Monday 9 January 2023

Not Fine In School. Week 9

How many children do we think fall into the 'Not Fine in School' category? Just one in every school? Or a handful? I'm guessing there are very few, if any, schools who could say that all their children are happily engaged and attending full time. There are over 32,000 schools in the UK. There are over 35,000 members in the Not Fine in School Facebook group. Many members of this group probably have more than one child struggling with school. Then there are all the families who don't even use Facebook. There must be hundreds of thousands of children for whom the school system is not working. I wonder how many conversations in the Department for Education centre around these children? Are policies such as compulsory maths likely to improve the situation?

A black background with a multicoloured heart logo in the middle, with the words not fine in school, experiences of a broken system

My passion for talking about this subject has of course stemmed from having a daughter who has spent several years as part of that 'Not Fine In School' cohort. I want to speak up about this issue to help highlight the cracks in a system that will never get better with the aid of sticking plasters. 

I think it is important to recognise that it is the system at fault and mostly not those who work in it. I have come across so many great education professionals who really do want the best for each child. Some of them are drowning in the system also, not able to provide the help they would like to. Some might be able to offer more help if they understood the system or the child's needs better themselves - the fact that Special Educational Needs is still only a tiny part of the teacher training course needs to be reviewed urgently.

The experiences of this week's family will have been shared by many other families around the country. Most parents instinctively know when their child needs more support and attention than the 'average' child. Sadly, resources are stretched and children are often left in settings which are not suitable for their needs, or parents feel they have no option left but to try home education (which can be amazing for many children, but not an option for others).


As I sit here feeling angry, emotional and overwhelmed, I think back to what we, as a family, have been through over the past 3 years. Dealing with systems that are broken and cause more harm than good for children, parents and carers.

My son is nearly 10 years old and is a shadow of the boy he used to be. It breaks my heart just thinking about it. 

He started in a small village school at 4 years old. His older sister also attended and loved it. We started noticing he was having difficulties with other children that same year and was falling out with them on a daily basis. I was called in a few times to speak to his teacher about incidents that had happened but it was just out down to “bad choices” and, because he is so bright, they just shrugged it off and said he would grow out of it. 

He carried on like this for a couple of years until he started in year 2 and the cracks started to show even more. I would struggle to get him out the car to go into class. He would jump away from the door as I opened it and sometimes climb into the boot and hide. The head teacher would sometimes come over and talk to him to convince him to come into school. Whenever this happened, he would instantly put on his mask and go with her but plead with me with his eyes. I spoke to his teacher about it but he just shrugged and said “he’s fine in school”. 

My eldest daughter, who was about 14 at the time, was going through a really tough time with her mental health (and was later diagnosed as Autistic with a PDA profile and ADHD). My son’s school put his behaviour down to what she was going through. Then the pandemic hit! 

This was a turning point for us. Having him at home 24/7, and him being able to drop his mask, meant daily violent meltdowns which involved hitting, kicking, punching and swearing at us. We were at crisis point with no help from anyone. We had to put safety plans in place for our daughters as he was often violent towards them. My husband is a key worker so I was home alone trying to deal with this boy I didn’t recognise. The police were called out to us a couple of times because I couldn’t manage him on my own and was scared of what he would do to us or himself. 

At this point we were referred to MASH (multi agency safeguarding hub) who came to the house and talked to me about what was happening. They put us in touch with the Early Help Team and we were allocated a support worker who spent her sessions with me running through a parenting course. No mention was made of what might be going on with my son. I needed to set boundaries and be calm but firm. 

At this time, my son was being sent work virtually from school but it was causing a lot of meltdowns when trying to get him to complete any of it. I would message his teacher to explain what was going on and they said not to worry about it and blamed his behaviour on the lockdown. Over the whole year of being off school, my son and I had one phone call with his teacher. I was very honest with the school and what was going on at home. I think at that point, I knew there was something more going on and I wasn’t going to be made to feel like it was something I had done wrong. The school offered to take my middle daughter into the vulnerable child class which was a relief as I didn’t have to worry about her getting hurt but no other help was offered. 

When things started to get back to “normal” and the children started returning to school, we were still in crisis. We had violent battles every morning trying to get my son in and he started missing days. His sleep was also impacted and he often didn’t get to sleep until 11pm due to worrying about the next day and then the school still expected him to come in. 

I had several meetings with the headteacher who was patronising and told me “how hard it must be”. There was no offer of referring him for an assessment or arranging for an Ed Psych to visit. She refused to put him on the SEN register. She suggested that he could spend his break and lunchtimes in her office or with his teacher if he was struggling socially and he could have a time out card (which he never used because he didn’t want to stand out from the other children). She, again, suggested that this was down to what his sister was going through and that he was “fine in school”. 

We decided to take matters into our hands and we’re recommended a local child psychologist. We enquired into going down the CAMHS route but the wait time was 2 1/2 - 3 years. He helped immensely and saw what we saw straight away. He referred us to a private clinic who diagnosed Autism and ADHD. He had been on the neuro pathway with CAMHS for a year at this point but we couldn’t wait any longer. The violence had become unmanageable and we could see his mental health was starting to suffer. 

The clinic saw us in a couple of months and was diagnosed as Autistic with ADHD. I took this report to the school and, although they gave me the feeling that I was making it up, they finally decided to put him on the SEN Register. I thought this would help him and that the school would now support his needs but all they offered was for him to come in earlier so he wasn’t with all his classmates. I sent a parental request for an EHCP needs assessment but this was declined as the school had reported that he was “fine in school” and this was a problem at home. 

My son and I had several meetings with his teacher. I spoke to her about his worries which she suggested he write down and we can talk through. By this point, he was refusing to do any written work so we compromised and he told me his worry and I wrote it down to show his teacher. This was the moment I realised that the school just didn’t get it. They told him his worries weren’t true and had him in floods of tears. At a later date, his teacher also accused me of making up those worries because I had written them.

I could write so many things about how my son and I were treated, the straw that broke the camels back was when the attendance officer said I was “an overprotective mother” and she was sorry he was violent but we must get him into school, but because of this lack of understanding, we made the decision to home educate.

Since we made this decision back in May, my son has had less violent meltdowns. Things aren’t perfect and he is still refusing to do anything that he thinks relates to school. We tried a tutor for a few weeks but the violence started escalating again once she left. He is in a period of “unschooling” and so am I but the trauma we all went through during those years should not have happened and I understand that he needs time.

Things have been quite isolating since he left and I only hear from one of the parents from the school, who is going through similar with her own children. My son has been struggling to leave the house since he was forced to attend school but we are slowly getting there and I’m not putting too much pressure on him. 

I wanted to write our story to let other parents, who are going through similar, know that you are not alone. The system is broken and needs fixing.


Thank you for reading. There are many more examples of families being failed by the system. Not all exactly the same as this but all sharing the common theme of school not working. Most of those families caught up in the system currently will not have the time or energy to be able to write about their experiences, so these experiences I'm sharing here will be only a very small representation of what is happening across the country.

If you feel able to write about your family's 'not fine in school' experiences please email me at I understand it can be difficult for families to talk openly about this topic - for some there will be a need to stay anonymous and that is fine. This issue of the outdated, failing education system in our country is immense and should not be ignored any longer.

For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website ( Square Peg is an organisation making great strides in terms of raising awareness across different media formats, and also looking into legal challenges around attendance policies. There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the Not Fine In School Facebook group who have been, or are going, through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared there which could make a real difference to other families. If the system is not fit for purpose we need to shout that out loud. Please help, by sharing your story or sharing this post to get the message out there. 

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