Tuesday 12 September 2023

Not Fine In School. Week 14

Time for Week 14 of my 'Not Fine In School' series. For those who are wondering what this is about, I started this series to share real experiences of school and education, from those families who have found the whole system far from 'fine' or even 'fit for purpose'. 

There are too many children experiencing distress within our current education system. Some families are told that their children are 'fine' once they are in school, but the families experience behaviour and emotions both before and after school which would indicate that the 'fine' is simply the child's way of masking, of trying to fly under the radar. 

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

Then of course there are many other families whose children do not present as fine in school. Many children, in fact, who cannot make it to school at all. Lots of parents and carers will have experienced the build up of stress on a Sunday in advance of trying to encourage their children back to school on a Monday. Other parents and carers may end up being called back to school after only a short time because their child is not conforming or not coping.

The education system is not simply leaving children behind, but actually chewing them up, spitting them out and then attempting to forget about them. Some parents spend years battling with the system, trying to get what is right for their child, and others are battled by the system, drained of all energy and left wanting to turn their backs on it completely.

For some but not all, home educating is a solution, one alternative to school. The poem in this week's post is written by autistic 14-year old Naomi, daughter of Miriam (who blogs at Faithmummy). Miriam removed her daughter from school and found the 12 months that followed to be intensive, exhausting and heartbreaking as her daughter very slowly opened up to some of the traumatic events that happened while she attended school. As many children returned to school for this term, Naomi began thinking more of what school REALLY taught her. Her poem is brilliant, and powerful, and I think many will relate to it.


What school taught me

You can only go in and out a building
If you’re walking in a line
Lunch can only ever be eaten 
When a bell goes to say it is time

Social time is wasted time
You can only learn in a class
You can only need the bathroom
If you have a toilet pass

Adults are always right
Kid’s opinions do not matter
Work must be done in silence
You get punished if you chatter

You are not allowed to be different 
Like robots all the same
You must wear what someone else decides
Even if it causes you pain

You can only read at the level they tell you
No choosing a favourite again
Hot sunny days you were stuck in a classroom
But in winter left out in the rain

Star of the week was just random
Regardless of how much you tried
Disappointment was never allowed
You were just told to be brave if you cried 

Tests and grades all that mattered 
Always compared to another
Wet paper towels solved everything
No need to be phoning your mother

Everyone’s writing must be the same 
With numbers all touching the line
No matter how much you were struggling 
Teachers would say you were fine.

School taught me never to question
Never to just be me
Things are so much better now that I’m home
I’m happy, I’m learning, I’m free

By Naomi Gwynne age 14


Find more writing from Naomi and her mum over on their Facebook page, Faithmummy. Over the coming weeks there will be more examples of families being failed by the system. They won't all be the same as this one but they will all share common themes. It's important to remember that 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 just now, so these will be only a very small representation of what is going on out there in the arena of education.

If you feel up to sharing your 'not fine in school' experiences please email me at stephstwogirls@gmail.com. This issue of the outdated, failing system is huge and should not continue to be brushed under the carpet. I understand how difficult it can be for families to talk about this topic - for some there will be a need to stay anonymous, which is totally fine. 

For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website (notfineinschool.co.uk). There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the linked Facebook group who have been through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared 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.

For those who are keen to help make a difference, I also suggest getting on board with Square Peg. They are making great strides in terms of raising awareness across different media formats and also with legal challenges around attendance policies. A review of their book can be found at Square Pegs: Inclusivity, compassion and fitting in (Book Review).

For the other posts in this series please click the links below:

Week 1 of Not Fine In School

"My daughter said school felt like prison.  She felt six hours a day of constant concentration was too much – it literally frazzled her brain.  Since deregistering our daughter her daily headaches have disappeared.  She sleeps better as she isn’t worrying about the next day."

Week 2 of Not Fine In School

"We have been incredibly lucky with the primary school she was at. They supported her as best they could, accommodating her needs as far as possible and being flexible with her school attendance. Even so, she found the whole experience overwhelming and ultimately it impacted on her life in significantly negative ways.

Just 48 hours into Year 7 our home education journey began, not unexpectedly!

“Keep pushing her until she has a breakdown. We need to see it happen.” 

Those are the words our SEN caseworker said to me when I told her my daughter's secondary school placement was unsuitable."

Week 3 of Not Fine In School

"At the beginning of Year 6 he started to school refuse and had a high level of separation anxiety. Over the next three months we struggled.  I made him go to school, sat in school with him for hours, came back at set times to show him that I would come back, but nothing helped.  His behaviour was very volatile and the school were struggling to cope. When I woke him up in the morning his first words were “I'm not going”. He would refuse to get up, or get dressed, would be very tearful and plead with me not to take him. I dreaded every morning as he did."

