at sixth form on his A level course. For him, sixth form and A levels were the only choice really, he is still in a mainstream school, but has a place in the school’s Asperger’s Unit, which started the year he did at the school, and has now extended into the sixth form to continue to support those of its students who have progressed there.
He still has a similar package of support to that he had in the lower school, only TAs now perform the task of note takers. They are on hand to help with organisation and planning of work and to help Peter manage his private study time. In reality, much of the private study work lands with us at home in the form of homework. This is because I think that Peter is really enjoying the social side of being at a sixth form, in a way that he didn’t in the lower school. Out of necessity, the Aspergers Unit had its own place in the school, as children who have AS can cope poorly with the social aspects of being in a big school during break and lunch time. This is when friendships are forged and Peter missed out. He is really enjoying the fact that there is no separate social area for the young people with AS to go, (even if they need a refuge from the racket and noise) and he has had to learn to make friends. This was very difficult and stressful to begin with and to be honest, I really missed the AS unit on his behalf, but he has actually made more friends than he ever did in the lower school. I am very happy about that, and I know how lucky we are that he has been able to cope. I know some young people with AS struggle to make the transition.
In terms of work, he has kept up pretty well. He has kept up with the essay type of work, and the practical side of his courses pretty well. However, he is struggling with some aspects of the extended coursework in terms of planning and organisation, but is developing (with help) some strategies to cope with this, so I am optimistic that he will catch up. He is also enjoying the enrichment courses. These are things like rock climbing, football, business courses and Music. He came home very happy today as he is now involved in music group and has been singing and playing music all afternoon.
We are tremendously lucky that Peter has a place in a sixth form with the continued support from the AS unit. His AS level predictions are optimistic and if he manages to keep up with the work load and to adapt to the unexpected demands it is making on him (lots of extended course work), I am hopeful that he will get some reasonable A levels.
We can only take things one step at a time, but I think it is fair to say that we are cautiously optimistic for the future.
Filed under: A few thoughts, Education and the new government, Special Needs Education | Tags: battle fatigued, BBC Learning Parents blog, BBC Parents blog, bloggers, cuts to therapy services, education cuts, education transport, Green Paper, Hens, Michael Gove, parents, SEN, SENCO, Special Educational Needs, Teaching Assistant, writers
It has been a good few weeks since my last blog. I must confess to feeling somewhat battle fatigued due to the escapades of the new government and their effects on my children’s schooling and haven’t wanted to write as much as before. I have found it very stressful, watching the effects of the cuts and the changes to our education legislation take shape. My own children’s school recently became an academy, with only the sketchiest of consultation processes. The school’s defence to this when questioned was that they never arranged any meetings because they thought a consultation event would be poorly attended… we never stood a chance. The Local Authority has been trying to save money by messing with transport arrangements for statemented children, and have sent out some confusing letters for parents to worry about. Cuts to therapy services and educational psychology services are starting to have a bigger effect. SENCOs are walking around school looking increasingly stressed, and William is now finding himself ‘buddied’ up with other children to share teaching assistant support. We are watching this carefully but it is hard to object to this knowing that in doing so, another child may simply not get help at all. It is fair to say that some of the services our children rely on are simply not what they were.
In response to this I have found myself taking refuge in my garden more and more. My potatoes and raspberries have been very demanding as have my hens who still have not recovered from the effects the issuing of the Green Paper had on them. See here: http://guerrillamum.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/in-which-guerrilla-mums-hens-suffer-because-of-michael-gove/
I have not been entirely idle however. The people at the BBC Learning Parents blog have asked me to write a piece for them which can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/parents/ You can also see posts from other writers/bloggers/parents with similar interests in special educational needs and parenting.
I’m hoping that I can shake off this coalition inspired malaise and get back to blogging soon. Normal service will I trust, be resumed shortly
Filed under: A few thoughts | Tags: 21st century, bankers, big society, Coalition, coalition cuts, Daddy's millions, disability, education, elites, elitism, equality, Fairness, Forestry Commission, Francis Maude, Green Paper for SEN and Disability, Guerrilla Mum, inheritance, public school boys, Radio 4, selection, Special Educational Needs, The Cabinet, The Today Programme, two-tier education system
For those of you who simply wish to read about special educational needs, education or disability issues etc, you should perhaps stop reading now because this post is quite unashamedly political in nature. I was eating breakfast this morning when on Radio 4 I heard yet another government minister/apologist blaming the government’s savage cuts on their ‘inheritance’ from Labour.
