We’ve all seen those Mail Online headlines, you know, after you’ve read and refreshed the celebrity section for the tenth time that day and you finally move to skim the news section.
Five year old boy gets excluded! Nursery bans toddler! That sort of thing. Terrible parents you think to yourself. How on earth could it come to that?
Well, let me tell you. It sort of did happen to me, although exclusion was replaced by softer words such as ‘half-day timetable’.
Starting ‘big’ school is not always easy for every child. Some cry for their mums, some are overwhelmed or some like Jonah have fears that they simply can’t express. Unfortunately for Jonah those fears manifest themselves in ways that simply can’t be tolerated at school.
Every reasonable adult would agree that hitting, kicking, pushing or just general fighting can’t happen at school. Although many appreciate that kids do fight at home with siblings or friends, this behavior is just not manageable in school.
So there we were, 10 days in and I was ‘frog marched’ in to the classroom to be told that Jonah got into a fight with Year 2 boys (the scrawny reception kid he is he was never going to win that one), and a decision was taken that he must now be on a half-day timetable.
Now to say I was shocked is a bit of an understatement. I thought I was going in for a quick teacher chat, not an ambush.
Me against four members of staff hardly seemed fair and they had time to prepare whereas I was simply picking up my kid from school with no prior warning.
Now, I’m not saying it was the wrong decision to make but the ramifications for our family were pretty huge. In one respect, we were lucky. As freelancers we can work wherever we like so we were able to shuttle to and from school six times in one day!
But as freelancers, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. I was also concerned that simply removing him from the situation was not going to address any of the problems. And being told that time would help is just too risky a strategy for me. Plus the feeling that school could not cope with Jonah was a huge concern.
Little did I know at the time but this was the start of entering a whole new and strange world of Special Education Needs (SEN). It was also time to be one of those pushy parents that I’ve always slightly loathed. Because the reality is if your child is not fitting into the system then they need help and that’s not always readily available.
One year on and I’ve learned more than I thought possible about child development. We’ve had in depth discussions with specialists who have told us that in their view schools just can’t cope with young boys who mature later than girls.
We’ve had speech and language assessments which Jonah passed with flying colours, although he was described as giving ‘odd’ answers. One such as his wanting to know how long the session would take, and using our first names when asked who he lived with – all perfectly reasonable if he wasn’t a five year old.
We’ve had sessions with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS ) where our amazing support worker probably helped us more than she did Jonah, and I’ve learned lots about the way an average primary school operates.
But above all I’ve learned that everywhere you look, there are kids that will potentially slip though the net.
Bright, inquisitive minds that could one day find the cure to cancer are in danger of being turned off learning if their schools and family are not working together properly.
Jonah is luckier than some. We his parents are reasonably intelligent, articulate and are gathering as much information as possible to steer him through school.
Communication is key and with the introduction of his home/school book we can support his teachers with the behavioural work he is doing in the class and playground. So one ‘cross face’ in his book means no iphone game time at home.
But what about all those kids whose parents don’t speak great English, or those who haven’t the confidence to speak to the teachers? How many ‘naughty boys’ are just those that need to be taught in a slightly different way?
Having a ‘difficult’/ ‘spirited’ child is a lottery. I’ve met people who have had four easy kids only to have number five turn their lives upside down and people who have put off having more children after not being able to cope with the first.
But the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is don’t pay too much notice to the good stuff schools say about your child and don’t beat yourself up about the bad stuff.
Your family knows more about your child than any school ever will, and parents, above all, are the crucial factor in shaping your child’s future.