This is my second blog to present what Channel 4’s, Dispatches ‘Skipping School’ Programme failed to investigate – the reasons thousands of children are being home schooled.
My second fight against ‘the system’ was very different to the first. I didn’t need a special school place but additional support within a mainstream school. Children can legally secure this support via an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which provides additional funds to a school who need to support a child with SEND (those with Special Educational Needs and Disability). This fight is one I hear many parents battling and, sadly, loosing. It’s one of the key reasons thousands of parents are being forced to home school their children – something Dispatches failed to mention.
In many cases these are bright children – academically capable of achieving but require additional support to succeed. Many will have a ASD, ADHD, Anxiety or Dyslexia diagnosis.
Some of you reading may think ‘yes I can see how school would be tough for these kids’. If you are a teacher, already overwhelmed by the amount you already do, you may well be thinking ‘don’t put them in my class, I haven’t got the time’. But many will likely see the label ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and will be making instant judgements about these kids. “There’s no such thing! It’s an excuse for naughty kids. It’s bad parenting! Discipline – that’s what’s needed!” It’s hardly surprising, given how ADHD has been unhelpfully reported. Those with ADHD aren’t any of these things. And, with a supportive school system, those with ADHD would flourish for having what they actually possess: additional abilities rather than a disability.
Unfortunately, our school system, as it stands today, is a ‘one size’ fits all system. It has experienced so many funding cuts that it is unable to support any child that is not ‘one size’. It shuns, shuts out and basically shits on these small superheroes. Here’s how…
All children want to learn. All children want to achieve. All children want to fit in. But our school system doesn’t enable equality of access to this. Instead those with additional needs are denied the support they need and are then criticised, blamed and punished for failing to fit education’s standard mould. That seems unfathomable to me, when we’re continuously told our country will only prosper if people break the mould, think outside the box and are creative and innovative.
Instead if you are one of these children with SEND what happens is this. For six hours a day, you are told you are a failure by every adult you come into contact with. You are repeatedly made to sit outside the classroom. You are then punished by given detentions and made to miss your breaks, lunch or stay for another hour after school – because you failed to complete enough work.
Each day you are forced to walk around with your ‘badge of honour’, otherwise known as a ‘Behaviour Report Card’, just in case there was someone who hadn’t noticed that you are the kid that doesn’t fit in.
And, of course, don’t forget the times when you are sent home because you hate the numbness of being medicated with Ritalin so choose not to take it but your teachers refuse you class entry because they’d much rather you numb than ‘naughty’.
Unsurprisingly, these children, eventually, refuse to go to school. These are also likely to be some of the thousands of children who end up with mental health problems and some will even go onto make up those suicide statics. Yes, there really are thousands of children out there who would rather kill themselves than go to school. Coincidentally, the Dispatches the programme, failed to report on this too.
According to ‘the system’ these children with SEND have the academic ability to pass their GCSE’s and, therefore, do not need support.
According to ‘the system’ children who present in this way are not ‘disabled enough’ to warrant extra support.
According to ‘the system’ without additional funding the school can not support them… so they don’t.
Many parents who request additional support are told by their school that their child won’t attract the additional funding because they’re too able, that the criteria is too difficult, that they’d be wasting the school’s time. But how can they possibly know that if they haven’t applied for an assessment? Even though our law states ‘any child who MAY have a special educational need MUST be assessed’ schools refuse to apply!
Parents are stuck. They are left with a child that isn’t at school, has mental health issues and could even be suicidal. They are also left with the terrifying thought that they will be taken to court for their child not attending school. (Yes they can and do do this alot!)
For parents dealing with an uncooperative school, fighting the system, with the added threat of being taken to court, is simply a step too far during a time when their world, and more importantly, their child’s world, is literally falling apart. It is heart–breaking but it is either fight the system OR home school. That’s the choice. Fighting the system is tough. Trust me. I’ve done it and thankfully won but you need to practically become a lawyer in disguise – and it’s not just knowledge you need but mental resilience. Taking on the education ‘system’ is like going in the ring for 10 rounds with Mike Tyson – only it takes longer and hurts more.
Not every child can achieve 10 GCSE’s at level 5 or above – it doesn’t make them a failure. Not every child learns in the same way, yet our schools expect them to. Our education system is setting many children up to fail, not just academically but mentally and it’s parents that are having to pick up the pieces. That’s the reality about why so many are home schooled.
I think my heart sank most during Dispatches when the Children’s Commissioner – the person highest in the land responsible for advocating for children’s rights – said: “No matter how bad it is for a child in school, removing them is not the answer.“
And there, I believe lies the real reason our country has thousands of children being home educated. The very ambassador with the top post for protecting our children, all our children, is simply blind or ignorant to what’s going in our schools. No parent of a child with SEND that I have ever met wanted to take their child out of school to home educate – but for the sanity of their child they simply have no other choice.
If you are a parent in this position, I urge you NOT to listen to that advice from the Children’s Commissioner. She’s demonstrated one thing for sure… her ignorance of what families face. Nobody knows your child better than you. Nobody is going to fight harder for your child than you. And no ‘standard’ school or ‘one size fits all’ education system is more important than your child’s uniqueness, happiness and wellbeing.