It struck me like an epiphany. I’ve got very fed up with hearing this argument recycled, time and time again. Of course they are talking about inheritance because they come from a class in which inheritance (Daddy’s millions) is their birthright, their experience or their expectation. These are people with no understanding whatsoever of what it is like to live in 21st century Britain (don’t forget 19 out of 23 members of the Cabinet are millionaires).
Now, just because I understand now why they think and speak in the way they do, does not mean I feel any less angry or insulted by being patronised in this manner. We are not ‘all in it together’! The society may look big from the top where the Prime Minister and his cronies sit but for people with disabilities and those caring for them our society can be a very lonely place.
My children’s inheritance was genetic conditions, physical, developmental and sensory disability. They are not cushioned from the realities of life by ‘Daddy’s millions’, but they have the same rights to quality of life, family life, and a decent and appropriate education which this government seeks to deny them.
So the next time you hear a government representative or minister speak, listen to the words they use, the callous catchphrases and the spin they employ to try to dupe the public into acceptance of their savagery. Do not be fooled, this is not about saving money to rescue the economy, it is ideological, and it is about deconstructing our public and social structure so that big business can move in and enable those at the top to profit. Today the government is talking about selling off the Forestry Commission. The forests are part of OUR inheritance, for the NATION! Which sector of society do you imagine can afford to buy a forest? Would you rather go to the New Forest or the MacDonald’s New Forest for your holidays (assuming you can afford one this year!)?
How about a catchphrase of my own?
COALITION GOVERNMENT – PUTTING THE GRRR INTO GUERRILLAMUM SINCE MAY 2010!
(And where is the Green Paper for Special Educational Needs and Disability!?)
Filed under: A few thoughts | Tags: Academies legislation, demands of KS3 & 4 curriculum, Disability Living Allowance, Dyspraxia#, Free Schools' legislation, Green Paper on SEN and Disability, Guerrillamum, handwriting difficulties, laptop, learning to type, parent support group, Sara Teather, SEN critics, Special Educational Needs, typing tutor, verbal dyspraxia
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a parents’ support group for parents of children who had dyspraxia. This was held at our local hospital and was run by a paediatric occupational therapist and a paediatric physiotherapist. It was really interesting and I met a number of other parents who were like me trying their best to help their children.
One week we were offered a session that promised to give us an insight into the world of a dyspraxic child. Now, as a motivated parent who had done lots of research into this condition I thought I was pretty sympathetic to the challenges that my children went through every day. I knew that they had problems with handwriting, planning and organisation and in William’s case, speech. I knew that they were inclined to be a bit clumsy, and I was only too well aware of the social and emotional issues that they had. I expected that the session would be instructive, but would leave me with the certainty that I ‘got it’, that I understood my children’s world, as I so definitely felt I did. I was in for a shock.
The session was set up a bit like an assault course, with a number of ‘stations’. At each station there was an activity. Picking up dried peas whilst wearing boxing gloves. Yes, this was very difficult but hardly surprising. We were asked to walk along a balance beam whilst carrying a tray of objects – and yes, I did fall off and I did drop the tray. Then we were blindfolded and turned around, whilst people shouted things at us from different sides, then given the task of locating things – also a bit tricky, but I felt I was doing well! Then I arrived at the ‘heavy bucket’ station. I was given a blindfold and was led to the bucket. I was asked if I had any back problems, and told to pick up the bucket by bending my knees with a straight back as it was very heavy. I braced myself, lifted, and as I fell over the universe shifted. All that I thought I could count on to be the same as the last time I picked up a heavy load had gone. I had no point of reference for this strange task and I felt anxious and scared. There was NOTHING in the bucket. Yes, I had been tricked and cheated. I felt a bit of a buffoon, but as I picked myself up it struck me that my children must experience this all the time. They don’t have points of reference on which they can rely and for the first time I really understood why the world can be such a scary place for them.
They hadn’t finished with me yet! They smoothed my ruffled feathers and sent me on to the next station – I would have a chance to calm down, it was a little writing task. Off I went. I was given a mirror and a piece of paper with a star printed on it. It was a smaller star with a larger star around it forming a tram lines effect. The aim of the task was to hold the mirror up to the picture and to draw along the edge of the star, without going out of the lines to see if I could get all the way around it. The only rule was that I could not look directly at the paper, and someone held a piece of paper over it so I could not look down. I had to do the task whilst only being able to look at the star in the mirror.
