We got confirmation over half term that Katie has been accepted at the school we applied to, so she will definitely be starting there in September. She will be in a year 5/6 mixed class of 15 kids including her. There are only 47 kids in the entire school, compared to her current school where there are 60 to a year and about 420 in the school.
Even with all the issues at her current school and the fact that I’ve been hoping since we visited the new school that Katie would want to go there and that there would be a vacancy for her, I still had a moment of panic when we got the acceptance through. Have we done the right thing offering her the chance to go to a new school? Has she done the right thing deciding that she wants to move? Are we just making life unnecessarily difficult having Katie in a different school to her brother and sister? Do we ever stop worrying as parents that we’re doing the right thing?!
This was a very fleeting moment of doubt. I think the answer is absolutely yes we have made a good decision, and this is why:
1. Katie has seemed a lot more settled in her current school this term than she was back in January / February when we started thinking about moving her. She has been less resistant to getting ready in the mornings and most of the time she has walked straight into school instead of hanging back with me and desperately thinking of reasons why I might let her have the day off. Most days she comes out of her classroom chatting with a friend and looks pretty happy. So far so good, maybe after a tough couple of years things are getting better for her and we should leave things be.
Or not. Firstly she has only become more relaxed about going to school since she reached the decision she wanted to leave. It’s like she can put up with it better because she knows the end is in sight. Secondly, this kid can mask and she can mask extensively. There are times when she is genuinely OK at school. There are other times when she looks OK but is absolutely not. There are still plenty of days when she comes out of her classroom smiling and looking totally fine but literally the second we’re out the school gates the mask is off and the effort of getting through the day is obvious. She will snap at me, Alice or Matthew just for breathing never mind talking, her tolerance for anything is non existent and in the 5 minutes it takes to get home she’s turned into a different person. She will disappear into the conservatory to hang out with the laptop and her guinea pigs and won’t reappear for a couple of hours unless it’s to yell at someone for being too noisy.
2. Katie makes friends quite easily but finds maintaining relationships difficult. She has a couple of friendships at school so we have considered that maybe we shouldn’t be disrupting them. But I can’t really see it being a problem because her friends at school live within 5 minutes of us and I get on well with their mums. She will still be able to see them outside of school and keep those friendships going. Also one of her friends at school was possibly going to be moving to Scotland this summer but it’s fallen through and she will be staying now. I wondered if this would mean Katie suddenly didn’t want to move schools and would want to stay with her friend, but she still wants to move which is reassuring.
She has also recently become friendly with another girl in her class. She has told her she is autistic, and this other girl told Katie that she has anxiety and is being assessed for ADHD. I’m so glad that Katie is starting to get comfortable telling people that she is autistic because for the most part she still sees it as a negative and doesn’t want people to know. I don’t know this other girl’s parents but again this is a friendship that we can encourage outside of school because they’re local and I can make contact with the parents easily enough.
3. During the 3 weeks Katie had to home school recently because of all the covid cases in her year it just reminded me again how much more settled she is when she’s not in school. She seemed very comfortable learning online and did her work on the lap top with minimal complaining. She got through it quite quickly and to a pretty decent standard – even English, which she doesn’t like and I thought would be an effort to get her to do. It didn’t really match with feedback we’ve had from her class teacher who says that she needs to build up her stamina when it comes to writing and that there are times she just point blank refuses to do the work.
Katie said that it was easier to concentrate at home because it was quieter and she could sit on her own and just get it done and out the way. She also said she much preferred working on a laptop because writing hurts her hand. She still didn’t really enjoy doing the work but just those two things made a big difference to her ability to get on with it.
I know moving to a new school is not the same as home schooling but hopefully being in a class that’s half the size of her current class will help. By default there will be less noise and less crowding. This also reinforced that we need to look into occupational therapy for Katie. From what I’ve read it’s relatively common for autistic children to have OT to help with writing. Maybe she would benefit from access to a laptop for all her classes, maybe she wouldn’t. But I know for sure if I approached this with her current school they wouldn’t even consider it – they’ve pushed back on accommodations that don’t cost them anything never mind a laptop. On occasions where they are using laptops in lessons 1 laptop has to be shared between 4 children, whereas when we went to visit the new school they said that there is one laptop available per child so potentially this could really benefit Katie.
4. When I told Katie’s new school that we had put in an application for her to go there, the email back said ‘oh that is lovely, we will look forward to welcoming you all.’ One small and insignificant sentence but it made me so hopeful. I have felt for so long at the current school that we’re seen as annoying, that Katie is seen as a child with an attitude problem and that I have no choice other than to battle and make a nuisance of myself. I can practically see the eye roll at the other end whenever I press send on an email and my name pops up in their inbox. Whether the new school meant it or not it was just so refreshing to hear.
5. When I phoned the current school to let them know that Katie would be leaving at the end of the year they asked where she would be going so I told them. “Oh yes, that’s much smaller, I expect she’ll be happier there.” Which is true, but that was a total assumption on their part. They didn’t actually ask why we’d decided to move her. They didn’t seem to think it was weird that we’re moving one child and keeping the other two there. They didn’t ask for any feedback and just said that there is a waiting list for the school so now they know Katie is leaving they can offer her space to someone else. Which pretty much sums them up. From speaking with friends and neighbours it seems that children who keep up academically and who don’t have any additional support needs do well there (like Alice, who is very happy there, and presumably like Matthew which is why he will be starting there in September), and children that do need support don’t get it and end up leaving. It’s such a bad system and it’s so unfair on the children. There is a part of me that wants to leave Katie there, kick up a huge stink, make them change their policies, and make it better for all the SEN kids who follow. But I’m not willing to use Katie as the guinea pig for that. I just want to get her out of there and give her what will hopefully be a better experience at a different school because as things are at the moment she’ll have given up before she gets to secondary school.
6. If nothing else, even if her new school ends up being as completely unsupportive and lacking in understanding as her current school, by default it must still be a better environment for her purely on the basis of it’s size. One of my friends asked me if it was a private school (it’s not) because those small class sizes automatically mean the teachers get to know the pupils better and have more time to help them in areas they’re struggling.
So….roll on September when Katie will be at her new school and Matthew will be starting school for the first time. Here’s hoping that Katie has a better school experience than she’s had so far. And here’s hoping that Matthew is able to jump in at the deep end and enjoy a noisy, busy, chaotic school without support in the same way that Alice has been able to. If he’s not, we’ve learnt the hard way not to ask for help and to get him out of there as quickly as possible.