I am frequently asked whether a mainstream or special school is best, but I would never tell someone what to do, I would only offer our story and would stress that there is such s real sense of peace that comes with knowing that your child is going, every day, to the perfect place for them. Every child’s needs are different and so, within one geographical region,there will be a variety of options.
Joshua began his education at our local mainstream nursery and primary school, with a statement for a full-time one to one teaching assistant.In my experience, you just know when your child is not in the right place and we came to the realisation that Joshua, though comfortable in class , was not reaching his full potential because he was spending too much time in a small room, playing with toys, with his TA.
So we began the process to investigate local special schools and requested a full-time move to a special school. On the same day, we looked around two alternative special schools : one we loved for its staff and facilities and the other we saw on the same day we detested as the Head was very stern, had no warmth, and we saw restrained children during our tour. So we wrote to our council requesting the first special school we had seen, but we were told that it was full and were offered a third, which we looked around. The Head was enthusiastic and friendly and , as our only option, we agreed that Joshua would start there in September. So it was not our first choice and i can remember being disappointed when he started, when they asked me how to reach Joshua, I had hoped that they would possess ‘special’ expertise that eluded the mainstream system, but this was not immediately obvious.
Joshua remained at that school for about 2 years and it was a struggle : they had no school nurse and they feared his epilepsy, so they needed him off the premises whenever he had seizures, which meant either calling 999 or me at work. After a bad period of seizure activity at Easter 2010, when Joshua was taken by air ambulance to hospital, and stayed there for around 10 days while the medical profession struggled to get his epilepsy under control. When Joshua finally got back to school, I called an emergency review where we discussed how they were going to handle his uncontrolled seizures. Their proposed solution was to keep Joshua safe in PMLD – profound multiple learning difficulties – where the staffing ratio was higher than average and so they could keep him safe. Joshua is a fun-loving, cheeky child and in this environment of cotton wool, there was no fun or stimulation for him.
So we began the painful process of seeking to change schools again: I looked around the special schools in our neighbouring local authority area where their priority was for school nurses, at the expense of residential facilities. i met his current Head and was immediately impressed and determined to move Joshua to her school, so I was disappointed to be told that it was full and so Joshua could not attend.
We felt so strongly that this was the right place for Joshua that we faced a tribunal where we appealed against the decision that there was no room for him in his ideal provision. it took months for all of the information and reports to be prepared and we were called to a hearing in January 2011. As his parents, we represented Joshua’s best interests but were supported by our epilepsy nurse – thank you Chris – but the hearing was over very quickly: the ‘judge’ had read all of the paperwork in advance, she simply said ‘ It seems obvious that Joshua should move to this special school,which is geographically nearer and has the support of school nurses’ and she asked the new Headteacher if he could move there. She explained, as I had already heard, that they were full and that he could only attend IF he received a package of full-time support which would fund his own member of staff. The council agreed that he could have the funding for a full-time teaching assistant and so, within 10 minutes, the school move was authorised. We left delighted but shocked that those conversations could not have taken place months earlier over the telephone, to reach the same conclusion.
So soon after his tenth birthday, Joshua moved to his third school and embraced the change and we have never looked back. it gives me such a sense of peace and satisfaction to know that Joshua has found his ‘home’ where his full potential will be reached. As I am writing this, Joshua is – I hope – enjoying an overnight residential trip with 7 other class-mates and 8 members of school staff they were all sleeping in a hostel, after a day out at a theme park. It is a brave thing for them to risk taking an epileptic child away from the support of the school nurse and the local hospital. his previous school spent all their energy explaining why it was not safe for Joshua to do certain activities yet the culture is so different now, they make the necessary arrangements so that he can access the same opportunities as his non-fitting peers, despite the clear risks.
I was delighted at his Annual Review to confirm our wishes that Joshua accesses their 6th form, when he is old enough. I was told that there are other providers, but I have fought so hard to get Joshua into this right educational setting, that I explained he will stay there as long as he possibly can, which is 19 years old currently, so another 5 years. I have always insisted that all we need from a school is to keep Joshua ‘happy and safe’ : the mainstream school reached a point when it could do neither and our first special school focussed more on the safety, at the expense of his happiness but finally Joshua is at the right school for him, where he is kept safe but has real fun, and there is no better feeling than when I see his cheeky grin on his face when he is in school, it is all the confirmation that I need that we made the right choice.