Well, I don’t think I managed a straight line at all. My pen wandered like a demented spider and the more I tried to help myself, and to think through the process, to correct the direction of my pen, the more unsuccessful I became. I tried everything. Pushing the pen the opposite way to the way I thought I ought to push the pen. I tried shutting my eyes and just not looking in the mirror. I tried looking at the image in the mirror and just following the line, not with an end product in mind, but just to try to keep my pen within the lines. Nothing worked. In this reversed world I simply did not have the motor planning in my head for the task I had been given. I was lucky. I could take the mirror away, look directly at the image and finish the task with a few strokes of my pen. A dyspraxic child with handwriting difficulties does not have this option. For a few minutes I had an insight into their world that I never forgot.
When I carried out these tasks, I was doing it simply out of curiosity. I was in a supportive room full of grown ups who were all sharing this voyage of discovery. My children however, like many others, have to go through this experience every day in a challenging classroom environment, probably where very few people have any insight into what they are going through.
Dyspraxia is unlike many other disabilities. It is not so obvious, and there are many, many much more severely disabled children who also need resources in our classrooms. It is easy for the needs of dyspraxic children to not be prioritised highly in an inclusive classroom setting. However, I kept that star up on my kitchen door for years as a reminder not to either minimise my children’s dyspraxia myself or to let anyone else minimise the effects of their condition. This experience was also one of the factors that pushed us to ensure William had the right sort and amount of speech therapy for his verbal dyspraxia. We also decided to ensure both of our children had laptops specified in their statements at an early enough stage so that they could learn to use them and be ready for the more challenging school work they would need to do in KS3 & 4. William arrived at secondary school fully able to type on his laptop and at 14 Peter can also type well enough to support his GCSE and AS level work.
However it’s not all good. We still find teachers (who should know better!) writing things like ‘ Do on paper’ for homework or issuing worksheets with boxes far too small for Peter to be able to write in. Having watched Peter ‘draw’ every letter because he does not have the motor planning for writing, I often think how frustrating it must be to be
verbally eloquent but to go to school in a world where you are judged mostly on what you can write. So when a senior staff member at the school said that he could not take
his laptop into her lessons I was adamant that we would fight this. We did and we won. He can now type essays on his own.
How has this been achieved? Teaching assistants helped William and Peter to learn to type in school, with specialist typing programmes on laptops provided for them as part of their statements. It wasn’t easy and we had some battles en route but without those very dedicated TAs and the statement providing for laptops for them to work on at school and home, their continuing success would not have happened.
Without adjustments such as these Peter and William would not be able to access the curriculum at all. I hope that some of the critics who think that money spent on SEN is for frivolous extras read this and can now understand that this provision is critical and a necessity, absolutely fundamental to their success.
We are still waiting for the Green Paper on SEN and disability. The silence is ominous and frightening. I look at what the government is doing with Disability Living Allowance and it is clear that they have no respect for the quality of life of people with disabilities. The government were able to use emergency powers to force through the Academies legislation. They did the same thing regarding Free Schools’ legislation, which will benefit only a very small minority of most probably non disabled students. So what is going on with Special Educational Needs and Disability? Sara Teather we are waiting and watching to see what you do next.
Filed under: A few thoughts | Tags: concert, experts, Guerrilla Mum, inclusion, Music, SEN
Our son has been rehearsing for a concert and I have been helping to organise it. The organisation putting on the concert has always been very inclusive and those involved in working with the children are very nice people. However things came to a head last week, when one of the organisers criticised some of the children who had individual pieces to do for not being ‘of the required standard’, and sought to exclude some from playing the parts they had volunteered for. This person was not alone in their thoughts. Others within the organisation, however, leapt to the children’s defence, making clear that all children who volunteered would be included and were appreciated for their talents and all that they brought to the production.
However, the children who were ‘not of the required standard’ were not even children with SEN! The whole experience has left me with an overbearing sense of sadness that I am finding difficult to shift. Everyone else seems to have moved on, which is good, and as it should be and we are all now focussed again on getting the production on to the stage. It should be fun! The children are not aware of what happened, are all enjoying themselves and that is great.
I am still very disappointed with the attitudes of the people who criticised the children in such a negative manner. We may have won this battle but we still have a long way to go to win the war and change people’s exclusionary attitudes. I think you are probably used to hearing positive and upbeat messages from Guerrilla Mum but in truth this experience has left me weary. This is because I know my boys face attitudes like this every day, and probably will for the rest of their lives.
This is part of what worries me about free schools and using experts instead of qualified teachers to teach children. The people who were negative about the children in our production were undoubtedly experts in what they were teaching the children. However they were not trained teachers and, nice as they are, they failed the inclusion test completely. That is the lesson I would pass on to those planning free schools in which teachers do not have to be properly trained.
All of the children in the production are having a positive experience and having fun which is the main thing and what I will try to focus on in the next few days.