I’m really happy about the fact that Sam is in a Special School. I am so impressed with it as a school. It’s not just the fact that we, as parents, feel as if we are listened to and that our suggestions are taken on board, and our opinions are actively sought. It’s not just that we have entered a world of support through information shared with us about holiday clubs, parent discussion groups, and opportunities to learn more about the various learning difficulties the children share at the school.
It’s not simply that my son has an enthusiastic teacher who has thought carefully about the education he actually needs, as opposed to the one the government feels he ought to have. And it’s not wholly about the opportunities for school plays, clubs, sports or residentials that he has at this school that he just wouldn’t get in a larger, mainstream institution.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes it so great; maybe I ought to focus on the boy who is so happy to be there that three days after Christmas he was up, washed and dressed in his school uniform, keen to get up-and-at-‘em, so keen, in fact, that he refused to get re-dressed into his home clothes until shortly after lunch. What makes him happy (generally) makes me happy.
But I wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t room for improvement. It’s not that I’m hard to please (particularly); I’d just still like my family experience to get a little closer to that of ‘ordinary’ families. I know, I know, every family is different, every family faces challenges, we are all in it together, yada, yada, yada; but there are unique challenges faced by families like mine, and we do need to talk about them.
Now, I don’t feel in any way that Sam has been hidden away, written off or excluded from society by our decision to send him to a special school. I worked hard to put him into our community. In the early days, as well as therapeutic playgroups, we went to the local mother and toddler group. He has been a Sunday School (almost) regular for most of his life. He was a member of the local football-with-Dan club for some years. But it’s not only these things. There is something particularly special about our little town. Back in the mists of the Seventies, there was once a far-sighted school planner who OK’d a primary, secondary and a special school on one small campus. When all the children from his mainstream primary class are going up the road to school, Sam is going too.
It’s not far from home, this most special of special schools. It’s right in the heart of the community: well loved, well thought of by all. When the LA tried to close it, the town was up in arms. The MP got involved and the school was saved. Not only that, but it got a multi-million pound rebuild and refit too. And here’s the thing that, in typical me-like fashion, gets my goat. Getting Sam To School is a total and utter pain in the arse.
Because, right when most parents are heaving a sigh of relief that they no longer have to escort their beloved progeny backwards and forwards to school, avoiding the dog mess and walking along as many walls as possible, I can’t. Instead, I have the unenviable task of being at two schools at the same time. It has been, for me, a cause of undeniable stress and heartache. I have had to beg, plead, and pay for help. I have had to change my working hours, which, while benefitting my children because they no longer have to go to the childminder, leave me stressed and exhausted by 8:30, and that’s even before I’ve set off for work.
You see, in my naivety and inexperience, I thought that it was a no-brainer that my eldest boy would qualify for help in getting to school. I, rather foolishly perhaps, left it a bit late to apply for help from the LA. Maybe I was putting off the realisation that the Boy was leaving primary school, that an era was at an end, so it was somewhat late in the day that I found out that children with SEN who live in my area only get help getting to school if they live beyond a certain distance from their school. We don’t.
I believe that it is important for kids to go to school in the community in which they live. To be educated and grow up with their friends and neighbours. To ride bikes, scoot, or walk to school. Even more so for kids like Sam. If we are to work towards a truly inclusive society, then they need to be in it, don’t they? How can he be part of a community if he isn’t in it? But here we have it. What is good for Sam, what is good for the environment, what is good for the wider community, what is good for those lovely kids who accepted him into their hearts and, despite being on the cusp of teenager-hood, are still happy for him to give them a hug in the street when they meet, is not necessarily good for me.
I can’t allow Sam to take himself to school. The journey, though not far, is far too full of potential dangers. There are many, many children in our town who do not know my Boy. Do I trust them all to treat him with kindness and respect? Frankly, no. The school is up by the motorway junction and the traffic is heavy. Do I trust Sam to cross the road safely? Hell, no. Do I know that Sam is in one of society’s most vulnerable groups and accept that there are adults out there who do not have his best interests at heart? Sadly, yes. And what about my younger children? A may be getting used to taking himself up and down the road on his own, he is in Y6 after all, but L? She is only 7, only in Y3. They need me too.
So I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. I really want someone to help me get my son to school. I love the young sixth formers who ‘baby-sit’ him up the road every morning. But one day soon they will leave, and I don’t want my younger son to have to step into the role. He shouldn’t have to see his big brother to the school gate, and bring him home again, even if I know that he is thinking along those lines himself. He has his own life, his own needs, and being a carer for his older brother when he is only little himself isn’t one of them.
Maybe I’m being unnecessarily gloomy. Maybe I’m seeing potential problems when there aren’t any. Maybe I need to take my own advice and let the future stay unknown, unwritten, unconcerned. Maybe that’s what I really want, after all.