Week 4 of Not Fine In School

"She was given detentions and was sanctioned because of her attendance.  I always complained and they stopped it but in every incident, more damage was done.  She went to 70% attendance.  I reapplied to CAMHS for crisis intervention as she was depressed and talking about not wanting to exist anymore.  In December 2020 we were given medical intervention and I pulled her out of school.  She is now in Year 9 and school have arranged for her to be on a part-time timetable."

Week 5 of Not Fine In School - Eliza Fricker, Missing The Mark

"As families we have explored everything to help our children to manage to go to school and yet the pressure and the anxiety of the school day are overwhelming for them.

This leads to enormous guilt on our part as we have failed to achieve one of the most basic parenting exercises- to get our children to school (we are also appalling at any textbook bedtimes too, in case you need to know).

So we live for many years as parents, as mothers, as women, feeling the guilt and judgement that we have failed. 

We lose friendships and family who struggle to understand, our relationships become consumed by this, our careers often end, as we cannot manage it all."

Week 6 of Not Fine In School

"I was on a knife-edge the entire time he was at primary school, waiting to get that call to come and calm him down (the perils of being a freelancer, working from home) or for the teacher to beckon me over at pick-up time to talk about the latest ‘incident’. 

The school told me outright that he wouldn’t get an EHCP and that I could apply on my own, but it probably wasn’t worth it. Undeterred, I sought the help of a professional who could help me navigate the difficult system." 

Week 7 of Not Fine In School

"As I said before, the SENCO at his current school is doing the best she can. But my son has been struggling in mainstream school since last September, to the point that he has already been temporarily excluded twice, and has only been in for a couple of hours a day since they went back in March. He has regressed against all his EHCP outcomes, and is spending what short time he is in school separated from the other children (too many aggressive meltdowns when with the class) - just him and 1 or 2 teachers in a room, doing their best to keep him happy and calm while he plays. Any attempt to bring in some sort of learning, even well-disguised, triggers his anxiety. So he’s getting no benefit, educational or social, from being there."

Week 8 of Not Fine In School

"I had been warning both the school and the local authority since the beginning of the year, about my daughters school anxiety, the sheer amount of effort, it was taking to get her to school was exhausting for both of us; and seeing her freeze at the school gate and beg not to go in was heart-wrenching for me, but I felt blamed by the school as if it was my fault, because she has a typical female presentation of autism, and an all too familiar story, where she masked in school and let it all out at home with Violent and Challenging Behaviour (VCB) in her safe space- the classic Jekyll and Hyde presentation.

When she was first awarded her EHCP a year ago, I wanted a specialist placement for her then, but her mainstream primary was named. I was told then by the Local Authority that she would have to “fail” at mainstream before they would even consider a special school placement for her."

Week 9 of Not Fine In School

"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”. "

Week 10 of Not Fine In School

"From the very first full day at school our daughter struggled. She vomited every lunchtime pretty much as soon as the bell went; we were never sure if it was the bell or the thought of the dinner hall that terrified her. Very quickly she was vomiting before school and getting extremely distressed about going, clinging to me in the playground and screaming. It was awful.

Then one day after I left her at school she escaped and tried to follow me. She got out of the school grounds and into the road. Luckily a childminder we knew was standing on the pavement chatting and she grabbed her and phoned me. I wish I had taken her home that day and never taken her back but I did what society expects us to do; I returned her to school."

Week 11 of Not Fine In School

"The problem here, is that school still followed the reward, consequence method so the inconsistencies weren’t helping him at all. He managed to scrape his way through the reception year without too many major issues, other than the odd school fight. I was the mum who’d get called over to chat to the teacher at the end of the day. I loathed this, as I could see my son squirming next to the teacher as they talked about him making ‘poor choices’. His response upon leaving school was often ‘flight’, he loved the freedom from being outside of the school gates, and I was the crazed mum weaving in and out of other parents chasing him down the road. I mostly succeeded in suppressing the inevitable eruption and he saved meltdowns for the safety of home."

Week 12 of Not Fine In School

"After a long fight to see the paediatrician, our son was diagnosed with Autism (PDA profile) at the age of six. School put in strategies based on this diagnosis but it still wasn’t enough. We applied for an EHCP and during that assessment the Educational Psychologist advised a specialist setting, so we began our search for a special education school. However, as our son is a bright boy, specialist schools told us they could not meet his needs as he was not behind academically. So we were stuck between a rock and a hard place - mainstream schools couldn’t meet his needs and special schools were saying they couldn’t meet his needs. It was such a hard time in our lives, feeling our son just didn’t belong anywhere academically. We were so shocked by the lack of educational provision available." 

Week 13 of Not Fine In School

"There was two teachers one that was caring and one that was well...not or at least to me didn't seem to care. The promises made were broken, they got funding for me yet I was not seeing any of that. The SEN room days went from 4, to 3, to 2, to 1... then it was all about integration and getting me to adapt. When that didn't work, I was placed in this open corridor space... alone with a book of my choosing, with a monitor person."

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