Poor Sam. He didn’t really understand, in July 2012, that he was leaving one school, and joining another, never to return as a pupil to the environment he had been used to for the last seven years. When he said goodbye to his teachers, to his TA, it was me who had the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye. It was me who knew that it was the end of an era. He skipped off down the road towards home, happy that it was the holidays at last, unconcerned about the future and the changes it would bring.
I thought that we had done a good job of preparing him for the transition to secondary education. He had attended the new school for three days a week, TA in tow, all through the summer term. She made him a book all about it. He’d had a great time. But when September came, I was proved wrong. He wasn’t ready at all.
For a start, his behaviour crashed through the floor. Not at home, that is. Not for us the strop or the eye-roll, the slam of the door. No, at home he was an angel. It was a bit weird, to be completely honest. We didn’t have any problems getting him to school, he didn’t refuse to walk up the road, put his shoes on or anything like that, but the feedback we got from his teacher was not good.
I consoled myself with the thought that it was all part of the normal process of transition. All the other Year 7s I knew were wobbling. They were swimming in a much, much bigger pond than Sam, and it was taking its toll on everyone. But when he came with me to primary school to fetch something left behind by his younger brother, a penny dropped. He popped in to his old classroom to say hello to his old teacher. Then he went on the hunt for his TA. She wasn’t there. With him, had gone the job.
Another coin fell the time he helped me walk a group of children to a sport’s activity. He didn’t hold my hand. We went up to the front and attached himself to another past teacher. When we picked up the little sister, he threw himself into the arms of the lollipop lady. And when we went in to drop something off at the office one day when he was poorly and was made much of by the school secretary, a fortune fell from my eyes.
He missed them. Yes, he missed the children but it wasn’t the loss of them that made his heart ache so much, it was the adults. He missed the routines they created for him; the delivering towels and registers, the helping the caretaker shut the gate and the looking after the garden. He missed the attention they gave him, the one-on-one time that, as the eldest of three siblings, he rarely gets at home. Dare I say it, but he missed the way they made him feel special.
For at his new school, and one of the main reasons we chose it for him, he is just one of the boys. Nothing special at all. He rises or falls upon his own merits. There is no special treatment, no special dispensation, despite the fact that it is a special school.
Part of me ached for him. His world was upside down. He went from being the darling of the school, everybody’s pet, the one who was allowed to get away with goodness knows what, to being one of the lads. One of the lads, no less, who was expected to behave himself and get on with the business of learning. On his own. It was all a bit of a shock. But the larger part of me, despite the heartache, was glad. This was what school was supposed to be about.
Yes, I worried about how he would continue to be included, if we sent him to an exclusive school. But the thing is, how included would he really be in a big mainstream comp? Would he ever get a part in the school play? Would he be in a football team? He was never in any of those things at primary school. Was it likely to happen when he was an even smaller fish? Would he ever be able to make friends of his own, have a girlfriend (Heaven forbid!), get to know his teachers, without the diluting influence of an ever-present TA?
Yes, I worried about his social life. But to be honest, the knowledge that he would be in bottom set for everything made me more anxious about what that social life was likely to be. And our trip round the school before we made the choice was enlightening. The mainstream comp is a big place. He would need a minder to help him get between lessons. He would easily get lost, and he is small. I remember the squash in corridors, and the bash in the face from the bag of a passing 15 year old, unaware of your scrawny presence.
Yes, it has taken him longer than we ever thought to settle. Yes, he has been, and still is, a monkey and a challenge. Yes, he was deeply unhappy for a long time when he first made the transition to his special secondary school. But all that heartache is worth it when I see him growing in confidence. When I see him playing, undirected, with his friends. Friends I have not made for him, friends he has found on his own. When he picks up his reading book and reads it independently, when he writes his own Christmas cards, unprompted, even when he teases his younger siblings, declaring pompously that he is taking their pictures off and sending them to the quiet room, I am glad.
He’s growing up. Moving on up, yeah.