A few weeks ago I sent an enquiry to two schools in our area, both of which have good reputations and are much smaller schools than Katie’s current one. I outlined that we were struggling to get accommodations put in place for Katie at her current school, listed what those accommodations were, and asked each school firstly if they would be able to support them and secondly if they had any spaces available. We figured if they said no to either question we wouldn’t take the enquiry any further, but if they said yes it might be worth looking into moving schools.
School number one was our preferred choice, mainly because we had direct feedback from a friend who also has an autistic child who had been similarly unsupported at Katie’s current school. They ended up moving him to school number one where he was much happier. The school replied to say yes they could make adjustments for Katie and yes they had spaces. They suggested we book a visit so that we could see if they were a good match for Katie. I went by myself and then took Katie with me for a second visit. The headteacher took the time to come and meet us both times, and when Katie came with me she also asked to meet the person who would be her teacher. He came and spoke to her and answered all her questions, which she had written down and he went through them one by one. He spoke to her not over her head to me. Bear in mind Katie does not have an EHCP and any school she moves to would not get additional funding for her being there, so I appreciated them still making an effort with us.
School number two was one we were considering because it had an outstanding Ofsted rating including for their SEN provision, was a similar size to school number one (ie much smaller than current school) and was just down the road from us so logistically would be a lot easier than school 1. They sent me a reply which immediately got my back up. It was long winded, passive aggressive, gave advice that wasn’t requested, and didn’t answer the actual questions I had asked.
The problem is I’ve been made to feel like such a nuisance parent by current school and by organisations who are supposed to offer support but don’t (*cough* CAMHS *cough*) that I really question my judgement sometimes and wonder if I just moan about too much or expect too much from others. But the more I read the reply from school 2 the more angry I get at the condescending tone and the assumption that we’ve done nothing to help Katie up to this point. Here are some of the gems from their reply to me:
“I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the provision for your daughter at her current primary school. You do not mention which one this is.” I deliberately didn’t mention which school she’s at now because I didn’t think it was relevant or appropriate at this stage when I’m just making an enquiry that may not go anywhere.
“This has been a very difficult year for all our children and especially our children on the autism spectrum. On top of that, the usual autism advisory teacher support has been temporarily unavailable to schools as there has been a change of staff in the advisory team.” This has been a difficult year for everyone. It doesn’t excuse any school not making necessary accommodations for any SEN child.
“Usually, after diagnosis, an autism advisory teacher would visit school to meet with pupil, staff and parents to look at how best to support the child and if there is anything else the school can add to the provision, but sadly this hasn’t happened due to a mix of staff changes, team vacancies and lockdowns. However, all should be returning to normal.” I didn’t ask for information on the autism advisory team and I am familiar with their process. They may not be able to visit schools directly at the moment but they can still advise parents and teachers via zoom calls etc. I have been in contact with the advisory team since Katie’s diagnosis and they have been really helpful in making suggestions to her school – however they work in an advisory capacity (the clue’s in the title!) and don’t have the power to ensure their advice is actually implemented. They confirmed to me that what we were asking for Katie was totally reasonable and have spoken to her school with us and independently to make suggestions, which have mostly been ignored.
“The social difficulties you describe are very much the type of difficulties one would expect a child on the autism spectrum to experience.” No shit. That’ll be why she’s got a diagnosis then. I would have hoped someone working as a SENCO would know that the autistic community overwhelmingly prefers identity first language over person first language, i.e. autistic child not child on the autism spectrum, and to update their terminology accordingly.
“They will sadly happen at other schools too, until your daughter is able to learn and develop the skills that she needs to overcome these difficulties.” Of course they will, that’s why it’s so important to find her a school that supports her in managing her difficulties. She’s 8 years old, she’s not going to just magically be able to do it herself.
“Getting a diagnosis doesn’t cure this and moving schools will also not be a magic wand.” I’m not asking for a cure and I’m not stupid enough to think we can just wave a magic wand, but thanks for making me feel about 2 inches tall there. However, I would like to find a school we can have an open dialogue with and work collaboratively with to help Katie to thrive instead of enduring her time there, and I really hope I’m not naïve in expecting that should be possible.
“I would advise against moving a child in year 4 unless it is a last resort, as it is even harder to establish new friendships where they are already secure and where children live some distance away.” I didn’t ask for your advice or opinion on that but thanks anyway. This is a last resort, we’re not just looking at moving Katie on a whim.
“I would advise in the first instance that you contact your current school and ask for a meeting with the SENco (Special Needs Coordinator) so that you can discuss your concerns and come up with a plan together.” I LOVE the fact that you think I have an autistic child but don’t know what SENco stands for. Plus, are you kidding me? I’ve been in constant contact with our current school for approaching two academic years now, and particularly in the months since Katie’s diagnosis. My concerns aren’t being listened to and attempts to come up with a plan are not productive.
“I would perhaps ask if they can arrange for a visit from the new ASD Advisory teacher to visit and seek her advice on next steps.” We’ve already done that and she is lovely but the SENCO at Katie’s current school is not. Thanks for the assumption there that we haven’t bothered to try and help Katie yet.
“If you are however fixed on applying for a place at *school no2*, then you must go via the *county* Admissions panel. You can find details of this on their website.” I’m not at all fixed on applying for a place, it was just an enquiry. You’ve sent me a reply that belittles me as a parent, makes assumptions, and gives advice that wasn’t requested or wanted, but you haven’t actually answered the two very simple questions that were asked, namely whether you could support Katie and whether you have a vacancy.
I sent a reply back to school number 2 where I was sickly sweet and thanked them for their advice and assured them we had already taken all the steps they’d listed. I asked if they could answer my original questions. They didn’t reply.
I’m really glad we emailed both schools because it reinforced our thinking that school number one was informative and co-operative and genuinely seemed to want to help. School number two’s oh so charming passive aggressive response was very similar to the tone of Katie’s current school and put me right off them. I suppose that’s what they wanted. They can’t outright say they don’t want SEN kids at their school but they can be awkward and unhelpful enough to put parents off.
Katie already struggles to feel that she fits in and the last thing I want is for her to be in a school that amplifies this feeling instead of reducing it. I don’t expect any school to wave a magic wand and I don’t want a cure for her as suggested in school number two’s reply. I just want her to be able to be comfortable in a school setting without her or me feeling we’re being a nuisance. It’s no good if she’s only supported at home or only supported at school, it needs to be a collaborative effort and it’s honestly quite depressing that mainstream schools that are willing or able to do this are potentially the exception rather than the rule.